Why didn’t Edward Snowden go through “Proper Channels” to Blow the Whistle?
Post Categories: Head Stories
The Washington’s Blog | Thursday, June 27, 2013, 10:14 Beijing
Painting by Anthony Freda
Painting by William Banzai
There Are NO Proper Channels a Whistleblower Can Use
Polls show that Americans know the government is spying on all of us for improper purposes … but that many Americans are unsure whether or not the whistleblowers who brought us that information should be prosecuted.
The uncertainty regarding whistleblowers stems from a misunderstanding about the options that whistleblowers have to inform the American people of illegal actions by our government.
Specifically, numerous whistleblowers have tried to go through “proper channels” to expose illegal spying by the NSA and other government agencies …but nothing changed in response to their lawful attempts.
Not only did the government do everything it could to shut them up, but it threatened, prosecuted and harassed them.
For example, when NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake tried to blow the whistle on fraud and corruption within the NSA – based upon the NSA spying on all Americans instead of targeting only suspected criminals – he was prosecuted under the Espionage Act.
I differed as a whistleblower to Snowden only in this respect: in accordance with the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, I took my concerns up within the chain of command, to the very highest levels at the NSA, and then to Congress and the Department of Defense. I understand why Snowden has taken his course of action, because he’s been following this for years: he’s seen what’s happened to other whistleblowers like me.
By following protocol, you get flagged – just for raising issues. You’re identified as someone they don’t like, someone not to be trusted. I was exposed early on because I was a material witness for two 9/11 congressional investigations. In closed testimony, I told them everything I knew – about Stellar Wind, billions of dollars in fraud, waste and abuse, and the critical intelligence, which the NSA had but did not disclose to other agencies, preventing vital action against known threats. If that intelligence had been shared, it may very well have prevented 9/11.
But as I found out later, none of the material evidence I disclosed went into the official record. It became a state secret even to give information of this kind to the 9/11 investigation.
When NSA whistleblower Russel Tice (later a key source in the 2005 New York Time sreport that blew the lid off the Bush administration’s use of warrantless wiretapping) questioned spying on innocent Americans, NSA tried to have him labeled “crazy”, and fired him.
When the head of the NSA’s global digital communications program – William Binney –disclosed the fact that the U.S. was spying on everyone in the U.S. and storing the data forever, the Feds tried to scare him into shutting up:
[Numerous] FBI officers held a gun to Binney’s head as he stepped naked from the shower. He watched with his wife and youngest son as the FBI ransacked their home. Later Binney was separated from the rest of his family, and FBI officials pressured him to implicate one of the other complainants in criminal activity. During the raid, Binney attempted to report to FBI officials the crimes he had witnessed at NSA, in particular the NSA’s violation of the constitutional rights of all Americans. However, the FBI wasn’t interested in these disclosures. Instead, FBI officials seized Binney’s private computer, which to this day has not been returned despite the fact that he has not been charged with a crime.
NSA whistleblower J. Kirk Wiebe didn’t get anywhere through proper channels either.
[USA Today]: Did Edward Snowden do the right thing in going public?
William Binney: 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. 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.
[USA Today]: So Snowden did the right thing?
Binney: Yes, I think he did.
[USA Today]: You three wouldn’t criticize him for going public from the start?
J. Kirk Wiebe: Correct.
Binney: In fact, I think he saw and read about what our experience was, and that was part of his decision-making.
Wiebe: We failed, yes.
[Attorney for the NSA whistleblowers, who is herself a Department of Justice whistleblower] Jesselyn Radack: Not only did they go through multiple and all the proper internal channels and they failed, but more than that, it was turned against them. … The inspector general was the one who gave their names to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution under the Espionage Act. And they were all targets of a federal criminal investigation, and Tom ended up being prosecuted — and it was for blowing the whistle.
Wiebe: Well, I don’t want anyone to think that he had an alternative. No one should (think that). There is no path for intelligence-community whistle-blowers who know wrong is being done. There is none.
The Government Accountability Project notes:
By communicating with the press, Snowden used the safest channel available to him to inform the public of wrongdoing. Nonetheless, government officials have been critical of him for not using internal agency channels – the same channels that have repeatedly failed to protect whistleblowers from reprisal in the past. In many cases, the critics are the exact officials who acted to exclude national security employees and contractors from the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012.
[A]t the behest of the House Intelligence Committee, strengthened whistleblower protections for national security workers were stripped from major pieces of legislation such as the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (for federal employees) and the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (for federal contractors). If those protections existed today, Snowden’s disclosures would have stood a greater chance of being addressed effectively from within the organization.
In other words, Congress has stripped whistleblower protections for those working in intelligence or defense.
But whistleblowers in other areas have received the same treatment. For example, after high-level CIA officer John Kiriakou blew the whistle on illegal CIA torture, the government prosecuted him for espionage.
And former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds – who has been deemed credible by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General, several senators (free subscription required), and a coalition of prominent conservative and liberal groups, whose allegations have been confirmed by numerous Pentagon, MI6 and FBI officials, including 18-year FBI counter-intelligence expert John Cole – has been so gagged by the government that the ACLU described her as:
The most gagged person in the history of the United States of America.
Famed Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg says that Edmonds possesses information “far more explosive than the Pentagon Papers”, and that the government has ordered the media not to cover her statements.
Indeed, the mainstream British newspaper the Sunday Times started publishing a series of articles exposing the scandal which Edmonds had uncovered. But U.S. State Department pressure killed the series. Edmonds confirms that whistleblowers have no way to go through official channels to effect change.
Obama has gone after whistleblowers more viciously than Bush, Nixon, or any president in history. Indeed, the Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other presidents combined.
And the government goes out of its way to smear whistleblowers and harass honest reporters.
So if Snowden had attempted to go through “proper channels”, his information regarding the mass surveillance of innocent people would never have seen the light of day … or had any chance of changing government policy.
72% of Likely U.S. Voters Know the NSA Has Monitored the Private Communications of Congress, Military Leaders and Judges
The government keeps on lying about how it’s spying on Americans without authorization from a court.
It keeps lying about the scope of its spying.
Indeed, NSA whistleblower Russel Tice – a key source in the 2005 New York Timesreport that blew the lid off the Bush administration’s use of warrantless wiretapping –recently said that the NSA illegally spied on General Petraeus and other generals, Supreme Court Justice Alito and all of the other supreme court justices, Barack Obama, the White House spokesman, and many other top officials.
The mainstream media will not interview Tice about this explosive issue. (Tice made his revelations to former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds – who has been deemed credible by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General, several senators [free subscription required], and a coalition of prominent conservative and liberal groups – and to James Corbett. Edmonds and Corbett have small, alternative media web-based radio shows.)
And yet – in very heartening news – a new poll by Rasmussen shows that the American public understands much of what is really going on:
Most voters think the National Security Agency is likely to have violated one of the country’s most cherished constitutional standards – the checks and balances between the three branches of government – by spying on the private communications of Congress and judges.
The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 72% of Likely U.S. Voters think it is at least somewhat likely that the NSA has monitored the private communications of Congress, military leaders and judges. That includes 45% who believe it is Very Likely.
Just 14% say it’s not likely that the Executive branch of the government monitored the private communications of the Legislative and Judicial branches. Another 14% are not sure. (To see survey question wording, click here.)
This concern takes on even more significance given that 57% of voters believe it is likely the NSA data will be used by other government agencies to harass political opponents.
Despite the president’s assurance that “nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” 68% believe it is likely that “government agencies are listening in on private conversations of American citizens.”
Currently, 33% of voters approve of the recently disclosed NSA program of monitoring Americans’ private phone and e-mail communications to fight terrorism. Fifty percent (50%) are opposed.
The United States was founded on a belief that governments are created to protect certain unalienable rights. Today, however, more voters than ever (56%) view the federal government as a threat to individual rights rather than a protector of those rights.