Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

The Snowden Testimony


If you want to help me, help me by helping everyone: declare that the indiscriminate, bulk collection of private data by governments is a violation of our rights and must end.

-Edward Snowden, Testimony, Mar 7, 2014

The case of Edward Snowden is an object study about why whistleblowers have mountains to climb when it comes to revealing abuses within a system. Last Friday1, Snowden detailed a series of answers to submitted questions from the European Parliament outlining what those mountains were.

One particularly troubling one is the pressure exerted by the US intelligence community to spread the web of surveillance through its allies, notably by means of a “European bazaar” of intelligence transfer and sharing. “One of the foremost activities of the NSA’s FAD, or Foreign Affairs Division, is to pressure or incentivize EU member states to change their laws to enable mass surveillance.” Legal teams at the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ “work very hard to search for loopholes in laws and constitutional protections that they can use to justify indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance operations that were at best unwittingly authorised by lawmakers.”

Specific examples include pressure on Germany to degrade its G-10 law “to appease the NSA”, the effect of which would diminish civil liberties protected under the Constitution. Agreements are then made with various countries that seemingly protect their citizens while allowing the NSA to spy on others. Just because the NSA promises not to spy on German citizens in Germany does not mean they will not do so from Denmark. The noose is thereby tightened. Each “individual contribution is enabling the greater patchwork of mass surveillance against ordinary citizens as a whole.”

Snowden ventured no less than 10 times2 to make formal complaints about the various government spy programs before releasing information. The National Security Agency disputes3 such efforts claiming that, “after extensive investigation, including interviews with former NSA supervisors and co-workers, we have not found any evidence to support Mr. Snowden’s contention that he brought these matters to anyone’s attention.”

Presidential Policy Directive 194, a measure that supposedly grants federal employees scope to question classified programs, did not prove very useful. At a news conference in August, President Obama pointed out that Snowden might well have availed himself of “other avenues”, suggesting that PPD 19 was one.

The directive itself “prohibits retaliation against employees for reporting waste, fraud and abuse” and protects employees serving in the Intelligence community or those “eligible for access to classified information”. As with any of these directives, the measure is designed to avoid any disclosure outside the structured channels advocated by the President, keeping it within the remit of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The impediment to Snowden was one that private contractors with access to government information find – the protective loop is simply not there. Governments can effectively evade the internal restrictions placed on their employees via an outsourcing mechanism. “As an employee of a private company rather than a direct employee of the US government, I was not protected by US whistleblower laws, and I would not have been protected from retaliation and legal sanction for revealing classified information about law breaking in accordance with the recommended process.”

The intelligence fraternity, like any other bound by oaths, is bound by self-assumptions of archaic loyalty and sinister practice. The very idea that aspects of it might be questioned is highly problematic. Snowden’s descriptions of reactions to his concerns fell into two camps. The first involved “well-meaning but hushed warnings not to ‘rock the boat’.” Remember the fates, he was cautioned, of those other NSA whistleblowers, such as Wiebe, Binney and Drake. “Everyone in the Intelligence Community is aware of what happens to people who report concerns about unlawful but authorised operations.” The second response tended to be the dismissive one – it was someone else’s problem. Besides, complaining about it would not necessarily result in ending the unlawful program while more than likely ending a career.

Snowden’s testimony put more meat on the body of the security states whose complexes he has so spectacularly exposed. It demonstrates the intelligence communities in question are not so much interested to abide by rules than evade them through agreements, forum shopping and outsourcing. They do so, of course, at the behest of their executives and not-so-bright parliamentarians.

While these programs have the effect of chipping away at the corpus of civil liberties, they are fundamentally worthless – “no western government has been able to present evidence showing that such programs are necessary.” People have tended to be saved, as Snowden ventures with the example of the Underwear Bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, not through mass surveillance as good, old fashioned incompetence. Things as they stand are “the inevitable result of subordinating the rights of the voting public to the prerogatives of State Security Bureaus”.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 28, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Inside the Invisible Government; War, Propaganda, Clinton & Trump
Andrew Levine
The Hillary Era is Coming: Worry!
Gary Leupp
Seven World-Historical Achievements of the Iraq Invasion of 2003
Paul Street
Standing Rock Water-Protectors Waterboarded While the Cleveland Indians Romped
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel: 1984 Everlasting
Michael Brenner
American Foreign Policy in the Post-Trump Era
Luciana Bohne
Crossing the Acheron: Back to Vietnam
Robert Hunziker
The Political Era of Climate Refugees
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution was an Atrocity
Pete Dolack
Work Harder So Speculators Can Get More
Joyce Nelson
Canadians Launch Constitutional Challenge Against CETA
John Laforge
US Uranium Weapons Have Been Used in Syria
Paul Edwards
The Vision Thing ’16
Arshad Khan
Hillary, Trump and Sartre: How Existentialism Disrobes the Major Presidential Candidates
Peter Lee
It’s ON! Between Duterte and America
Joseph Grosso
Starchitects in the City: Vanity Fair and Gentrification
Patrick Carr
Economic Racial Disparity in North Carolina
David Swanson
Public vs. Media on War
Chris Gilbert
Demo Derby in Venezuela: The Left’s New Freewheeling Politics
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution Was an Atrocity
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Russell Mokhiber
Lucifer’s Banker: Bradley Birkenfeld on Corporate Crime in America
Ron Jacobs
Death to the Fascist Insect! The SLA and the Cops
Cesar Chelala
Embargo on Cuba is an Embarrassment for the United States
Jack Smith
And the Winner Is….
Ken Knabb
Beyond Voting: the Limits of Electoral Politics
Matt Peppe
An Alternate Narrative on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump
James Rothenberg
Water Under the Bridge
Louis Yako
Remembering Rasul Gamzatov: The Poet of the People
Brian Cloughley
The US, NATO and the Pope
Louis Proyect
The Outsider-Insider: Isaac Babel’s Big Mistake
Martin Billheimer
Now and Then, Ancient Sorceries
October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria
Jan Oberg
Security Politics and the Closing of the Open Society
Ramzy Baroud
The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is Illegally Occupied
Colin Todhunter
Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?
Norman Pollack
The Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?
Nyla Ali Khan
The Political and Cultural Richness of Kashmiriyat