The Unsung Hero of the NSA Revelations

by NOZOMI HAYASE

How many people can look back on their lives and say they have done something significant for the betterment of society? Oftentimes selfless and noble actions of individuals go unrecognized. There are always those who act quietly behind the scenes at crucial turning points in history. Such a person is Sarah Harrison.

After Edward Snowden came forward as the source behind the release of the NSA classified documents and the Obama Administration’s aggressive international manhunt began, Harrison, a 31 year old British native emerged on the world stage as the mysterious woman who accompanied this high profile whistleblower in his quest for asylum. On June 23rd, WikiLeaks published her profile on its website. It described Harrison as a journalist and legal researcher who worked as section editor for WikiLeaks and as an investigative researcher for The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Centre for Investigative Journalism. In July 2012, while Assange was unavailable, Harrison stepped forward to announce the release of the Syria Files at the Frontline Club in London.

She played a crucial role in enabling Snowden to leave Hong Kong and accompanied him on the fateful journey to Russia. As the United Statesrevoked the passport of the former NSA contractor and attempted to extradite him, WikiLeaks, through Harrison provided means for his safe passage to Moscow and she stayed with him, assisting with his asylum applications to various countries.

Washington Post ran a story on Harrison on July 5, recounting her path into the world of journalism; from an unpaid internship to becoming one of Assange’s close advisers. In the Post story, those who knew Harrison were cited including Gavin MacFadyen, director of the Center for Investigative Journalism and Vaughan Smith, founder of the Frontline Club, who offered Assange residence at his English estate while he was on house arrest. MacFadyen, who welcomed Harrison with no prior experience to his crew of investigative journalists described how “she’s smart, determined and fully believes in the moral principle of shedding light.” Vaughan Smith said, “It’s not as if she’s getting anything out of this other than doing something that she believes is right; helping a whistleblower.” He also noted how Harrison is driven by her own conviction. It is clear that her commitment to justice led her to step forward and help Snowden.

As the media focused on Snowden’s saga, she remained in the background. She was there beside him when he held the Press conference at the Sheremetyevo airport with local human rights groups, handling the situation professionally as the inflamed rhetoric regarding Snowden’s precarious situation grew. She was there as Snowden holed up in the transit zone for almost six weeks, providing protection and a steady presence. She was last seen on August 1, leaving the airport with Snowden when he was granted temporary asylum in Russia. Reports are now circulating about Snowden’s life in Russia, yet Harrison’s situation and whereabouts seem to have slipped under the radar. Yet, in the same way that Snowden’s life has changed forever because of his choice, it would be naïve to think that Harrison could ever go back to her pre-Snowden life back in the UK.

On August 18, WikiLeaks tweeted “How can WikiLeaks journalist and UK citizen Sarah Harrison feel safe to return home? ….” On the following day, once again WikiLeaks stated that Harrison was now in self-exile.

This action is not based on an unfounded fear. The partner of the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, David Miranda was held at London’s Heathrow Airport under Section 7 of the British Terrorism Act for the maximum time he could be detained. After the incident, The Guardian revealedthe British government’s media intimidation. The Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger spoke of how the British government threatened the newspaper with possible legal action unless they either destroyed Snowden’s documents or handed them to British authorities. Jacob Appelbaum, a computer security researcher, journalist and advocate for the Tor Project outlined the extreme measures being used to intimidate journalists. He said that the US is increasingly becoming a place that is not safe for those that tell truth to power. Describing this as forcing “the birth of a generation of dissidents”, Appelbaum noted the trend of journalists exiling themselves because of likely government reprisal as a result of their work. Glenn Greenwald is in Brazil. Both award-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras, who filmed the Guardian interview of Snowden and also Appelbaum now live in Berlin. Appelbaum has spoken of how he feels he cannot practice journalism in his home country.

Considering the US government’s draconian reactions to whistleblowing site WikiLeaks and others who expose government crimes and illegality, Harrison’s involvement with this organization already raises concern for her safety. Harrison is one of the few publicly known and acknowledged associates of Julian Assange beside Kristinn Hrafnsson and Joseph Farrell. WikiLeaks is under investigation by the US Justice Department, which has invoked a secret grand jury seeking information on Assange and staffers that are tied to the organization.

Recently, after the NSA scandal revealed that the agency has spied on the Brazilian government, their citizens and even the private communication of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, she canceled a state visit to the US. In an email sent to the Brazilian daily Folha de Sao Paulo, Assange is reported to have acknowledged this act of the president an symbolically important and he then urged Brazil to grant Harrison asylum.

We live in an age of secrecy where elected leaders hide their true actions behind a facade of democracy. The acts of whistleblowers who bring transparency, revealing the vile nature of what is concealed are heroic. From Chelsea Manning to Snowden, what marks them as extraordinary is their courage and commitment to what they believe is right.

In an interview with Israeli news organization Haaretz, Greenwald spoke of how meeting Edward Snowden changed his life. He then stressed that the risk Snowden took was without any personal gain and done simply for the public good and stated that this fits the “definition of a hero: someone who is prepared to take upon himself a fate that would terrify most people in the name of a noble goal.”

The degree of risk might be different, but this is also what Harrison did and she was truly brave. After Snowden made the one way trip to Hong Kong, he soon felt the imperial hands of the US government reaching for him, which he had expected. The drumbeat from Washington was getting louder with the rhetoric of traitor as they aggressively attempted extradition, even charging him with Espionage on June 21. When no other organization stepped forward to offer Snowden help, WikiLeaks effectively intervened on his behalf. With the organization’s commitment to source protection, Harrison carried the mission to secure the safety of the world’s most wanted whistleblower.

When Sarah Harrison decided to accompany Edward Snowden, she aligned herself with his courageous act. She stepped up to unite her fate with this historic deed of conscience. She had a choice, and she chose to risk her own security. Such an act was also heroic. Harrison’s brave deed is an example of the significant, yet often missed links that help shape history. It brought the world one step closer to a just society where conscionable acts of whistleblowers are protected and rewarded and abuses of power are revealed and punished. This kind of courage needs recognition and heroes such as these need support and protection.

Nozomi Hayase is a contributing writer to Culture Unplugged. She brings out deeper dimensions of socio-cultural events at the intersection between politics and psychology to share insight on future social evolution. Her Twitter is @nozomimagine.

Nozomi Hayase, Ph.D., is a writer who has been covering issues of freedom of speech, transparency and decentralized movements.  Find her on twitter @nozomimagine

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Geoffrey McDonald
Obama’s Overtime Tweak: What is the Fair Price of a Missed Life?
Brian Cloughley
Hypocrisy, Obama-Style
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
A Day of Tears: Report from the “sHell No!” Action in Portland
Tom Clifford
Guns of August: the Gulf War Revisited
Renee Lovelace
I Dream of Ghana
Colin Todhunter
GMOs: Where Does Science Begin and Lobbying End?
Ben Debney
Modern Newspeak Dictionary, pt. II
Christopher Brauchli
Guns Don’t Kill People, Immigrants Do and Other Congressional Words of Wisdom
S. Mubashir Noor
India’s UNSC Endgame
Ellen Taylor
The Voyage of the Golden Rule
Norman Ball
Ten Questions for Lee Drutman: Author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”
Franklin Lamb
Return to Ma’loula, Syria
Masturah Alatas
Six Critics in Search of an Author
Mark Hand
Cinéma Engagé: Filmmaker Chronicles Texas Fracking Wars
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Patrick Hiller
The Icebreaker and #ShellNo: How Activists Determine the Course
Charles Larson
Tango Bends Its Gender: Carolina De Robertis’s “The Gods of Tango”