At the end of July, the same week UFO whistleblower David Grusch testified before the House Oversight Committee, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) had a classified briefing with All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) Director Dr. Sean Kirkpatrick, which Rounds says he used to push for better whistleblower protections.
“I think it's a matter of participation by individuals who are concerned about the ability to be protected if they went to AARO. And so I think that's gonna be the challenge — is making sure that people who may have had any firsthand knowledge or wanted to share any information can do so,” Rounds exclusively tells Ask a Pol.
The plot’s thick
Rounds’ full thinking on the topic remains a mystery, which could be because the former governor of South Dakota is one of only six senators serving on both the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committees.
A couple weeks later, Rounds turned many heads when, as the lead Republican co-author of Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP) Disclosure Act of 2023, he told us “non-human intelligence” (which is used 20 times in their measure) was so all-encompassing of a phrase that artificial intelligence “could” fell under the definition.
Now Rounds is pressuring Kirkpatrick to reform AARO, and he says that needs to start with protecting whistleblowers, like Grusch.
“We've got some work to do there, but I think we can make them more effective than what they have been in the past,” Rounds tells Ask a Pol.
When we asked if David Grusch came up in their classified meeting on whistleblower protections, Rounds protected whistleblowers.
“I won't talk names,” Rounds replies.
Rounds met with Kirkpatrick the last week of July — the last week the Senate was in session until this week, because lawmakers afford themselves an annual August recess away from Washington.
SCHEDULING NOTE: While this week was the first access we’ve had to senators in more than a month, the House is still on its extended recess. They return Tuesday.
Stay. Tuned. Our list of YOUR questions is long.
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Below find a rough transcript of Ask a Pol’s interview with Sen. Mike Rounds on 9-7-2023, slightly edited for clarity.
Matt Laslo: “How was your meeting with the head of AARO, Fitzpatrick.”
Mike Rounds: “I thought it was good. We've got some work to do there, but I think we can make them more effective than what they have been in the past.”
ML: “What would that look like? Have you guys been unhappy with their reporting?”
MR: “No. I think it's a matter of participation by individuals who are concerned about the ability to be protected if they went to AARO. And so I think that's gonna be the challenge — is making sure that people who may have had any firsthand knowledge or wanted to share any information can do so.”
ML: “Are they not? Are you hearing from whistleblowers that they're not feeling comfortable?”
As Rounds and I are entering an elevator in the basement of the Capitol an MSNBC reporter asks if she can join, though she needed him on another topic.
MSNBC reporter: “Senator, can I jump on and talk to you about [inaudible]?”
Rounds goes back to answering my question.
MR: “Not so much that, but from other individuals who have expressed a concern on behalf of whistleblowers…”
ML: “Yeah. That would make sense.”
MR: “...but not from the whistleblowers themselves.”
ML: “Did David Grusch come up?”
ML: “Did David Grusch come up?”
MR: “I won't talk names.”
ML: “Yeah? Wise. Wise man. Gonna leave you to my colleague.”
MSNBC reporter: “Sorry. Thank you!”
ML: “Oh, you're good. I already hogged him. Have a good one. Thank you, sir.”
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