Edward Snowden first reported his ethical concerns to his superiors and colleagues over a period of six months. He even showed them evidence of alleged unconstitutional wrongdoing. And he deliberately chose not to blow the whistle to Congress because he viewed it as part of the problem.
“Those efforts were almost always rebuffed,” Snowden complained to Greenwald. “They would say this isn’t your job. Or you’d be told you don’t have enough information to make those kinds of judgments. You’d basically be told—not to worry.”
Snowden was more specific about his inside whistleblowing attempts in a 2014 interview with the Washington Post. He told reporters that while he was working for the National Security Agency as a Booz Allen Hamilton employee in Hawaii he had voiced his ethical and moral concerns to four superiors—two in NSA’s Technology Directorate and two in the agency’s Threat Operations Center, where he worked. In the Post interview, Snowden said he not only told the four superiors that he was concerned about the volume of data the NSA was collecting about unwitting Americans but he also showed them a color-coded NSA heat map that continuously tracked NSA electronic data collection on Americans . . . in real time.
After allegedly blowing the whistle to deaf ears for months, Snowden decided he had no choice but to go public. His logical leak targets were the Washington Post and the New York Times, two newspapers that commanded domestic and international respect and had a history of welcoming whistleblowers. The problem was that Snowden didn’t completely trust either newspaper. In his mind, they were not aggressive enough and were overly cautious in dealing with government wrongdoing.
In spite of his misgivings, however, Snowden eventually gave the Washington Post a set of classified documents describing PRISM, a top-secret NSA surveillance program (chapter 6 includes a description of PRISM). Snowden gave the paper seventy-two hours to publish a PRISM story, or he would offer his documents to another newspaper. His skepticism and mistrust of the Washington Post turned out to be well founded. After reviewing the PRISM files, the Post assembled a team of lawyers to consider the legal implications of publishing a story about the highly classified snooping program and to advise the paper about the legal risks of doing so.
According to Snowden, the attorneys made unreasonable demands, while issuing bone-chilling liability warnings to Post management. In the end, Snowden concluded that the newspaper—though not necessarily its reporters—was
paralyzed by fear. As Greenwald put it in his book No Place to Hide, Snowden was “livid that the Post had involved so many people, afraid that these discussions might jeopardize his security.”