Snowden On Going Through 'Proper Channels': Reporting Concerns Gets You Flagged As A 'Troublemaker'

from the good-thing-he-decided-to-go-above-the-NSA's-head dept

The NSA defenders who label Ed Snowden a “traitor” (senators, congressmen and any number of former intelligence officials) often assert the whistleblower had an opportunity to use “proper channels” rather than take the route he chose: leaking documents to journalists.

Snowden’s written testimony to the European Parliament, which was covered here earlier by Glyn Moody, includes in-depth responses to those who still believe he could have handled this differently. When asked if there are “adequate procedures to signal wrongdoing” inside the agency, Snowden had this to say:

Unfortunately not. The culture within the US Intelligence Community is such that reporting serious concerns about the legality or propriety of programs is much more likely to result in your being flagged as a troublemaker than to result in substantive reform…

[As noted here earlier, Snowden’s negative writeup while with the CIA was a result of him bringing a security flaw in the agency’s software to a supervisor’s attention. He fixed the flaw and was rewarded with a critical note in his file written by the person he originally brought the problem to.]

In my personal experience, repeatedly raising concerns about legal and policy matters with my co-workers and superiors resulted in two kinds of responses. The first were well-meaning but hushed warnings not to “rock the boat,” for fear of the sort of retaliation that befell former NSA whistleblowers like Wiebe, Binney, and Drake…

The second were similarly well-meaning but more pointed suggestions, typically from senior officials, that we should let the issue be someone else’s problem. Even among the most senior individuals to whom I reported my concerns, no one at NSA could ever recall an instance where an official complaint had resulted in an unlawful program being ended, but there was a unanimous desire to avoid being associated with such a complaint in any form.

The world’s foremost intelligence agency is nothing more than the world’s most secretive cubicle farm, staffed with supervisors more interested in coasting towards retirement at the helm of the placid USS CYA then actually addressing an employee’s concerns.

And it’s not as though Snowden didn’t make an honest effort to utilize the proper channels.

I had reported these clearly problematic programs to more than ten distinct officials, none of whom took any action to address them. As an employee of a private company rather than a direct employee of the US government, I was not protected by US whistleblower laws, and I would not have been protected from retaliation and legal sanction for revealing classified information about lawbreaking in accordance with the recommended process.

The loophole in whistleblower protection is in the process of being closed by sympathetic court decisions. Courts are granting contractors the same protection as US government employees. But this “protection” is ultimately hardly worth the paper the decision is printed on. Intelligence agencies are still excluded from this protection, and the protection itself is highly suspect. Ultimately, everything runs through the Obama administration — the same administration that has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other administrations combined. Snowden harbors no illusions that the US government will ever take him back on amicable terms.

There has not yet been any substantive whistleblower reform in the US, and unfortunately my government has taken a number of disproportionate and persecutory actions against me. US government officials have declared me guilty of crimes in advance of any trial, they’ve called for me to be executed or assassinated in private and openly in the press, they revoked my passport and left me stranded in a foreign transit zone for six weeks, and even used NATO to ground the presidential plane of Evo Morales – the leader of Bolivia – on hearing that I might attempt to seek and enjoy asylum in Latin America.

As they say, there’s no “there” there. The proper channels Snowden supposedly should have used were either a) sealed off by insular officials who preferred career longevity to “rocking the boat,” or b) would have resulted in prosecution thanks to a lack of whistleblower protection.

Let’s not forget that one of Snowden’s “proper channels” publicly compared the whistleblower to spies who sold government secrets to foreign operatives, called him a “thief” and referred to the journalists who ended up with NSA documents as “agents” in control of their “handler.” When not smearing the ex-NSA contractor, this “proper channel” said he would have met Snowden’s concerns with talking points and meetings with intelligence subcommittees — the same subcommittees that have done nothing but circle the wagons around the agency since the leaks began.

Suggesting Snowden could have handled this through “proper channels” is to suggest that the NSA’s overreach should never have come to light or, at best, that Snowden should be prosecuted for whistleblowing. “Proper channels” in the intelligence community are an illusion. Snowden found this out firsthand and these responses prompted his eventual document heist. The government really has no one to blame but itself for the situation it finds itself in.

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Comments on “Snowden On Going Through 'Proper Channels': Reporting Concerns Gets You Flagged As A 'Troublemaker'”

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31 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

“The culture within the US Intelligence Community is such that reporting serious concerns about the legality or propriety of programs is much more likely to result in your being flagged as a troublemaker than to result in substantive reform”

That means, they cornered themselves in dead end street, and unable to reform.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The more strictly centralized the powerstructure is in a system, the more responsibility each piece of the chain has for subordinates. Since “shit falls downward”, the more responsibility you can put on your subordinate, the less of the blame you will take and therefore the bigger your chances of promotion even after an “incident”.
By not taking the concerns from Snowden up or writing him off as a troublemaker to superiors they are protecting their CV from universally bad effects:
– In case Snowden is getting persecuted the superior of Snowden would have to answer for why he let his subordinate do as he did, without informing his supeirior of the potential problems with him.
– Should Snowdens concerns be taken at face value and acted upon, the result would be a critique of the specific department and the shit that will inevitably drip down on him from his superiors.

Not rocking the boat is just good judgement from a carreer perspective…

AricTheRed says:

This whole thing sounds sort of office spacey...

“The world’s foremost intelligence agency is nothing more than the world’s most secretive cubicle farm, staffed with supervisors more interested in coasting towards retirement at the helm of the placid USS CYA then actually addressing an employee’s concerns.”

I’m imaginging “The Clap” (James Clapper for those of you unfarmiliar with my raving Libertarian rant) as Lumburgh-

Yeah, soo…, I’m gonna need you to come in on Saturday. We’ve “lost” a few people recently, and not everyones consitutional rights have been vilated yet, sooo, yeah, we’re gonna need you to come in this weekend. And it’s not gonna’ be a half day or anything, soooo, yeah thanks…

David says:

Fighting moles

If you are a farmer and see on your meadow wide streaks of yellowing grass moddled with mole hills, the obvious recourse is to jump into action, digging out and killing the moles.

But moles don’t eat grass roots. Moles eat grubs, and grubs eat grass roots.

The U.S. is rooted in the constitution and the belief in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Those roots cannot be salvaged by killing the moles that are digging up the dirt.

You need to address the grub infestation instead. If you get that under control, the moles will mostly move on to yellower pastures.

David says:

Re: Re: Fighting moles

Well, “kill the cowardly and traitorous mole!” is what you’d expect to be hearing from grubs. And indeed, that’s the tune of the chant. Never mind that if we were actually interested in prosecuting traitors and cowards, we would have an ample supply of them in the NSA and congress without having to look as far as Russia.

JEDIDIAH says:

Re: Re: Re:2 How I Learned to stop Worrying About Asshats and Love the Internet Instead

The patron still deserves some of the credit. That is why the greatest patron of the Renaissance was called “father of the nation” and statues of him continue to keep watch over many of the masterpieces he commissioned.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Corporate thinkspeak

What Ed Snowden (and others like him) failed to realize until too late is that the government is just a publicly funded headquarters for people who like to coast on their resumes, while not doing an awful lot of work.

In other words, any big corporation has the exact same mindset and work ethic: “Don’t rock the boat”, which is taken so seriously that if one does complain to their immediate superiors, the results will eventually lead to termination of employment due to insubordination and other legally vague words.

And he’s not a coward for having taken on this massive bureaucracy-in fact the opposite is true. I think he knew by the end of his job that he would either be fired or quit under circumstances that could best be described as ‘troubled’.

But he did an awful lot of damage on his way out, and for that alone, we should be grateful for his willingness to sacrifice his career in search of the truth and to expose the lies this government is capable of.

After all, I don’t think there are a lot of people at the NSA today who would dare to do the same thing. If they were thinking about it, his case would be set up as a prime example of “how not to play nice with the other kids.”

Or as the job description states: “Must be a team player”.

He definitely wasn’t that!

Digitari says:

easy VS hard

Corruption is easy, cutting corners, blaming others, pointing fingers, all Very easy to do.

Being Honest, taking responsibility, admitting mistakes, taking (true) corrective action, DOING YOUR JOB(!!!) that’s hard, and most of that involves real work.

Hiding (your) corruption takes work too, but it’s also very (personally) motivating, doing the “right thing” is sometimes painful in many ways, so there is Less Motivation to do so.

Giving up your current life and all that you know, for a complete unknown just for your integrity, is the hardest thing of all. ( I know from personal experience )

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