Beyond Snowden: How the Government Punished NSA Whistleblowers

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

A recently released report details the story of John Crane, who worked to protect NSA whistleblowers during his time as a top Pentagon official.

Speaking publicly about his experience as a top government official for the first time, John Crane told The Guardian, about how his efforts to protect NSA whistleblowers from unfair treatment resulted in the loss of his job. Crane served as a senior official in the Department of Defense starting in 1988, initially working in the Inspector General’s office.

Since its inception, the NSA had been legally forbidden from monitoring any type of domestic communication without a court-granted warrant. However, former high-ranking NSA employee and eventual whistleblower, Thomas Drake conducted a secret internal investigation that revealed that the agency was not only eavesdropping on domestic communications without sufficient authorisation, but international communications as well.

10 years before Edward Snowden’s controversial decision to leak documents that revealed that the NSA was spying on hundreds of millions of people around the world, Drake obeyed US whistleblower laws and addressed his concerns about the agency’s illegal conduct through official channels. As a result, Drake was fired, arrested at his home by armed FBI agents and charged with crimes that could have sent him to prison for life. Since then, Drake has only found work at Apple Store in Washington.

“The government spent many years trying to break me, and the more I resisted, the nastier they got,” Drake told The Guardian.

Edward Snowden has admitted that Drake’s Orwellian nightmare fueled his decision to disobey whistleblower laws.  In 2015, Snowden claimed that “it’s fair to say that if there hadn’t been a Thomas Drake, there wouldn’t have been an Edward Snowden.”

“Name one whistleblower from the intelligence community whose disclosures led to real change – overturning laws, ending policies – who didn’t face retaliation as a result. The protections just aren’t there,” Snowden said. “The sad reality of today’s policies is that going to the inspector general with evidence of truly serious wrongdoing is often a mistake. Going to the press involves serious risks, but at least you’ve got a chance.”

Before Crane’s dismissal from the NSA, he fought to protect Drake from unfair treatment at the hands of the government. Interviews with Crane reveal that Pentagon officials repeatedly broke the law to persecute Drake. According to the interviews, officials illegally revealed Drake’s name to the Justice Department and lied to a federal judge about withholding evidence.

Crane’s unusual courage perhaps stems from his grandfather – a German army officer who once faced down Adolf Hitler at gunpoint on the night the infamous leader tried to take over Germany.

According to his interview with The Guardian, Crane’s grandfather, Günther Rüdel, confronted Hitler during the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 in which the Nazi Party leader plotted to overthrow the Weimar Republic. According to Rüdel’s affadivit that detailed the Putsch, Crane’s grandfather defiantly told Hitler that his plans to take over Germany were doomed for failure.

“Hitler, with pistol held high, escorted on right and left by armed men, his tunic stained with beer, stormed through the hall towards the podium,” Rüdel wrote in his affidavit. “When he was directly in front of us, police chief Von Seisser’s adjutant gripped [but did not unsheath] his sword. Hitler immediately aimed his pistol at the man’s chest. I shouted, ‘Mr Hitler, in this way you will never liberate Germany.’ Hitler hesitated, lowered his pistol and pushed his way between us to the podium.”

In an interview, NSA whistleblower William Binney compared illegal NSA spying to the the conduct of the Nazi’s in the early 20th century. “They’re saying, ‘We’re doing this to protect you,’” Binney claimed. “I will tell you that that’s exactly what the Nazis said in Special Order 48 in 1933 – we’re doing this to protect you. And that’s how they got rid of all of their political opponents.”

Crane is determined to get his job back so that he can continue to protect NSA whistleblowers. “I just want to see the system work properly,” he says. “I know the system can fail – world war two, Nazi Germany – but I also know that you need to do what is right. Because the government is so powerful, you need to have it run efficiently and honestly and according to the law.”

Tom Ciccotta writes about Free Speech and Intellectual Diversity for Breitbart. You can follow him on Twitter @tciccotta or on Facebook. You can email him at


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