History will tell how Edward Snowden is remembered. Whether his decision to leak classified documents concerning the NSA’s global spying operations will endear him as a new American folk hero, or, if his name will be whittled down to being a naive political pawn. But, at the present, all we do know is that he’s got a safe haven in Russia for a year and that the U.S. government is throwing figurative chairs around the room.
Those sympathetic to Snowden’s plight are as much fans of his altruistic end goals as they are of his daytime television-packaged spy narrative. He’s a one-time model with boy-next-door looks, who stared into the face of great uncertainty and governmental power and decided to “do the right thing,” leaving behind a cush job and dancer girlfriend in the process. Throughout, he’s been able to largely elude a government who has lauded the value of its far-reaching spy network as it failed to catch him. Figures.
And he’s not alone. Along with Snowden, a growing number of whistleblowers have come forth in the last few years to reveal the trespasses of the world’s governmental, corporate, and institutional giants. Here are their stories against Big Brother.
If Mark Klein had become the household name Edward Snowden has, domestic spying might have never reached the contentious levels we see today. Back in 2006, the mild-mannered AT&T technician released information that detailed his company’s long-running involvement with the NSA as the two entities were working in tandem to spy on American telecommunications.
Like the American people, Klein was floored when he discovered that his workplace of 22 years had essentially built the NSA its own spy den in one of its buildings, from where the national security agency could copy the Internet as it ran through telecom pipes.
Despite the leak and Klein’s on-the-point suspicions of unconstitutional foul play, the NSA would only grow more emboldened.
The self-aggrandizing, motivational coach and cheerleader-spokesman of the global whistleblower movement, Julian Assange is currently holed up in an Ecuadorian embassy in London. He came to prominence back in 2010 when his organization, Wikileaks, published sensitive information on supposed American war crimes. Authorities allege that Bradley Manning (below) worked with Assange to pilfer that material from the U.S. military.
Sitting at the top of hate lists of various countries, Assange is forced to remain in the small room provided to him by the Ecuadorian government as he avoids extradition. His fear is that if he were ever to leave the quarters of his asylum space he’d be extradited by the British authorities to the U.S., where he would be tried without mercy. Scary stuff.
Still only 25 years old, Bradley Manning could potentially face up to 90 years in prison for his leak of classified material.
The former United States Army soldier gave up droves of classified videos, cables, and reports to media entities, like Wikileaks, in hopes of exposing the U.S. military’s countless war crimes overseas. Not helping its public image much, the military held Manning in a Marine Corps Brig without formal charges for close to a year (most of it under decrepit conditions and solitary confinement). Upon pressure from the public, he was transferred to a unit where he could interact with other inmates.
Though acquitted of the charge of aiding the enemy, Manning was still found guilty of 21 other criminal offenses. The severity of his punishment is believed to be a warning sign for any other would-be whistleblowers.
Not all whistleblowing accounts involve systemic government abuse. In the case of Bradley Birkenfeld, he worked with the government to help curtail the crimes of his past employer, Swiss financial services firm UBS.
As a private banker, Birkenfeld was hired by UBS to help American clients avoid the sting of U.S. taxes by hiding assets in Swiss safe deposit boxes and in offshore accounts. Sounds like exceptional customer service, except that this practice is grossly illegal. Birkenfeld alleges that when he discovered his work was of a criminal nature, he quit, and then proceeded to turn in UBS to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Despite his aid, he still was given 40 months of jail time. But don’t feel too bad for him; for his work in catching IRS dodgers, he was awarded a cool $104 million.
In his passing, Michael Hastings is best remembered as the no-prisoners journalist who brought down General Stanley A. McChrystal. After spending some time with the general, and his posse, Hastings published a damning profile of McChrystal’s contempt for civilian officials working in war-torn Afghanistan through Rolling Stone. The general’s insubordinate ways, and Hastings’ game-changing reporting, ended up costing McChrystal his job.
As a journalist who enjoyed pursuing controversial stories, he made a lot of enemies in his brief career. His latest assignment involved the CIA and its shady dealings.
Earlier this summer, Hastings died in a tragic automobile accident.