Edward Snowden vindicated

In theory, whistleblowers in the US who expose government wrongdoing are supposed to have legal protection as long as they go through the proper channels. This was the claim made by those who condemned Edward Snowden as a traitor or spy or stooge for not using those channels and instead deciding to leak documents to carefully chosen journalists. Those condemning Snowden included almost the entire political, military, and media establishments.

Former head of the CIA David Petraeus, in an interview published in the Financial Times on 6 May, was asked if Edward Snowden should be prosecuted. “Unquestionably,” said Petraeus.

Leave aside the issue of hypocrisy – Petraeus shared classified information with his lover and was not charged with a felony – and instead think about what he says next. “If Snowden had wanted to help that debate, he could have very easily been a whistleblower who could have gone to the appropriate organization and offered his views. He didn’t.”

It is a line that has been repeated by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and just about every other establishment figure asked about Snowden. Rather than a leak to the media, they argue, there were alternative routes: he could have taken his concerns to Congress or pursued the official internal route, through the inspector general’s office.

In his defense, Snowden said that he did not trust the whistleblower protections and pointed to the case of whistleblower Thomas Drake, who in 2002 was hounded and pursued by the US government and financially ruined when he tried to show that Trailblazer, a data analysis tool then being developed was an expensive and useless boondoggle. Snowden said that Drake’s experience persuaded him to take the route he chose and that the whistleblower laws were actually a trap designed to lure people into the government’s clutches.

Spencer Ackerman and Ewen MacAskill write that a new book contains charges by John Crane, former senior Pentagon investigator, that substantiate Snowden’s claims that the Inspector General’s office, rather than being the protector of whistleblowers, actually is a persecutor of them.

Crane, a longtime assistant inspector general at the Pentagon, has accused his old office of retaliating against a major surveillance whistleblower, Thomas Drake, in an episode that helps explain Snowden’s 2013 National Security Agency disclosures. Not only did Pentagon officials provide Drake’s name to criminal investigators, Crane told the Guardian, they destroyed documents relevant to his defence.

Snowden, responding to Crane’s revelations, said he had tried to raise his concerns with colleagues, supervisors and lawyers and been told by all of them: “You’re playing with fire.”

Snowden continued: “The sad reality of today’s policies is that going to the inspector general with evidence of truly serious wrongdoing is often a mistake. Going to the press involves serious risks, but at least you’ve got a chance.”

Snowden cited Drake’s case as a reason for his lack of faith in the government’s official whistleblower channels.

“When I was at NSA, everybody knew that for anything more serious than workplace harassment, going through the official process was a career-ender at best. It’s part of the culture,” Snowden told the Guardian.

“If your boss in the mailroom lies on his timesheets, the IG might look into it. But if you’re Thomas Drake, and you find out the president of the United States ordered the warrantless wiretapping of everyone in the country, what’s the IG going to do? They’re going to flush it, and you with it.”

But this is of course the standard pattern of the Obama administration and indeed of the government in general, as can be seen in the way it treated the financial scandal. They go after the small fry with great gusto and fanfare but if you point your finger at the powerful or the government, then the government goes after you.

What the government did to Drake was absolutely shameful and it is a scandal that they still have not apologized to him and provided any compensation for the hell they put him through,

The case against Drake, who was initially charged with 10 felony counts of espionage, famously disintegrated before trial – but not before he was professionally and financially ruined. And now it turns out that going through official channels may have actually set off the chain of events that led to his prosecution.

Drake initially took his concerns about wasteful, illegal, and unconstitutional actions by the NSA to high-ranking NSA officials, then to appropriate staff and members of Congress. When that didn’t work, he signed onto a whistleblower complaint to the Pentagon inspector general made by some recently retired NSA staffers. But because he was still working at the NSA, he asked the office to keep his participation anonymous.

Now, Hertsgaard writes that Crane alleges that his former colleagues in the inspector general’s office “revealed Drake’s identity to the Justice Department; then they withheld (and perhaps destroyed) evidence after Drake was indicted; finally, they lied about all this to a federal judge.”

Crane’s growing concerns about his office’s conduct pushed him to his breaking point, according to Hertsgaard. But his supervisors ignored his concerns, gave him the silent treatment, and finally forced him to resign in January 2013.

Will the blockbuster revelations in this new book result in the Obama administration taking strong action against those who perverted the course of justice and persecuted whistleblowers? I wouldn’t hold my breath. When it comes to protecting its coercive national security apparatus, including torturers, the Obama administration has been a disgrace.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    the Obama administration has been a disgrace

    Don’t worry -- come November, you’ll have the option to vote for four more years of the same, or… whatever Trump will be. Which makes Trump Charybdis, by my calculation.

  2. Nick Gotts says


    Anyone who wants to know what sort of President Trump would be -- as opposed to what policies he would follow (if that’s even the right word for a man unable to avoid contradicting himself almost every time he opens his mouth), should review his business record -- four corporate bankruptcies, at other people’s expense -- and view the documentary You’ve Been Trumped, which shows how he abused and bullied local homeowners who did not wish to sell their homes, so he could build a golf course in north-east Scotland -- vandalising an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) in the process. Since completing the course, Trump has repeatedly tried to prevent an offshore windfarm being built where it would be visible from the course.

  3. says

    Former head of the CIA David Petraeus, in an interview published in the Financial Times on 6 May, was asked if Edward Snowden should be prosecuted. “Unquestionably,” said Petraeus.

    Speaking of horrible electoral choices — if the security state that Petraeus was part of hadn’t turned on him and taken him off the table, we might have seen him going into politics. Speaking of douchebags who should be prosecuted: Petraeus was head of the CIA during the Benghazi clusterfuck -- it should have stuck to him much more than it stuck to Clinton. He’s a ribbon-hunting douchebag with sketchy credentials. One of his early claims to fame was “writing the book” on counter-insurgency operations (COIN) except that he mostly ripped his material straight out of David Galula’s 1940 texts on COIN, which brough the French such success in Algeria and Indochina. Somehow Petraeus managed to pass his outright theft of Galula’s bad ideas off as innovative and effective. He should have been sacked for that, but the US military doesn’t apparently care about cheating any more. Unless it’s cheating on your spouse and being so stupid about it that you use office email and your employer-provided PDA. They should have fired him for stupidity.

    He could have beaten Trump and maybe even Clinton.

  4. says

    When it comes to protecting its coercive national security apparatus, including torturers, the Obama administration has been a disgrace.

    Watch what Clinton does. She’ll make Obama look like a piker.

  5. dphuntsman says

    Unfortunately, based on my own experience in my agency, this all has the ring of truth to me. In my case, it wasn’t national security-related. But….. a person I was supporting at another facility performed a study with a panel of experts that could be read as showing a better, more efficient, more capable way forward for the nation in the area being discussed than the program of record. I was in a position to find out that the conclusions of that report were not being forwarded up the chain to decision makers. So, I went to my agency’s IG (actually met with him briefly face to face to tell him I was going to bring something to him). I spent weeks on writing up my 4-page assessment; making sure of getting all my facts right with folks who knew them (but wanted to remain anonymous, etc.).

    I wasn’t arguing for a change in policy -- because that is not within the IG’s purview. What the nation’s policy should be is the job of the nation’s elected leaders. Instead, I took it forward as gross mismanagement; i.e., the organization/managers deliberately keeping the study from reaching decision makers, in spite of the fact that potentially billions were at stake. Anyway, the IG did nothing; not even a ‘No, I’m not going to do anything about this, because of the following…….”; nothing. I complained to someone in the IG’s office I knew personally, that simply to ignore something I was going out on a limb to bring forward was not acceptable; still, silence. Until……………..

    A couple of months later, without warning, on the same day, the guy at the other facility who was the primary lead on the study; and me, hundreds of miles away, who took the issue of its being blocked to the IG -- on the very same day, we both received firing notices, effective 30 days later (which would have been Christmas day). At the time, I had been in the Federal civil service for 36 years. I chose to fight it, got a lawyer; but….as mentioned above, I was required to use an internal agency process as a Federal employee, and it took a full five years to bring it to a conclusion. (Short version: I’m still a Federal employee, and I’ve been reimbursed for my attorney’s fees….but…..) while fighting the effort, the legal fees at the time caused me to lose my condo of 17 years, and the $200,000 I had invested in it over those years. (Great condo, lake views!). I lost it in a foreclosure, something I never imagined would happen to me. And that, they’ll never be able to make up to me.

    So, yeah, the story you paint is believable. When agencies misbehave -- even on non-national security cases, like mine -- the last thing that ever gets put in writing in official paperwork, or admitted to, is the truth. And anyone trying to fight it, will pay a heavy price, no matter where on the scale they reside. I don’t think Snowden had any choice; he had a duty, as an American, and there was only one way he had any chance of making a difference, since going through official channels would have simply led to him being silenced an never heard from again, in my personal opinion.

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