Famous American Whistleblowers

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America’s Most Notable Whistleblowers


Edward Snowden

In 2013, Edward Snowden, a former CIA official and computer professional exposed multiple global surveillance programs to the public. He did this by releasing classified information from the United States NSA (National Security Agency), as well as the United Kingdom GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters).


Snowden began working for the CIA in 2006. Despite his nontraditional educational background, Snowden was incredibly gifted with computers and therefore able to acquire a position with the Central Intelligence Agency. In 2007, Snowden was stationed in Geneva, Switzerland and began to grow suspicious of the ethical level of the CIA. In 2009, Snowden resigned and took a job as a contractor with Dell, the computer company that handles NSA technology. He was assigned to a facility in Tokyo, and was put in charge of teaching top NSA officials how to protect themselves from Chinese hackers. In 2011, Snowden was reassigned by Dell to work in Maryland, again for the CIA. At this point, Snowden began working with and downloading classified documents that involved global surveillance programs.


In March of 2012, Snowden was again reassigned to Hawaii to work as the NSA’s lead information-sharing technologist. His new position was in an NSA office that mainly focused on monitoring North Korea and China electronically. His specific role mainly focused on breaking into new areas of telephone and internet traffic on a global scale. Snowden was driven to leave his position at Dell and work for consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton after he witnessed James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, lie to Congress under oath. His goal in taking the position with Booz Allen Hamilton was to gather even more information on the extent of the NSA’s worldwide surveillance.


The leak of surveillance documents by Edward Snowden began with him reaching out the journalist of The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald in later 2012. He contacted and corresponded with Greenwald under the alias Cincinnatus, but Greenwald quickly grew frustrated with the level of security Snowden insisted on for all forms of communication. Snowden also reached out to documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and Washington Post journalist Barton Gellman and began supplying them with classified documents in spring of 2013. The Guardian published the first story with information from Snowden’s documents on June 5, 2013, while he was staying in Hong Kong. After the initial media release, other notable news sources including the New York Times and Washington Post, as well as other newspapers worldwide, published articles that shed light on the growing lack of privacy and increased secret surveillance happening all over countries like the United States, that are supposed to uphold freedom-inspired constitutional rights.


The initial program that came to the public’s attention was PRISM, which allowed the government access to Google and Yahoo accounts of citizens. NSA and CIA members were also using the World of Warcraft and Xbox Live accounts of citizens to recruit potential informants and spy on their love interests, as well as coercing Verizon to give them daily contact lists and phone records. The NSA also monitored online sexual of those they deemed “radicalizers” in order to have the power to discredit them at any time. The NSA and CGHQ also had constant surveillance on international public officials such as the Israeli Prime Minister, and charitable organizations such as UNICEF. The NSA also operated something called a “black budget,” which employed over a dozen spying agencies that payed private technological companies to keep constant tabs on certain communication networks. This “black budget” was given over $50 billion in 2013.  


Snowden was initially reluctant to release his identity to the public, but Laura Poitras encouraged him to come forward as the source of the mind-blowing information so his colleagues would not become part of a witch-hunt for the informant within the agencies he exposed. Since the series of leaks, Snowden has been recognized as a hero for his acts, and numerous films and documentaries have been made about him, including Citizenfour and Killswitch.
Edward Snowden was charged with multiple accounts of violating the Espionage Act. He now resides in an undisclosed city in Russia under extended asylum.