A photo of former NSA security contractor Edward Snowden. (Photo/zennie62 via Flickr)
Edward Snowden is not a traitor, the intelligence community has run rampant and President Barack Obama won’t stop the unethical and illegal Orwellian spying operations in the United States for fear he may be assassinated by intelligence officials who have grown accustomed to answering to no one.
Those may be bold statements, but they are truths that a group of Americans, including two U.S. whistleblowers, say need to be widely known.
At a press conference on Tuesday hosted by the Institute for Public Accuracy and RootsAction.org, a progressive, independent activist group, Norman Solomon, founder of both organizations, along with whistleblowers Ray McGovern and Coleen Rowley, publicly announced their latest efforts to bring National Security Agency whistleblower Snowden back to the U.S. without the threat of persecution by the U.S. government.
Specifically, the trio spoke for hundreds of thousands of Americans when they officially asked the U.S. government to give Snowden access to his U.S. passport and continued a public push to meet with Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State John Kerry.
McGovern, Rowley and Solomon also urged President Obama to “in the strongest terms to make an unequivocal public commitment not to interfere with the travels or political asylum process of Edward Snowden.”
Talking to the press, Solomon said that although most Americans are familiar with the phrase “don’t shoot the messenger,” the U.S. government and members of the American public have largely blamed Snowden for speaking out against an illegal and unethical operation in the U.S. intelligence community — the NSA’s mass collection of data belonging to the American public.
“Edward Snowden saw something and he said something,” said Solomon, hinting at the irony between Snowden’s actions and the U.S. government’s plea for the public to speak up about unusual behavior in order to thwart future terrorist attacks.
What Snowden “saw” was the undermining of the free press aspects of the First Amendment, protection from unreasonable search and seizure as granted under the Fourth Amendment, and high-ranking U.S. officials’ “full-scale assault” on the due process rights as granted under the Fifth Amendment, so his decision to speak out was not welcomed.
As a result, several U.S. lawmakers have called for Snowden’s execution and the Department of Justice has been overly hostile, as well. But more than 100,000 Americans have had enough of the Snowden death threats and traitor speak, and they’ve signed a petition Solomon, McGovern and Rowley delivered to Kerry and Holder’s offices on Wednesday, asking that Snowden be treated not as a traitor, but as someone who has tried to protect his fellow Americans from “extreme encroachments.”
As Solomon emphasized, if Snowden were to come back to the U.S. right now, chances are that even if Holder kept his promise that Snowden would not be executed, the whistleblower would likely be treated in a manner similar to Pfc. Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning.
For releasing more than 700,000 battlefield reports, diplomatic cables and video clips Manning accessed while working as an intelligence analysts in Baghdad in 2010, the military whistleblower was kept in extreme solitary confinement for 23 hours a day for nine months. Citing a United Nations report, Solomon said the international community deemed the U.S. government’s treatment of Manning as borderline — if not over the borderline — torture, adding that this maltreatment was the federal government’s attempt to silence Manning.
“The real deal”
McGovern, a whistleblower and co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, said he found it odd to have to defend a Nobel laureate like Snowden.
McGovern, a former CIA analyst who prepared the president’s Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates, said when he and three other whistleblowers, including Rowley, delivered an award for integrity in intelligence to Snowden in Russia on Oct. 9, 2013, he realized that not only is Snowden the “the real deal,” but he is also “the most articulate” individual and the “most serious whistleblower I’ve ran into since Daniel Ellsberg.”
For instance, Snowden kept a copy of the U.S. Constitution on his desk and would reportedly ask his coworkers if what they were doing was a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Since Snowden was earning a six-figure salary in Hawaii as a government contractor, his coworkers and supervisors told him to forget about the fact that the work he was doing was illegal.
McGovern said Snowden’s decision to step forward anyway is not something many people would have done, and he stressed that Snowden should be taken seriously. He pointed to a New York Times editorial from January, in which the paper’s editorial board appears to have had a change of heart regarding the Snowden revelations. The paper’s editors called the leaked documents an “enormous value” to the American public that expose the “runaway intelligence community.”
Rowley, who identifies herself as one of the last U.S. whistleblowers to not be killed or forced to seek asylum in a foreign country, said the 9/11 terrorist attacks changed how whistleblowers are treated in the U.S. The shift is ironic, she said, because according to the 9/11 Commission Report, it was the failure to share information not only within agencies but also between agencies that led to the attack.
“The CIA knew two hijackers came into California and didn’t tell the FBI until days before 9/11,” Rowley said. In many ways, 9/11 could have been prevented if the NSA, CIA and FBI all collaborated and the American public was also informed. While informing the public of national security issues sounds risky to some, Rowley, a former FBI special agent, said the reality is that most terrorist attacks are stopped by fellow passengers and street vendors who see something and say something.
Though several whistleblowers have tried to expose the unethical and illegal workings of intelligence agencies, including the NSA, which McGovern referred to as “No Such Amendment,” Rowley said no one listened until Snowden released a raft of classified NSA information.
Even with Snowden’s NSA revelations, some of the information had been previously reported in the press, but as history has proven, not much, if anything, resulted from those articles being published. But Rowley said people are beginning to wake up, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who defended the intelligence community’s ability to spy without a warrant until she recently discovered she and her fellow lawmakers were also being surveilled.
Familiar with intelligence abuses from his work with the CIA, McGovern said the abuses exposed by Snowden are ones that used to occur at the request of the president. Though Obama has been blamed for allowing this unwarranted mass surveillance to occur, McGovern said Obama really had no say in the matter.
“When I look at the CIA and Obama, I ask myself how could a person who railed against torture and abuses under the George W. Bush administration let [these abusers] walk free?” McGovern asked rhetorically.
The answer is that Obama fears what the intelligence community officials may do to him, and the proof is that James Clapper, director of the NSA, lied under oath and was allowed to keep his job.
“The evidence is fairly clear to me Obama bit off more than he could chew,” McGovern said. “If he was going to be afraid of the CIA and NSA he shouldn’t have been president.”
However, McGovern also said Obama is far from the first president to not stand up to intelligence officials, who he said don’t answer to anyone.
McGovern said that prior to the last election, President Obama had dinner with “a group of progressors.” The group reportedly pressed Obama to explain why he was letting all of these civil rights abuses occur. This went on until he couldn’t take the criticism anymore and said, “Don’t you remember what happened to Dr. King?”
Though McGovern wasn’t at that dinner, he said he has it on “pretty good authority” that Obama did express his concerns about being assassinated. McGovern continued, saying President John F. Kennedy is another reason why Obama has every reason to be afraid of speaking out against the intelligence community. The situation, he said, is “a sad commentary on the state of affairs in this country.”
Where are all the honest people?
What’s most frustrating for people like Rowley, Solomon and McGovern is that these kinds of intelligence abuses could have been prevented if those in the intelligence community were prone to telling the truth in order to preserve, protect and serve the American public.
Rowley said one of the biggest issues that has arisen in recent years is a lack of protection for whistleblowers, who only differ from traitors in the eyes of the law based upon their motivation for disclosing confidential information.
“I’m really surprised people haven’t been able to grasp that the Espionage Act is not applicable at all” in Snowden’s case, Rowley said.
Because the corruption in the intelligence community is at such a high level, Rowley said it’s important for independent committees to be involved in determining and fixing any wrongdoings.
Though Obama has taken “baby steps” to rein in the mass collection of data, Rowley said the threat against those who try to tell the truth still exists and a bipartisan effort is needed to rein in the intelligence community and “get back on the right path.”