J. Kirk Wiebe is retired from the National Security Agency, where he worked for more than 32 years. He received the NSA’s second highest award, the Meritorious Civilian Service Award; the Director of CIA’s Meritorious Unit Award; and a Letter of Commendation from the secretary of the Air Force, among other awards. He was an NSA whistleblower on matters of privacy involving massive electronic surveillance.
Edward Snowden deserves amnesty and the ability to return to the United States without fear of being incarcerated for reporting crimes by people in high places in the U.S. government. Monday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon that the NSA’s widespread collection of millions of Americans’ telephone records was unconstitutional bolsters this view.
But for some, whether to give Snowden amnesty is not an easy matter to reconcile. After all, they say, he broke laws in divulging classified information.
Indeed, some say he is a traitor. But just as a member of the U.S. military is not required to follow an unlawful order, it is proper that an employee of the United States intelligence community — NSA, CIA, DIA and others — should report any information that concerns law-breaking by the intelligence agencies or their employees.
An NSA official’s suggestion that amnesty for Snowden could possibly be put on the table was undoubtedly welcome news for Snowden, yet NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander rejected the suggestion.
But how can anyone believe that Snowden would not be deserving of amnesty? Clearly it is the government and its senior officials who committed the crime — people who took oaths to defend the Constitution from enemies both foreign and domestic and who failed to take to heart the words they swore to uphold. Indeed, Snowden did not — nor does any government employee — swear allegiance to the president of the United States, or even to the secretary of Defense or the director of NSA. No, he swore to uphold and defend the Constitution.
Unfortunately, while federal law protects whistleblowers who work in other government sectors from reprisals for truth-telling and have paths for reporting wrongdoing and mismanagement, those who work in intelligence are expressly denied such rights. When Senior Staff Representative Diane Roark and longtime senior NSA employees Bill Binney, Ed Loomis, and I submitted a formal complaint about mismanagement at the agency, the government’s response on July 26, 2007, was to send the FBI to raid our homes, searching them for seven hours and seizing our computers, phones and other digital media. We are just now getting our property back after having successfully sued the government in December 2012The government even indicted Tom Drake, although it dropped its criminal charges in the case against him. Still, for the five of us, it was the equivalent of a punch in the face and a warning to other would-be “truth-tellers” not to report wrongful government activities or the government will come after you.
Snowden clearly saw what the government does to whistleblowers who try to work within government to fix things that are wrong. He knew that our complaint to the United States Department of Defense inspector general in September 2002 went for naught. Although the report agreed that our complaint was well-founded, nothing happened — no one was found guilty of wrongful behavior or waste of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.
Even before writing the complaint, we — all longtime and senior NSA employees — along with Diane Roark, a senior staffer on the House Permanent Select Subcommittee on Intelligence, had approached Congress in 2001 about the matter of illegal collection of data about U.S. citizens. No action. Snowden might have known that we were ultimately punished by approaching officials, and even had our security clearances revoked when the FBI raided our homes — despite the fact that four of the five of us were not indicted and none of us was found guilty of committing a crime.
For employees in the business of intelligence, there are no honest brokers, no viable paths to follow to report the subverting of the U.S. Constitution. It is the reason Snowden went first to Hong Kong and ultimately Moscow to seek refuge. He did not go to those places to give away national secrets, rather he needed a place to stay that was safe from extradition and where he could wait while the United States sorted through the facts, especially those regarding government leaders who violated the most basic of our nation’s laws — the right to privacy. …
I believe that most people in the CIA, NSA, FBI, etc. joined those agencies to serve and protect our country and the values in our Constitution. Wiebe’s message seems to point to a few powerful people at the top of the food chain being responsible for all of the damage to the NSA that Snowden caused out of his sense of duty to America. We would not even know Snowden’s name if we had a working system for insiders to report Constitutional and other legal and ethical violations.