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Ben Carson Praises NSA Whistleblowing But Says Pardoning Snowden Goes Too Far

GOP frontrunner Dr. Ben Carson speaks to reporters outside of Tampa, Florida. CREDIT: ALICE OLLSTEIN
GOP frontrunner Dr. Ben Carson speaks to reporters outside of Tampa, Florida. CREDIT: ALICE OLLSTEIN

LAKELAND, FLORIDA — Neurosurgeon, author, and new GOP frontrunner Dr. Ben Carson weighed in this week about the future of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

When ThinkProgress asked Carson during a book signing on Tuesday outside of Tampa whether he would be open to pardoning Snowden, he replied: “It would set a very bad precedent. There are appropriate ways to reveal things, and that was an inappropriate way, because it jeopardized our country.”

The Obama Administration charged Snowden with espionage after he passed classified documents to journalists that revealed the U.S. government was conducting mass, warrantless surveillance on the phone calls and e-mails of American citizens.

In Carson’s new book A More Perfect Union, which he suspended his campaign to sell, the candidate comes close to praising Snowden — though not by name — for revealing information the public deserved to know about their own government’s actions.

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“Surreptitiously tracking phone calls, purchasing activity, web site visitation history, and a host of other activities is tantamount to the illegal search and seizure forbidden by the Fourth Amendment,” he writes. “The government consistently denied its involvement in such activities until it was exposed by an informant.”

Though Carson has said he would relish a chance to go head-to-head with Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election, calling her “the epitome of the center-progressive movement,” his stance on Snowden is almost identical to hers.

Clinton has been questioned about Edward Snowden at town halls and during the first Democratic Primary debate, where she told viewers, “He could have been a whistleblower. He could have gotten all of the protections of being a whistleblower. He could have raised all the issues that he has raised. And I think there would have been a positive response to that.”

As Politifact and others have noted, this is not exactly true. The Whistleblower Protection Act does not cover intelligence contractors such as Snowden, while the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act would not have protected him from retaliation or future criminal prosecution.

In fact, past NSA officials who attempted to blow the whistle internally on illegal surveillance practices — such as Thomas Drake, William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe — lost their jobs, had their homes raided, and were prosecuted by the government or threatened with charges for their actions. Additionally, as Binney noted in interview with USA Today, “And all of the efforts we made just produced no change whatsoever. All [the surveillance programs] did was continue to get worse and expand.”

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When asked about Snowden’s decision to go to the media with his concerns, Weibe answered: “I don’t want anyone to think that he had an alternative. No one should [think that]. There is no path for intelligence-community whistle-blowers who know wrong is being done.”

Snowden has also testified that he tried to report his concerns the “right” way ten times. When none of the many officials he spoke to responded to his question of whether the NSA was breaking U.S. law with its surveillance programs, he decided to go public. The NSA has disputed this claim.

Despite Carson’s refusal to consider a presidential pardon for Snowden, he dedicates several pages in his book to the importance of what he exposed, writing: “Everyone is entitled to their private thoughts and musings without fear of exposure. Creative thinking is much more likely to occur in a setting where private documents cannot be seized arbitrarily based on the suspicions of some authoritarian figure. In this cyber age, the right to privacy is more important than ever.”