No, Snowden Didn't Have Any 'Other Avenues' To Blow The Whistle
from the let's-get-real dept
If Edward Snowden had concerns that one of his co-workers was abusing the NSA’s surveillance authority to—for example—collect data on a former girlfriend or blackmail a member of Congress, he could have reported his concerns to a supervisor, and it’s highly likely that person would have done something about it.This is a key distinction that very few defenders of the NSA (and who are attacking Snowden) seem to grasp. The fact that the public -- and many in Congress -- have since spoken out in outrage over the program certainly suggests this is a key point. Every time NSA defenders argue "well, it's legal" they miss out on the fact that a very large number of people don't care because they don't think it should be legal at all. That's the debate we're trying to have -- and it's the one President Obama, Dianne Feinstein, Mike Rogers, Keith Alexander and James Clapper still can't even recognize is the key question.
But, contrary to what the president seems to think, Edward Snowden wasn’t concerned that the NSA was “improperly” collecting information on hundreds of millions of Americans. He was concerned that the government was collecting information on hundreds of millions of Americans. And how exactly does the president think Snowden should have raised that concern?
Either way, as Hoelzer notes, Snowden really had nowhere to "complain" to about this actual issue:
Snowden’s former employer, Booz Allen, which requires employees to report “all suspected violations of the law” and cautions them to “take care to not report a violation to someone that [they] believe is involved in the matter.”Okay, well, what about Congress? Multiple people have suggested he could go talk to members of Congress. But, not so fast. Hoelzer takes a look at the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's website where it has a page on How to File A Whistleblower Complaint, explaining the "process" for contacting Congress (if you aren't comfortable raising the concern within the intelligence community, which, clearly, Snowden was not). But, again, not so easy:
Well, nearly everyone Edward Snowden worked for—up to and including the president of the United States—was involved in the matter. So, again, whom exactly should he have gone to with his concerns?
But then I noticed a problem. Before bringing an “urgent concern” to Congress, the guidance states that all potential intelligence community whistle-blowers must first notify the DNI of their “intent to contact the congressional intelligence committees directly.” In other words, if Snowden wanted to inform the Senate intelligence committee that the DNI had lied, he would first have to inform the DNI that he intended to inform on him. That seems like it could be a problem.So, really, what "official channels" could Snowden have possibly used? As Hoelzer notes, the only way to really blow the whistle on this was to go "over the head" of the federal government and the President -- and that's to go to the American public.
But, let’s say it wasn’t. Let’s say the director of national intelligence did the honorable thing and allowed Snowden to go to the Senate intelligence committee with evidence that he lied. Would Snowden have had any reason to believe going to Congress would make the least bit of difference?
Probably not, since the House and Senate intelligence committees were already aware of the NSA’s activities. And, having worked for Wyden, a committee member who spent years trying to raise concerns about domestic surveillance, I can tell you, individual members of Congress were virtually hamstrung from doing anything about the administration’s activities. Especially since the executive branch’s classification rules forbid the senator from sharing his concerns with anyone outside of the intelligence committee, including staff.
I understand Obama’s frustration. No one likes it when someone goes over his head. It’s humiliating. But when the guy in charge appears to be a significant part of the problem, sometimes the only way to resolve the problem is to let his boss know what’s going on. And when the guy in charge is the president of the United States, that means letting the American people know what he’s been up to.On that front, it appears that Snowden did exactly the right thing in how he blew the whistle.