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Former NSA Officials Approve Edward Snowden's Whistleblowing

Jeremy Fuster |
June 17, 2013 | 4:26 p.m. PDT

Executive Producer

Thomas Drake, a former NSA official and whistleblower, said that Edward Snowden was right to expose the PRISM project to the public and called it a violation of Constitutional rights. (Pam Rutter/Project On Government Oversight/Creative Commons)
Thomas Drake, a former NSA official and whistleblower, said that Edward Snowden was right to expose the PRISM project to the public and called it a violation of Constitutional rights. (Pam Rutter/Project On Government Oversight/Creative Commons)
Three former National Security Agency officials who attempted to expose the U.S. government's mass data collection system to the public praised whistleblower Edward Snowden in an interview with USA Today for leaking documents that revealed the existence of the PRISM surveillance program to the public.


In the interview published Monday, former officials Thomas Drake, William Binney, and J. Kirk Wiebe told USA Today's Peter Eisler and Susan Page about their discovery of the surveillance and data gathering programs and their attempts to stop the programs by appealing to federal investigators and congressional oversight committees.


"Binney: We tried to stay for the better part of seven years inside the government trying to get the government to recognize the unconstitutional, illegal activity that they were doing and openly admit that and devise certain ways that would be constitutionally and legally acceptable to achieve the ends they were really after. And that just failed totally because no one in Congress or — we couldn't get anybody in the courts, and certainly the Department of Justice and inspector general's office didn't pay any attention to it. And all of the efforts we made just produced no change whatsoever. All it did was continue to get worse and expand."


Some of Snowden's critics, such as The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin, criticized him for not using legal methods such as federal whistleblower laws to reveal the surveillance programs, choosing instead to go public directly. But the former officials' lawyer, Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project, said that the trio's attempts to reveal the programs through legal means were met with hostility:


"Not only did they go through multiple and all the proper internal channels and they failed, but more than that, it was turned against them. ... The inspector general was the one who gave their names to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution under the Espionage Act. And they were all targets of a federal criminal investigation, and Tom ended up being prosecuted — and it was for blowing the whistle."


SEE ALSO | ACLU Files Suit Against Obama Administration Over PRISM


The officials also rejected the claim from national intelligence director James Clapper that Snowden's leak caused "huge, grave damage" to the United States and said that terrorists already knew before the leak that the government was monitoring communications:


"Binney: Ever since ... 1997-1998 ... those terrorists have known that we've been monitoring all of these communications all along. So they have already adjusted to the fact that we are doing that. So the fact that it is published in the U.S. news that we're doing that, has no effect on them whatsoever. They have already adjusted to that." 


Of the three officials, Thomas Drake in particular voiced empathy with Snowden. In 2010, Drake was prosecuted under the Espionage Act for allegedly leaking classified information about a surveillance project similar to PRISM called Trailblazer. According to Reuters, Drake resigned from the NSA in 2008 and now works as a tech expert at an Apple store. Drake told USA Today that Snowden's leak validates fears he has held about government surveillance since the September 11 attacks.


"[Snowden is] an American who has been exposed to some incredible information regarding the deepest secrets of the United States government. And we are seeing the initial outlines and contours of a very systemic, very broad, a Leviathan surveillance state and much of it is in violation of the fundamental basis for our own country — in fact, the very reason we even had our own American Revolution. And the Fourth Amendment for all intents and purposes was revoked after 9/11. ...

This (kind of surveillance) is all unnecessary. It is important to note that the very best of American ingenuity and inventiveness, creativity, had solved the major challenge problem the NSA faced: How do you make sense of vast amounts of data, provide the information you need to protect the nation, while also protecting the fundamental rights that are enshrined in the Constitution?

The government in secret decided — willfully and deliberately — that that was no longer necessary after 9/11. So they said, you know what, hey, for the sake of security we are going to draw that line way, way over. And if it means eroding the liberties and freedoms of Americans and others, hey, so be it because that's what's most important. But this was done without the knowledge of the American people."

Click here to read and watch the full interview with the NSA whistleblowers about Snowden, surveillance, and the future of the fourth amendment.

Reach Executive Producer Jeremy Fuster here or follow him on Twitter



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