The 2014 Hackers On Planet Earth, or HOPE X Conference, in New York City, united some of the most famous whistleblowers, to discuss why they did what they did, and the impact it had on the United States.
Daniel Ellsberg, who became famous as a whistleblower when he leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, was in attendance at the conference. He had a conversation via webcam with Edward Snowden, who became famous as a whistleblower in 2013, after leaking several documents from the National Security Agency.
According to Ellsberg, Snowden was the one person in the NSA who did exactly what he should have done. “How many people should’ve done what you did? We all took the same oath to protect and defend the Constitution,” Ellsberg said to Snowden.
Ellsberg pointed out a previous comment Snowden had made, in which he said that every individual has seen things that are wrong, that should be known, and that should be exposed, and yet they have turned their eyes away because they were intimidated.
“I believe that’s true of every human on earth,” said Ellsberg, in response to Snowden’s comment. “There are times when they bite their tongues or keep their mouths shut because to reveal it would lose a relationship, or a job, or a career. Then you said, but there comes a time when the level of wrongness or inhumanity is so great that you have to cross over that line.”
Ellsberg commended Snowden on his standards, saying, “Your colleagues in NSA, as you said, agreed with you, many of them, that this is wrong. But ‘I have a mortgage,’ ‘I have a marriage,’ ‘I have children to send to college.’ And that was enough.”
“It shouldn’t be that you are the extraordinary hero that we thank,” said Ellsberg. “It should be that we should ask the question of those other people, ‘what made you think that you could keep this secret for so long? Keep it totally secret, keep your mouth shut?’”
“A lot of blood has flowed because people bit their tongue and swallowed their whistles, and didn’t speak out. And it’s time I think that we not prosecute them, but tell them, ‘that is not the way to preserve a democracy. You’re not fulfilling your oath.’”
“What I hope, Ed, is that you will inspire more people to take even significant risks,” said Ellsberg. “There will always be risks. And the willingness to take that risk, for civilians, is very rare.”
“No one in the U.S. executive branch, or in any branch of government, has fulfilled the oath to uphold and protect the Constitution as well as you, so thank you.”