November 8, 2013
This article originally appeared in the Daily Kos.
Since June, the mainstream media has been reporting National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelations exposing NSA's vast, ineffective, and unconstitutional spying. In the words of former Vice President Al Gore: "[Snowden] has revealed evidence of what appears to be crimes against the Constitution of the United States."
But the mainstream media also takes too many opportunities to cast aside the undeniable public benefit to Snowden's revelations and the far more newsworthy fact that the NSA is violating the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of innocent people, to focus instead on the messenger. As we saw with other NSA whistleblowers, like my client Thomas Drake, there's a regular drumbeat of personal smears and unsubstantiated attacks aimed at discrediting Snowden. Reuters published an anonymously-sourced "exclusive:"
". . .Snowden used log-in credentials and passwords provided unwittingly by colleagues at a base in Hawaii to access some of the classified material he leaked to the media, sources said."
Aside from the "anonymous government officials," who have a clear motivation to trash the whistleblower who exposed NSA's illegal behavior, there is absolutely no evidence that Snowden tricked anyone into giving him information. The government tried out the same false accusation on Thomas Drake - that Drake collected NSA information from colleagues under false pretenses. The allegation, like 99.9% of what the government said about Drake, turned out to be completely false.
Regardless of whether this latest unverified accusation about Snowden is true - the mainstream media obsession with how Snowden obtained evidence of NSA illegalities diverts attention from where it belongs: on NSA. The significant story is not how NSA did such a bad job keeping its lawbreaking a secret, but how NSA has been violating statutory law and the Constitution and lying about it to Congress, the American public and the world.
Since the Snowden revelations, NSA has - like any guilty party - clambered into duck and cover mode, scrambling to rationalize its ineffective and legally questionable "whole haystack" mass surveillance, while diverting any negative attention onto critics and the whistleblower. As an absolutely critical player in holding NSA accountable, especially considering that NSA has misled the courts and many members of the congressional intelligence committees are offering complicity rather than oversight, the Fourth Estate should not play into NSA's anonymously-sourced diversions.
Security hawk and former Congressional intelligence commitee member Jane Harman (pause to ask: where was she when NSA started spying on hundreds of millions of innocent Americans?) has some advice for NSA in today's Washington Post. She does not advise first that NSA stop breaking the law, choosing to prioritize how NSA can best manage its public image, and doesn't hesitate to repeat the now completely debunked government meme that Snowden gave information to foreign governments.
It is no surprise that despite the fact that NSA's mission is to protect national security, since June, the agency has been more concerned with how it can protect itself from whistleblowers willing to tell the public the truth. The mainstream media should not provide a platform for NSA to deflect attention away from its lawbreaking.
Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.