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Is "Snowden Effect" Inspiring More Whistleblowers to Step Up?

For those in the intelligence community who want to come forward about government lawbreaking, Edward Snowden made it clear that they're not alone.
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NSA rally in Germany. Photo by Bocman1973.

Several thousand people demonstrate for the protection of civil rights on the Internet on September 7 in Berlin, Germany. Photo by Bocman1973 /

Edward Snowden's leaks about the National Security Agency seem to be inspiring the Obama administration to crack down on both journalists and their sources. But they have also inspired increasing numbers of intelligence professionals to go public about abuses, according to the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit organization that has provided guidance and information to more than 5,000 whistleblowers since its founding in 1977.

"Courage is contagious, and I really think he has had a wonderful effect for the U.S. and for the world."

This Wednesday, several other whistleblowers from the intelligence and national security communities met with Snowden in Moscow, including former NSA executive Thomas Drake, former Department of Justice Ethics Advisor Jesselyn Radack, and former FBI agent Coleen Rowley. They presented him with an award from the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, a group of former CIA operatives.

In an interview with, Jesselyn Radack spoke of a "Snowden Effect," which she said was emboldening potential leakers in the intelligence community: "We have more and more whistleblowers coming to the Government Accountability Project than we have had before," Radack said. "So I think if the U.S. is trying to clamp down and send a message by making an example, courage is contagious, and I really think he has had a wonderful effect for the U.S. and for the world."

I asked Kathleen McClellan, National Security and Human Rights Counsel at the Government Accountability Project, just how Snowden's example is changing the way intelligence professionals think.

"The real issue here is that there's all of these people seeing waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement," she said. "Mr. Snowden's disclosures and the attention they've gotten have made people say, 'I'm not the only one who has a problem with the government violating people's rights in the name of security.'"

That's especially notable given the hard line the Obama Administration has taken in regards to leaks. A new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists pointed out that the Obama Administration has brought charges against six government employees under the 1917 Espionage Act, while all previous administrations did so only twice.

James TrimarcoJames Trimarco wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. James is web editor at YES! and you can follow him @JamesTrimarco.

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