Issue 3 Online Extra Whistleblowers, President Obama & Edward Snowden An Assessment by Christopher Kline

Christopher Kline contributed this piece to accompany our BIG debate feature which looked at whether or not President Obama reneged on his election promise to protect whistleblowers. For the full debate with Eleanor Clift (leading Washington Journalist) and Ben Wizner (American Civil Liberties Union) download Issue 3 here.

Please note: This article was originally published on the original version of The New Idealist online in November 2013 before being added to this newly created site in July 2015.

During the 2008 campaign, President Barack Obama ran what was dubbed as a new type of campaign that allowed him to reach out to more Americans than ever before. Regardless of how one feels about Barack Obama, you must admit he was successful in doing so. I do, however, think it is correct to make the assessment that he ran a campaign that had the sole purpose of running against President George W. Bush – even though he was not on the ballot. Again, to Obama’s credit, this was a clever campaign tactic as at that time, the popularity of President Bush had diminished to all-time lows. That campaign tactic gave Obama the opportunity to tell many Americans what they wanted to hear, even if it was devoid of any experience or facts to back the statement up.

One area that President Obama specifically addressed was needed protection for whistleblowers. To Obama, this was such an important area, that he addressed the issue in campaign material and was posted on his campaign website entitled “The Change We Need In Washington.” In a section, entitled “Protect Whistleblowers” the literature stated:

Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled as they have been during the Bush administration. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and  whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.[1] (Emphasis added)

The whistleblower issue has definitely received more attention in the second term of the Obama Administration – most notably due to NSA leaker Edward Snowden. The leaks by Snowden have brought the issue of whistleblowers and the protections they have under scrutiny. However, before that discussion can take place, I think it is important to look at the actions of Snowden. We know that Edward Snowden felt he was doing a patriotic and honorable task in reporting the NSA classified surveillance program to the press. The issue with this assessment is the fact that Snowden choose to give his information to reporters rather than the appropriate individuals in Washington. From the reaction that Snowden’s revelations have received across the political spectrum, it is clear to see that he would have received an audience that would have welcomed this information – especially, those opposite the President. In an August 9, 2013 press conference at the White House, President Obama addressed the issue of Snowden and his status by saying, “…I signed an executive order well before Mr. Snowden leaked this information that provided whistle-blower protection to the intelligence community for the first time.”[2]

In this statement, President Obama is referring to Presidential Policy Directive 19, issued on October 10, 2012 specifically ensures protections for those employees who are serving in the Intelligence Community and who have access to classified information will be protected against retaliation for reporting, waste, fraud and abuse. However, it makes no mention of those employees of outside agencies and are serving as government contractors, which was the status of Edward Snowden.[3]

Thus, the question regarding the Presidents record of accomplishment on whistleblowers still needs to be answered. One must first make the determination of what Mr. Snowden is – a whistleblower or traitor. Many have said that since he went to the press after fleeing the United States and then ultimately sought the asylum in a foreign country, he is a traitor thus not guaranteed to receive any whistleblower protections.

The United States is a nation of laws and all citizens have a responsibility to adhere to those laws. If we pause to think about the ramifications of every individual running to the press when an abuse occurs, the outcome of this is mind-numbing. President Obama dos not have a clear record of whistleblower protections – I believe he has learned that it is one thing to campaign but quite another to govern.

Christopher Kline currently serves as an Adjunct Instructor of History at Westmoreland County Community College in Youngwood, PA and holds an MA in History and an MA in Diplomacy. You can follow Christopher on Twitter @klinecj.

[1] http://obama.3cdn.net/0080cc578614b42284_2a0mvyxpz.pdf.  Accessed September 19, 2013. [2] http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-08-09/politics/41225505_1_civil-liberties-oversight-board-open-debate-surveillance-programs/4.  Accessed September 19, 2013 [3] http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-08-12/politics/41333716_1_edward-snowden-executive-order-policy-directive.  Accessed 9/20/2013.

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