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Bridget Johnson

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August 8, 2013 - 7:09 am

Privacy advocate Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) said the labeling of NSA leaker Edward Snowden as a traitor or whistleblower is just semantics that distracts from the real issue of domestic surveillance.

Amash called President Obama’s comments that there is not a domestic spying program “highly misleading.”

“There is a program that the director of national intelligence has declassified. They’ve revealed it that collects the phone records of every single American in the United States, regardless of whether they are connected to any terrorist threat,” the libertarian congressman said last night on Fox. “So, when he says we’re tracking phone records and the e-mails of people who are just connected to terrorist threats. That’s not true.”

Amash’s prominence has risen after his effort to defund the NSA collection program, with the co-sponsorship of Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), came close to passage in the House.

“And the issue of whether Snowden is a traitor or not or a whistle blower I think that’s just debating semantics. He’s a lot of things. And one the things that he did was reveal an unconstitutional program that Congress did not know about. And the reason Congress did not know about is because we did not get the briefings that were acquired,” he said.

Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress were united early on in branding Snowden a traitor.

“When you say we’ve had congressional briefings or when they allege that they put a stack of documents in front of you that are 200 pages long and they say go ahead and read it,” Amash continued.

“If you don’t know the terms of art they are using. If you don’t know the specific definitions they are using, you don’t even know what it means if you’re — if you’re going there. Because they have differences between the word for example, ‘collect’ and ‘acquire’. How would anyone know that there is a term of art difference between ‘collect’ and ‘acquire’ unless you’re steeped in this stuff?”

Amash said another problem with the briefings is “unless you phrase it in exactly the right way you don’t get the answer you need — and this is coming from both administration officials and intelligence committee officials, and if you don’t know what to ask, it’s hard to find out the information.”

“If there are other secret programs going on, it’s impossible to ask the question that gets the right information because you have to ask it in precisely the right way,” he added.

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

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Since most of the Framers spent a portion of their lives with the very expansive British definition of treason hanging over their heads, it is hard to be a true traitor in the US; you pretty much have to show up wearing the other guy's uniform or be demonstrably in his pay.. So, it is questionable if Snowden is a traitor within the narrow legal meaning. He certainly violated several laws and oaths, so he has engaged in criminal conduct, though since nobody's paying me I'm not going to try to draw up a bill of particulars.

Being a "whistleblower" in its legal meaning is an affirmative defense to certain kinds of criminal conduct or administrative misconduct. I submit that there is no evidence that Snowden is a whistleblower as that word has legal meaning. The factual predicate of claiming legal whistleblower status is you must have formed a good faith belief that an action, inaction, or policy violates a law, rule, or policy and have informed your superiors of that belief in an attempt to get them to change their course of conduct. Different governments have different standards and processes for how one informs their superiors. I think most federal departments require you to inform the Inspector General. Snowden was a contractor employee so there are some interesting questions about whether he was obligated to inform his superiors in the company he worked for and just how the federal whistleblower law would apply to him and I don't know the answers with any certainty. In any event, there is no evidence that Snowden used his knowledge and acted on his belief that the programs were illegal or unconstitutional to attempt to get the government to change its conduct. There's no evidence that he contacted anyone in either his company or the government. He stole a whole bunch of information and went directly to the public with that information. He's simply a leaker, not a whistleblower and is not entitled to whistleblower protection, and it doesn't even matter if it is later found that the programs about which he went public were in fact illegal or unconstitutional.

In my experience many employees who fancy themselves activists working for some greater good get in trouble over leaking or attempting to be a whistleblower over policies with which they disagree. If you disagree with an action or policy and so inform your superiors in an attempt to get them to change the action or policy you are not relieved of the duty to do your job in carrying out that action or policy but under most laws are protected from retaliation for your opposition, though, frankly, the protection is illusory; you can either put your head down and hope for a new boss or you're going to need a new job 'cause you're not going anywhere in that one.

Alll that said, I really don't disagree with the Soros Junta's hard push to stop leakers, though I think they're over the line in their pressure on true whistleblowers. I just wish it worked both ways. A hard push against leakers by a Republican Administration would result in screams of outrage from the media, from a Democrat the media is complicit in labelling the leaker or whistleblower a malcontent with performance or ethical issues and soon the whistleblower assumes that telltale status marking an ignominious end, the "disgruntled former employee."
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