Criminal or Whistleblower? Hero or Traitor? Edward Snowden has captured headlines across the country after the former NSA contractor revealed to the UK Guardian the NSAʼs tracking and collection of personal information on hundreds of millions of Americans. For the last week, every major news organization in America has begun a trial in the court of public opinion but what is happening is all about the messenger. Very little has been said about his message. Plus, the question media isnʼt asking, who here actually committed a crime?
Edward Snowden shocked the world when he sat down with the UK Guardianʼs Glenn Greenwald. Snowden revealed to the world that the NSA has an internal government computer system call Prism.
How it works: Under secret court orders the NSA has been collecting two things, foreign online communications including email, chat and VOIP communications and gathering metadata relating to millions of phone calls which could reveal the location of callers but not the content of the calls.
Now that is the most technical explanation. In short, since 2007, phone and tech companies, including reportedly Google, YouTube, Microsoft, Skype, Facebook, Apple, AOL and others have been required to provide back-door access to the NSA. Though the exact details of those companies' agreements and all the ways they share data have not been revealed. Also, that the NSA had been tracing the locations of calls from every Verizon and Sprint customer.
Among the latest claims, that in 2008 Yahoo actually fought the order to hand over the information, claiming the order was unconstitutional. That was until a court ordered they comply. Also in 2008, Congress gave the Department of Justice the authority to make reluctant companies comply.
So that is what the NSA has been doing. The man who brought it to light, Edward Snowden.
Snowden was an NSA contractor working for who worked for Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden was an intelligence analyst who told the Guardian that he couldnʼt live with what the NSA was doing. "I sitting at my desk certainly had the abilities to wiretap anyone from you to your accountant to a federal judge to even the President if I had a personal email." claimed Snowden.
Now, it is important to understand who Snowden is because the ﬁrst question that should be asked, "Is Snowden credible as a whistleblower?" Clearly he is but is he also a criminal?
Speaker of the House John Boehner, Senators John McCain and Dianne Feinstein and former Vice President Dick Cheney have all come out calling Snowden a traitor who should be tried for treason.
Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolten says that Snowden committed an act of war against the United States by revealing this information.
FBI Director Robert Mueller says the Bureau is doing everything it can to track down Snowden, who appears to be off the grid in Hong Kong.
The push against Snowden isnʼt coming only from lawmakers and elected ofﬁcials. The Associated Press has told all of its member agencies to refer to Snowden only as a "leaker" and not a whistleblower.
Full Disclosure here, according to the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. The WPA protects government employees from retaliatory action for voluntarily disclosing information about dishonest or illegal activities occurring in a government agency.
Which means the real question surrounding Snowden actually surrounds the NSA. Snowden is only a whistleblower if he revealed something illegal. While it is certainly unethical, the Prism program by the NSA illegal?
Congress, the NSA and the White House say, no. Simply put, the Prism program, they claim is legal and was authorized by the FISA ACT which was reauthorized in 2007 and allows for bulk collection of telephone records and by the Patriot Actʼs Section 215.
Two lawsuits, however, one by the ACLU and the other by Larry Klayman the former chairman of Judical Watch say, yes. The program, those lawsuits claim, violate both the Constitution of the United States and federal law. Speciﬁcally breach of privacy, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and due process rights.
So who is right? Consider this. The Patriot Act is without question a law that in many ways overreaches constitutionally protected rights of U.S. citizens. Even within that over-reach, Section 215, requires the government to provide facts to show that the information they are gathering relates to a foreign intelligence or terrorism investigation.
Is it possible that the NSA was doing that? That among the millions and millions of Verizon customers there were cases where the NSA was investigating connections to terrorism? The NSA now says this happened at least 50 times since 9-11. What is not possible, that every single Verizon customer and even more-so that every wireless customer in America has made calls relating to a foreign intelligence or terrorism investigation.
In short, what media has not told you and what most lawmakers wonʼt admit the public is that even by the over-reaching standards of the Patriot Act, what the NSA has been doing and is still doing is clearly illegal.
What You Need To Know... that is actually, the fundamental question of our time. Forget email and phone records and fear of terrorism. The real question, do you possess any actual rights?
If the Constitution guarantees your protection from unlawful search and seizure, guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process when charged with a crime and yet all of those rights can be suspended not because you are a terrorist per-se but because the government wants to know if you might be a terrorist or might be connected to a terrorist, then you never actually had those rights in the ﬁrst place.
So when you hear someone say "If youʼre not doing anything wrong you have nothing to worry about" what they are actually saying is, "If iʼm not doing anything wrong, I donʼt need to have rights."
Benjamin Franklin saw it differently saying those who would trade essential liberties for temporary safety, deserve neither.
The full Edward Snowden interview:
UPDATE: Barack Obama says, "I don't think Mr. Snowden was a patriot." Of course not. He only blew the whistle on an agency that is under your authority!