Whistleblowers are hardly a new phenomenon — Wikipedia lists dozens of the more famous ones, going back to the 18th century. There have also been important government whistleblowers before — people like Daniel Ellsberg, William Binney, Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou. Chelsea Manning‘s leak was on a huge scale, and garnered enormous media attention. And yet there is no doubt that it is Edward Snowden who has really changed the whistleblowing world most dramatically.
Because of what he leaked, and the way he leaked it — the fact that he has evaded arrest, and is still free, even if living a somewhat circumscribed existence in Russia — Snowden has ignited debates at multiple levels. As well as the obvious ones about surveillance, privacy, power and democracy, there’s another one around whistleblowing itself, which has already had important knock-on effects. Evidence of that comes in an interesting post by Bruce Schneier, where he tots up the likely number of leakers that have recently started to provide information about the US intelligence community. Alongside Manning and Snowden, he thinks there are probably five more:
Leaker #3: The person who leaked secret documents to Jake Appelbaum, Laura Poitras and others in Germany: the Angela Merkel surveillance story, the TAO catalog, the X-KEYSCORE rules.
Leaker #4: “A source in the intelligence community,” according to the Intercept, who leaked information about the Terrorist Screening Database, the “second leaker” from the movie Citizen Four
Leaker #5: Someone who is leaking CIA documents.
Leaker #6: The person who leaked secret information about WTO spying to The Intercept and the New Zealand Herald
Leaker #7: The person who just leaked secret information about the U.S. drone program to The Intercept and Speigel.
Schneier’s post gives links for all those stories, as well as his reasons for thinking they are likely to be separate people (although he notes numbers 3 and 7 might be the same person.) As he concludes:
Way back in June 2013, Glenn Greenwald said that “courage is contagious.” He seems to be correct.
It’s almost as if people taking extremely high risks to leak important information about dubious activities by the US intelligence community has become normal. That’s really pretty remarkable, and show just how big Snowden’s impact has been.