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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

Veteran NSA Whistleblowers: Internal Channels Failed Us, Snowden Did the Right Thing

Jesselyn Radack, June 24, 2013

Three of my clients, National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblowers William Binney, J. Kirk Wiebe, and Thomas Drake are featured in a front-page USA Today article discussing the latest disclosures on NSA's massive domestic spying operation from whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Q: 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.

Drake had this to say about Snowden:
He is by all definitions a classic whistle-blower and by all definitions he exposed information in the public interest. We're now finally having the debate that we've never had since 9/11.
Binney, Drake, and Wiebe have warned for years that the NSA is collecting millions of Americans domestic communications - metadata AND content.

Speaking from their incredible experience, both having worked for decades at NSA and having been subjected to years-long retaliatory criminal investigations, and in Drake's case prosecution under the Espionage Act, Drake and Wiebe explained the dire situation for whistleblowers in the intelligence community:

Drake: I actually salute him. I will say it right here. I actually salute him, given my experience over many, many years both inside and outside the system. Remember, I saw what he saw. I want to re-emphasize that. What he did was a magnificent act of civil disobedience. He's exposing the inner workings of the surveillance state. And it's in the public interest. It truly is.

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. It's a toss of the coin, and the odds are you are going to be hammered.

My organization, the Government Accountability Project, echoed Wiebe's assessment of the internal non-options for intelligence community whistleblowers, who have no meaningful protection but who are the whistleblowers the public needs to hear from most. In a statement last week, GAP said:

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.

Kevin Gosztola of Firedoglake also has a must-read that dismantles the argument that Snowden should have used internal channels:
Not only are they purely or willfully ignorant and misunderstand how the government has consciously sought to suppress and deter conscientious employees in national security or intelligence agencies from blowing the whistle, but they also do not think the information warrants a blowing of the whistle.

In adopting this attitude toward whistleblowers, they enable the national security state to operate in total secrecy and use classification to, as Drake described, “bury, hide and obfuscate.” They help to ensure that the only discussions about laws, policies and programs related to national security are ones permissible or sanctioned by the government. They condemn and smear the very kind of people who most want to come to the media organizations that amplify their voice and provide scoops for news stories.

Snowden's disclosures that the NSA is conducting routine, blanket domestic surveillance have sparked a much-needed national debate on privacy and the role of NSA. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit based on Snowden's disclosures, which will hopefully bring more meaningful Court oversight and reform. NSA has been secretly listening in on Americans for over a decade now and consistently denying the extent of the surveillance and misleading congressional overseers. It is time that that the public listen to the whistleblowers.

This article orginally appeared in the Daily Kos.

Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.