Facts Matter: Whistleblower rules weren't recently changed

With the U.S. House of Representatives investigating a whistle-blower complaint that Donald Trump pressed Ukraine's leader to investigate potential rival Joe Biden, the president has frequently taken to Twitter to respond.

"Who changed the long standing whistle-blower rules just before submittal of the fake whistle-blower report?" Trump asked in a Sept. 30 Twitter post.

No one, according to The Washington Post. Intelligence Community Directive 120, or ICD 120, the guiding document in this case, was issued in 2014 and last changed in 2016.

An intelligence officer who believes he or she has witnessed wrongdoing can issue an "urgent concern" report by filling out a form, the Post said.

The Federalist, an online magazine, obtained a May 2018 version of the form that included a section titled: Firsthand information required. This language is not in an online form that has only recently been available, the Post said.

The Federalist article went on to claim, "between May 2018 and August 2019, the intelligence community secretly eliminated a requirement that whistleblowers provide direct, firsthand knowledge of alleged wrongdoings."

But both the May 2018 form and the new online form require the person submitting the document to check boxes indicating whether they have direct and personal knowledge of the wrongdoing or they heard about it from another source.

A statement from the inspector general said the complainant who filed the form about the president checked both boxes.

The process for handling whistle-blower allegations is determined by the law, not a form, the Post said.

According to ICD 120, there must be a "reasonable belief" standard for intelligence officials reporting wrongdoing in which they believe there was "a violation of any law, rule, or regulation; or gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety."

"As a whistle-blower, you can always submit a complaint if you have a reasonable belief, even if it is secondhand or even third-hand," national security analyst Irvin McCullough told the Post.

Teen activist target of misinformation

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, 16, has given speeches and been involved with demonstrations about climate change that included crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a sailboat.

Thunberg has dealt with climate change on a worldwide stage. As a result, false information about the activist has been debunked by international fact checkers, according to the Poynter Institute.

A doctored photo showing Thunberg with financier and Democratic supporter George Soros has widely made the rounds on social media, Poynter said. The false image was created using a photo of the teen with former Vice President Al Gore that she had posted on Instagram. The manipulated image was discredited by fact-checking platforms in the U.S., Belgium, Turkey, Italy and France.

Other doctored photos of Thunberg show an altered message on her protest sign, images of her posing with terrorist groups and one picture with a changed background that appears the activist ate lunch next to a group of starving children, Poynter said.

Much of the misinformation has focused on her family and personal life, Poynter said.

A false report that Thunberg's activism is merely a publicity stunt coordinated by her parents and a businessman was debunked by the German fact-checking platform Correctiv.

A claim that Thunberg was abandoned by her father and her mother teaches teenagers to perform abortions was proved false by Brazilian fact checkers Aos Fatos and Agencia Lupa.

And discredited one rumor that Thunberg is an actress named Estella Renee and another that said she was named the highest paid activist by a magazine called "People with Money."

Thunberg's family is actually made up of her father, an author, actor and producer, her mother, an opera singer and actress, and a younger sister who is also a singer, Poynter said.

Mess not result of climate-change demonstrations

Greta Thunberg isn't the only climate-change activist targeted by false information.

A photo recently posted on social media showing a park filled with trash and overflowing garbage cans and falsely claimed it was the result of Sept. 20 demonstrations held worldwide to highlight climate change, <URL destination="">according to The Associated Press.

</URL>Recent Facebook posts included the image, along with the statement, "They protest for climate change and leave this mess behind."

However, the mess in that photo was left behind after an April 20 cannabis rally in Hyde Park, London, the AP said.

Photographer Ashwin Bolar told the AP he took the photo after the cannabis rally and posted it on the Facebook page of his employer, The Hemp Trading Company, a British clothier.

In the post, Bolar said he found it "disappointing and deeply angering" that participants at the cannabis rally didn't do a better job of cleaning up after themselves, the AP said.

• Bob Oswald is a veteran Chicago-area journalist and former news editor of the Elgin Courier-News. Contact him at

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