Ridenhour Prize winners Daniel Ellsberg and Thomas Drake are among the chorus of voices rushing to defend Edward Snowden, who on Sunday was unmasked as the whistleblower behind recent explosive National Security Agency surveillance disclosures.
Snowden, a 29-year-old former CIA employee who worked most recently as a contractor for the NSA, remains at an undisclosed location in Hong Kong, awaiting response from American law enforcement. His top-secret leaks include: an NSA surveillance program called PRISM, which harvests email, video, social networking and additional user data from Microsoft, Apple, Google and other companies, an agency tool called Boundless Informant that catalogs acquired intelligence, and a court order revealing the NSA's daily collection of millions of phone records from Verizon customers.
Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other newspapers in 1971, quickly defended Snowden in a Monday editorial for the Guardian. He called the leak the most important in American history – including his own – and the programs revealed "blatantly unconstitutional in their breadth and potential abuse." While declining to call the US a police state, he said the legal framework and technological capabilities to create one are moving into place, and called that power "extremely dangerous." By risking his life, Snowden can inspire others with similar information to come forward and create a "way up and out of the abyss," Ellsberg wrote.
Thomas Drake, the former NSA senior official who exposed waste in the agency and was indicted under the Espionage Act in 2010, called Snowden's leak a "brave and courageous act of selfless civil disobedience." He dismissed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order authorizing the Verizon collection, claiming the program's aim isn't "about foreign intelligence. It's simply about harvesting millions and millions and millions of phone call records and beyond" in a Thursday interview with DemocracyNow.
The Government Accountability Project (GAP) and the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), both strategic partners for The Ridenhour Prizes, also commented on the leaks. According to GAP, the revelations justify longstanding concerns from the organization's NSA whistleblower clients regarding "this breach of the American constitution and American privacy for years." POGO declared it's "time for answers" about the NSA's programs, and noted the stark contrast between government branches that approved of or were at least briefed on the spying activities, and the American public "left completely in the dark."
As more details emerge – the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, who broke what is now being called the NSA Files, said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that the public should expect more revelations – so will support for the whistleblower who said he does "not expect to see home again."
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