USA Today has published an extraordinary interview with three former NSA employees who praise Edward Snowden's leaks, corroborate some of his claims, and warn about unlawful government acts.
Thomas Drake, William Binney, and J. Kirk Wiebe each protested the NSA in their own rights. "For years, the three whistle-blowers had told anyone who would listen that the NSA collects huge swaths of communications data from U.S. citizens," the newspaper reports. "They had spent decades in the top ranks of the agency, designing and managing the very data collection systems they say have been turned against Americans. When they became convinced that fundamental constitutional rights were being violated, they complained first to their superiors, then to federal investigators, congressional oversight committees and, finally, to the news media."
In other words, they blew the whistle in the way Snowden's critics suggest he should have done. Their method didn't get through to the members of Congress who are saying, in the wake of the Snowden leak, that they had no idea what was going on. But they are nonetheless owed thanks.
And among them, they've now said all of the following:
- His disclosures did not cause grave damage to national security.
- What Snowden discovered is "material evidence of an institutional crime."
- As a system administrator, Snowden "could go on the network or go into any file or any system and change it or add to it or whatever, just to make sure -- because he would be responsible to get it back up and running if, in fact, it failed. So that meant he had access to go in and put anything. That's why he said, I think, 'I can even target the president or a judge.' If he knew their phone numbers or attributes, he could insert them into the target list which would be distributed worldwide. And then it would be collected, yeah, that's right. As a super-user, he could do that."
- "The idea that we have robust checks and balances on this is a myth."
- Congressional overseers "have no real way of seeing into what these agencies are doing. They are totally dependent on the agencies briefing them on programs, telling them what they are doing."
- Lawmakers "don't really don't understand what the NSA does and how it operates. Even when they get briefings, they still don't understand."
- Asked what Edward Snowden should expect to happen to him, one of the men, William Binney, answered, "first tortured, then maybe even rendered and tortured and then incarcerated and then tried and incarcerated or even executed." Interesting that this is what a whistleblower thinks the U.S. government will do to a citizen. The abuse of Bradley Manning worked.
- "There is no path for intelligence-community whistle-blowers who know wrong is being done. There is none. It's a toss of the coin, and the odds are you are going to be hammered."
The fact that former NSA employees have said these things doesn't automatically make them true. All have reason to identify with Snowden (though one thinks he may have crossed a line by talking about surveillance on China). What this interview does mean is that some of Snowden's allegations seem even more credible than they did when he was the only one making them.