In a strongly-worded editorial deserving of its substantial length entitled "Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower," The New York Times beautifully articulates the simple and infinitely persuasive argument for amnesty for whistleblower Edward Snowden:
When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government.
Considering that both myself
and the ACLU's Ben Wizner (whose appearance is a must-watch
) got the "amnesty" question on Sunday morning talk shows this past weekend, it seems now that the President's own review panel and two federal courts have questioned the efficacy and legality of NSA's mass surveillance apparatus, freedom for the whistleblower responsible for the debate is on the minds of the powers that be in Washington.
Prominent recognition of Snowden's "role as a whistle-blower" from the country's paper of record should afford Snowden, in The Times' words, "the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community."
The Times criticized Obama for his disingenuous argument that Snowden should have gone through internal channels because, as I pointed out in August, such channels are fraught with peril for whistleblowers. Just ask NSA whistleblower Tom Drake, who went through every possible internal channel and ended up in the same boat as Snowden, charged with violating the Espionage Act.
The president said in August that Mr. Snowden should come home to face those charges in court and suggested that if Mr. Snowden had wanted to avoid criminal charges he could have simply told his superiors about the abuses, acting, in other words, as a whistle-blower.
“If the concern was that somehow this was the only way to get this information out to the public, I signed an executive order well before Mr. Snowden leaked this information that provided whistle-blower protection to the intelligence community for the first time,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference. “So there were other avenues available for somebody whose conscience was stirred and thought that they needed to question government actions.”
In fact, that executive order did not apply to contractors, only to intelligence employees, rendering its protections useless to Mr. Snowden. [I would add that the order as yet to be implemented]. More important, Mr. Snowden told The Washington Post earlier this month that he did report his misgivings to two superiors at the agency, showing them the volume of data collected by the N.S.A., and that they took no action. (The N.S.A. says there is no evidence of this.) That’s almost certainly because the agency and its leaders don’t consider these collection programs to be an abuse and would never have acted on Mr. Snowden’s concerns.
In retrospect, Mr. Snowden was clearly justified in believing that the only way to blow the whistle on this kind of intelligence-gathering was to expose it to the public and let the resulting furor do the work his superiors would not.
The Times' conclusion is absolutely correct and exactly the conclusion whistleblower advocates reached in the immediate aftermath of Snowden's revelations. On June 14, 2013, my organization, the Government Accountability Project, explained that
By communicating with the press, Snowden used the safest channel available to him to inform the public of wrongdoing.
For all his critics talk of "accountability" for Snowden because he supposedly caused damage to national security, those cries ring more hollow after The Times editorial
The shrill brigade of his critics say Mr. Snowden has done profound damage to intelligence operations of the United States, but none has presented the slightest proof that his disclosures really hurt the nation’s security. . . .
His leaks revealed that James Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, lied to Congress when testifying in March that the N.S.A. was not collecting data on millions of Americans. (There has been no discussion of punishment for that lie.)
The chorus of voices for rolling back NSA mass surveillance includes leading Members of Congress from both parties, federal judges and the President's own hand-picked review panel. The voices calling for clemency for Snowden includes NSA Snowden task force leader Rick Ledgett, Silicon Valley's tech giants,
the ACLU and now, the New York Times.
It is not too late to revise the policy of prosecuting national security whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, starting with Snowden.