Blowing the Whistle on Snowden: Declassified Report Just Released

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released the declassified report on former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Several members of the House Committee provided comments on the report’s publication in the official press release. According to Ranking Member Adam Schiff, “Snowden and his defenders claim that he is a whistleblower, but he isn’t, as the Committee’s review shows. […] Whistleblowers are important to proper oversight and we will protect them from retaliation, and those who engage in civil disobedience are willing to stay and face the consequences.” Schiff’s opinion echoes one of the major findings of the report – that Snowden is not considered a whistleblower solely on the premises of exposing classified information. The report states that “disclosing classified information that shows fraud, waste, abuse, or other illegal activity to the appropriate law enforcement or oversight personnel – including to Congress – does make someone a whistleblower and affords them with critical protections.” Even though Snowden publicly claimed to have reported illegal intelligence practices to various NSA officials, the House Committee has “found no evidence that Snowden took any official effort to express concerns about U.S. intelligence activities – legal, moral, or otherwise – to any oversight officials within the U.S. government[.]”

As stated in the report, the materials stolen and released by Snowden have caused immense damage to national security. Unlike whistleblower activity, the materials that Snowden released do not pertain to individuals and the privacy interests therein, but they contain critical information regarding military, defense, and intelligence programs – information which is of tremendous interest to enemies of the state. The Committee notes that Snowden “handed over secrets that protect American troops overseas and secrets that provide vital defenses against terrorists and nation-states.”

Although the full publication (composed of 37 pages and 237 footnotes) will remain classified, the declassified document provides some insight on the circumstances leading up to Snowden’s actions. Even though Snowden has said that the congressional testimony of James Clapper was a personal and professional “breaking point”, the report argues that Snowden began illegally downloading sensitive and classified material eight months before Clapper’s testimony.

Despite the he said/she said facet of this entire, years-long debacle, the Committee does provide one gleaming aspect of self-reflection: the NSA and the intelligence community have not done enough to ensure that another disclosure of this magnitude does not happen again. While 100% prevention is never possible, mitigation and preparedness cannot be underestimated or undervalued. As of the release date of the report, the NSA has not yet fully implemented the post-Snowden security measures.