'Obama administration using 1917 Espionage Act to go after whistleblowers'

Former US intelligence contractor and whistle blower Edward Snowden. © Dagens Nyheter
Former US Attorney General Eric Holder gave some credit to Edward Snowden for what he did, but the praise would have been more beneficial while Holder was still in office, says ex-MI5 agent and whistleblower Annie Machon.

Holder praised whistleblower Edward Snowden for starting a debate over global surveillance.

READ MORE: Snowden’s leaks were ‘public service’ – former US Attorney General

Snowden replied by posting a timeline of the seemingly changing reaction of US officials to his actions.

RT: What's your first reaction to the words of the former US Attorney General?

Annie Machon: He [Eric Holder] is giving a tacit acknowledgement to the fact that there should be a public interest defense under law for intelligence whistleblowers coming out and exposing malfeasance and crimes on the part of the spies. And it is a crying shame that after so many whistleblowers have come out over the last two decades, at least in the UK and the US, there is no such public interest defense. I think it is criminal in itself that these people are not protected but they are prosecuted.

RT: Why is he going public with his thoughts on the issue right now?

AM: Holder has retired from pubic office; he’s the most senior lawyer in the US. He is now back in private practice. Unfortunately, we see this time and time again when senior spooks, senior lawyers, senior government officials come out after they are retired and say “we could think about this in a different way.”  It would be lovely to see them doing it when they are actually in office when they have power to actually effect that change. Think about it: in the US they are working under old laws – the 99-year-old Espionage Act of 1917. This has been used more times by the Obama administration than all the other presidents put together since 1917 to go after whistleblowers - not spies, not traitors, it is not espionage. These people are coming forward and saying that there are things that are seriously wrong with our intelligence agency, we need to fix them, they are breaking our constitution and they are abusing human rights all around the planet. Edward Snowden is the last in a long line of NSA whistleblowers who have come forward: William Binney, Thomas Drake…And these people were facing 30-35 years in prison for going through the approved channels within the US administration. And they still got arrested in dawn raids, dragged out of showers, imprisoned, threatened with imprisonment, fines, they are financially broken. Edward Snowden, a young man, very concerned, with access to very concerning information, of course, he is going to look at the old cases and think “the appropriate channels don’t work; I have to try something different.” And what he did differently has worked globally. It has been amazing. 

Ray McGovern, former CIA officer: "Eric Holder, who was the chief law enforcement officer of our government, is an embarrassment to the legal profession. Up until now he has been saying all manner of bad things about Edward Snowden and now off the cuff he says, ‘Well, it looks like he made a major contribution’. Well… Hello? I dug out the letter that Eric Holder, as Attorney General of the US, sent to Justice Minister of Russia on July 23, 2013, about six weeks after Edward Snowden showed up in Hong Kong. And what Holder was doing, he said: ‘You have to give him back to us. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t have a passport – we can administer a temporary passport… and besides we assure you we won’t kill him and we won’t torture him. It was said in nice legal words – we won’t ask for the death penalty and we won’t torture him. Well, that’s a very low bar… This, just months after it was established that Chelsea Manning was indeed tortured during his confinement at Guantanamo Marine Base."   

RT: Do such statements suggest not everyone within the US administration agrees with the surveillance programs?

AM: I am sure there are many. Yes, the previous group of NSA whistleblowers that came out - William Binney, Edward Loomis, Kirk Wiebe, Edward Loomis, Thomas Drake - all of them formed the path that Edward Snowden took. They informed his thinking that they are there; they swore an oath to support the US Constitution, to uphold it and protect it. And what they saw undermined that constitution, so they took a stand and they faced a huge price. All of them… What would be great is for the intelligence agencies to say “Well, okay, we’re not always perfect. We could learn from our mistakes. We could have an appropriate oversight channel – not some sort of fig leaf that they currently have – an appropriate oversight channel where people who might be tempted to blow the whistle and risk their entire way of life, their liberty even – could say these are issues I am concerned about, they are potentially crimes, let’s investigate them…” That would be a win-win situation.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.