WASHINGTON — Nearly a thousand protestors, sponsored by one hundred public advocacy groups, marched on the Capitol in Washington, D.C. to rally against the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance sweeps on Saturday.
“Why are we here?” former NSA executive and whistleblower Thomas Drake asked the gathered crowd. “We’re against mass surveillance!”
Drake, who was prosecuted by the Department of Justice under the Espionage Act for leaking unclassified information to a Baltimore Sun reporter, declared that the government “tried to bankrupt me, silence me and imprison me,” and that he was fortunate not to end up in prison.
“We cannot let this happen to future whistleblowers,” he said, adding that reform efforts must include whistleblower protection and not rely on an “NSA honor system” that was dependent on the agency admitting to rights violations.
“The NSA does not have an honorable track record of telling the truth when tracking us without our consent,” he said.
Jessselyn Radack, a former Department of Justice ethics advisor and director of the Government Accountability Project, read a statement from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
“The U.S. intelligence community built a pervasive system of surveillance,” Radack read, noting that every phone call and Internet transaction is recorded by the NSA.
“It’s about power, control and trust in government,” she continued, adding that elected officials were “public servants, not private investigators” to applause. “We declare that mass surveillance has no place in this country. It is time for reform — elections are coming, and we are watching you.”
No further leaks from Snowden, however, will be forthcoming, Radack told The Daily Caller.
“Edward Snowden is not in possession of any information anymore,” Radack said, “but I have no doubt that journalists will continue to make revelations over the coming months into the next year.”
Radack added that she doubted that Snowden would return to the U.S. after it declared him “an enemy of the state.”
“I don’t think he’s coming here anytime soon, unless the whole climate changes,” she said. “Right now in the United States, there’s a war on civil liberties, and people who tell the truth are being prosecuted under the Espionage Act — the most draconian law you can levy against an American, because you’re deeming them an enemy of the state.”
Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash also addressed the rally to push for legislative reform, recounting his narrowly-defeated amendment to defund the NSA’s phone metadata collection program.
“You are making a difference. You deserve the credit,” he told the protestors. “This isn’t a partisan issue — this is from Republicans and Democrats, libertarians, conservatives and liberals and everyone in between.”
“[W]hen we were fighting for that Amash amendment and we took to the House floor and had that debate, that was the proudest moment for me as an elected official,” he said. “We brought Republicans and Democrats together to speak on that amendment. When the vote came down, it was close. It scared people — it scared the establishments in both parties.”
The Obama administration, he added, issued a statement ordering Democrats to vote against the amendment. In the end, however, more Democrats than Republicans voted for Amash’s measure.
“But let me tell you, the NSA is fighting back. The establishment is fighting back. The NSA wants us to pass CISPA,” Amash continued, referring to a contentious law that permitted a voluntary sharing of information of data between private companies and government agencies, but has been attacked by critics as an override of privacy laws.
Amash also praised Wisconsin Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner for his efforts to repeal the USA PATRIOT Act, which Sensenbrenner authored. (RELATED: Author of PATRIOT Act plans to introduce bill to rein in NSA)
“Thank God for Jim Sensenbrenner, who spoke on the House floor in favor of my amendment, and is now bringing a bill to the House floor, the USA Freedom Act, to undo much of the damage of the PATRIOT Act,” Amash said. “We’ve been working on it, and it’s going to be introduced very soon.”
Other protestors echoed the speakers’ sentiments and waxed indignant about the scope of the NSA’s spying powers and government overreach.
Vocal Edward Snowden supporter and former New Hampshire Republican Sen. Gordon Humphrey said he was disgusted that the “criminal” government collects information on Americans.
“You see that building over there?” Humphrey asked TheDC, pointing to the Capitol building. “I served in that building for 12 years. I’m here as a Republican conservative protesting the criminal government. These criminals in our government are violating the Constitution, violating our rights, and they need to be fired and need to be brought to justice.”
Humphrey said that President Barack Obama must fire every government employee, both civilian and military, involved in the surveillance sweeps, and that Congress must defund any program that collects information from American people.
If he were in office today, Humphrey continued, he would be “raising hell day and night” to fight the NSA and would work with Amash strip the agency of its funding.
Congressman who condone government surveillance are “foxes in the henhouse,” Humphrey added, and the Supreme Court must protect Americans’ constitutional rights.
The rally comes on the heels of revelations that the U.S. government tracked the calls of 35 world leaders — prompting a “livid” German chancellor Angela Merkel to call Obama to demand why his administration monitored her mobile cell phone.
Katie McHugh and Faith Braverman contributed to this report.