Wikileaks: The Edward Snowden Story

Wikileaks: The Edward Snowden Story

Wikileaks: The Edward Snowden Story

The Edward Snowden story is a well-known whistleblowing case. Though we can debate the appropriateness of his actions, we can also learn a lot from his story as a whistleblower. In this post, we break down the Snowden story to start a discussion about whistleblowing.

Who is Edward Snowden?

Edward Snowden has gone by many names—a whistleblower, dissident, traitor, patriot, and hero. But here’s the basic gist of who he is: Edward Snowden is a former CIA employee. He is most well-known for leaking classified information about government surveillance programs which he obtained through the NSA (National Security Agency) and other government agencies.

Snowden’s Decision to Leak Information

A Gradual Decision and a Breaking Point

Snowden’s decision to leak information was a gradual one. However, he has since shared that his “breaking point” was “seeing the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress”1 when asked whether the NSA knowingly collects data on millions of Americans.2

Clapper’s actions prompted Snowden to comment, “There’s no saving an intelligence community that believes it can lie to the public and the legislators who need to be able to trust it and regulate its actions. Seeing that really meant for me there was no going back. Beyond that, it was the creeping realization that no one else was going to do this. The public had a right to know about these programs.3

Motivation to Leak Information

Snowden thought through his decision to leak information. From what he has told reporters, we know that his motivation to leak information stemmed from his desire to alert the public.

Commenting on his motivation, Snowden said, “I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”4

Snowden hoped that his actions would encourage others to step forward.5 He understood the potential consequences of his actions.

Revelations and Responses

Snowden leaked thousands of documents—too many in fact to consider them all in this post. However, what he leaked prompted a variety of responses.

NSA director, Michael Rogers claimed that the information Snowden released impacted the NSA’s detection of terrorist activities, implying Snowden’s actions endangered innocent citizens. 6

Conversely, journalists reporting on the information Snowden leaked received the George Polk Award and both The Guardian and The Washington Post received the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for reporting on the leaked documents, exposing the issue of surveillance, and initiating public debate.7,8

In 2015, the USA Freedom Act was signed, imposing limits on the bulk collection of telecommunication data on U.S. citizens by US intelligence agencies.

The Takeaway

Though Snowden has received more attention than other whistleblowing cases, his story underscores a lot of what whistleblowers face. Those contemplating whistleblowing should reach out to lawyers specializing in whistleblowing for support, guidance, and assistance. The complexities of whistleblowing are often too immense to tackle on your own.


  1. “Transcript: ARD interview with Edward Snowden”. The Courage Foundation. January 27, 2014.
  2. Greenberg, Andy (June 6, 2013). “Watch Top U.S. Intelligence Officials Repeatedly Deny NSA Spying On Americans Over The Last Year (Videos)”. Forbes. Retrieved April 11, 2015.
  3. “Snowden-Interview: Transcript”. Archived from the original on January 28, 2014. Retrieved January 28, 2014.
  4. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: ‘I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things’ (video). The Guardian. London. June 9, 2013.
  5. Gellman, Barton. (June 9, 2013) “Code name ‘Verax’: Snowden, in exchanges with Post reporter, made clear he knew risks” Archived December 1, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.. The Washington Post.
  6. Cooper, Aaron (February 23, 2015). “NSA: Snowden leaks hurt ability to track terrorists”. CNN.
  7. “Journalists who broke NSA story in Guardian dedicate award to Snowden”. The Guardian. Retrieved April 25, 2014.
  8. “Edward Snowden’s prize”. Politico. Retrieved April 25, 2014.