Michelle Singletary
Michelle Singletary
Columnist

Edward Snowden: The Price of Being a ‘Whistleblower’

Edward Snowden, who outed himself as the person who leaked to the press that the National Security Agency was secretly monitoring citizens’ and foreigners’ phone and Internet activities, may find that his efforts to do the right thing, as he has claimed, will cost him dearly.

The 29-year-old, who describes himself as a “whistleblower,” has already lost his six-figure salary job, which I’m sure no one is surprised about. The consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton said Tuesday that it had formally terminated Snowden for violations of the firm’s code of ethics and firm policy, reports The Washington Post’s Debbi Wilgoren. Snowden was employed by Booz Allen for less than three months.

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Despite earlier reports that Snowden earning $200,000 a year, Snowden’s former employer said he was paid a $122,000 annual salary for his work as a systems administrator on contract to the NSA.

As Wilgoren reported, Snowden worked at an NSA Threat Operations Center in Hawaii, one of several such facilities that are tasked with detecting threats to government computer systems. He has previously worked for the CIA, U.S. officials said.

“That salary figure looked nicely inflated for a guy south of 30 who’s doing stuff for the government,” The Post’s Erik Wemple wrote Tuesday.

Still, $122,000 is a great salary. In an interview with the Guardian, Snowden, whose whereabouts are not publicly known, said he lived “a very comfortable life.” He shared a home in Hawaii with a girlfriend.

“I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building,” Snowden told the Guardian.

He may be running out of money, according to CNN. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee has started a campaign to raise funds for Snowden’s legal defense.

In a Twitter feed that appears to be Snowden’s, one Tweet says: “I shudder to think of all the compromising situations I used to have to watch people in. No paycheck is worth that. I’d rather go to prison.”

Snowden leaked the NSA documents about the surveillance programs to the Guardian and The Post.

In an article this week titled “Why NSA IT Guy Edward Snowden Leaked Top Secret Documents,” Forbes staff writer Kashmir Hill asked a question similar to what I asked my Twitter followers: Why would Snowden trade his financial security for a higher ideal?

“Many people see objectionable practices in their workplaces. Most grumble to colleagues or complain to a sympathetic spouse. Why did Snowden decide to share what he saw with the world?” Hill asked.

He could risk lifetime in prison if he’s successfully prosecuted for violating the Espionage Act.

Read a collection of Snowden quotes that Hill compiled to explain the leaker’s motivation.

Color of Money Question of the Week

Would you have traded financial security for a higher ideal? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Include your full name, city and state and put “The Price of Being a Whistleblower” in the subject line. You can also weigh in on Twitter at @SingletaryM #moneyquest.

Live Chat Today

Do you have a personal finance question about your financial life? If so, join me at noon ET for my live online discussion. If you can’t join me live, send your questions in early or read the transcript later.

The Cost of Being the Wedding Guest

You do know that there are entry fees when you are invited to a wedding, right?

As Regina Lewis writes for USA Today, the spending expected for engagement and wedding gifts can be divvied up as follows, according to TheKnot.com:

• Engagement present: 20 percent

• Shower gift: 20 percent

• Wedding gift: 60 percent

In all, when you include other expenses, many wedding guests can end up shelling out hundreds of dollars to attend a wedding, according to American Express Spending & Savings Tracker. American Express found that the average guest spends more than $539 per wedding. Included: $167 for travel, $161 for new clothes and $108 for a wedding gift.

Weddings today aren’t jut about one big day but “the big days, plural, not day — engagement parties, showers, rehearsal dinners, bachelor and bachelorette parties, the wedding,” Lewis wrote. “Be sure to look at the overall event schedule and related costs. If you’re in the bridal party, you can expect to pay more, because there are other related costs.”

The most priceless investment the bride and groom can get from you is your being a good guest, Lewis says. “Full participation is probably what the bride and groom want most. Mingle with the guests who look a little lost, dance when they’re looking to fill the floor and interact with as many people as you can.”

Cashing In on Vacation Time

Here’s a quick way to get extra money for your summer vacation, cash in some of your extra vacation time.

“Some companies allow their workers to buy and sell vacation time, a perk that gives workers more flexibility in managing their time off,” reports the Associated Press. “The novel approach might help employees buy some extra days off to take the trip of a lifetime or spend more time with a newborn. Co-workers could sell off unused days to get some extra money.”

An upcoming survey to be released by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 9 percent of employers allowed workers to cash out unused vacation time. Five percent let employees purchase additional vacation days through a payroll deduction. An additional 7 percent allowed employees to donate vacation time to a general pool that can be used by other workers, according to AP.

“When times are a little tight, this benefit really doesn’t cost a lot of extra money to employers to provide,” Julie Stich, research director for the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans told AP. “It’s offered by more forward thinking or flexible-type employers.”

Marketplace

American Public Media’s Marketplace had a very thoughtful segment by Scott Tong, a correspondent for its sustainability desk.

Tong is exploring what parents are willing to spend to ensure their children are successful. He says: “What people buy is often dictated by what everyone around them is spending. But today, keeping up is about more than a bigger lawn mower. For parents, it’s about kids. We all want them to get into college -- so we spend on tutors, sports and experiences to get them in.”

What we are seeing, Tong says, is a “consumption arms race in very middle-income places.” He profiles a couple, Louis and Nikki Jackson, who live in Charles County, Md., a fast-growing, diverse suburb of Washington. The parents, like many across the country, race between various activities for their children.

“The point of all this, Nikki and Louis explain, is to build their junior résumés with academics and activities, the currency of future school and job applications,” Tong says. “Once, only the wealthy ran this kind of race. Now, kids from middle-class communities like Charles County (income per capita: $36,000) have entered, too.”

Sometimes the racing pays off. The Jackson’s oldest child got a full academic ride to nearby Hood College, based on her grades and her track team and student government activities, her mom says.

The question is, Can middle-income families afford the price of getting ahead? I weigh in during the segment.

Read the interview, or listen to it here.

Fail to Plan and You Plan to Fail

For last week’s Color of Money Question, I asked: “What financial foolishness made you become money smart?” Here are some responses from some of my social network friends.

From Twitter:

Johanna @AVGJOhanna tweeted: “OMG I padded my student loans for non-necessities. BIG REGRET #financialfoolishness rude awakening at repayment.”

“Borrowing from a 401k is #financialfoolishness,” tweeted Pennies & Millions @PenniesMillions.

Sally @sheaven tweeted: “ran up $3,000 in credit card debt on stupid stuff in my 20s, parents bailed me out. Will never do again. #financialfoolishness”

D.O.A@shaqr69 added: “lending moni [sp] to friends.. #financialfoolishness.”

On my Facebook page, I asked readers, “Would you would speak up if a relative was planning to marry a financially foolish person? Is it our responsibility to help friends and family see what they can’t see?”

Savitri Helpingpeople Crenshaw wrote, “I’m a licensed financial analyst and I attempt to help my ‘friends and family’ daily. However, they have so much pride about their own personal financial situation that it becomes ‘easier’ to help a stranger. Yet, my heart desires to help those that I know first before those whom I don’t.”

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or e-mail michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to www.postbusiness.com. Follow Michelle Singletary on Twitter @SingletaryM.

 
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