Edward Snowden’s actions brought him accusations of treason, and a life of exile.

By Philip Giraldi
January 14, 2015
The American Conservative

As has been well documented, there are a lot of folks out there who do not like Edward Snowden very much, some of whom are prepared to do something about him up to and including his summary execution. It would be simplistic to suggest that everyone so inclined is motivated by selfish interests such as concern that a lack of support for certain government programs will lead to a loss of employment and income, but job security certainly might play a role in some cases. Others might well be irritated by the possibility that certain national security positions will be disdained by the public, just as the Transportation Security Agency is regularly lampooned currently.

I personally think that at least some of those government employees who hate Snowden despise him because they actually believe that he is a traitor to the United States, that he revealed secrets that should have stayed hidden, and that his activity will diminish American national security. Some governmental critics of Snowden are almost certainly particularly incensed because he was an “insider,” an employee who went rogue and violated his pledge not to disclose classified information to those who are not permitted access to it. His crime is therefore much more grievous than that of a journalist whose job it is to expose secrets because a key part of Snowden’s job was to protect them.

Having had to sign nondisclosure agreements a number of times, I appreciate that most employees take the commitment seriously. Those who believe otherwise, that classifying information frequently is a way to avoid accountability and even to hide criminal behavior, often also think that those who reveal such information should not be punished and should be protected under existing whistleblower legislation. But that in turn raises the question of what exactly is a whistleblower.

The Whistleblower Protection Act, originally passed in 1989, is actually quite broad in its definition of what makes someone a government whistleblower and therein lies much of the problem because a good deal is subject to interpretation. It also deliberately excludes whole categories of government employees in the areas of security and national defense. The original act, which was “enhanced” by Congress in 2012 and additionally by presidential directive later in the year, blocked retaliation directed against some federal employees who revealed a crime, a failure to abide by rules and regulations, corruption, gross mismanagement, waste of government money, an abuse of authority, or a significant and identifiable danger to public health or safety.

The protection mechanism is complex, including a special counsel and two boards, but an overwhelming percentage (over 90 percent) of employees who believe they have been treated badly and appeal the process are turned down, meaning that the actual protection can sometimes appear to be more notional than real. Where revealing certain types of information is specifically forbidden by laws on the books, courts have ruled that it is not considered whistleblowing. Holders of security clearances can, for example, have their clearances revoked, which is career ending, without any effective redress. Congressional staffers constitute a large group with significant potential access to wrongdoers but they cannot whistleblow at all.

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