Why Hillary Clinton is Wrong About Edward Snowden

The former NSA contractor probably couldn’t have used whistleblower protections to avoid legal trouble in the U.S.

Image by Marc Nozell via Flickr

The first Democratic debate was an exercise in broad candidate comments on domestic and international issues; specifics were few and far between. But if there was one legitimately notable and disturbing moment in the debate, it would have to be Hillary Clinton’s comments on Edward Snowden and the act of whistleblowing.

When asked by CNN’s debate moderator Anderson Cooper if Snowden was a hero or traitor, Clinton remarked that Snowden couldn't simply return home “without facing the music.”

“He broke the laws of the United States,” she said. “He could have been a whistleblower. He could have gotten all of the protections of being a whistleblower. He could have raised all the issues that he raised. And I think there would have been a positive response.”

True, technically there was some legal cushion with the 1998 Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, which does cover employees like Edward Snowden, who worked for security contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. But, Snowden says he raised concerns to superiors without success. And Snowden’s complaints may not have been covered under the law.

Screenshot from youtube user TheWikiLeaksChannel via Wikimedia Commons

Snowden’s objections would have had to meet the law’s definition of an “urgent concern,” which wouldn’t have held up under the current law, according to Daniel D’Isidoro, a former U.S. judge advocate, who analyzed Snowden’s legal whistleblowing opportunities in the Harvard Law School National Security Journal. D’Isidor says the law doesn’t cover policy disagreements—in this case, disagreements over the ethics and legality of mass communications surveillance.

“It is possible that Snowden’s specific complaints may have fallen outside the statute’s definition of urgent concern, if the surveillance programs were lawful pursuant to a Congressional authorization and/or a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court,” D’Isidoro writes. “The definition of ‘urgent concern’ specifically excludes ‘differences of opinions concerning public policy matters;’ therefore, had Snowden reported his complaint to the Inspector General, the Inspector General may have determined that the agency’s programs were not abusive, nor unlawful and that the complaint was merely a ‘difference of opinion’ on how to conduct surveillance activities.”

And, as PolitFact notes, the BostonUniversity Law Review concluded that the law “arguably fails to provide any real protection to national security whistleblowers.”

Back in 2010, famed NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake submitted complaints to the Department of Defense Inspector General, as per the Community Whistleblower law. He also approached House and Senate intelligence committees without success. Drake’s moves instead resulted in federal agents investigating him under separate offenses—willful retention of national defense information and making false statements about information he insisted was unclassified. The case was eventually thrown out, but the whole charade proved that as a whistleblower Drake was hardly protected, despite being an NSA employee.

So to say that Snowden, who was an NSA contractor, would somehow have avoided Drake’s fate is evidence that Clinton’s perspective on intelligence community whistleblowing is pretty divorced from reality. Snowden knew the fate that awaited him. He wagered that if he leaked information on NSA programs dealing with mass surveillance of phone calls and electronic communications, at the very least he could avoid stonewalling and retaliation, and maybe find asylum until the U.S. government came to its senses.

Hillary Clinton, who as Secretary of State seems to have more sympathy for the intelligence community, is right there with the government in not coming to her senses. Without Snowden, information on the NSA’s mass surveillance programs would have likely been lost indefinitely in bureaucratic door-slamming.

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The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

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Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

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