Screen shot from video of DNI James Clapper’s speech

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is touring universities and colleges in the United States in an attempt to persuade students that they should not consider former NSA contractor Edward Snowden a whistleblower or a hero.

Speaking at the GEOINT conference in Tampa, Florida, on April 15, Clapper addressed attendees and told university students at Georgetown University and the University of Georgia about a recent article in The Washington Post on college admissions.

“An admissions officer from George Washington University told The Post that for the admissions’ essay question, ‘Who’s your personal hero?’ the admissions officer observed that she was seeing a lot more of Edward Snowden citations. And the idea that young people see Edward Snowden as a hero really bothers me. So I thought I needed to talk about Snowden at Georgetown and Georgia and I am going to do the same elsewhere at colleges and universities.”

For those unfamiliar, this conference is hosted by the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF), which describes itself as “the only organization dedicated to promoting the geospatial intelligence tradecraft and building a stronger GEOINT Community across industry, academia, government, professional organizations and individual stakeholders.” 

Clapper said the level of “corporate support” at the conference was a “testament to the value” of this “symposium.”

During his speech, Clapper commiserated about the past eighteen months calling the period “one of the toughest stretches for the intelligence community I’ve seen in my years in the business.” He added, “As all of you know it’s not exactly been a fun year, a fun time, for me personally. ”

It has not been “fun” because Snowden showed he had lied to Sen. Ron Wyden. It has not been “fun” to be treated a liar for saying the NSA did not “wittingly” collect “any type of data” on “millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” It has not been “fun” to have to explain programs and policies to Congress and the public that were previously kept secret and shielded from scrutiny.

Clapper said the intelligence community had been “inundated by what I came to call the three S’s – sequestration, Snowden and Syria.

“On June 5th, The Guardian published its first story from classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden. The very first article and many of those published since have been inaccurate, misleading or incomplete in how they characterize intelligence activities. Still, they reveal vital intelligence secrets. So, we have watched as our intelligence advantage eroded in front of our eyes.” But Clapper provide no examples of how they were inaccurate, misleading or incomplete.

The interior situation in Iraq, which is deteriorating, a “very assertive Russia” (“brings back memories”), “a competitive China,” a challenging Iran, “a dangerous unpredictable North Korea” and “global demands for resources” complicated by climate change were all mentioned as bugaboos for Clapper and the intelligence community. And Snowden’s leaks were accused of “complicating everything.”

A good portion of Clapper’s speech was then spent addressing what he called the “myth of Edward Snowden.” He said he told students that “despite being a geezer” he got it.”

“I understand that a lot of young people see Snowden as a courageous whistleblower standing up to authority. I personally believe that whistleblowing in its highest form takes an incredible amount of courage and integrity. But Snowden isn’t a whistleblower,” Clapper declared.

To prove that Clapper was a supporter of whistleblowers he proffered an example of a whistleblower, who he considered a role model: Sgt. Joseph Darby.

…Joe was an Army reservist stationed at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003. One afternoon one of the prison guards handed him a CD. Joe popped the disc into his computer and was shocked when he saw graphic images of guards abusing prisoners. Those guards were friends of his. Some since high school. He agonized thinking of his friends and superiors whom he’d be implicating. And he worried that these people could come after him for retribution.

It took him three weeks of torment before he turned the disc over to an agent with the Army Criminal Investigation Command. And you know about the global uproar when the Abu Ghraib pictures went public. For Joe, it was more personal. His fellow soldiers shook his hand and thanked him. But back home people called him a traitor and threatened his life. The Army needed to give his family an armed escort for six months. That act of whistleblowing took courage and integrity. And in 2007 Joe Darby told BBC, ‘I’ve never regretted for one second what I did when I was in Iraq to turn those pictures in’….

Darby does seem like a role model, but how does he feel about Clapper making him the token example of a Good Whistleblower?

Few Americans should be willing to engage in this discussion of who is a Good Whistleblower and who is Not a Good Whistleblower because it only serves those in power. It puts focus on the persons involved in making valuable disclosures in the public interest and helps them control the conversation around the supposedly proper and improper ways for one to reveal government corruption without having to address how they obstruct channels setup to blow the whistle on wrongdoing appropriately.

Clapper continued his speech by outlining how he felt Darby stood in stark contrast from Snowden:

“Snowden said he felt NSA’s surveillance program was being used to violate privacy and civil liberties. If that was his concern, he had a lot of options on where to go with it. He could have reported it to seniors at NSA, which he didn’t do,” Clapper said.

What Clapper neglected to mention was that Snowden had, according to him, expressed concerns to superiors. An NSA spokesperson just denies having any records.

“There’s an inspector general for NSA and another one for the entire intelligence community. My office has a civil liberties and privacy protection officer. Snowden could also have gone to the Justice Department or the Congress. And as we’ve seen Snowden is superb at finding information so I think he could have tracked those people down had he given it a little thought,” Clapper stated.

Actually, if he had gone to the NSA’s inspector general, George Ellard, according to Ellard himself, he would have said something like, “Hey, listen, fifteen federal judges have certified this program is okay.” He also would have tried to address Snowden’s “misperceptions” and his “lack of understanding what we do.”

Ellard said at Georgetown Law Center in February that Snowden was “manic in this thievery.” He compared him to an actual spy, former FBI agent Robert Hanssen. He said, “Hanssen’s theft was in a sense finite whereas Snowden is open-ended, as his agents decide daily which documents to disclose.” This is who Snowden should have risked his livelihood and turned to when blowing the whistle?

Clapper told the audience that because of his leaks, “We’re beginning to see changes in the communications behavior of our adversaries, particularly and most disturbingly terrorists, a trend that I anticipate will continue. And as a consequence our nation is less safe and our people less secure.”

In June, unnamed officials were whispering into the ears of correspondents that terrorists were changing their communications methods. So, how could it be that officials are still “beginning to see changes”? Does it typically take the terrorists eight months to change their methods when they read leaked information about how America is targeting them? Or could it be that, as former NSA deputy director Chris Inglis appeared to concede, that the intelligence community cannot prove that they are changing their tactics at all?

Additionally, Clapper had the gall to stand on stage and declare, “My major takeaway from this whole experience though has been the need for transparency.” In the face of leaks, he claimed:

…[W]e made the decision to declassify more than 2000 pages of documents beginning last summer because the best way to deal with the misconceptions that had resulted from the leaks was to increase transparency. But the same transparency that reassures our citizens comes with a cost. It hurts our capabilities because our adversaries go to school on that very transparency. But when we boil it all down, we felt I felt we needed to pay that cost. Even if it meant losing some sources and methods, we need to engage in the kind of national conversation that free societies have - to correct misunderstandings that lead to false allegations in the media and to counter misperceptions that the IC work force is violating civil liberties. So we made the painful choice to declassify critical documents in the interest of being more transparent… [emphasis added]

This concept of transparency makes the declassification of information much more akin to propaganda. And, also, this is revisionist history. The thousands of pages of information was not voluntarily declassified. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) convinced a court to order the federal government to declassify this information. Much of this “transparency” is mostly the result of following the order of a court.

Perhaps, the biggest question might be how much will this tour of colleges and universities by Clapper cost. He spent a part of his speech bemoaning the budget cuts the intelligence community has managed to survive. Somehow they have come up with the money to fund traveling to talk to students about the “myth of Edward Snowden”?

Why should taxpayers be funding this propaganda? And doesn’t Clapper have a job to do as Director of National Intelligence?