Whistleblowers and Mass Government Surveillance

International Responsibilities Task Force (IRTF) Whistleblowers and Mass Government Surveillance

IRTF Programs
Resource List
SRRT Resolutions

IRTF Programs


“No Place to Hide: Whistleblowers Expose the Surveillance State”
With Glenn Greenwald
June 28, 2015

At the annual ALA conference in San Francisco in 2015, journalist, constitutional law-yer, and bestselling author Glenn Greenwald spoke via Skype about the impact of the revelations of Edward Snowden, the failure of the media to actively investigate U.S. government surveillance programs, and the need to safeguard whistleblowers. Glenn Greenwald speaking via Skype at ALA annual conference, 2015. Photo source: American Libraries.

For an article on this program, see Phil Morehart, “No Place to Hide: Glenn Greenwald warns librarians about unchecked surveillance,” American Libraries, June 30, 2015.

Glenn Greenwald speaking via Skype at ALA annual conference, 2015
Glenn Greenwald speaking via Skype at ALA annual conference, 2015. Photo source: American Libraries.

Film showing:
June 9, 2015

Showing of Laura Poitras’ film, Citizenfour, on mass surveillance, presented by SRRT International Responsibilities Task Force.


“National Security vs. the Right to Know”
With William Binney, Emma Cape, and Patrice McDermott
June 23, 2012

This panel discussion, co-sponsored by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Law and Political Science Section (LPSS) and SRRT’s International Responsibilities Task Force, addressed issues - including the potential conflict between security concerns and the requirements of transparency, democracy, free press, and the protection of whistle blowers - related to the release of classified U.S. documents by WikiLeaks.

The speakers for this program included William Binney, the noted whistleblower from the National Security Agency (NSA); Emma Cape, formerly the Campaign Manager for the Chelsea Manning Support Network; and Patrice McDermott, who was director of OpenTheGovernment.org.

William Binney
William Binney
Photo Source: Democracy Now!
Emma Cape
Emma Cape
Photo source: Courage to Resist
Patrice McDermott
Patrice McDermott
Photo source: Government Accountability Project


“Daniel Ellsberg on War and Secrecy”
With Daniel Ellsberg
June 26, 2011

Daniel Ellsberg speaking at ALA conference, 2011
Daniel Ellsberg speaking at ALA conference, 2011.
Photo source: American Library Association Facebook page

On the 40th anniversary of the publication of the Pentagon Papers by the New York Times, famed whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg addressed the ALA conference in New Orleans. Ellsberg noted the similarities between the U.S. involvement in an unwinnable war in Vietnam in 1971 and in Afghanistan in 2011 and spoke of the importance of whistleblowers.

The program was co-sponsored by SRRT with ALA’s Office for Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS), the Video Round Table, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, ALA President Roberta Stevens, and the ALA Executive Director.

Ellsberg is known for releasing the Pentagon Papers, a secret government study about the origins of the Vietnam War, to The New York Times and other newspapers. The Pentagon Papers demonstrated that successive administrations lied repeatedly to Congress and the public about U.S. intentions and actions in Vietnam. The revelations contributed greatly to the growing antiwar sentiment in the United States. For his actions, Ellsberg was targeted by the Nixon administration. In 1973, a court dismissed charges of espionage and conspiracy against Ellsberg and his codefendant Anthony Russo for the release of the Pentagon Papers. Since the early 1970s, Ellsberg has continued to speak out forcefully against U.S. wars and government secrecy.

Daniel Ellsberg with past ALA President Mitch Freedman and SRRT members at the 2011 ALA annual conference. Left to right: Nancy Garmer, Mike Marlin, Jane Glasby, Mitch Freedman, Daniel Ellsberg, Al Kagan, & Tom Twiss.
Daniel Ellsberg with past ALA President Mitch Freedman and SRRT members at the 2011 ALA annual conference. Left to right: Nancy Garmer, Mike Marlin, Jane Glasby, Mitch Freedman, Daniel Ellsberg, Al Kagan, & Tom Twiss.

For an interview with Daniel Ellsberg by Leonard Kniffel and other ALA staff and members after his speech in New Orleans, see “Daniel Ellsberg Interview,” American Libraries, July 27, 2011.

Film showing and Q&A with Daniel Ellsberg:
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
June 25, 2011

Co-sponsored by SRRT with ALA’s Office for Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS), the Video Round Table, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, ALA President Roberta Stevens, and the ALA Executive Director.

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Resource List

Articles | Books | Films | Interviews


“Glenn Greenwald on security and liberty”
18 articles from The Guardian, from August 2013 to January 2014.


Assange, Julian. The Wikileaks Files: The World According to US Empire. London: Verso, 2015.
When WikiLeaks first came to prominence in 2010 by releasing 2,325,961 top-secret State Department cables, the world saw for the first time what the US really thought about national leaders, friendly dictators and supposed allies. It also discovered the dark truths of national policies, human rights violations, covert operations and cover-ups. The WikiLeaks Files is the first volume that uses experts to collate the most important cables and shows their historic importance. The book explores in a series of chapters covering the major regions of the world how the US Empire has imposed its will. It reveals how the US imposes its agenda on the world: a new form of imperialism that uses a variety of tactics from torture and military action, to trade deals and "soft power," in order to expand its influence. It shows the details of the close relationship between government and big business in promoting US goods around the world. The WikiLeaks Files is the most comprehensive analysis of US State Department cables to date. The introduction by Julian Assange--for the first time--exposes the on-going debates on freedom of information, international surveillance and justice. Regional expert contributors include Dan Beeton, Phyllis Bennis, Michael Busch, Peter Certo, Conn Hallinan, Sarah Harrison, Richard Heydarian, Dahr Jamail, Jake Johnston, Alexander Main, Robert Naiman, Francis Njubi Nesbitt, Linda Pearson, Gareth Porter, Tim Shorrock, Russ Wellen, and Stephen Zunes. [From publisher description].

Assange, Julian, Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn, and Jérémie Zimmermann. Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet. New York: OR Books, 2012.
Cypherpunks are activists who advocate the widespread use of strong cryptography (writing in code) as a route to progressive change. Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief of and visionary behind WikiLeaks, has been a leading voice in the cypherpunk movement since its inception in the 1980s. Now, in a wave-making new book, Assange brings together a small group of cutting-edge thinkers and activists from the front line of the battle for cyber-space to discuss whether electronic communications will emancipate or enslave us. Do Facebook and Google constitute “the greatest surveillance machine that ever existed”? Far from being victims of that surveillance, are most of us willing collaborators? Are there legitimate forms of surveillance, for instance in relation to the “Four Horsemen of the Infopocalypse” (money laundering, drugs, terrorism and pornography)? And do we have the ability, through conscious action and technological savvy, to resist this tide and secure a world where freedom is something which the Internet helps bring about? [From WorldCat].

Assange, Julian and Andrew O’Hagan. The Unauthorised Autobiography. [Edinburgh]: Canongate, 2011.
In December 2010, in the midst of a battle against allegations concerning his personal life, and with the angry denunciations of American politicians ringing in his ears in the wake of the US Embassy Cable releases, Julian Assange began writing the story of his life. What took shape over months of effort is a book that describes not only the work of Wikileaks, but the moral and political development of its founder, from his childhood and teenage years in Australia, through travels in Europe, Asia and Africa, right up to the present day. Although the publication of this autobiography has occurred in controversial circumstances, the result is nonetheless a book that burns with passion and anger, an essential book for our time and a meditation on the meaning of disclosure itself. [From WorldCat].

Bogoshian, Heidi. Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power, and Public Resistance. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2013.
In Spying on Democracy, National Lawyers Guild Executive Director Heidi Boghosian documents the disturbing increase in surveillance of ordinary citizens and the danger it poses to our privacy, our civil liberties, and to the future of democracy itself. Boghosian reveals how technology is being used to categorize and monitor people based on their associations, their movements, their purchases, and their perceived political beliefs. She shows how corporations and government intelligence agencies mine data from sources as diverse as surveillance cameras and unmanned drones to iris scans and medical records, while combing websites, email, phone records and social media for resale to third parties, including U.S. intelligence agencies. {From publisher description.]

Chatterjee, Pratap, and Khalil. Verax: The True History of Whistleblowers, Drone Warfare, and Mass Surveillance. First ed. New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Company, 2017.
9/11 not only marked the worst domestic terror attack in U.S. history, but also unleashed electronic spying by the government on a massive worldwide scale. Verax (“truth-teller” and one of Edward Snowden's code names) recounts the full story of American electronic surveillance post 9/11. We follow Pratap Chatterjee, journalist sleuth, as he dives deep into the world of electronic surveillance and introduces its cast of characters: developers, companies, users, government agencies, whistleblowers, journalists, and, in a leading role, the devices themselves. He explains the complex ways governments follow the movements and interactions of individuals and countries, whether by tracking the players of Angry Birds, deploying "Stingrays" that listen in on phone calls or “deep packet inspection” that mines email, or by weaponizing programs with names like Howlermonkey and Godsurge to attack the infrastructure of states such as Iran and remotely guide the U.S. missiles used in drone killings. He chronicles the complicity of corporations like Apple, Verizon, and Google, and the daring of the journalists and whistleblowers -- from Snowden to Julian Assange to the lesser-known NSA Four -- who made sure that the world would know. Finally, he gives a prognosis for the future of electronic surveillance, and for the fortunes of those who resist it. 9/11 not only marked the worst domestic terror attack in U.S. history, but also unleashed electronic spying by the government on a massive worldwide scale. [From WorldCat].

Ellsberg, Daniel. Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. New York: Viking, 2002.
Daniel Ellsberg began his career as a U.S. Marine company commander, a Pentagon official, and a staunch supporter of America’s battle against Communist expansion. But in October 1969, Ellsberg--fully expecting to spend the rest of his life in prison--set out to turn around American foreign policy by smuggling out of his office the seven-thousand-page top-secret study, known as the Pentagon Papers, of U.S. decision making in Vietnam. Ellsberg tells the full story of how and why he became one of the nation's most impassioned and influential antiwar activists--and how his actions helped alter the course of U.S. history. Covering the decade between his entry into the Pentagon and Nixon's resignation, Secrets is Ellsberg's meticulously detailed insider’s account of the secrets and lies that shaped American foreign policy during the Vietnam era. Ellsberg provides a vivid eyewitness account of the two years he spent behind the lines in Vietnam as a State Department observer--an experience that convinced him of the hopelessness of Johnson’s policies and profoundly altered his own political thinking. As Ellsberg recounts with drama and insight, the release of the Pentagon Papers, first to The New York Times and The Washington Post, set in motion a train of events that ultimately toppled a president and helped to end an unjust war. Infused with the political passion and turmoil of the Vietnam era, Secrets is at once the memoir of a committed, daring man, an insider's expose of Washington, and a meditation on the meaning of patriotism under a government intoxicated by keeping secrets. [From WorldCat].

Granick, Jennifer Stisa. American Spies: Modern Surveillance, Why You Should Care, and What to Do About It. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2017.
US intelligence agencies - the eponymous American spies - are exceedingly aggressive, pushing and sometimes bursting through the technological, legal and political boundaries of lawful surveillance. Written for a general audience by a surveillance law expert, this book educates readers about how the reality of modern surveillance differs from popular understanding. Weaving the history of American surveillance - from J. Edgar Hoover through the tragedy of September 11th to the fusion centers and mosque infiltrators of today - the book shows that mass surveillance and democracy are fundamentally incompatible. Granick shows how surveillance law has fallen behind while surveillance technology has given American spies vast new powers. She skillfully guides the reader through proposals for reining in massive surveillance with the ultimate goal of surveillance reform. [From publisher website].

Greenwald, Glenn. No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State. New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt, 2014.
Investigative reporter Glenn Greenwald provides an in-depth look into the National Security Agency scandal that has triggered a national debate over national security and information privacy. With further revelations from documents entrusted to Glenn Greenwald by Edward Snowden himself, this book explores the extraordinary cooperation between private industry and the NSA, and the far-reaching consequences of the government’s surveillance program, both domestically and abroad. [Annotation from WorldCat.]

Hedges, Chris. Wages of Rebellion. [New York?]: Nation Books, 2015.
In the face of modern conditions, revolution is inevitable. The rampant inequality that exists between the political and corporate elites and the struggling masses; the destruction wreaked upon our environment by faceless, careless corporations; the steady stripping away of our civil liberties and the creation of a monstrous surveillance system; all of these have combined to spark a profound revolutionary moment. Corporate capitalists, dismissive of the popular will, do not see the fires they are igniting. In Wages of Rebellion, from South African activists who dedicated their lives to ending apartheid, to contemporary anti-fracking protestors in Canada, to whistleblowers in pursuit of transparency, Wages of Rebellion shows the cost of a life committed to speaking truth to power and demanding justice. This is a fight that requires us to find in acts of rebellion the sparks of life, an intrinsic meaning that lies beyond the possibility of success. For Hedges, resistance is not finally defined by what we achieve, but by what we become. [From WorldCat].

Kaleck, Wolfgang, Fiona Nelson, and Edward Snowden. Law Versus Power: Our Global Fight for Human Rights. New York; London: OR Books, 2018.
Wolfgang Kaleck, best known as Edward Snowden’s lawyer, is a human rights activist extraordinaire. For more than two decades, he has travelled the world to fight alongside those suffering injustice at the hands of powerful players, people who, prior to the arrival of Kaleck and his colleagues, often enjoyed impunity. Kaleck’s work has taken him to Buenos Aires, to stand with the mothers of youngsters “disappeared” under the Argentinian military dictatorship; to exiled Syrian communities, where he assembled the case against torture mandated by those high up in the Assad government; to Central America, where he collaborated with those pursuing the Guatemalan military for its massacres of indigenous people; to New York, to partner with the Center for Constitutional Rights in taking action against Donald Rumsfeld for the “enhanced interrogation techniques” he greenlighted after 9/11; and to Moscow, where he represents the whistle-blower Edward Snowden, “a likeable man whose talents go far beyond his technical skills.” In recounting his involvement in such cases, Kaleck gives full voice to those he is representing, emphasizing the courage and persistence they bring to the global search for justice. The result is a book crammed with compelling and vivid stories, underscoring the notion that, while the world is often a terrible place, universal standards of human rights can prevail when people are willing to struggle for them. [From WorldCat].

Lidberg, Johan and Denis Muller, eds. In the Name of Security: Secrecy, Surveillance and Journalism. London: Anthem Press, 2018.
In the Name of Security - Secrecy, Surveillance and Journalism investigates the effects of the increased number of anti-terror laws, new mass surveillance technologies and a global fear- driven security paradigm have had on in-depth public interest journalism since 11 September 2001 in a number of countries. [From WorldCat].

Lyon, David. Surveillance After Snowden. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2015.
In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA and its partners had been engaging in warrantless mass surveillance, using the internet and cellphone data, and driven by fear of terrorism under the sign of ‘security.’ In this compelling account, surveillance expert David Lyon guides the reader through Snowden's ongoing disclosures: the technological shifts involved, the steady rise of invisible monitoring of innocent citizens, the collusion of government agencies and for-profit companies and the implications for how we conceive of privacy in a democratic society infused by the lure of big data. Lyon discusses the distinct global reactions to Snowden and shows why some basic issues must be faced: how we frame surveillance, and the place of the human in a digital world. Surveillance after Snowden is crucial reading for anyone interested in politics, technology and society. [From WorldCat].

Manning, Chelsea. Untitled Memoir. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, forthcoming 2020.
In 2010, Chelsea Manning, working as an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army in Iraq, disclosed 720,000 classified military documents that she had smuggled out via the memory card of her digital camera. In March 2011, the United States Army sentenced Manning to thirty-five years in military prison, charging her with twenty-two counts relating to the unauthorized possession and distribution of classified military documents. The day after her conviction, Manning declared her gender identity as a woman and began to transition. In 2017, President Barack Obama commuted her sentence and she was released from prison. In her as yet untitled memoir, Manning recounts how her pleas for increased institutional transparency and government accountability took place alongside a fight to defend her rights as a trans woman. She reveals her challenging childhood, her struggles as an adolescent, what led her to join the military, and the fierce pride she took in her work. We also learn the details of how and why she made the decision to send classified military documents to WikiLeaks. This powerful, observant memoir will stand as one of the definitive testaments of the digital age. [From WorldCat].

Metahaven (Design studio). Black Transparency: The Right to Know in the Age of Mass Surveillance. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2015.
Black transparency is an involuntary disclosure of secrets against a backdrop of systematic online surveillance, as large parts of contemporary life move into the digital realm. Black transparency, as a radical form of information democracy, has brought forward a new sense of unpredictability to international relations, and raises questions about the conscience of the whistleblower, whose personal politics are now instantly geopolitical. Empowered by networks of planetary-scale computation, disclosures today take on an unprecedented scale and immediacy. Difficult to contain and even harder to prevent, black transparency does not merely create openness, order, and clarity; rather, it triggers chaos, stirring the currents of a darker and more mercurial world. Metahaven was founded in 2007 by Vinca Kruk and Daniel van der Velden. In Black Transparency - part essay, part fanzine - Metahaven embark on a journey of subversion, while examining transparency's intersections with design, architecture, and pop culture, as well as its ability to unravel the circuitry of modern power. A Google executive once said: “If you want to liberate a society just give them the Internet.” But how does one liberate a society that already has the Internet? Publicly, modern government adheres to the twin ideals of institutional transparency and personal privacy. In reality, while citizens are subjected to mass surveillance, government practice goes unchecked. A new generation has taken to the Internet to defend the right to governance without secrets. From Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks to LulzSec and Anonymous, from the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative to the revelations of Edward Snowden, a coalition is breaking through the secrecy that lies at the core of the modern state. The story gets more complex when open government is contrasted with black transparency, and when a geopolitical rift between the West and Russia becomes the dividing line for whistleblowers and transparency activists seeking refuge. What is transparency for one may be propaganda for the other. [From WorldCat].

PEN America. Secret Sources: Whistleblowers, National Security, and Free Expression. New York: PEN American Center, 2015. http://www.pen.org/sites/default/files/secretsources_low-res.pdf.
Edward Snowden’s disclosures regarding mass surveillance programs set in motion a national and international debate over the limits of government power, the measures necessary to protect national security, and what information the public has a right to know about its government's activities. PEN's research demonstrates that the gaps in existing protections for intelligence community whistleblowers, coupled with the government's failure to adequately address retaliation against them and the Obama administration's aggressive prosecution of leakers under the Espionage Act, are damaging to freedom of expression, press freedom, and access to information in the United States. The combined impact of these elements has created a chilling effect on free expression, and affects both the willingness of government workers to publicly expose wrongdoing and the ability of journalists to cover their revelations. This poses risks for the free flow of information and informed public debate that is necessary for a healthy democratic society. [From WorldCat].

Roy, Arundhati, John Cusack, Edward J. Snowden, and Daniel Ellsberg. Things That Can and Cannot Be Said: Essays and Conversations. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016.
A collection of essays and conversations between the authors as they reflect on their conversations with Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden. They discuss the nature of the state, empire, and surveillance in an era of perpetual war, the meaning of flags and patriotism, the role of foundations and NGOs in limiting dissent, and the ways in which capital but not people can freely cross borders. [From back cover].

Snowden, Edward. Permanent Record. First ed. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2019.
In 2013, Edward Snowden shocked the world when he broke with the American intelligence establishment and revealed that the United States government was secretly pursuing the means to collect every single phone call, text message, and email. The result would be an unprecedented system of mass surveillance with the ability to pry into the private lives of every person on earth. Six years later, the man who risked everything to expose the US government’s system of mass surveillance reveals to a new generation how he helped build that system, what motivated him to try to bring it down, and how kids can protect their privacy in this digital age of indiscriminate data collection. [Annotation provided by publisher, from WorldCat.]


Erlich, Judith, and Rick Goldsmith. The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers First Run, 2009.
In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, a high-level Pentagon official and Vietnam War strategist, concludes that the war is based on decades of lies and leaks 7,000 pages of top secret documents to the New York Times, making headlines around the world. ... one man’s profound change of heart created a landmark struggle involving America’s newspapers, its president, and the Supreme Court–a political thriller whose events led directly to Watergate, Nixon’s resignation, and the end of the Vietnam War. [Annotation from container, from WorldCat.]

Poitras, Laura. Citizenfour. Praxis Films, 2014.
CITIZENFOUR is a real life thriller, unfolding by the minute, giving audiences unprecedented access to filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald”s encounters with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, as he hands over classified documents providing evidence of mass indiscriminate and illegal invasions of privacy by the National Security Agency (NSA). Poitras had already been working on a film about surveillance for two years when Snowden contacted her, using the name “CITIZENFOUR,” in January 2013. He reached out to her because he knew she had long been a target of government surveillance, stopped at airports numerous times, and had refused to be intimidated. When Snowden revealed he was a high-level analyst driven to expose the massive surveillance of Americans by the NSA, Poitras persuaded him to let her film. [Annotation from WorldCat.]

Interviews on Democracy Now!

William Binney

Daniel Ellsberg

Glenn Greenwald

Laura Poitras

Edward Snowden (stories and interviews)

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SRRT Resolutions and statements (in reverse chronological order)

Year SRRT Resolutions and Statements Outcome
2016 Resolution for Restoring Civil Liberties and Opposing Mass Surveillance
2015-2016 ALA CD#19.1
Joint SRRT, IRC, and IFC resolution passed by ALA Council
2015 Resolution Against Mass Surveillance of the American People
2014-2015 ALA CD#42
Referred to working group
2014 Resolution on Whistleblower Edward Snowden
2013-2014 ALA CD#37
Failed and 2 substitutes passed
2013 Resolution in Support of Whistleblower Edward Snowden (PDF)
2012-2013 ALA CD#39
Initially passed by ALA Council, but referred back to committees and poor substitute passed.


Resolution in Support of Whistleblower Bradley Manning
2012-2013 ALA CD#38
Failed and poor substitute passed.
2012 Resolution in Support of Whistleblower Bradley Manning
2011-2012 ALA CD#44
Defeated by ALA Council.
2011 Resolution in Support of WikiLeaks
2010-2011 ALA CD#38
ALA Midwinter Meeting
Slightly revised but defeated by the ALA Council in June 2012. (2011-2012 ALA CD#43).
2011 Resolution on WikiLeaks and Federal Agencies
2010-2011 ALA CD#37, ALA Midwinter Meeting
Defeated by ALA Council.