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National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, from his asylum in Russia, accepted an award on Wednesday from a group of former U.S. intelligence officials expressing support for his decision to divulge secrets about the NSA's electronic surveillance of Americans and people around the globe.
The award, named in honor of the late CIA analyst Sam Adams, was presented to Snowden at a ceremony in Moscow by previous recipients of the award bestowed by the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (SAAII). The presenters included former FBI agent Coleen Rowley, former NSA official Thomas Drake, and former Justice Department official Jesselyn Radack, now with the Government Accountability Project. (Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern also took part.)
Snowden showed himself not only to be in good health, but also in good spirits, and very much on top of world events, including the attacks on him personally. Shaking his head in disbelief, he acknowledged that he was aware that former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden, together with House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers, had hinted recently that he (Snowden) be put on the infamous "Kill List" for assassination.
Snowden received the traditional Sam Adams Corner-Brighteneer Candlestick Holder, in symbolic recognition of his courage in shining light into dark places. Besides the presentation of the award, several hours were spent in informal conversation during which there was a wide consensus that, under present circumstances, Russia seemed the safest place for Snowden to be and that it was fortunate that Russia had rebuffed pressure to violate international law by turning him away.
In brief remarks from his visitors, Snowden was reassured -- first and foremost -- that he need no longer be worried that nothing significant would happen as a result of his decision to risk his future by revealing documentary proof that the U.S. government was playing fast and loose with the Constitutional rights of Americans.
Even amid the government shutdown, Establishment Washington and the normally docile "mainstream media" have not been able to deflect attention from the intrusive eavesdropping that makes a mockery of the Fourth Amendment. Even Congress is showing signs of awaking from its torpor.
In the somnolent Senate, a few hardy souls have gone so far as to express displeasure at having been lied to by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and NSA Director Keith Alexander -- Clapper having formally apologized for telling the Senate Intelligence Committee eavesdropping-related things that were, in his words, "clearly erroneous" and Alexander having told now-discredited whoppers about the effectiveness of NSA's intrusive and unconstitutional methods in combating terrorism.
Coleen Rowley, the first winner of the Sam Adams Award (2002), cited some little-known history to remind Snowden that he is in good company as a whistleblower -- and not only because of previous Sam Adams honorees. She noted that in 1773, Benjamin Franklin leaked confidential information by releasing letters written by then-Lt. Governor of Massachusetts Thomas Hutchinson to Thomas Whatley, an assistant to the British Prime Minister.
The letters suggested that it was impossible for the colonists to enjoy the same rights as subjects living in England and that "an abridgement of what are called English liberties" might be necessary. The content of the letters was so damaging to the British government that Benjamin Franklin was dismissed as colonial Postmaster General and had to endure an hour-long censure from British Solicitor General Alexander Wedderburn.
Who's the Traitor?
Like Edward Snowden, Franklin was called a traitor for whistleblowing the truth about what the government was doing. As Franklin's biographer H.W. Brands wrote: "For an hour and a half [Wedderburn] hurled invective at Franklin, branding him a liar, a thief, an outcast from the company of all honest men, an ingrate. ... So slanderous was Wedderburn's diatribe that no London paper would print it."
Hat tip for this interesting bit of history to Tom Mullen and his Aug. 9 article in the Washington Times titled "Obama says Snowden no patriot. How would Ben Franklin's leak be treated today?" Ms. Rowley also drew from Mullen's comment:
"Tyrants slandering patriots is nothing new. History decided that Franklin was a patriot. It was not so kind to the Hutchinsons and Wedderburns. History will decide who the patriots were in the 21st century as well. It will not be concerned with health care programs or unemployment rates. More likely, it will be concerned with who attacked the fundamental principles of freedom and who risked everything to defend them."
The award citation to Snowden read, in part...
"Sam Adams Associates are proud to honor Mr. Snowden's decision to heed his conscience and give priority to the Common Good over concerns about his own personal future. We are confident that others with similar moral fiber will follow his example in illuminating dark corners and exposing crimes that put our civil rights as free citizens in jeopardy. ...
"Heeding the dictates of conscience and patriotism, Mr. Snowden sacrificed his career and put his very life at risk, in order to expose what he called 'turnkey tyranny.' His whistleblowing has exposed a National Security Agency leadership captured by the intrusive capabilities offered by modern technology, with little if any thought to the strictures of law and Constitution. The documents he released show an NSA enabled, rather than restrained, by senior officials in all three branches of the U.S. government.
"Just as Private Manning and Julian Assange exposed criminality with documentary evidence, Mr. Snowden's beacon of light has pierced a thick cloud of deception. And, again like them, he has been denied some of the freedoms that whistleblowers have every right to enjoy.
"Mr. Snowden was also aware of the cruel indignities to which other courageous officials had been subjected -- whistleblowers like Sam Adams Award honorees (ex aequo in 2011) Thomas Drake and Jesselyn Radack -- when they tried to go through government channels to report abuses. Mr. Snowden was able to outmaneuver those who, as events have shown, are willing to go to ridiculous lengths to curtail his freedom and quarrel with his revelations. We are gratified that he has found a place of sanctuary where his rights under international law are respected.