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Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden
by William H. Benson
November 28, 2019

     Last time in these pages, I discussed John Doe, an employee at Mossack Fonseca, who revealed the extent of that Panamanian legal firm’s global enterprise to shelter its clients from paying income taxes.

     Whistle blowers, like John Doe, often make front page news, as much a motivating factor as “doing the right thing.” Yet, often they face severe retribution, even time in prison.

     A list of the more prominent whistle blowers of past decades include: Daniel Ellsberg, W. Mark Felt, Frank Snepp, Karen Silkwood, Frank Serpico, Linda Tripp, Mark Holder, Russ Tice, Bradley / Chelsea Manning, and Julian Assange.

     On September 5, 2018, an “Anonymous” White House official published an essay in the “New York Times,” saying, “The dilemma is that many of the senior officials in Trump’s own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”

     Just weeks ago, that same “Anonymous” published his / her book entitled “A Warning,” and in it repeated the same charge, and pleaded with American voters “not to renew their contract with Trump.”

     Then, on August 12, 2019, a CIA analyst learned of Donald Trump’s July 25 phone call to Ukraine’s highest official. Once he or she blew the whistle, Congress started down the road of impeachment.

     My vote though for most notorious of all whistleblowers this century goes to Edward Snowden.

     A young man in his late twenties, who worked in Hawaii in 2013, as a high tech / computer wizard / contractor for the National Security Agency, Snowden grew alarmed when he learned details of the NSA’s massive surveillance of American citizens, as well as of citizens of other countries.

     Snowden learned that after 9-11, the NSA had developed systems that could capture and store all phone calls, text messages, and e-mails for almost every human being across the globe. He came to believe that it was wrong for the Federal government to invade an individual’s privacy to that degree.

     Snowden decided he would blow the whistle on the NSA’s “warrantless surveillance of the U.S. population,” plus he decided to submit thousands of electronic documents that he stole from the NSA and gave to three journalists, whom he met in Hong Kong on May 23, 2013.

     If Snowden would have just blown the whistle, and not stolen and leaked the documents, he would have avoided most of the legal troubles he now faces.

     Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder later said, that Snowden performed a “public service by triggering a debate over surveillance techniques, but still he must pay a penalty for illegally leaking a trove of classified intelligence documents.”

     On June 21, 2013, Snowden turned thirty. Two days later he flew from Hong Kong to Moscow, but once there Russian officials told him that his U.S. passport was invalid, and that he could not leave. For forty days he lived at Moscow’s airport, but then officials granted Snowden asylum in Russia.

      In September of this year, Snowden published his memoir, “Permanent Record,” and in its pages he says that he and his long-time girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, whom he married in 2017, at a courthouse, have learned to adapt to life in Russia, though cut off from family and friends in the U.S.

     He admits that he would like to return to the U.S., but he knows that Federal government officials would prosecute him, and that he would most likely receive a lengthy prison sentence, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange’s current fate.

     Snowden’s term of asylum in Russia will terminate in 2020, but he is confident that Russian officials will extend it for an additional three years.

     A debate over Snowden has now come to the forefront.

     Snowden claims that his release of classified documents to journalists, who then made them public six years ago, has “harmed no one and put no one’s lives at risk.” Some might agree, but Deputy Director at the NSA, Richard Ledgett, says Snowden’s statement “is categorically untrue.”

     NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers says that “Snowden’s surveillance leaks have had a ‘material impact’ on the agency’s ability to prevent or detect a terrorist’s plot.”

     Snowden says in his book, “Permanent Record,” that “whistle blowers” and “leaks” are nautical terms. “Ships spring leaks, and when steam replaced wind for propulsion, operators would blow a steam whistle at sea to signal intentions.” He says that some languages use a word that means “snitch.”

     One other interesting detail. In 2015, Daniel Ellsberg flew to Moscow to meet Edward Snowden.

     The two most well-known whistle blowers over the past fifty years now belong to the Freedom of the Press Foundation, an organization that Ellsberg co-founded. Snowden has served as the non-profit’s president since early 2016, almost four years now.