Snowden Is A Whistleblower . . . Just Not In The United States

228px-Picture_of_Edward_Snowden220px-Pea_WhistleThese are certain things that you will not easily find in U.S. media like Jimmy Carter declaring that we no longer have a functioning democracy in this country. Another is reading about Snowden as a whistleblower. The White House has been highly successful in telling media not to refer to Snowden as a whistleblower and enlisting various media allies to attack him as a clown and a traitor or mocking his fear of returning home. This week you had to read Moscow Times or other foreign sites (or a link on Reddit) to learn that Snowden has won this year’s Whistleblower Award established by German human rights organizations.

The award handed down by the Association of German Scientists (VDW) and the German branch of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA) comes with a small financial reward that will be given to Snowden’s legal representatives. Such awards will bolster his claim for asylum.

While there is no evidence thus far of any motivation by Snowden except his desire to reveal an unconstitutional program, the media has largely complied with a demand of the White House that he not be called a whistleblower as Obama officials and members of Congress denounce him. The problem is that many Americans and foreigners view him as a whistleblower and some as a hero. Likewise, the effort to get Americans to embrace a new surveillance-friendly model of privacy has largely failed though most average Americans feel helpless in a system with a locked monopoly of power by two parties.

As I have noted before, 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. We saw the same full court press in defining Julien Assange in a way that avoids calling him a journalist or a whistleblower. He is just an Assange. Well Snowden is just a Snowden in the view of U.S. media . . . until he can be called a prisoner.

140 thoughts on “Snowden Is A Whistleblower . . . Just Not In The United States”

  1. Glenn Greenwald: Even low-level NSA analysts can spy on Americans
    “And it’s all done with no need to go to a court,” he told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos

    Glenn Greenwald said during a Sunday appearance on ABC News’ “This Week” that even “low-level” National Security Agency analysts have access to a “powerful and invasive” tool that allows them to spy on the private emails and phone calls of Americans.

    “The NSA has trillions of telephone calls and emails in their databases that they’ve collected over the last several years,” Greenwald told George Stephanopoulos. “And what these programs are, are very simple screens, like the ones that supermarket clerks or shipping and receiving clerks use, where all an analyst has to do is enter an email address or an IP address, and it does two things. It searches that database and lets them listen to the calls or read the emails of everything that the NSA has stored, or look at the browsing histories or Google search terms that you’ve entered, and it also alerts them to any further activity that people connected to that email address or that IP address do in the future.”

  2. Mr. Turley, is it true that you and Gerry Spence and Daniel Sheehan have agreed to be a dynamo defense team for Jonathan Edwards?

  3. Michael,

    I can’t take credit for those eloquent words. They were written by Bill Black.

    I really like what you wrote: “The rest that has happened since is simple consequence of being unwilling or unable to tell the truth. Even the truth that “Everybody Knows”. ”

    The failure to speak honestly about the truth has been such a disaster. It’s starting to change, but there is a very long way to go.

  4. Make no mistake… America tortures, it tortures its own, and it does so on American soil.

  5. ” Bill Black: Is it Legal Malpractice to Fail to Get Holder to Promise Not to Torture your Client?

    Yves here. I wonder whether Black’s pointed analysis still manages to be too charitable. After all, we don’t do torture in the US or elsewhere. It’s “enhanced interrogation”.

    By Bill Black, the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One and an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Cross posed from New Economic Perspectives

    One of the things I never expected to read was a promise by any United States official that a potential defendant in a criminal prosecution by our federal courts “will not be tortured.”

    The idea that the Attorney General of the United States of America would send such a letter to the representative of a foreign government, particularly Russia under the leadership of a former KGB official, was so preposterous that I thought the first news report I read about Attorney General Holder’s letter concerning Edward Snowden was satire. The joke, however, was on me. The Obama and Bush administrations have so disgraced the reputation of the United States’ criminal justice system that we are forced to promise KGB alums that we will not torture our own citizens if Russia extradites them for prosecution.

    The standard joke that came to mind when I read Holder’s letter was the bartender who brings out glasses to three customers and asks “which of you ordered his whiskey in a clean glass?” We take it for granted that no restaurant or bar will knowingly serve us our drinks in a dirty glass. I always took it for granted that no U.S. attorney general would knowingly allow a criminal suspect in U.S. custody to be the victim of torture, raped, branded, or a host of other forms of brutality.

    It is difficult to conceive of why Holder would humiliate America by promising Russia that we would not torture Snowden were Russia to extradite him. Perhaps it was a clever propaganda ploy by Russia that Holder fell for like a rube (reprising his infamous failure when he was “played” by the fugitive Marc Rich’s lawyers to deliver via President Clinton one of the most embarrassing pardons in presidential history).

    More likely, Holder is under so much pressure from the intelligence “community” to punish Snowden that he thought he was being clever by promising Russia that we would not torture our own citizens – in this particular case. Holder phrased his explanation in a manner that suggests he was trying to be clever: “Torture is unlawful in the United States.” “Gitmo,” of course, is not “in the United States.” The locations of the many secret prisons the U.S. established in other nations were chosen so that we could torture suspects. The infamous historical parallel for this is that it was unlawful to hold slaves in England – but England could dominate the Atlantic slave trade and hold millions of slaves in the Caribbean islands because slavery was unlawful only “in” England under English law.

    More subtly, note that Holder says that torture is “unlawful” – not “illegal.” An act that is merely “unlawful” cannot be prosecuted as a crime. It may provide the basis for a civil suit. An “illegal” act can be prosecuted. After World War II, the United States prosecuted members of the Japanese military for torturing U.S. POWs (particularly by “waterboarding” our men). Those found guilty received severe sentences, often execution by hanging.

    The CIA officials who conducted and ordered that we torture suspects through means that included waterboarding”, in at least one case roughly 100 times, are understandably anxious to escape prosecution for acts that the U.S. has taken the position constitute war crimes warranting execution. Holder, therefore, claims that torture is merely “unlawful” (and only if inflicted “in the United States”). Torture, of course, is illegal. It involves the intentional infliction of intense pain and terror. It is designed to produce severe physical and psychological trauma. It inherently constitutes aggravated battery. It often leads to death even when the torturer does not desire that the victim die (at least prior to the extraction of additional statements from the victim). These forms of homicide are illegal and range from second degree to first degree murder.

    Holder’s letter promising the Russians that we would not torture Snowden also raises a practical question for the defense bar. Is it malpractice for defense counsel not to demand written assurances from the U.S. attorney general in any extradition case that the United States will not torture the suspect – in any nation? Do defense lawyers need to extract a written promise that the suspect will not be assassinated by the U.S. prior to trial? How about a promise that the United States will not hold the suspect’s family hostage (or worse) if they agree to waive extradition? It is obscene that Holder promised not to torture Snowden, but the underlying obscenity is that the United States did torture suspects and Holder has refused to prosecute those who ordered and conducted the torture. When a nation engages in torture the consequences for its honor are long-standing and lead to a series of disgraces.” (naked capitalism)

    1. @Jill. The “kids” have a way of saying ‘yeah… what you said is so true it is summed up in this simple saying:


      This bit of yours is dead on. More could be said, little more could be added to this horrific example of a nation afraid of its shadow (double entendre’ intended) … afraid of its citizens that it has to do what it is doing. It is so blinkered in its fear and rage that it cannot see how stupid it is acting.

      You have, in your closing, caught the original sin of this administration (who knows what pressures there were that we cannot see, nor imagine. They must be immense.)

      It is obscene that Holder promised not to torture Snowden, but the underlying obscenity is that the United States did torture suspects and Holder has refused to prosecute those who ordered and conducted the torture When a nation engages in torture the consequences for its honor are long-standing and lead to a series of disgraces.”

      This is the shadow. We will not acknowledge the truth of nearly anything important. Consequently we must come up with another narrative to explain what happened/ is happening. When that welter of lies becomes unsustainable the only choices are to admit it, and start afresh… or lash out and attempt to “kill” anyone who can see or knows what is actually going on that might expose the system.

      We originally allowed “newspeak” level redefinitions of words to cover/justify our actions: Torture in this example, and when the new administration came in promising to tell the truth and make changes… And then did not…the game was over right then. The rest that has happened since is simple consequence of being unwilling or unable to tell the truth. Even the truth that “Everybody Knows”.

      It is this underlying dynamic that, I believe, is driving everything pertaining to this entire subject : NSA, the faux “War on Drugs”, Total Information Awareness Agency – in fact, though they were forced to change the name-, Snowden, Manning, Grenwald, AP journalist scandal, criminalization of journalistic practices. And that does not begin to tap into the explicit underpinnings of the various off book Wars, Financial Crisis and etc.

      Back to yours.


  6. Jill,

    Then you should appreciate the forthcoming column as it addresses the data scrubbing in the terms of propaganda. It’s titled “Propaganda 104 Supplemental: Just Because You’ve Forgotten Doesn’t Mean You’re Forgiven”. I’ll be posting it later today or tonight.

  7. Gene, I recommend reading about the CIA whistleblower as well. She certainly is no choirgirl but she has evidence going straight to the top of the Bush administration.

    However, this story is very important. I’m glad information about the scrubbing is in the public domain. We need to understand what is actually happening with this govt. This scrubbing is part of propagandizing our people–literally erasing the past. Thanks for writing about it.

  8. Jill,

    Funny you should mention that. I’m already working on that story for a column later today.

  9. “The folks from the Sunlight Foundation have noticed that the website, which was set up by the Obama transition team after the election in 2008 has suddenly been scrubbed of all of its original content. They noted that the front page had pointed to the White House website for a while, but you could still access a variety of old material and agendas. They were wondering why the administration would suddenly pull all that interesting archival information… and hit upon a clue. A little bit from the “ethics agenda”:

    Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process. “

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