Traitor or Whistleblower? Attacks on Snowden Mount From Political and Media Figures

228px-Picture_of_Edward_SnowdenThe attacks on Edward Snowden have increased today. CNN’s Jeff Toobin who previously denounced Snowden as a “clown” has added that he is a “a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison”. In the meantime, Senator Dianne Feinstein and House Speaker John Boehner have denounced Snowden as a “traitor.” Other media organizations have barred their reporters from referring to him as a “whistleblower” in what has become a deluge of negative stereotyping of Snowden -even before we know the whole story. Indeed, the attacks began with folks like Toobin almost immediately after he came forward.

Once again, I am not saying that Snowden does not have to answer for any crimes, but the effort to portray him as a craven traitor is a bit too much too early in this story.

In Toobin’s case, it is worth noting that he has also belittled the objections to the massive surveillance program — the same position taken by Democrats and the White House. He has explained his view of those programs, which I disagree with but respect. However, for Toobin to call a man a “grandiose narcissist” is bizarre. As noted yesterday, this is a man who threw his life away to reveal what he believed to be an abusive surveillance program (as to many other citizens). This is one of the most narcissistic towns on Earth and its leading denizens in politics and the media often seem uncomfortable with people who are willing to throw away their lives on principle. It is the type of self-sacrifice that they would never consider in their own lives. We have many principled and honest people living in this town. However this is also  a town with an abnormally high number of  sycophants, self-promoters, adulterers and the rest. In other words, narcissists. It is not surprising that so many would find an individual like Snowden hard to understand or dangerous.

The labeling of Snowden as a traitor will only increase the likelihood that he will flee to another country. This individual and story is clearly more complex than dismissing him as a “clown” or “traitor.” He insists that he revealed this information protect the public and privacy. That is not the motivation of a traitor.

As for the refusal to call him a whistleblower, it seems part of the full court press to demonize Snowden or prevent favorable references to him. [It brings to mind the successful effort to convince media to call waterboarding “enhanced interrogation” in the media rather than “torture” as it has long been defined by courts] Snowden is a whistleblower in my mind. It is true that the Administration can argue that these programs were lawful to the Supreme Court’s precedent stripping pen registers of full constitutional protection in Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979). Many of us disagree with that ruling, but this is a new application of the precedent. While the government has long sought the information for individuals, the Administration is essentially issuing a national security letter against the entire population. Moreover, it does appear that violations have occurred in these programs.

Putting aside the legality issue, whistleblowers are defined more probably by public interest organizations. For example, The Government Accountability Project, a leading nonprofit handling whistleblowers, defines the term as “an employee who discloses information that s/he reasonably believes is evidence of illegality, gross waste or fraud, mismanagement, abuse of power, general wrongdoing, or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. Typically, whistleblowers speak out to parties that can influence and rectify the situation. These parties include the media, organizational managers, hotlines, or Congressional members/staff, to name a few.”

Snowden clearly fits that more common definition of whistleblower, even if the government contests the application of statutory protections. Many can legitimately question Snowden’s chosen means for objecting to this program. However, the hostile and dismissive treatment by the establishment reflects an obvious fear of the implications of this scandal. Even US Sen. Al Franken (D, Minn.) has tried to stamp out the outcry by insisting that he was aware of the program and “I can assure you, this is not about spying on the American people.” Democrats are scrambling to deal with the latest betrayal of civil liberties without their knowledge and consent. Franken knows that the issue is not how it has been used (though abuses are being reported) but its potential for abuse. It is a databank allowing transparency of every citizens calls and associations. Nevertheless, the establishment is joined together in mutual interest to deaden the reaction of citizens, as I discussed in a column this week.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)

The effort to discredit Snowden is an impressive effort and could well succeed. There is less discussion of the loss of privacy as the focus has shifted to the price of hotel rooms and annual salaries for Snowden. We are being told again, by people like Franken, to trust us and go back to sleep. Franken added “There are certain things that are appropriate for me to know that is not appropriate for the bad guys to know.” Of course, it was not just the bad guys who were not allowed to know. Citizens were also not supposed to know, but Snowden blew the plan. Now people are actually demanding answers and accountability – something secrecy was supposed to prevent.

Before we repeat the growing effort to label Snowden as a traitor, perhaps we should ask about the betrayal of our privacy and constitutional values by others pushing these labels.

159 thoughts on “Traitor or Whistleblower? Attacks on Snowden Mount From Political and Media Figures”

  1. “Diane Feinstein is too old to be in the Senate.”

    Multiply by 100.

  2. What follows are Thomas Drake’s tweets from his article in The Guardian today.

    Thomas Drake @Thomas_Drake1

    Vast surveillance regime created by willful&deliberate violation 1st/4th/5th Amend N deepest of secrecy, intent 2 spy on all & ‘own the net’

    8:22 PM – 10 Jun 2013


    Thomas Drake @Thomas_Drake1

    NSA – dystopian Stasi on Steroids that just wants “to know everything” about anybody, anytime, anywhere–regardless of any & all constraints

    5:31 PM – 9 Jun 2013


    Thomas Drake @Thomas_Drake1

    #Snowden chose 2 free darkside NatSec info as magnificent act of selfless civil disobedience 2 protect our liberty.

    3:41 PM – 9 Jun 2013


    Thomas Drake @Thomas_Drake1

    Latest NSA revelations: ppl must get clear & present danger of authoritarian totalitarianism via the Leviathan NatSec state & surveillance

    11:14 AM – 9 Jun 2013


    While what’s taking place may not directly impact most Americans, it’s clear to me (given the nature of a domestic program that hasn’t yet come to light) that this will impact future generations in ways that, again, many/most Americans can’t even begin to fathom.

    Drake’s tweets are not in the least bit hyberbolic — given what I’m seeing and what I know.

    Now’s the time to try to rein this in… Repeating the final portion of Drake’s article (full posting, above):

    “We are seeing an unprecedented campaign against whistleblowers and truth-tellers: it’s now criminal to expose the crimes of the state. Under this relentless assault by the Obama administration, I am the only person who has held them off and preserved his freedom. All the other whistleblowers I know have served time in jail, are facing jail or are already incarcerated or in prison.

    That has been my burden. I’ve dedicated the rest of my life to defending life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. I didn’t want surveillance to take away my soul, and I don’t want anyone else to have to live it.

    For that, I paid a very high price. And Edward Snowden will, too. But I have my freedom, and what is the price for freedom? What future do we want to keep?”

  3. Snowden saw what I saw: surveillance criminally subverting the constitution

    So we refused to be part of the NSA’s dark blanket. That is why whistleblowers pay the price for being the backstop of democracy

    by Thomas Drake

    What Edward Snowden has done is an amazingly brave and courageous act of civil disobedience.

    Like me, he became discomforted by what he was exposed to and what he saw: the industrial-scale systematic surveillance that is scooping up vast amounts of information not only around the world but in the United States, in direct violation of the fourth amendment of the US constitution.

    The NSA programs that Snowden has revealed are nothing new: they date back to the days and weeks after 9/11. I had direct exposure to similar programs, such as Stellar Wind, in 2001. In the first week of October, I had an extraordinary conversation with NSA’s lead attorney. When I pressed hard about the unconstitutionality of Stellar Wind, he said:

    “The White House has approved the program; it’s all legal. NSA is the executive agent.”

    It was made clear to me that the original intent of government was to gain access to all the information it could without regard for constitutional safeguards. “You don’t understand,” I was told. “We just need the data.”

    In the first week of October 2001, President Bush had signed an extraordinary order authorizing blanket dragnet electronic surveillance: Stellar Wind was a highly secret program that, without warrant or any approval from the Fisa court, gave the NSA access to all phone records from the major telephone companies, including US-to-US calls. It correlates precisely with the Verizon order revealed by Snowden; and based on what we know, you have to assume that there are standing orders for the other major telephone companies.

    It is technically true that the order applies only to meta-data. The problem is that in the digital space, metadata becomes the index for content. And content is gold for determining intent.

    This executive fiat of 2001 violated not just the fourth amendment, but also Fisa rules at the time, which made it a felony – carrying a penalty of $10,000 and five years in prison for each and every instance. The supposed oversight, combined with enabling legislation – the Fisa court, the congressional committees – is all a kabuki dance, predicated on the national security claim that we need to find a threat. The reality is, they just want it all, period.

    So I was there at the very nascent stages, when the government – wilfully and in deepest secrecy – subverted the constitution. All you need to know about so-called oversight is that the NSA was already in violation of the Patriot Act by the time it was signed into law.

    When I was in the US air force, flying an RC-135 in the latter years of the cold war, I was a German-Russian crypto-linguist. We called ourselves the “vacuum-cleaner of the sky” because our capability to gather information was enormous at the time. But it was always outward-facing; we could not collect on US targets because that was against the law. To the US government today, however, we are all foreigners.

    I became an expert on East Germany, which was then the ultimate surveillance state. Their secret police were monstrously efficient: they had a huge paper-based system that held information on virtually everyone in the country – a population of about 16-17 million. The Stasi’s motto was “to know everything”.

    So none of this is new to me. The difference between what the Bush administration was doing in 2001, right after 9/11, and what the Obama administration is doing today is that the system is now under the cover and color of law. Yet, what Snowden has revealed is still the tip of the iceberg.

    General Michael Hayden, who was head of the NSA when I worked there, and then director of the CIA, said, “We need to own the net.” And that is what they’re implementing here. They have this extraordinary system: in effect, a 24/7 panopticon on a vast scale that it is gazing at you with an all-seeing eye.

    I lived with that dirty knowledge for years. Before 9/11, the prime directive at the NSA was that you don’t spy on Americans without a warrant; to do so was against the law – and, in particular, was a criminal violation of Fisa. My concern was that we were more than an accessory; this was a crime and we were subverting the constitution.

    I differed as a whistleblower to Snowden only in this respect: in accordance with the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, I took my concerns up within the chain of command, to the very highest levels at the NSA, and then to Congress and the Department of Defense. I understand why Snowden has taken his course of action, because he’s been following this for years: he’s seen what’s happened to other whistleblowers like me.

    By following protocol, you get flagged – just for raising issues. You’re identified as someone they don’t like, someone not to be trusted. I was exposed early on because I was a material witness for two 9/11 congressional investigations. In closed testimony, I told them everything I knew – about Stellar Wind, billions of dollars in fraud, waste and abuse, and the critical intelligence, which the NSA had but did not disclose to other agencies, preventing vital action against known threats. If that intelligence had been shared, it may very well have prevented 9/11.

    But as I found out later, none of the material evidence I disclosed went into the official record. It became a state secret even to give information of this kind to the 9/11 investigation.

    I reached a point in early 2006 when I decided I would contact a reporter. I had the same level of security clearance as Snowden. If you look at the indictment from 2010, you can see that I was accused of causing “exceptionally grave damage to US national security”. Despite allegations that I had tippy-top-secret documents, In fact, I had no classified information in my possession, and I disclosed none to the Baltimore Sun journalist during 2006 and 2007. But I got hammered: in November 2007, I was raided by a dozen armed FBI agents, when I was served with a search warrant. The nightmare had only just begun, including extensive physical and electronic surveillance.

    In April 2008, in a secret meeting with the FBI, the chief prosecutor from the Department of Justice assigned to lead the prosecution said, “How would you like to spend the rest of your life in jail, Mr Drake?” – unless I co-operated with their multi-year, multimillion-dollar criminal leak investigation, launched in 2005 after the explosive New York Times article revealing for the first time the warrantless wiretapping operation. Two years later, they finally charged me with a ten felony count indictment, including five counts under the Espionage Act. I faced upwards of 35 years in prison.

    In July 2011, after the government’s case had collapsed under the weight of truth, I plead to a minor misdemeanor for “exceeding authorized use of a computer” under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act – in exchange for the DOJ dropping all ten felony counts. I received as a sentence one year’s probation and 240 hours of community service: I interviewed almost 50 veterans for the Library of Congress veterans history project. This was a rare, almost unprecedented, case of a government prosecution of a whistleblower ending in total defeat and failure.

    So, the stakes for whistleblowers are incredibly high. The government has got its knives out: there’s a massive manhunt for Snowden. They will use all their resources to hunt him down and every detail of his life will be turned inside out. They’ll do everything they can to “bring him to justice” – already there are calls for the “traitor” to be “put away for life”.

    He can expect the worst; he knows that. He went preemptively overseas because that at least delays the prying hand of the US government. But he could be extracted by rendition, as he has said. Certainly, my life was shredded. Once they have determined that you are a “person of interest” and an “enemy of the state”, they want to destroy you, period.

    I am now reliving the last 12 years from what’s been disclosed in the past week. I feel a kinship with Snowden: he is essentially the equivalent of me. He saw the surveillance state from within and saw how far it’s gone. The government has a pathological incentive to collect more and more and more; they just can’t help themselves – they have an insatiable hoarding complex.

    Since the government unchained itself from the constitution after 9/11, it has been eating our democracy alive from the inside out. There’s no room in a democracy for this kind of secrecy: it’s anathema to our form of a constitutional republic, which was born out of the struggle to free ourselves from the abuse of such powers, which led to the American revolution.

    That is what’s at stake here: to an NSA with these unwarranted powers, we’re all potentially guilty; we’re all potential suspects until we prove otherwise. That is what happens when the government has all the data.

    The NSA is wiring the world; they want to own internet. I didn’t want to be part of the dark blanket that covers the world, and Edward Snowden didn’t either.

    We are seeing an unprecedented campaign against whistleblowers and truth-tellers: it’s now criminal to expose the crimes of the state. Under this relentless assault by the Obama administration, I am the only person who has held them off and preserved his freedom. All the other whistleblowers I know have served time in jail, are facing jail or are already incarcerated or in prison.

    That has been my burden. I’ve dedicated the rest of my life to defending life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. I didn’t want surveillance to take away my soul, and I don’t want anyone else to have to live it.

    For that, I paid a very high price. And Edward Snowden will, too. But I have my freedom, and what is the price for freedom? What future do we want to keep?

  4. Hackers vs. suits: Why nerds become leakers

    By Timothy B. Lee, Published: June 11, 2013 at 4:19 pm


    “A society in which people can do and say what they want will also tend to be one in which the most efficient solutions win, rather than those sponsored by the most influential people,” Graham wrote. In other words, hackers tend to be fierce civil libertarians because they’re sensitive to the problems that occur when their habitual adversaries, the suits, gain too much power.

    To help gain some insight into why so many hackers engage in revealing secret information or passionately support those who do, I called Jacob Appelbaum. He’s a developer for the Tor project (though he emphasized he’s speaking only for himself) and a longtime supporter of WikiLeaks.

    He didn’t think much of my thesis. “This is about bravery, it’s not about learning how to use Linux,” he told me. “The courage, the moral and ethical components of it, are far more important than the technology.”

    “An extremely moral person would have trouble just following orders,” he said. “In the long tail of history just following orders is wrong. That’s the key thing that really matters.”

    Of course, Appelbaum’s explanation and mine aren’t mutually exclusive. Stallman, Swartz and Trigg have each displayed their own kind of courage in their single-minded pursuit of their ideals. They did what they believed to be right heedless of how their actions would be viewed by those around them. So it’s probably not a coincidence that men with their personality traits have been willing to risk everything to bring greater transparency to the national security state.”

  5. I am not 100% certain the term whistleblower entirely applies not because Snowden did anything wrong, he did not, but because this is something we should have been aware of all along. In our panic after 9/11 both Democrats and Republicans voted for the Patriot Act. Some of us were speaking out against it right from the beginning, knowing this is what would happen, but few listened at the time. Now we have hypocrites on the right afraid of a brown man with this power, and bigger hypocrites among Democratic fans of the President (which is not to say all Dems, or even the PotUS’s supporters are like this) suddenly OK with our privacy being invaded despite railing against it five plus years ago.
    Snowden certainly is not a traitor. He stood up for the American people against a state increasingly in service to big money. State corruption and collusion with big business are nothing new, but they have been snowballing at least since Reagan. So good on you Eric Snowden for doing the right thing.

  6. Sling: The problem is that proceesing the sheer volume of data via ‘drone’-manufactured software could result in an overwhelming volume of results – making the results effectively unusable.

    One way to fix that is pragmatically simple; by having the AI develop a probability assessment of threats, one can then sort the Hits by probability, and report only as many as the human staff can handle (or the eavesdropping equipment, or second-tier investigatory AIs, or whatever).

    So imagine a stock market investing AI, that has an investment budget of half a million a day. It may find all kinds of things it “believes” will be good investments today, but part of its mission is to find the best set of investments that costs less than half a million and maximizes probable return over some period of time. That produces what we call a “combinatorial explosion,” there are so many combinations of investment vehicle selection and possible levels of investment and a sea of historical data to examine that the search is effectively infinite, and would literally take billions of years on modern equipment.

    So we use AI to focus the search on the most probably paths to a solution. We accept we may not find the optimal solution, what we look for is the best solution we can find in, say, four hours using five thousand machines in parallel. How many solutions can we evaluate in twenty thousand processing hours?

    That is 72 million processing seconds. Even if they took one second each to evaluate, if we sort those solutions, the top twenty beat 72 million alternatives. So we can examine those top twenty, and we either find they have merit, or we figure out why the ones without merit were selected, and we try to revise and refine our AI with new rules or new information that can identify that lack of merit, without discarding too many of the solutions that do have merit.

    Like our own minds, AI is not designed to produce perfect solutions, just solutions with a high probability of being right. That is why we can be fooled by optical illusions, or magicians, or con men, because our sensory and mental equipment is not designed with bulletproof logic, it is designed to give us a most probable guess of what is happening in real time (fast enough for us to act on the information), and that guess can be wrong.

  7. Bob, Esq. 1, June 11, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    Think about it; the willingness of the public to give up their liberty, their privacy, so eagerly for the illusion of more safety …
    That has not been established, it has only been asserted by the media.

    They can’t be trusted obviously, since many of them are CIA and NSA assets (Mocking America).

  8. The attacks against those of us who want to stick with America and reject Stalingrad have a different definition of security than those who are selling a phony security.

    The definition of security is in the 4th Amendment:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    The only definition of reasonable in that Amendment, with respect to searches or seizures, is:

    1) probable cause,
    2) oath or affirmation
    3) a particular description
    a) of the place to be searched
    b) of the persons or things to be seized

    Where any of that is missing it is a destruction of security.

    Orwellian “Ministry of Truth” says:

    destruction of security = security
    war = Peace
    Freedom = slavery
    Ignorance = strength


    The Chill Factor: Investigative Reporter Talks US Covert Wars and National Secrets

    As the White House faces questions about secret internet and telephone surveillance programs, investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill says, “There’s a chill that’s been sent through the national security reporting community.”

    Scahill, who investigated the United States’ covert operations in the war against terrorism in a new documentary, “Dirty Wars,” told Top Line in an interview recorded prior to the most recent NSA leaks that sources inside the government have grown fearful of talking to the media.

    “Many sources that I used to be able to talk to through encrypted e-mail or with chats using OTR, off the record software, they won’t do it anymore,” Scahill said. “It’s either in person or nothing. … There’s a real fear on the part of whistleblowers and sources that the Espionage Act is going to come knocking on their door one day under the Noble Peace Prize-winning, Constitutional law professor, Democratic president.”

    In his documentary, Scahill makes the case that the Obama administration has overstepped its stated goals of “targeted killings” of terrorists in places like Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia.

    Asked if he thinks the U.S. is creating more terrorists than it is killing, Scahill responded: “I think we’re creating more enemies than we are killing terrorists. When I was in Yemen, people were saying, ‘You consider al Qaeda terrorism. We consider the drones terrorism.’”

    He told the story of investigating the United States’ first authorized attack in Yemen, which occurred in 2009.

  10. David Blauw
    1, June 11, 2013 at 4:32 pm
    “There are cases where they could inadvertently… perhaps… collect… but not… not wittingly.”

    I’m concerned about his use of “could” and “perhaps” in relationship to “collect” and “not wittingly”.

  11. Ralph Adamo,

    Bunk. Not even a good try. You sound like Benito Mussolini calling Francisco Franco a “leftist.”

    “The New Deal Democrats who understood that a democracy is not safe if it does not give its citizens an acceptable standard of living and protect the state from being hijacked by private power, are gone. The remnants of the liberal class, and the hollow institutions they inhabit, flee from those who speak in the strange and unfamiliar tongue of liberty and justice.” — Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class

    Corporate tools like Dianne Feinstein and Barack Obama will have nothing to do with liberty and justice any more than the likes of Boehner, McCain, and Graham will. But that sameness of ideology and policy only makes them <b<all crony-corporate crypto-fascists — i.e., totalitarians of the right. In other words: when a Democrat joins up with the Republicans, that doesn’t make all of them “leftists.” How ridiculous to even think so. When a “smart” man like Barack Obama adopts the ideology and policies of a dimwit like Deputy Dubya Bush, that does not make Bush as smart as Obama. It makes Obama as dumb as Bush. Take care with that free-association thing, because it can cut both ways.

    The political spectrum in the United States, especially since Reagan, has moved inexorably to the right, so that today hardly any politics left of right remains. Labor, the poor, and anti-war Americans have no political party to represent their interests, and to the extent that any political movement arises seeking to do so, the right-wing corporate oligarchy will rent a few Clinton and Obama Democrats to savagely discredit it.

    The United States today has become almost the exclusive private property of corporate “persons,” courtesy of right-wing court packing and corporate Democratic politicians selling out to the Republicans over the last thirty years. No one can find any genuine “left” in America today. It surprises me that anyone can even spell the word any more, since so little of anything resembling the real thing remains in the United States.

    Call a Republican a “leftist” and he’ll laugh.
    Call a Democrat a “leftist” and he’ll cry.

    If you want to see a political “left,” you’ll have to move to Europe.

  12. Oh, HumpinDog, don’t ask Barbara WaWa, she is older than Diane Feinstein for Chris Mathews sake. Keep the media types out. Ask the former CEOs of the Exceptional Nation what they think of the PRISM? Mein Gott, the NSA probably knows the contents of my email to Saturday Night Live.

  13. I think that Daniel Ellsberg needs to step up on a taller podium and speak up a little louder. And by the way, where do YOU stand Bill Clinton, Georgie Bush (Midland) and Georgie Bush (Kennybunkport), and Jimmy Peanut Farmer Carter? Do you think that Snowden is a traitor? How bout you Hilary? Condominium Rice? Barbara WaWa?

  14. If someone is 80 years old and from California and they call some person “a traitor” then I have some reservations. Diane Feinstein needs to resign. Toute Suite. She is too old for a nursing home much less the Senate.

  15. Okay, Bob, you lost me on this you’re “what’s wrong with this country” thing. I must have missed this, but who has said this and why?

    Yes, traveling limey, that quote was from Big Ben. The REAL Big Ben. And you’re right; people definitely should not get used to the notion of a Police State.

    But the way I see this working through the system is in increments. Instead of drastic sweeping changes toward a Police State, it’s done in small enough increments that people are conditioned to accept those changes and, ultimately, approve of them. It is said that if you put a frog in a pan of very hot water, it will try to jump out immediately if it can. But if you put the frog in cool water and gradually heat it in small increments, the frog will remain in the pan and ultimately perish from the heat. I don’t know if this is actually true, and I don’t recommend that anyone actually try this experiment because I happen to like frogs. But I like the metaphor, and I certainly think it applies to the human experience.

  16. Yes, the Police State is here in ever increasing degrees, but don’t you dare get used to it! It was clear to me in 1970, much more so after the monumental lie of 9/11. Deal with it as you can but never get used to it. Anyone who will trade freedom for security, deserves neither & will lose both. (B Franklin I believe)

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