Now that Congress has passed and President Obama has signed the U.S.A. Freedom Act, which places some limits on the domestic-surveillance powers of the National Security Agency, there’s still unfinished business to deal with.
The President and others have praised the U.S.A. Freedom Act, but haven’t mention the blindingly obvious fact that without Edward Snowden the law wouldn’t exist.
The new legislation, while it is commendable as far as it goes, contains some obvious shortcomings. Barring the N.S.A. from collecting and holding the phone records of hundreds of millions of Americans was a necessary step, but it won’t make much difference if the result is that the phone companies hold on to the data and secret courts enable the N.S.A. to access it virtually at will. The legislation leaves on the books a law from 1986 that allows the government to read any e-mail that is more than six months old, and it doesn’t change Section 702 of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, which the N.S.A. has used to justify collecting not just metadata, such as phone records, but the actual contents of communications, such as e-mails and online chats.
None of this would have happened without Snowden’s intervention. Doubtless, the intelligence agencies are pressing the White House to stick to its hard line about prosecuting him, on the grounds that dropping the charges, or making some sort of plea bargain, would encourage other leakers. But that is a self-serving argument, and it doesn’t stand up to inspection. In a free society, we want whistle-blowers who have persuasive evidence that great wrongs are being carried out to come forward and tell us about them. The President has argued in the past that Snowden could have taken his concerns to his seniors, and that he would have been protected by an executive order affording protections to whistle-blowers in the intelligence agencies. The notion is risible. As the Times editorial board pointed out last year, the executive order that Obama was referring to didn’t even apply to government contractors like Snowden.
Instead of thanking Snowden for his public service and inviting him to come home, the U.S. government is still seeking to arrest him and try him on charges that carry long prison sentences. “The fact is that Mr. Snowden committed very serious crimes,” the White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Monday. “The U.S. government and the Department of Justice believe that he should face them.”
This week's "Off The Grid" guest John Kiriakou -- the CIA torture whistleblower -- stated that he has written letters to Edward Snowden, urging him not to come home because the U.S. will continue to charge him and treat him like a scapegoat.
Kiriakou knows first-hand how the government uses whistleblowers as scapegoats. He was the CIA agent who blew the whistle on waterboarding, and to-date is the only person ever sent to prison for the CIA’s use of torture (though he never actually tortured anyone and is the reason that it came to light in the first place). He fears that a similar fate awaits the NSA whistleblower.
What do you think our government should do? Sound off below.
And WATCH this episode of Off The Grid to hear from another NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake:
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