I try not to pass judgment on things about which I know nothing. Partly, it’s because I value my integrity and credibility, but it’s also because I really try to get the story right, and I’m really hard on myself when I get it wrong. That said, the latest story by Edward Snowden smells a lot like excrement from a steer, if you get my drift.
In (sworn?) written testimony to the European Parliament, Snowden’s latest claim is that he supposedly tried to go through official channels to express his concerns about the NSA’s surveillance program, but no one would listen to him. He claims he spoke to ten officials – a nice round number – and they all blew him off.
In answer to a question about whether he felt as if he had exhausted all other possibilities before finally deciding to lie to NSA analysts to get their user names and passwords, and steal and then leak classified documents, Snowden responded (emphasis added):
Yes. I had reported these clearly problematic programs to more than ten distinct officials, none of whom took any action to address them. As an employee of a private company rather than a direct employee of the US government, I was not protected by US whistleblower laws, and I would not have been protected from retaliation and legal sanction for revealing classified information about law breaking in accordance with the recommended process.
Back in August, President Obama noted that there were “other avenues” available to Snowden, and he pointed to a Policy Directive, detailing whistleblower protections for everyone working in the intelligence community. When you read this Policy Directive, you’ll see no exceptions for contractors. There are a few sections referring to “direct supervisors,” but even contractors have those, so it’s not clear he was an exception to the rules. But really, what’s the worst thing they could have done to him? Refuse to let Booz Allen send him to the NSA anymore? In his testimony, some people he reported to warned him not to “rock the boat,” because of possible retaliation, like that which “befell former NSA whistleblowers like Wiebe, Binney, and Drake,” all of whom he claims were subject to intense scrutiny and faced the threat of criminal prosecution. Of course, what most people who mention those three fail to note is that they were targeted by the Bush Administration for activities that happened before the 2007 changes in the law, for Bush’s warrantless surveillance program. None of them have been in the NSA since 2001. I’d also point out that only Drake was convicted of anything, and it was a misdemeanor. Compare their plight to Snowden’s self-imposed exile from his home country, living in China for a few months and then being forced to live in Russia for at least a year, under the watchful eye of Russian intelligence officers, who decide where he will go and what he will do.
Of course, there is another problem…
Look at the first statement I put in bold in the above. The fact that someone finds a government program “clearly problematic” does not mean said program is illegal. If you think such a program should be illegal, work to change the law. But in order to be a whistleblower, protected by whistleblower statutes, the activity you uncover must be illegal. If the law is inadequate to protect us, the goal should be to change the law. But declaring illegal activity, when everything done is within the parameters set forth in the law doesn’t make someone a whistleblower.
Thus far, Snowden has released a lot of documents and claimed they serve to show nefarious activity. But the reality is, nothing produced so far indicates illegal activity. In fact, the only documents for which we can find context are legal documents, all of which show that the NSA was mostly complying with the law, and on those occasions when they tried to overstep, the FISC slapped them down. Think about which documents have gotten the most play; they tend to be documents in which the court lambasted the NSA for trying to go beyond the scope of the law. This is how the law is supposed to work.
But consider his claim that he reported his concerns to ten officials, who did nothing about any of it.
Does anyone in their right mind actually believe this nonsense? He only worked as a contractor at the NSA for three months this last time. He was basically an IT guy; while he’s obviously skilled with computers, he was not an analyst, and he would have had limited knowledge of how the surveillance actually worked, and how the data was used. There’s a reason he lied early on in this “story” and implied that he was an analyst of some sort. If you went to a law firm to get legal advice, would you talk to a lawyer, or would you talk to the firm’s IT guy? Likewise, if you were a supervisor at the law firm, and your IT guy was reporting that a tax attorney was giving bad advice to a client, how seriously would you take that critique.
Also, consider that he worked at the NSA as a contractor for less than 15 weeks, in total. If he told ten different “officials” about his concerns within such a short period of time, it’s difficult to believe that none of them would have spoken to each other and deemed him a troublemaker. That means they would have watched him very closely, and warned others about him. It would have made it far more difficult for him to con NSA analysts out of their user names and passwords so that he could steal the thousands of documents he’s now sending all over the world.
Snowden has also claimed that he asked for time off to take care of a medical condition, and the NSA just granted it without question. He claims that he sold his house and flew to China with four laptops full of documents, and lived in Hong Kong in a luxury hotel for a couple of months before releasing the stolen documents. Doesn’t that also make his claim of expressing his concerns to ten officials at least a little suspect?
Come on. Snowden’s been lying to us all along. His testimony to the European Parliament seems to simply fit the same sort of pattern.