WikiLeaks founder: Obama surveillance changes vindicate Edward Snowden

The founder of the WikiLeaks website said on Saturday that President Obama’s announcement of changes to the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance program this week vindicated Edward Snowden’s release of information about the program. 

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“Today the President of the United States validated Edward Snowden’s role as a whistleblower by announcing plans to reform America’s global surveillance program,” WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange said in a statement.

“But rather than thank Edward Snowden, the president laughably attempted to criticize him while claiming that there was a plan all along, ‘before Edward Snowden,’” Assange continued. “The simple fact is that without Snowden’s disclosures, no one would know about the programs and no reforms could take place.”

Assange compared Snowden to former solider Bradley Manning, who was convicted of releasing classified information about the Iraq War, and Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War in the 1970s.

“As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently once stated, ‘All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent,’” Assange said. “Luckily for the citizens of the world, Edward Snowden is one of those ‘people of good conscience’ who did not ‘remain silent,’ just as Pfc Bradley Manning and Daniel Ellsberg refused to remain silent.”

Obama said on Friday that he was planning to ask Congress to narrow and improve oversight of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the government to collect phone records, in response to criticism of the NSA’s surveillance programs. Obama also said he would ask Congress to carve out a role for civil libertarians in courts that give government agencies the warrants to grab data from private citizens and companies.

Assange accused the Department of Justice of “betraying two key principles that President Obama championed when he ran for office -- transparency and protection for whistleblowers.

“During his 2008 campaign, the president supported whistleblowers, claiming their ‘acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled,’” Assange said. “Yet his administration has prosecuted twice as many whistleblowers than all other administrations combined.”

Obama said pointedly during a news conference on Friday that he did not think Snowden was a “patriot.”

-Justin Sink contributed to this report.