Federal prosecutors have charged National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden with multiple felonies. The charges include espionage, although several prominent lawmakers have questioned the legality of the intelligence-gathering programs revealed by Snowden, and whistleblower protections should shield him from retaliation if his disclosures expose illegal actions. Snowden is the seventh whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act.
The Government Accountability Project (GAP), the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization, which represents two of the whistleblowers charged with Espionage by this administration (NSA whistleblower Tom Drake and CIA/Torture whistleblower John Kiriakou) released the following statement regarding this latest development:
The Obama administration’s charge of espionage against Edward Snowden is not a surprise. This administration has continually sought to intimidate federal employees – particularly intelligence community workers – and suppress any attempt they might make to speak out against gross corruption, wrongdoing, and illegality.
In GAP’s view, Edward Snowden is a whistleblower. He disclosed information about a secret program that he reasonably believed to be illegal, and his actions alone brought about the long-overdue national debate about the proper balance between privacy and civil liberties, on the one hand, and national security on the other. Charging Snowden with espionage is yet another effort to retaliate against those who criticize the overreach of U.S. intelligence agencies under this administration. The charges send a clear message to potential whistleblowers: this is the treatment they can expect should they speak out about constitutional violations.
It is particularly noteworthy that Snowden spoke truthfully to the public about NSA surveillance after Director of National Intelligence James Clapper intentionally lied in his testimony before the U.S. Senate about these same activities. Clapper, however, has not even been admonished for his purposeful, deliberate deception of both the Senate and the public.
It must be emphasized that the channels internal to intelligence agencies for whistleblowers are neither effective nor confidential. Their gross inadequacy is best illustrated by what befell GAP clients and NSA whistleblowers Tom Drake, William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe, all of whom suffered retaliation after they reported internally serious misconduct at the NSA. Like these three men, Snowden will face serious consequences for exposing the wrongdoing and crimes of others. At the same time, those who stretched their interpretation of laws to invade the private lives of Americans, while lying to the Congress and the public about their actions, will simply continue working.
GAP released a statement on Snowden and the NSA surveillance that can be found here.