White House Finally Answers Snowden Pardon Petition: The Only Good Whistleblowing Is Punished Whistleblowing
from the because-of-course-this-would-be-the-answer dept
The White House has finally responded — more than two years later — to a petition asking for a pardon of Edward Snowden. The petition surfaced soon after Snowden went public with his identity. Less than three weeks later — June 25, 2013 — it had passed the 100,000-signature threshold.
Understandably, the administration was in no hurry to respond to this petition. In the immediate aftermath of the first leaks, no entity was more unpopular than the NSA. Snowden, on the other hand, probably could have won a number of local elections as a write-in candidate at that point. So, the administration sat on it, as it has sat on a great many petitions not particularly aligned with its desires.
Unfortunately, the public’s opinion hasn’t shifted much. As other agencies have become more plaintive in their requests to undermine privacy and safety to keep criminals from “going dark,” the public has become less and less enthusiastic about being forced to make more sacrifices in the interest of security. The NSA also hasn’t become more popular in the interim. So buying time by cherry-picking We The People petitions to respond to hasn’t made answering this petition any easier for the administration.
More than two years later — 763 days past the point it became a viable petition — the administration has answered. And the answer could have been written two years ago, as it refuses to acknowledge Snowden’s contribution to recent surveillance reforms. The response was written by Lisa Monaco, the president’s advisor on Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. Considering the source, the response is unsurprising. But it starts off with a lie:
Since taking office, President Obama has worked with Congress to secure appropriate reforms that balance the protection of civil liberties with the ability of national security professionals to secure information vital to keep Americans safe.
Wrong. The “appropriate reforms” have been forced into existence by leaked documents Snowden provided. This “conversation” the President keeps claiming he always wanted to have only took place because he could no longer ignore it. This opening sentence is worse than merely disingenuous. It’s a complete rewrite of Obama’s civil liberties legacy. Before the Snowden leaks, Obama’s stance on surveillance was “whatever Bush did, only more.”
Next, Monaco goes on to say that no matter how instrumental Snowden was in the recent surveillance reforms (without ever actually saying that), he’s still a just a criminal and should be treated as one.
Instead of constructively addressing these issues, Mr. Snowden’s dangerous decision to steal and disclose classified information had severe consequences for the security of our country and the people who work day in and day out to protect it.
Except that this administration is no friend to whistleblowers. Snowden knew this. Snowden also knew the “proper channels” were mostly there to ensure whistleblowers were silenced and punished. So he ran. This administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other administrations combined. When Snowden took off, it was five years into Obama’s presidency, plenty of time to gauge what sort of odds the “proper channels” offered.
From that point, Monaco goes on to claim that the only legitimate act of civil disobedience is a punished act of civil disobedience.
If he felt his actions were consistent with civil disobedience, then he should do what those who have taken issue with their own government do: Challenge it, speak out, engage in a constructive act of protest, and — importantly — accept the consequences of his actions. He should come home to the United States, and be judged by a jury of his peers — not hide behind the cover of an authoritarian regime. Right now, he’s running away from the consequences of his actions.
First off, this is wrong. As has been explained countless times, under the Espionage Act, which is what Snowden would be charged under, he is not allowed to present the evidence in his defense that he was blowing the whistle on an illegal program (and yes, it has been ruled illegal). Nor is he allowed to argue that the leak was in the public interest. In other words, the law is stacked such that he cannot present his argument fairly. The deck is stacked and Monaco knows the deck is stacked and ignores that — which is exceptionally dishonest.
I would imagine Monaco — and by extension, the administration — would also feel that those who hacked Hacking Team are the real criminals here, not the company that sold surveillance software and zero-day exploits to governments known for widespread abuse of their citizens. “Look, we appreciate them highlighting these dubious and likely illegal contracts. But to move forward, we really need to put the hackers who obtained the documents on trial.”
But, honestly, no one expected this response to go any other way. No one who holds the top office in the nation is going to sell out the rest of the government for a whistleblower. So, it could have saved everyone the trouble and posted this answer June 26, 2013.