Edward Snowden, the NSA consultant and analyst who blew the whistle on the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance of domestic phone calls and emails of American citizens is the subject of a current film, Snowden, directed by Oliver Stone.
It is a thought provoking film, an emotional one that pushes buttons and forces you to ask, is Snowden a hero and whistleblower or a traitor who put his country in danger by divulging confidential government information? A recent House intelligence report, released two days before the movie premiered, labels him “a serial exaggerator and fabricator” who does not fit the profile of whistleblower. Yet, my attorneys and his, the Government Accountability Project, say whistleblower.
In the spring of 2013, Snowden reached out to Glenn Greenwald, a fierce government critic and controversial journalist, co-founder of the Intercept Papers; filmmaker journalist Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill of The Guardian. The foursome spent several very intense days in a hotel room in Hong Kong filming Snowden’s testimony and story which resulted in The Guardian exposé of the NSA situation; even as James R. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence claimed in sworn testimony before a United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on March 12, 2013, that the NSA would never do such a thing.
At that hearing, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)asked Mr. Clapper, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Director Clapper responded “No, sir.” Incredulously, Senator Wyden asked “It does not?” Director Clapper responded “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.” (In July, Clapper apologized for his “clearly erroneous” testimony under oath.)
On June 6th, 2013, Edward Snowden revealed to the world that the NSA was engaged in a secret program to collect tens of millions of Americans’ phone call records. Further revelations would unveil NSA programs collecting Americans’ web browsing histories, chat logs, email usage and even their physical locations.
The interviews by Greenwald, MacAskill and Poitras resulted in Citizenfour, a film which won Ms. Poitras an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 2015 Oscars.
Last year, Greenwald, whose Snowden interviews also resulted in his writing No Place to Hide which specifically focuses on Snowden, the NSA and the U.S. surveillance state, gave a presentation to the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas and I had an opportunity to shake his hand and congratulate him for his work.
His visit also resulted in two McCuistion TV programs, part one and part two, “Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden: Journalism and National Security.” In the programs, Greenwald challenges the viewer on several issues. He states, re Snowden, “you can debate whether he did the right thing, you can debate whether he is a traitor, but he shines a light on the people with the greatest power so they are not concealing information they have no right to conceal.”
Good point. Many whistleblowers, myself included, have reported or attempted to report on the unprecedented misuse of power we have witnessed. Too often, our companies have ignored the facts. What is even more dangerous is how government has glossed over and hidden facts, as witnessed with my testimony to the SEC; 1,000 pages of evidence locked up with the FCIC initially waxing enthusiastically about my testimony, then forcing me to change it.
So why is pertinent information ignored; information the public needs to know and has a right to know, so often covered up?
In the McCuistion programs, which focus on the role of media and national security, Greenwald takes on the establishment and the media, reviling their increased avoidance of adversarial reporting on the government and their failure to serve the interests of the people. He claims “… media has converted from the role of watchdogs of government to being servants of government.”
Tod Robberson, former editorial writer for the Dallas Morning News, now with the St. Louis Times Dispatch, also on the TV program, adds, “Journalists need to be from the country of journalism and the religion of journalism, they must be impartial and scrutinize everything.”
Journalists are supposed to make us think. The role of programs such as McCuistion and films such as Citizenfour and Snowden is to make us think and perhaps act. They also alert us to the need to have checks and balances on government. Government is not outside the law. And it is the duty and responsibility of media to report this just as it is the duty of citizens to do the same. We’ve had too few checks and balances on government in the last several years. We can’t afford to play it safe and let institutions slide.
Merriam -Webster defines hero, as a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities. They define traitor as a person who is not loyal or true to a friend, duty, cause or belief or is false to a personal duty. Whistleblower is defined as one who reveals something covert or who informs against another.
So where do you stand on Snowden? What definition would you give him? And regardless of where you might stand on the Snowden issue, are you holding media and our government accountable? Are you willing to stand up for what is right? It’s never been more important to do so.