Dozens of organizations, from the American Civil Liberties Union on the left to Guns Owners of America on the right, are urging President Obama to pardon National Security Agency whistleblower and fugitive Edward Snowden.
“We call on you to actively endorse S. 794, legislation introduced by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., that would restore whistleblower protections for IC contractors,” the organizations said in a joint letter Friday to Obama.
Snowden, an NSA private contractor, leaked government documents showing the agency was spying on Americans, including through monitoring cell-phone data.
He ended up a fugitive in Russia.
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Since the beginning of the Snowden case, nearly 170,000 people have signed an online petition seeking “a full, free and absolute pardon” for Snowden over whatever he revealed about the NSA programs.
Lisa Monaco, a White House adviser on homeland security, responded online by blaming Snowden for not “constructively” addressing the concerns and suggesting he would “come home” and be judged by a jury.
“The balance between our security and the civil liberties that our ideals and our Constitution require deserves robust debate,” she wrote.
However, the organizations said in their letter the White House response “grossly misleads the American public by implying that – 1) there were constructive channels in place for National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to challenge widespread domestic surveillance, and 2) Mr. Snowden and other contractor whistleblowers within the intelligence community have protections against retaliation.”
While Congress enacted whistleblower rights for some IC contractors in 2007, including those at the Department of Defense, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the NSA, the protections lasted only from 2008 through 2012.
At that time, the Senate expanded the protections, but a “closed conference committee removed all preexisting and new IC whistleblower protections from the bill before passing it,” the letter said.
“Six months after IC contractor rights were rolled back Mr. Snowden disclosed the U.S. government’s sweeping domestic surveillance programs,” the letter said.
The programs have been the focus of a multitude of lawsuits.
Snowden explained to those who questioned him at the time: “The charges they brought against me … explicitly denied my ability to make a public-interest defense. There were no whistleblower protections that would’ve protected me – and that’s known to everybody in the intelligence community.”
He continued, “There are no proper channels for making this information available when the system fails comprehensively.”
The letter was over the signatures of some 40 groups, including Access, ACLU, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Center for Digital Democracy, Citizens for Health, Coalition for Change, Constitutional Alliance, Consumer Action, Consumer Watchdog, Defending Dissent Foundation, Demand Progress, Drum Majors for Truth, Equal Justice Alliance, Essential Information, Expose Facts, Federal Ethics Center, Federally Employed Women Legal Education Fund, Freedom of the Press Foundation, Golden Badge, Government Accountability Project, Gun Owners of America, Human Rights Watch, International Association of Whistleblowers and Judicial Engineering Documented and Impeded.
Other groups are National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, National Employment Lawyers Association, National Forum on Judicial Accountability, National Judicial Conduct and Disability Law Project, OAK, OpenTheGovernment, Patient Privacy Rights, Plea for Justice Program, Power Over Poverty Under Laws of America Restored, Privacy Times, Project of Government Oversight, Public Citizen, Restore the Fourth, RootsAction, State Community Councils, Sunlight Foundation, Rutherford, United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities, Whistleblower Alliance and Whistleblower Support Fund.
Rutherford issued a statement explaining that the legislation would allow workers to “file a whistleblower complaint and provide them access to district court and a jury trial to challenge retaliation.”
“In our current governmental climate, where laws that run counter to the dictates of the Constitution are made in secret, passed without debate, and upheld by secret courts that operate behind closed doors, obeying one’s conscience can well render you a criminal,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute.
“If we are to have any hope of restoring transparency and accountability to our government, it is more critical than ever that we stand up for the rights of those whistleblowers who dare to speak out against governmental wrongdoing.”
The Senate plan, the letter said, “would give intelligence whistleblowers incentives to work within the system, thus protecting taxpayer money from waste, fraud, abuse and misuse.”