WASHINGTON — A former military intelligence analyst praised the work of Edward Snowden last week, and urged others in the government to follow the whistleblower’s example.
“I believe that we need people like Snowden to keep our government in check,” wrote Dan R. Sendik in a May 13 editorial for USA Today entitled “Needed: More Snowdens.”
Sendik, now a computer science student at Columbia University, spent five years working as an analyst of classified information for the U.S. Marines’ signals intelligence corps.
Because Snowden was a “hated enemy to the majority of the intelligence community,” Sendik kept silent about his feelings until now. “[A]ny disagreement on my part would have put my own security clearance at risk, so I kept my unpopular opinion to myself.”
Snowden, an NSA contractor working for Booz Allen Hamilton, leaked thousands of classified documents to the media in 2013 that revealed the surveillance of millions of people, including world leaders and American citizens. He currently lives in Russia on asylum, since the U.S. revoked his passport and charged him with theft of government property and violating the Espionage Act.
Snowden remains a controversial figure both in and out of government. A 2015 poll commissioned by the American Civil Liberties Union found that only 36 percent of Americans support the whistleblower’s actions. And his prospects are unlikely to change after the election: All mainstream presidential candidates would see him prosecuted for his leaks.
The treatment of whistleblowers like Snowden, former Army intelligence officer Chelsea Manning, and Anonymous hacktivist Jeremy Hammond has led many analysts to accuse the Obama administration of waging a war on whistleblowers, and the government even formed a special “Insider Threat” task force in the wake of their disclosures in hopes of preventing future incidents.
In his editorial, Sendik acknowledged that Snowden’s leak made intelligence analysis harder for his team. “It was not uncommon to hear the sarcastic comment, ‘thanks Snowden’ somewhere in the office on any given day,” he wrote.
Nonetheless, Sendik said Snowden that “did the right thing” by exposing the NSA’s mass surveillance program. “This is an organization with a history of privacy rights infringement which is best known for its secrecy.”
In the wake of the leak, “I began questioning the morality of my work,” Sendik wrote. “If the public was outraged by what Snowden leaked, would they be outraged by how the United States is fighting terrorism?”
In Sendik’s view, the need for whistleblowers has only grown in the years since he left the intelligence field:
“In the three years since Snowden’s leak, government agencies appear to have grown more brazen than ever in their lack of respect for our constitutional right to privacy. The NSA has been able to continue and even increase its surveillance efforts with little backlash from the public. In fact, the Pew Research Center found in December that only 28% of Americans were worried that anti-terror policies had gone too far in restricting civil liberties. Twice as many – 56% — were concerned that the government hadn’t gone far enough to protect the country.”
He concluded by warning of the dangers of popular acceptance of mass surveillance:
“We must not falsely be convinced that our right to privacy is less important than national security. If we continue to accept our government’s reasons for domestic mass surveillance, the United States will become reminiscent of George Orwell’s ‘1984.’ Domestic mass surveillance is not the solution to ending terrorism, and it never will be.”
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