Snowden the whistleblower? Not exactly


Dubbed a traitor by House Speaker John Boehner and yet hailed as a brave whistleblower by Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden’s leaks about National Security Agency data collection techniques have ignited public debate about privacy, security and the scope of U.S. government surveillance activities.

But legally speaking, the 29-year old, self described high school dropout isn’t really a whistleblower: “Whistleblowers are individuals who have engaged in lawful disclosure,” said R. Scott Oswald, managing principal of The Employment Law Group, a DC-based law firm that represents whistleblowers, including some in the intelligence community.

Snowden, however, leaked classified information subject to a court order, which is hardly lawful, Oswald said.

“What Mr. Snowden did here was not protected and was illegal under our laws, so it’s not correct to say he’s a whistleblower in that sense,” Oswald said. “What he is, I think, is a conscientious objector.”

“He has information that he believes is important for the American public to know,” he said. “What he has decided to do is to commit an illegal act in order to have that information disseminated, so he is subject to criminal prosecution.”

The whistleblower distinction is getting closer attention in newsrooms, too. The Huffington Post, citing a memo it obtained, reported Monday that Associated Press standards editor Tom Kent told staff that “whether the actions exposed by Snowden and [WikiLeaks source Bradley] Manning constitute wrongdoing is hotly contested, so we should not call them whistle-blowers on our own at this point.”

Whether he’s a whistleblower or not, one thing is for sure. Snowden is now officially a former Booz Allen employee.

With its famous former employee’s precise whereabouts unknown, Booz Allen on Tuesday released a statement confirming that it fired Snowden over violations to the firm’s policy and code of ethics.


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  1. No matter how egregious the wrong may be, improperly disclosing classified information is just wrong, plain and simple. There are far too many legal avenues for which Snowden could have pursued to have his allegations of wrongdoing addressed.

    As a result of this, we can all look forward to more restrictions put on the use of classified media (much like the wikileaks scandal caused a few years ago) and even greater inefficiencies imposed to do our jobs.

    Nothing good ever comes from unauthorized disclosure.

  2. Mr. Snowden violated the law therefore he should pay the piper. No, I have no sympathy or compassion for that idiot. Perhaps had Mr.Snowden and Mr. Ellsberg served in the military they would have had a greater respect and appreciation for the danger they place on those serving in the military and our spy agencies. I say bring back the draft, if you enjoy the freedoms of this country then put on a uniform and defend it, and that applies to those in congress who are the first to whine about free speech and the so called infringement of their constitutional protections. I think instead of the 27th amendment preserving the pay of congress it should require every one who holds a position of senator or congressman or in the executive branch to have performed military service. I remember those exempted from the draft during Vietnam, every damn one them should have served !!!

  3. Better check your facts Freeman. Snowden was injured in Army training and granted a discharge. Ellsberg was an platoon leader (Lt.) in the USMC. I think it is a mistake to equate the two. Nothing Ellsberg revealed other countries did not already know, that our leaders were lying to the American public about the progress of an ill-conceived intervention in a neo-colonial war. Snowden – seems to be revealing systems and methods that were approved by Congress and the courts.

  4. Paul. I stand corrected, I read an article today Snowden served 3 or 4 months before sustaining broken leg. I don’t believe equating the two was a mistake. If after having performed military service its unfortunate Snowden and Ellsberg didn’t realize the impact on those still serving in uniform. I wonder what the 58,000 who died in that ill-conceived intervention would have said.

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