Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

NSA “whistleblower” crossed the line

Post by Brian O'Neill on June 25, 2013 at 9:07 am with 17 Comments »
June 25, 2013 8:31 pm

You have to wonder whether he had any idea of what he was doing.

The “he” is former National Security Agency contract analyst Erdward Snowden; the what, of course, is Snowden’s decision to release top secret documents which exposed a controversial NSA program to trap domestic phone calls.

Snowden on a TV screen in Hong Kong (VINCENT YU/AP Photo)
Snowden on a TV screen in Hong Kong (VINCENT YU/AP Photo)

After popping out of a rabbit hole in Hong Kong to take credit for the damaging leaks, Snowden’s self righteous protest against governmental intrusion has become the stuff of international intrigue.

In the hours and days following his initial media appearance, the contract employee’s stance against the clandestine phone-tapping operation split the national audience down the middle, or at least slightly to the left, with critics labeling Snowden a traitor and proponents touting him as a privacy rights hero.

For the record, Snowden is nothing more than a criminal.

Despite his sideline role as an NSA contract analyst, Snowden swore an oath, signed his name and pledged whatever his conscience defines as honor to keeping our country’s secrets. Assuming he wrestled with this moral issue, his decision to disclose the clandestine program might still have remained within the framework of a whistleblower. However, by leaking the actual NSA documents and operational cases, he not only exposed our government to international ridicule – by countries far more familiar with heavy-handed domestic espionage, to be sure – but he likely put his fellow Americans at risk in doing so.

Perhaps the most telling argument for Snowden’s criminal complicity are the two factors which will dominate his life, until he is run aground by federal agents: his flight and his choice of friends.

How difficult would the government’s position have been had Edward Snowden not made his first public appearance in Hong Kong, but in, say, a small midwestern town square? Would the feds have been as willing to commit hundreds of agents to his arrest if he had been waiting for them on a park bench, telling his story to reporters like an erstwhile Forrest Gump?

I’ll say no.

If the saying, “Tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are” is true, then Snowden has made a grave mistake. His appearance in China, his flight to Russia, and his rumored destinations or stopping points of Cuba or Venezuela, have the fleeing analyst on a world tour of U.S.’ greatest rivals. It certainly makes one doubt the man’s patariotic fervor.

Just as Snowden’s actions blew well past whistleblower status, the aftershock of those leaks has escalated to the level of international incident. An AP story (Trib 6/24) reveals that diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China appear to have been harmed, and our acrimonious relationship with Putin’s Russia is tipping out of balance. Our rivals, if not our enemies, appear giddy to take advantage of this situation.

This does not excuse the federal government, which ultimately must answer for its questionable domestic phone-tapping program. Recriminations and introspection will have to wait, however, because Snowden’s leak of classified documents was a treasonous act. He is welcome to defend his actions in court.

And the citizens with whom he broke faith look forward to that day.

Leave a comment Comments → 17
  1. simonsjs says:

    Hut two three four, stay in line and I’ll tell you some more. I see your marching to the band again. Who decided you had to write this hack piece?

  2. The nation that is most obsessed with secrecy
    is perhaps North Korea? Were the outlines of
    the NSA measures at least debated in Congress?

  3. Brian O'Neill says:

    As I understand it, congressional intelligence committee members were aware of the NSA program, which pre-dated the Obama administration.

  4. johnesherman says:

    Some people, just like me, have the opinion U.S. Government committed a crime against U.S. Citizens inside America; as a result, some government employees that authorized wiretapping should be tried in public courts and go to jail for their crimes. Let’s quit chasing a person that disclosed government crime and focus our attention to the real people that violated the law!

    Other thoughts by other persons – for example:
    Spy games: Inventor of World Wide Web accuses West of hypocrisy Get short URL Published time: June 27, 2013

  5. Brian O'Neill says:

    I appreciate your comment, johnesherman. This piece was not written to weigh the merits of the NSA program, or lack thereof. Instead, it was an analysis of Snowden’s actions. In short, the man went too far. Instead of simply blowing the whistle on the program itself, he stole top secret documents and thereby put anti-terror operations in jeopardy.

    Had he divulged the existence of the program without providing specifics, which could only benefit our enemies and hurt us, his actions would have been defensible.

    Was it Snowden’s job to put agents and other operatives in potential peril? The answer is no.

  6. johnesherman says:

    Brian O’Neill, I would agree with you if there existed a protected channel for government employees or other persons to report crime and misuse of government powers absent of government retaliation; besides sending the person to isolated jail confinement and inability to communicate with anybody or make crimes voiced as public information.

    Placing government at risk with these crimes against U.S. Citizens does not rise to the level of placing U.S. security at risk unless you think that all other bad people that want to do harm to what were protecting – the U.S. Citizens – are complete idiots in the today age of electronics, communication, and electronic innovation all over the world. And remember even India was helping us (reading source programming code and fixing it) in Year 2000 for a solution to our U.S. built and programmed computers that we could not ourselves solve with our own programmers; as a result, computer generated dates to roll-over correctly after Year 2000.

    Your giving more credit to U.S. Government wiretapping (optical tapping) than they deserve credit for. Now if NSA stopped financial crime, stealing of persons data, or stamping out spam as an option to U.S. Citizens using networks; as a result, there would be an explainable benefit to all the government tapping of data; it follows, to protect the U.S. Citizens identification and money transactions and eliminate the treat.

  7. johnesherman says:

    Just more news that just keeps giving, your readers might enjoy:
    New NSA leaks show email surveillance under Obama

  8. johnesherman says:

    How soon we forget news that was newsworthy then (we forgot about already) – for example:
    US defense chief accuses China of cyber spying by Staff Writers Singapore (AFP) June 01, 2013

    And now we have something about:
    Snowden alone in calling out Empire as naked (today at

    So, again who is doing what to whom for what benefit to who? That is why we need to put these spy people on trial and let people like Snowden present discovery information in open court.

  9. smokey984 says:

    I don’t even know where to start….

    But first of all thank you for writing this article.

    A little late, however i can imagine the responsibility of being fair, firm and impartial…to wit what a true journalist inspires to be…

    You wrote: Despite his sideline role as an NSA contract analyst, Snowden swore an oath, signed his name…

    kinda like all elected politicians and law enforcement swore an oath?

    To wit: The house and senate:

    At the start of each new Congress, the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate are sworn into office. This oath-taking dates to 1789, the first Congress; however, the current oath was fashioned in the 1860s, by Civil War-era members of Congress.

    The Constitution specifies no details for the oath of office for Congress:

    Constitution, Article 6 – Debts, Supremacy, Oaths

    The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
    The first Congress developed this requirement into a simple, 14-word oath:

    “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States.”

    The Civil War led President Lincoln to develop an expanded oath for all federal civilian employees (April 1861). That July, when Congress reconvened, “members echoed the president’s action by enacting legislation requiring employees to take the expanded oath in support of the Union. This oath is the earliest direct predecessor of the modern oath.” (cite)

    The current oath was enacted in 1884:

    I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

    I wont even touch the Law Enforcement oath…once the genie is out of that bottle…but i will touch on the 4th amendment of the United States constitution:

    To wit: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    Based upon the topic of discussion, it wold appear both Law Enforcement and elected politicians have violated the law, and their oath and are in fact criminals themselves?

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Apparently Edward Snowden will right?

    This administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand…that means no more illegal wire tapping of American citizens – President Obama, referring to the corrupt politician he relieved George Bush…

    Here’s a short 2 minute video to prove my point:

    Candidate Obama debates President Obama on Government Surveillance

    Anyway that’s a start for now.

    Please don’t take this as a personal attack. I’m merely pointing out the double speak of those elected who now say this guy is a (insert adjective here)…

    So I leave this post with one final food for thought:

    One mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter.

  10. SandHills says:

    Not excusing Snowden completely – and if it is absolutely proven that any disclosure he made did in fact put any field agents at risk then he should face the full consequences of the law.

    However, I am not yet fully onboard to draw and quarter him out-of-hand, especially using the argument that he had avenues within the system to make his concerns known.

    There is enough evidence to show that there were no avenues available to make a complaint – no one in the system cared or would have listened to him.

    The writer belies a strong prejudice as a member of law enforcement who seems to favor the idea of no one challenging any of the over-reaching aspects of the Patriot Act. I feel such an attitude by officials in authority to protect our rights may be something to be more concerned about than a whistleblower on domestic spying activities.

  11. smokey984 says:

    Ive got an idea for your next article:

    We can talk about the recent Supreme Court Decision that Shreds 5th Amendment Protection; Your Silence Can Now Be Used As Evidence of Guilt.

    To wit: Is an illusion of civil liberties all that is left? It has seemed that way for quite some time, as all the evidence piling up points to that conclusion. Here is the latest to that effect:

    In a major loss for individual rights vis-a-vis the police, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that prosecutors could use a person’s silence against them in court if it comes before he’s told of his right to remain silent. The prosecutors used the silence of Genovevo Salinas to convict him of a 1992 murder. Because this was an non-custodial interview, the Court ruled that the prosecutors could use his silence even though citizens are allowed to refuse to speak with police. It is little surprise that the pro-police powers decision was written by Samuel Alito who consistently rules in favor of expanding police powers…

    This ruling will likely open up an entire area of new prosecutorial arguments using silence as evidence of guilt. It is a major blow to the rights of citizens — and a telling addition to the troubling judicial legacy of Alito.

  12. smokey984 says:

    Alright, so delete my last post please as it was unrelated to the writing.

    But lets continue down this rabbit hole some..

    In the Wachowskis’ iconic 1999 film, The Matrix, the protagonist Neo is wakened from a lifelong slumber by Morpheus, a freedom fighter seeking to liberate humans from virtual slavery – a lifelong hibernation state – imposed by hyper-advanced artificial intelligence machines. With their minds plugged into a perfectly crafted virtual reality, few humans ever realize they are living in a dream world to such an extent that most are willing to give their lives in order to preserve the system that enslaves them.
    Sound familiar? It should, we too are living in a fantasy world carefully crafted to resemble a representative democracy, while in reality we are little more than slaves in thrall to an authoritarian regime, with its constant surveillance, manufactured media spectacles, secret courts, inverted justice, and violent repression of dissent. And for the few who dare to challenge the status quo such as Edward Snowden, they are assured of being branded either as conspiratorialists, alarmists, lunatics or outright traitors.

    So well-oiled and interconnected are the cogs, wheels and gear shifts in our government machinery that it can be near to impossible to decipher where the fault lies when something goes awry. What some are slowly coming to realize, however, is that the mechanism itself has changed. Its purpose is no longer to keep our republic running smoothly. To the contrary, this particular contraption’s purpose is to keep the corporate police state in power.

    Just consider how insidious and incestuous the various “parts” of the mechanism have become.

    Congress. Perhaps the most notorious offenders and most obvious culprits in the creation of the corporate-state, Congress has proven itself to be both inept and avaricious, oblivious champions of an authoritarian system that is systematically dismantling their constituents’ fundamental rights. Congress’ most grievous behavior, however, is its failure to bring the president to task, who for all intents and purposes now operates above the law. The precedent set during the Bush administration of Congressmen going along with senseless and illegal White House policies has turned the office of the president into an untouchable, unstoppable force.
    The President. Despite having ridden into office on a wave of optimism and the promise of a new America free of civil liberties abuses, President Obama has proven to be a more effective manipulator of the American people than his predecessors. His presidency has been defined by “kill lists,” the murder of civilians in secret drone strikes, the assassination of American citizens, the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay, the championing of warrantless surveillance of American citizens, and most recently, the funneling of arms to al-Qaeda backed rebels in Syria.

    The Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court – once the last refuge of justice, the one governmental body really capable of rolling back the slowly emerging tyranny enveloping America – has instead become the champion of the American police state, absolving government and corporate officials of their crimes while relentlessly punishing the average American for exercising his or her rights. Consider that in the past month alone, the justices have determined that criminal suspects, who are supposed to be treated as innocent until proven guilty, may have their DNA forcibly extracted from them by police. They have decided that staying silent while the police question you may be considered evidence of guilt, despite the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination and the well-established “right to remain silent.” These are just two examples of a Court that, like the rest of the government, places profit, security, and convenience above our basic rights.

    The Media. Of course, this triumvirate of total control would be completely ineffective without a propaganda machine provided by the world’s largest corporations. Besides shoving drivel down our throats at every possible moment, the so-called news agencies which are supposed to act as bulwarks against government propaganda have instead become the mouthpieces of the state. From championing the invasion of Iraq based upon absolute fabrications, to the fanatic support of all surveillance state policies and the demonization of whistle blowers like Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, the pundits which pollute our airwaves are at best court jesters and at worst propagandists for the false reality created by the American government.

    The American People. Of course, the most superior engine in the world still requires some form of energy to bring it to life and maintain it, and in this particular mechanism, “we the people” serve that vital function. We are the petrol that powers the motor, for good or bad. We now belong to a permanent underclass in America. It doesn’t matter what you call us – chattel, slaves, worker bees, drones, it’s all the same – what matters is that we are expected to march in lockstep with and submit to the will of the state in all matters, public and private.

    Through our complicity in matters large and small, we have allowed an out-of-control corporate-state apparatus to take over every element of American society. Our failure to remain informed about what is taking place in our government, to know and exercise our rights, to vocally protest, to demand accountability on the part of our government representatives, and at a minimum to care about the plight of our fellow Americans has been our downfall. Having allowed ourselves to descend into darkness, refusing to see what is really happening, happily trading the truth for false promises of security and freedom, we have allowed the police state to emerge and to flourish.

  13. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thanks for all the articulate comments on this controversial topic. Much food for thought.

    For my part, though, I stand by my assessment of Snowden’s treasonous actions because of one simple tenet: You know the character of someone by the company they keep.

    China and Russia are our global rivals, not our friends. Instead of some neutral country, Edward Snowden seems to have made his choice.

  14. smokey984 says:

    Id say the possibility exists Mr. Snowden was not an NSA sub contractor. He worked for the ‘consultancy’ Booz Allen Hamilton which is a shop front for the CIA, not the NSA. First warning.

    Second. None of the ‘secrets’ he revealed are even vaguely secret, since the information concerning NSA snooping on foreign powers was already in the public realm, many times over. The problem is that newspapers and journalists intoxicate themselves with spy stories and rarely bother to sift through all the parallel information. Takes too long.

    Third. His hop, skip and jump activities were clearly well planned in advance. Who, exactly, set up the fake exit to Cuba story, which put a truckload of journalists on the wrong (teetotal) flight? Snowden? Pull the other one. He had that sort of power over Aeroflot? Who put the story around anyway? Snowden again? Hey this guy was wasted working for the CIA, he should have been in PR.

    Fourth. He got on a plane to Russia without a visa. I have been to Russia many, many times and I can tell you that is an impossible feat without real inside connections.

    Fifth. He slipped through the dragnet in Hong Kong because the US consulate gave him the wrong middle name on the charge sheet. Yes, that really is the tooth fairy at the foot of the bed. Pretty isn’t she, with that halo and her little purse.

    Sixth. Is this star wars, CIA versus NSA? Very likely. The security services in the US are like pit bull terriers looking for other pit bull terriers’ throats. Again, ‘journalists’ (actually a non-existent race) covering this whodunit remind me of Enid Blyton and those who never saw through the real nature of the set up with Noddy and Big Ears under the toadstool.

  15. smokey984 says:

    Id also say the possibility exists its a turf war between the NSA and the CIA.
    Remember Gen. Petraeus? the hugely successful war hero? Retires and takes the helm of the civilian run CIA? Rumor was he ran the CIA like the military…that ruffled to many feathers…Well the NSA is organized under the DOD right?
    Get this guy outa here? Lets spy, expose and blackmail and have him resign…The military industrial complex does not play around people.
    We have wars to fight, resources we need to fuel our cars and make those brand new LED TV’s we enjoy!

    Every director of the NSA is a general or an admiral.

    The NSA is organized under the US Dept. of Defense.

    Imagine that you are a powerful player who straddles two worlds—the Dept. of Defense and the private sector where corporate defense-contractors live and flourish.

    You’ve served many times in both arenas. Your name is Mr. Military Industrial Complex.

    Your mission is war.

    The reasons for war don’t matter. Reasons can be invented at the drop of a hat. You want endless armed conflict.

    That’s how you make your money. That’s how you express your impulses. That’s your single obsession. That’s how you forward Empire.

    You don’t have to justify what you do or consult your conscience. Those days, if they ever existed, are long past. You’re a war-monger and you’re proud of it.

    Your basic challenge, on behalf of the military industrial complex, is working the political machinery in Washington—the Congress, the president, the two major Parties—in order to make war happen.

    One day, you look around and you say, “I have a whole super-agency at my disposal. It’s organized under the Dept. of Defense. It-called the NSA. It spies on everybody all the time.”

    You realize you can use the NSA to collect endless amounts of information on Congress, the White House, the president, the press, and the Democratic and Republican leadership.

    Well, the NSA is already doing that.

    So the question is: will you use that explosive information, that very private information gained through spying, to coerce these politicians to go to war when you want to go to war?

    Is the Pope Catholic?

    Of course you’ll use it. You’d be a complete fool not to.

    In fact, in the long run, this may well be the most important function of NSA.

    Yes. Given your overriding mission in life, it is the most important function of NSA.

    It’s job number one.

    So you’re going to make sure the resources of the NSA are tuned up quite effectively to extract the information you need.

    It’s called blackmail.

    It’s called extortion.

    It’s beautiful.

    It’s the natural use of the NSA, within the overall structure of the military industrial complex.

    There are always recalcitrant members of Congress and reluctant presidents who could use a push to go to war.

    These politicians, the overwhelming majority of them, are criminals. Let’s face it. They’re remarkably indifferent to human life.

    They cheat and lie and steal. They have private secrets. They commit acts that would, if exposed, embarrass them and destroy their pathetic careers.

    They’re wonderfully fertile targets for spying and blackmail.

    You have the spear. The leading point that can penetrate those secrets.

    The NSA.

    The logic is perfect and complete.

  16. smokey984 says:

    At least give it some thought.

    All these agencies are competing for dwindling funds in an environment of cutbacks..

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