The Government Accountability Project (GAP) conference "Whistleblowers, Journalists, and the New War Within" held yesterday, July 25, at the National Press Club featured a panel of three ex-NSA whistleblowers, along with experts on digital surveillance, telecom systems engineering, and whistleblower legal protections.
Moderated by syndicated columnist David Sirota and Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times writer James Risen, the morning conference gave insights into the clandestine world of the NSA, the challenges inherent to working within the organization's hierarchy, and the increasingly tenuous relationship between today's embattled journalists and their confidential sources.
"These whistleblowers give tremendous insight into the plight of Edward Snowden right now," observed GAP Executive Director Beatrice Edwards. Edwards launched the conference with opening remarks characterizing a new cyberwar that she described as "the endless war ... the forever war ... the war within."
In defense of whistleblowers Snowden and Bradley Manning, ex-NSA Senior Executive Thomas Drake stated: "I stand with them without equivocation." Citing the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which gives the government broad authority to detain Americans deemed hostile without trial, Drake defended Snowden's actions seeking refuge abroad.
See a video of the first panel below.
Similarly, former NSA Technical Director William Binney said: "I don't see what other choice he had ... He felt his only option was to leave the country and I don't blame him."
When confronted with the argument that Snowden was not revealing illegality and was therefore not a whistleblower, Binney responded: "If all this was legal, why did (telecom companies) need retroactive immunity?"
In a rare moment, Binney further alluded to the NSA program Stellar Wind, which he characterized as constructing social networks for any American based on their personal and professional associations. This program is presumed to be the predecessor for the controversial NSA PRISM program that was among Snowden's key revelations. "You have no freedom of association with the NSA knowing about it ... it's a matter of software," stated Binney.
"We've become the enemies we're trying to thwart," concluded former NSA official J. Kirk Wiebe. The former Senior Analyst further condemned the NSA by stating that 9/11 was the result of the organization's "self-interest, ego, and arrogance."
Thomas Drake, the most public NSA whistleblower until Snowden made his disclosures, also commented on 9/11, revealing that the NSA actively obstructed three Congressional investigations into the security failures that left the United States exposed to the attacks. Drake further revealed the agency set up a "War Room" to manage its communications with Congress.
A video of the second panel is available below.
Since 1977, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) has championed government and corporate accountability and transparency by advancing occupational free speech, defending whistleblowers, and empowering citizen activists. The mission of GAP is to make large bureaucratic institutions accountable through the effective exercise of conscience.
Douglas Kim is External Relations Officer for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection organization.