WASHINGTON (AP) — The man who protects the rights of whistleblowers at U.S. spy agencies disclosed for the first time on Wednesday why he was suspended and escorted out of his offices in late November.

Dan Meyer, director of the Intelligence Community Whistleblowing and Source Protection program, told The Associated Press that he was put on administrative leave for allegedly mishandling classified information, belittling his deputy and carrying on a "secret dialogue" with Congress. He said he has rebutted the accusations.

Whistleblower groups and some members of Congress worry that Meyer's suspension is part of a plan to hamstring the four-year-old program he directs.

Intelligence officials, who have said they support the whistleblower program, would not disclose why Meyer was put on leave.

Meyer said the action came after he "blew the whistle myself."

He said he reported to his superiors and Congress the "systemic failure" of intelligence community watchdogs to execute a directive former President Barack Obama issued in October 2012. The directive created rules for how intelligence professionals can report waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement without disclosing classified information. It prohibits retaliation against them.

Meyer said "patriotic" intelligence whistleblowers preceded him in reporting the alleged wrongdoing. He said his allegations stem from retaliation by two inspectors general and suppressing a disclosure to congressional intelligence committees. Details of the allegations are classified.

After his disclosures, Meyer said he was given a negative performance evaluation.

"The recommendation by the inspector general was based on two alleged security infractions. I was also accused of belittling my deputy and carrying on a 'secret dialogue' with the Congress," he said.

"I did admit to slamming a door after our legal counsel started talking smack about our former inspector general."

He said he looks forward to being vindicated and returning to work, but said if the review board decides to terminate him, he will appeal.

"This is an important test of the intelligence community's integrity; no man or woman is above the law and that includes the inspectors general of the intelligence community."

Lawmakers are closely following the case.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats in late November, saying it would be "unacceptable" if Meyer was being targeted in retaliation for communicating with Congress about whistleblower issues. Grassley called on Wayne Stone, the acting inspector general for the intelligence agencies, to make sure the contents of Meyer's offices, which likely contain evidence in open whistleblower cases, is secured.

Meyer's comments came on the same day that the Senate intelligence committee held a confirmation hearing for Michael Atkinson, President Donald Trump's nominee to be the intelligence community's next inspector general, or ICIG.

Atkinson said it's no secret the office is "not currently functioning as effectively as Congress intended."

"The impression is ... that the current problems are internal. This needs to change, before the ICIG loses the support of this committee and the Congress as a whole," Atkinson said. "Simply put, it appears that the ICIG needs to put its house in order, and the sooner the better."