While Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor, and others portray him as a heroic whistle-blower, his decision to make top secret documents public severely limits his legal protections, analysts say.
Whether Edward Snowden is a “traitor,” as House Speaker John Boehner called him, or a whistle-blower trying to prevent his country’s descent into “turnkey tyranny,” as he claimed in an interview, is simultaneously a legal and a moral question – and the answers may not overlap in this case, legal experts say.
The bottom line: The former NSA contractor, who disclosed details of top-secret US surveillance operations, could achieve the moral status of a whistle-blower and still serve many years in prison, the experts say, primarily because there are no whistle-blower protections for publicly divulging classified information.
Over the years, federal employees turned whistle-blowers have at times won recognition and even a financial bonus for revealing misdeeds ranging from defense-cost overruns, questionable drug approvals, and nuclear plant problems to illegal contracts and corrupt regulators.
Yet they emerge into a mixed-message and often-hostile legal environment. On the one hand, a half-century-old congressional code of ethics requires those working for the government to “expose corruption wherever discovered.” On the other, doing so can result in being demoted, fired, or harassed.
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