Edward Snowden on the accelerating pace of whistleblowing, and what it means for state secrecy

After Daniel Ellsberg's astonishingly courageous release of the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, he waited 40 years to meet someone like Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning, someone else inside who risked everything to expose the wrongdoing they had sworn to oppose.

But Snowden only had to wait a matter of months before he learned of another leak of equal profundity: a still-anonymous insider leaked the details of the US government's secret drone assassination program in 2015, the full story of which is told in The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government's Secret Drone Warfare Program
, a new book by Jeremy Scahill and his colleagues from The Intercept.

In his introduction to The Assassination Complex, Snowden reflects on his own decision to come forward as a whistleblower, and on what the accelerating pace of principled, public leaks (for example, the Panama Papers) means for official secrecy and for the corruption and groupthink that festers where secrecy is the order of the day. He points out that leaks that come from the inside are handled very differently from those that challenge official power. General Petraeus's leaks of super-classified information to his mistress or the US government's "conference call of doom" in which they disclosed the operational details of a secret al Qaeda surveillance system in order to win press support were allowed to pass without criminal prosecution.

Snowden closes by examining how mass surveillance and secret killing fit into the American identity, and asking his former colleagues, present and future, in the US intelligence apparatus, to consider the meaning of their oath to uphold the Constitution, and how that oath will come into conflict with the orders from their superior officers.

Like so much of what Snowden writes, it's plainspoken, careful, and principled, a call to arms that can't be ignored.

Here we see the double edge of our uniquely American brand of nationalism. We are raised to be exceptionalists, to think we are the better nation with the manifest destiny to rule. The danger is that some people will actually believe this claim, and some of those will expect the manifestation of our national identity, that is, our government, to comport itself accordingly.

Unrestrained power may be many things, but it's not American. It is in this sense that the act of whistleblowing increasingly has become an act of political resistance. The whistleblower raises the alarm and lifts the lamp, inheriting the legacy of a line of Americans that begins with Paul Revere.

The individuals who make these disclosures feel so strongly about what they have seen that they're willing to risk their lives and their freedom. They know that we, the people, are ultimately the strongest and most reliable check on the power of government. The insiders at the highest levels of government have extraordinary capability, extraordinary resources, tremendous access to influence, and a monopoly on violence, but in the final calculus there is but one figure that matters: the individual citizen.

And there are more of us than there are of them.

The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government's Secret Drone Warfare Program
[Jeremy Scahill and the staff of The Intercept/Simon & Schuster]

[Edward Snowden/The Intercept]