Security researcher and cryptographer Bruce Schneier has weighed in on the NSA and on Snowden (the insider who revealed the NSA mass surveillance program existed).
Summing up Snowden (and by extension, whistleblowers in general):
I believe that history will hail Snowden as a hero — his whistle-blowing exposed a surveillance state and a secrecy machine run amok. I’m less optimistic of how the present day will treat him, and hope that the debate right now is less about the man and more about the government he exposed.
Schneier is less generous when describing government surveillance programs, the opacity of the government security apparatus, and the chilling effect of government intimidation on whistleblowers and journalists. Describing how we’ve gotten information on secretive surveillance programs:
We know all of this [information on furtive spying programs] not because the government is honest and forthcoming, but mostly through three backchannels — inadvertent hints or outright admissions by government officials in hearings and court cases, information gleaned from government documents received under FOIA, and government whistle-blowers.
He urges potential whistleblowers to leak information if it is in the best interest of the country to do so. Having said that, he advises extreme caution.
The Obama Administration has embarked on a war on whistle-blowers, pursuing them — both legally and through intimidation — further than any previous administration has done. Mark Klein, Thomas Drake, and William Binney have all been persecuted for exposing technical details of our surveillance state. Bradley Manning has been treated cruelly and inhumanly — and possibly tortured — for his more-indiscriminate leaking of State Department secrets.
Obama himself could set a very different tone regarding transparency and the treatment of whistleblowers, though I’m not sure that that will happen at this point. He might be remembered as the president who most arduously worked to reduce governmental transparency.
I’m pleased that Schneier mentioned Bradley Manning. Manning, like many prisoners (namely prisoners in “supermax” prisons), are treated extremely harshly in the US (the US has a very harsh and imbalanced system of justice, to sum it up).
[An independent investigator into the treatment of Manning] told the Guardian that “the 11 months under conditions of solitary confinement … constitutes at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture. If the effects in regards to pain and suffering inflicted on Manning were more severe, they could constitute torture.”
It’s interesting that the US has laws against “cruel and unusual” punishment, and yet many inmates suffer incredibly cruel treatment, at the hands of other inmates, prison guards, or both. Solitary confinement for more than a few days is torture. Try locking yourself in your bathroom for ten hours, much less ten years, and see what happens. Some inmates, quite literally, spend the better part of their lives living in a steel and concrete box, in utter solitude. The whistleblower and data leaker, Manning, could very well be among them.