Most federal employees who report waste, fraud and abuse have legal protections against retaliation by their bosses. If employees are retaliated against, the law defines certain procedures designed to get justice for whistbleblowers.
For employees in national security agencies, the protections are still a promise. National security contractors don’t even have that.
Snowden was a contractor for the NSA when he leaked classified information about top-secret surveillance programs to The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian.
He fled to Hong Kong, knowing U.S. authorities would be after him. He explained during a Guardian online Q&A session Monday why he took off:
“First, the US Government, just as they did with other whistleblowers, immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home, openly declaring me guilty of treason and that the disclosure of secret, criminal, and even unconstitutional acts is an unforgivable crime. That’s not justice, and it would be foolish to volunteer yourself to it if you can do more good outside of prison than in it.”
Few whistleblowers disclose such explosive information. But whistleblower advocates think unauthorized disclosures will continue until the government provides better protections for employees and contractors who know of abuse within national security agencies.
Louis Clark, president of the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower advocacy organization, thinks the Snowden case may push members of Congress to expand whistleblower protections “if they want to avoid information going to the public.”
“There needs to be an alternative. . .” he added, “or you’re going to have a blanket release of information, which is a huge problem.”
Those protections should include strong rights for national security whistleblowers and payback when those rights are violated, said Angela Canterbury, director of public policy for the Project on Government Oversight. If the government or a company unfairly retaliates against a whistleblower, they should be “ordered to provide remedies,” Canterbury said.
Don’t count on Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, to support expanded whistleblower rights for intelligence community workers.
“There are already strong protections in place for true whistle blowers — they can take their concerns to a variety of inspectors general and ombudsmen throughout the Intelligence Community, and they can talk to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees,” he said in an e-mail. “I have seen many people take advantage of these channels, which allow a whistle blower to voice concerns about legitimate government abuse in a secure environment. Edward Snowden skipped all of these options and went right to the press and China. He has provided information to our adversaries that goes well beyond the programs he said he had concerns with. He broke the law. He has damaged our national security, and he has betrayed his country.”