Since his leaks on the National Security Agency, Edward Snowden has been attacked by numerous government officials who describe him as a rogue troublemaker whose actions have put American lives in danger. If he’d only followed the proper bureaucratic protocol in voicing his concerns, they say, he wouldn’t be so easy to paint as a traitor. There’s just one problem, according to a recent interview with Snowden: He did.
Last summer, a number of U.S. lawmakers from both parties rushed to declare Snowden guilty of treason for taking the information he’d uncovered public rather than up the NSA’s chain of command.
“On the strength of leaking that [information], yes, that would be a prosecutable offense, and I think that he should be prosecuted,” Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at the time.
Fellow California Senate Democrat Dianne Feinstein said that Snowden is guilty of treason.
“I don’t look at this as being a whistle-blower,” Feinstein said. “I think it’s an act of treason.”
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), in a tweet around the same time, said, “I hope we follow Mr. Snowden to the ends of the earth to bring him to justice.”
Snowden has since been routinely derided by politicians and security hawks, accused of everything from providing sensitive information to foreign governments to being more harmful to human life than Jeffrey Dahmer.
You read that right. Speaking at the Breitbart National Security Summit in March, Republican Iowa Representative Steve King compared revealing the government’s unConstitutional actions to brutally raping, torturing and murdering at least 17 human beings.
“Snowden has done more damage to America than anybody else I can think of in history,” King claimed.
The lawmaker went on to charge, “”I would take it so far as to say that probably even Jeffrey Dahmer analyzed in a similar way, and he didn’t do nearly as much damage as Snowden did.”
Lawmakers beholden to the Nation’s burgeoning security apparatus will continue to go out of their way to portray Snowden as a scumbag rather than an American concerned about the government’s post-9/11 abrogation in the name of “security.” But if Snowden’s recent claim that he tried to follow protocol, going so far as to send repeated emails to NSA officials about what he regarded as a perverse interpretation of surveillance laws, is true, the job of his detractors is about to become much more difficult.
The revelation that Snowden tried to make changes the “right” way before leaking troves of NSA documents comes in a 20,000 word piece in the May edition of Vanity Fair. The work, complete with interviews with a number of sources close to the controversy, purports to be the first comprehensive account of how Snowden found himself on the Federal government’s shit list.
The magazine includes the following passage among highlights from the interview in an online teaser of the article:
Snowden challenges allegations that he never filed a formal complaint about the N.S.A. to internal oversight and compliance bodies: N.S.A. deputy director Rick Ledgett, who led the internal investigation of Snowden, claimed Snowden made no formal complaints. And if he complained personally to anyone, Ledgett tells Vanity Fair, he or she has not acknowledged it.
In response to this claim, Snowden replies, “The N.S.A. at this point not only knows I raised complaints, but that there is evidence that I made my concerns known to the N.S.A.’s lawyers, because I did some of it through e-mail. I directly challenge the N.S.A. to deny that I contacted N.S.A. oversight and compliance bodies directly via e-mail and that I specifically expressed concerns about their suspect interpretation of the law, and I welcome members of Congress to request a written answer to this question [from the N.S.A.].”
When asked about his initial reaction to the revelation that Snowden was the leak, Ledgett tells Vanity Fair there was a personal sense of betrayal, stating, “It was like getting kicked in the stomach.”
And lest you think that Snowden’s formal complaints went unaddressed because they were simply misplaced somewhere in the bureaucratic underpinnings of the Nation’s surveillance apparatus, consider the plight of NSA whistle-blowers who had previously attempted to reveal similar NSA abuses.
Via a Personal Liberty Digest™ piece from June:
Thomas Drake, William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe are likely three men whom Snowden spent time thinking about before making the decision to make public NSA documents. But his whistle-blowing predecessors largely failed to create a mainstream buzz with complaints of the NSA’s Constitutional abuse. The trio’s failure to garner attention was not because they were failing to present shocking information of totalitarian surveillance; rather, they failed because they — for the most part — followed rules put in place by the system to avoid being snuffed out by the bureaucratic machine.
Each action they took gave government a chance to counteract in the interest of quieting public outrage; and when the power structure tired of attempts to reveal NSA’s actions, the marked men were easily bound and gagged with red tape.
Binney explains why no one within government will ever recognize a problem and enact change by following the structured patch of revealing problems to the chain of command or other government agencies before putting the information directly in the public square.
“We tried to stay for the better part of seven years inside the government trying to get the government to recognize the unconstitutional, illegal activity that they were doing and openly admit that and devise certain ways that would be constitutionally and legally acceptable to achieve the ends they were really after,” Binney said. “And that just failed totally because no one in Congress or — we couldn’t get anybody in the courts, and certainly the Department of Justice and inspector general’s office didn’t pay any attention to it. And all of the efforts we made just produced no change whatsoever. All it did was continue to get worse and expand.”
Drake was hardest hit for his efforts to reveal abuses to the public. Eventually growing tired of the NSA’s efforts to silence his protestations about the agency’s abuses of the Constitution, he spoke to a reporter.
The former senior intelligence official was consequently harassed by the FBI for years and charged with 10 felonies, five of them under the archaic 1917 Espionage Act.
The charges— clear acts of government retribution— were eventually defeated and Drake pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of “exceeding authorized use of a computer” and was sentenced to one year of probation and community service.
Average Americans spanning the political spectrum and a handful of libertarian-leaning politicians were outraged by the information contained in Snowden’s leaks. But even among those who weren’t, it seems the whistle-blower’s enemies would be hard pressed to find anyone who could logically fault Snowden for learning from Drake’s mistakes.
The young privacy advocate certainly realized the dire consequences of running afoul of the surveillance state and— seemingly with the inevitable retaliation in mind— took the steps to do what he felt right while hedging against efforts to silence his message.
“Every person remembers some moment in their life where they witnessed some injustice, big or small, and looked away, because the consequences of intervening seemed too intimidating,” Snowden told Vanity Fair. “But there’s a limit to the amount of incivility and inequality and inhumanity that each individual can tolerate. I crossed that line. And I’m no longer alone.”