Edward Snowden's case went viral in terms of public impact in exposing the NSA’s global surveillance reach. He became one of the most wanted persons on the planet in terms of the US injustice system, whistleblower Thomas Drake told RT.
RT: It's been almost a year since Edward Snowden exposed the spying practices and data collection by the NSA - what impact have those revelations had?
Thomas Drake: Well it generated a worldwide discussion and debate about surveillance and what is at stake in terms of individual sovereignty and privacy and how far the US in particular in partnership with others, including other countries and other security services as well as major telecommunication concerns and internet service providers in gathering data, collecting data and finding out everything there is to know about us. And much of it has been conducted in secret, and he was able are able to bring out significant documentation, prime evidence to actually prove it.
RT: Certain individuals including yourself have been denouncing the NSA's activity for years now. Why did it take Snowden's revelations to get people to take notice?
TD: I think it was sort of a tipping point or they say the straw that broke the camel's back. I just think that the preponderance of all the revelations over the years and then seeing full documentation on so many different programs that has metastasized since 9/11 – that really broke through this sort of ceiling, that is why I call it signal-for-noise-ration.
You are right, there were a lot of people before Snowden was ever known, including myself, who have brought to light mass surveillance and government fraud and abuse in violation of individual privacy and sovereignty. But that was not enough even though there was quite a bit of debate and discussion even in the media, both US and overseas in the aftermath of the James Risen article that came out in the New York Times in the summer of 2005. But the government put on a huge campaign to put much of what was illegal in a new legal box as they made it a lot bigger called the FISA Amendment act of 2008.
RT: Whistleblowers often come under fire for what they are doing. Do you think their actions have been worth the personal consequences?
TD: Well, I'm first to acknowledge, the ordeal that I went through facing many many decades in prison it certainly wasn’t an easy one. Your entire life is shattered, you are bankrupt, you are blacklisted. I had my passport confiscated. I've been put under severe travel restrictions. I became a criminal defendant. I've been charged with espionage. It is one of the worst things an American can be charged with. You have betrayed your country. You are not one of us, you are a traitor, you are a turn-coat. You need to be put in prison for years for what you did.
What is happening in the US in particular, the criminalization of anyone who dares to speak truth to and of power. And the 1st Amendment is being severely eroded by the very government instruments of power to take that away as a fundamental right enshrined in the Bill of Rights within the US constitution.
Obviously my case became quite public but Edward Snowden's case went worldwide. It really went viral in terms of impact. He became one of the most wanted persons on the planet in terms of the US injustice system. They were doing everything they could to bring him back and incarcerate him and no doubt he would have ended up in prison for even longer than me if I'd been found guilty on all the government charges that government laid at my feet as part of a 10 felony count indictment.
It is really, really dangerous in the US now to speak the truth to the government and about the government. And I'm one of a number of people. I was the first whistleblower since Ellsberg himself has said that what was illegal under the Nixon administration is now quite legal under the Obama administration.
This is what happened in the US and Edward Snowden knew, having seen what happened to me and others that he could not remain in the US. He would have been pulled right off the street and incarcerated. He had to escape the US to have any hope of getting what he knew in the public interest in the hands of foreign journalists he had already been in contact with and to have any hope of remaining free.
RT: The whistleblowers' movement has been recently gaining momentum. Of late, several sites similar to the WikiLeaks platform opened - do you see them becoming an effective tool aimed at battling spying practices?
TD: Well actually in terms of technology, it is a level playing field. As much as the government wants to control it, it is very difficult to control the internet and information. Information wants to be free. The WikiLeaks model is a demonstrative example of exactly that. You provide a mechanism platform for government and corporate secrets and then you share it with the world. And although, obviously people in the elite get upset with it and those in power don’t yield power very willingly, they don’t like having a mirror held up; but that model is crucial in terms of distributing truth in the public interest, informing people about what is going on in the secret hallways and the back corners of their own government and in large corporations who are often in direct partnership with the government.
RT: Given the wide persecution of whistleblowers, new ways to protect individuals were invented. For example, the Exposefacts site uses a "secure drop" system that allows its users to stay unnamed. Do these means have real potential to protect Whistleblowers?
TD: Yes. It is not 100 percent. That was actually being discussed at the exposefacts.org launch event which I attended because they are using a tool called 'secure drop', but you do have to be in anonymous encrypted environment and the primary environment which you need to be, not just a regular browser environment, but it is inside the Tor environment. Well that is a distributing mechanism to anonymize you across the entire internet in terms of how it actually works It does give you a reasonable expectation of anonymity and being able to cement both the information, with the blower level information, that you believe needs to be told to the public in their own interest. That includes and it was discussed, because there was a question about that, during the Q&A portion after the formal introduction and the speakers. That includes classified information.