Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, and the war on whistleblowers

Uncle Sam is waging all-out war on whistleblowers, while those managing the exposed systems walk away without a scratch

Today I was hoping to write about a phone press conference featuring Julian Assange and Daniel Ellsberg. They were going to talk about the possible verdict in the Bradley Manning trial and the U.S. government's war on whistleblowers. Unfortunately, that call was rescheduled from 10 a.m. this morning to just after my deadline, so I'm soldiering on without them. (If I learn anything fascinating I'll update this post later.)

The scenario in this country at this moment in time is indeed quite chilling. We have an administration that is hell-bent on pursuing leakers, moreso than at any other in our history.

[ NSA, PRISM, and CISPA: The conspiracy behind the conspiracy. | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter and follow Cringely on Twitter. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog. ]

We have James Risen, the New York Times reporter who first revealed a bungled CIA plot to fool Iranian scientists and has now been ordered by a federal appeals court to testify against his alleged source. We also have the court-martial of former Army private first class Bradley Manning, whose judge may announce a verdict at any time. Instead, the mainstream media has largely been sidetracked by the soap opera of Edward Snowden reprising Tom Hanks' role in "The Terminal," wandering through Moscow International Airport and subsisting on a diet of vending machine food.

Snowden's ultimate fate is, I think, far less important than the ongoing questions about the insatiable data collecting habits of the NSA and their head-on collision with our constitutional rights.

Please please tell me now

Above and beyond that, though, there are other questions that I don't hear anyone else asking. Like:

  • How is it that a three-month employee with a spotty resume managed to walk off with a trove of secret documents from a longtime intelligence contractor?
  • If Booz Allen Hamilton is being asked to manage top-secret NSA programs, why doesn't it have better security than that?
  • Why is Booz Allen Hamilton still receiving more than $1.3 billion of our tax dollars each year just for working with the NSA, as well as billions in other federal contracts?
  • Why has no one at BAH been fired over this?

That Snowden exceeded his authority and broke the rules is not in question. The fact that he was able to do it so easily, however, means somebody else screwed up.

As many residents of Cringeville are well aware, the concept of segregation of duties is not a new one in the world of technology. You want to limit the damage a sys admin with a hidden agenda can do. But only now, months after the Snowden bombshells, has the NSA decided to adopt the "two-man rule" to limit one person's ability to expose supersecret programs and information. It's a bit like the cliché about securing the farm's outbuildings after its equine occupants have departed.

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