No, Hillary, Edward Snowden Didn’t Have Whistleblower Protections

“For employees in national security agencies, the protections are still a promise.”

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When CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked the Democratic presidential candidates if they considered National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden to be a “hero,” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this:

“He broke the laws of the United States. He could’ve been a whistleblower…He could’ve raised all the issues that have been raised…He stole very important information that has fallen into the wrong hands. I think he should not come up without being made to face the music.”

Snowden is one of the subjects about which Clinton has remained consistent, but she has a problem: When it comes to suggesting Snowden had whistleblower protections, she’s dead wrong. This, from a Washington Post piece published nearly two years ago:

Most federal employees who report waste, fraud and abuse have legal protections against retaliation by their bosses. If employees are retaliated against, the law defines certain procedures designed to get justice for whistbleblowers.

For employees in national security agencies, the protections are still a promise. National security contractors don’t even have that.

Snowden was a contractor for the NSA when he leaked classified information about top-secret surveillance programs to The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian.

That doesn’t take into account cases such as Thomas Drake’s, a former senior NSA executive who obeyed the law while trying to report problems within the NSA and found himself on the wrong side of a major investigation. He now works at an Apple store outside of Washington, DC. Admittedly, the law is fairly complicated, but as Politifact pointed out in January 2014, when the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald said Snowden did not have any whistleblower protections under the Espionage Act, his claim was “mostly true.” Greenwald received the classified information from Snowden.

Greenwald said that if Snowden returned to the United States, he would have no protections under the Espionage Act and would not be allowed to justify his actions in court. In terms of the law, Greenwald is literally correct.

Two other legal documents, however, could have provided Snowden some potential protections before he shared classified information with the press. But once he did, no law offers Snowden any shelter.

So before Clinton says Snowden “could have been a whistleblower,” she might want to double-check with a lawyer.

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WHO DOESN’T LOVE A POSITIVE STORY—OR TWO?

“Great journalism really does make a difference in this world: it can even save kids.”

That’s what a civil rights lawyer wrote to Julia Lurie, the day after her major investigation into a psychiatric hospital chain that uses foster children as “cash cows” published, letting her know he was using her findings that same day in a hearing to keep a child out of one of the facilities we investigated.

That’s awesome. As is the fact that Julia, who spent a full year reporting this challenging story, promptly heard from a Senate committee that will use her work in their own investigation of Universal Health Services. There’s no doubt her revelations will continue to have a big impact in the months and years to come.

Like another story about Mother Jones’ real-world impact.

This one, a multiyear investigation, published in 2021, exposed conditions in sugar work camps in the Dominican Republic owned by Central Romana—the conglomerate behind brands like C&H and Domino, whose product ends up in our Hershey bars and other sweets. A year ago, the Biden administration banned sugar imports from Central Romana. And just recently, we learned of a previously undisclosed investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, looking into working conditions at Central Romana. How big of a deal is this?

“This could be the first time a corporation would be held criminally liable for forced labor in their own supply chains,” according to a retired special agent we talked to.

Wow.

And it is only because Mother Jones is funded primarily by donations from readers that we can mount ambitious, yearlong—or more—investigations like these two stories that are making waves.

About that: It’s unfathomably hard in the news business right now, and we came up about $28,000 short during our recent fall fundraising campaign. We simply have to make that up soon to avoid falling further behind than can be made up for, or needing to somehow trim $1 million from our budget, like happened last year.

If you can, please support the reporting you get from Mother Jones—that exists to make a difference, not a profit—with a donation of any amount today. We need more donations than normal to come in from this specific blurb to help close our funding gap before it gets any bigger.

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