By James R. Lint
Contributor, In Homeland Security
The White House’s petition system “We the People” has a request to pardon NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden. Started in 2013, the request received 167,955 signatures from people who want Snowden to receive a full pardon for his actions.
In more recent actions, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is calling for clemency to be shown to Snowden. The ACLU launched a new website, pardonsnowden.org, to motivate site users to urge President Obama to give Snowden a presidential pardon. Should Snowden be pardoned or should the opposite occur – a charge of treason?
Was it Treason?
Edward Snowden gave both China and Russia classified information regarding Prism, a U.S. government warrantless surveillance program. The program enabled the NSA to monitor American citizens.
In a 2013 interview with U.K. news source The Guardian, Snowden explained his reasons for disclosing the NSA’s secret eavesdropping on Americans’ phone conversations. He wanted to “inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”
Snowden hoped that people would use his information to debate the issue of privacy. Most people claim that what Snowden did is wrong or even treasonous, but Snowden sees his actions very differently.
The White House has made its position clear. According to a September 2016 article in the Washington Post, the White House says that Snowden should return to the U.S. to face charges for leaking classified information.
‘Snowden’ Movie Debut May Create Atmosphere for Presidential Pardon
Oliver Stone’s movie, “Snowden,” comes out this week with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the starring role. The movie increases the pressure for the president to pardon Snowden at the end of his term.
Many presidents give controversial pardons at the end of their presidential terms. The conditions, including the release of the movie, may well hasten a presidential pardon in the coming weeks.
Snowden Could Have Sought Other, More Legal Methods for Privacy Complaint
When Snowden worked at the NSA, he seemed to disagree with the current laws and had a different interpretation of his former employer’s compliance with the law. Apparently, Snowden did not know the correct way to have a disagreement and the legal way to correct the NSA’s actions.
Snowden’s inexperience with the NSA may have impacted his decision. Snowden only worked at NSA Hawaii for three months.
Snowden Bypassed Government’s Formal Complaint Process
In the Department of Defense (DoD), there is a formal path to report sensitive or classified problems. The DoD Hotline provides a confidential avenue for individuals to report allegations of wrongdoing pertaining to programs, personnel and operations that fall under the purview of the Department of Defense, pursuant to the Inspector General Act of 1978.
Anyone may file a complaint with the DoD Hotline. That includes members of the public and DoD employees (military members, civilian employees and DoD contractors).
There are three types of complaints:
- Fraud, waste or abuse: Report fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement regarding programs and personnel under the purview of the U.S. Department of Defense.
- Whistleblower reprisal: Report adverse personnel actions taken against an individual because that individual made or was thought to have made a protected communication.
- Classified information: Report wrongdoing involving classified information.
There are separate, defined processes for submitting complaints that involve secret and top-secret information. However, it appears that Snowden chose not to use the DoD’s traditional complaint process.
Federal Whistleblower Act Would Have Offered Protection for Snowden
The Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA) of 1998 provides a secure means for employees to report classified problems to Congress. ICWPA spells out a process by which employees of the Defense Intelligence Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office and the National Security Agency can report matters of urgent concern to the intelligence committees of Congress.
Despite its name, this act does not grant special statutory protection for whistleblowing intelligence community employees from reprisal, because they already are protected according to other laws. All federal employees are protected against reprisal for engaging in certain protected activities via other applicable federal antidiscrimination or whistleblower protection laws.
Correct Reporting of Complaints Helps National Security
Without a doubt, fixing problems regarding federal fraud, waste and abuse is important. Reporting violations of wrongdoing involving classified information is critical to the protection of sensitive operations.
However, it is important to understand the correct options for reporting complaints. There are better ways to complain that will not adversely impact national security, your career or your life.
The DoD Hotline at 1-800-424-9098 (an unsecured line) is a great place to start. The staff there can handle questions or concerns and will point you toward the proper channels if they can’t handle your complaint themselves. In addition, federal special security offices and intelligence and security offices are prepared to help individuals determine the proper complaint process.
Snowden’s Current Situation Serves as Reminder to Complain Legally
People who work in national security have a responsibility to the country to make complaints using the proper tools and processes. The system works, and many employees have utilized the process.
Unfortunately for Snowden, he had only worked at his job for three months. He did not know the full process for data collection or the safeguards in place.
For much of his time at the NSA, Snowden did not have security authorization and therefore did not understand the Prism program. He might have found that safeguards were in place and he apparently did not have all of the information to determine if there truly was a violation.
There are classified measures in place to successfully make complaints to the federal government. If Snowden had pursued legal channels to make his point about privacy, his life may have been significantly different than it is now.
James R. Lint recently retired as the (GG-15) civilian director for intelligence and security, G2, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command. He is an adjunct professor at AMU. Additionally, James started the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit charity that recently awarded the 40th scholarship for national security students and professionals. He has 38 years of experience in military intelligence within the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, contractor and civil service.
About the Author
James R. Lint recently retired as the (GG-15) civilian director for intelligence and security, G2, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command. He is an adjunct professor at AMU. Additionally, James started the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit charity that recently awarded the 40th scholarship for national security students and professionals. He has 38 years of experience in military intelligence within the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, government contractor environment and civil service.
James was also elected as the 2015 national vice president for the Military Intelligence Corps Association. In 2016, he was selected to be an associate member of the Military Writers Guild. He has served in the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis and at the Department of Energy’s S&S Security Office. James had an active military career in the Marine Corps for seven years and also served 14 years in the Army. His military assignments include South Korea, Germany and Cuba in addition to numerous CONUS locations. James has authored a book published in 2013, “Leadership and Management Lessons Learned,” and a new book in 2016 “8 Eyes on Korea, A Travel Perspective of Seoul, Korea.”