Whistleblowers: Traitors or Heroes? Examining Key Figures Who Leaked US Government Secrets

by Michael Nguyen
0 comment

Daniel Ellsberg’s bold decision to disclose a classified Defense Department study known as the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War era presented a contentious perception of him as both a traitor in the eyes of the White House and a revered hero among war opponents.

Similar assessments have been applied to individuals who exposed confidential information they believed showcased official misconduct, though the public’s perception of more recent figures remains a subject of debate. Here are a few notable examples of individuals who leaked government secrets:


Felt, an FBI associate director known as “Deep Throat,” shared crucial information about the Watergate break-in with The Washington Post during the 1970s.

Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers leak indirectly contributed to the Watergate scandal. Outraged by the exposure of the study, President Nixon authorized an effort to gather damaging information on Ellsberg, resulting in operatives linked to the White House breaking into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office. Months later, five individuals associated with the White House were caught attempting to break into Democratic Party offices at the Watergate complex.

A senior FBI official, Felt offered guidance to journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they investigated the burglary and subsequent cover-up. Eventually, their work, alongside congressional investigations, revealed Nixon’s involvement, leading to his resignation.

Felt’s anonymous persona as “Deep Throat” became an iconic part of the film “All the President’s Men.” In 2005, shortly before his death in 2008, Felt unveiled his identity.


Snowden, aged 39, exposed the secret mass surveillance programs of U.S. intelligence agencies, sparking a national discourse on privacy and national security.

While working as a contractor and systems engineer at the National Security Agency (NSA), Snowden revealed how the NSA collected extensive data from American telecommunications companies and spied on Washington’s allied leaders, among other revelations.

After collaborating on the initial stories in 2013, Snowden departed Hong Kong for Moscow, intending to eventually reach Ecuador. However, the U.S. government revoked his passport, leading to his extended stay in a Moscow airport. Eventually settling in Moscow, he has remotely addressed global audiences on civil liberties and privacy. The U.S. Justice Department, during the Obama administration, charged him with espionage and theft, a case that remains active today.

Presently, Snowden remains in Russia, having obtained Russian citizenship last year. Critics often point to his decision to stay in Russia as evidence of damage to national security, challenging his classification as a hero.

In a Twitter message on Friday, Snowden noted that Ellsberg had aimed to spend his final hours working towards reducing the risk of nuclear conflict, honoring him as a hero until the end.


Manning, aged 35, leaked over 700,000 documents to the WikiLeaks website while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2010.

The leaked materials encompassed State Department cables and classified footage showing a U.S. helicopter attack that resulted in the deaths of Iraqi men, including two Reuters journalists.

Manning faced a military court conviction for violating the Espionage Act, receiving a 35-year prison sentence. However, her sentence was commuted by President Obama shortly before leaving office in January 2017.

Subsequently, she endured over a year of imprisonment for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks.


Winner, aged 31, leaked a classified report regarding Russian government attempts to infiltrate voting software ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. She printed a copy of the report at an NSA office in Georgia and mailed it to a news outlet.

Though the specific outlet was never explicitly disclosed, Winner’s arrest was announced by the Justice Department in June 2017, coinciding with The Intercept’s publication of a top-secret NSA document related to Russian hacking.

Winner pleaded guilty in 2018 to transmitting national security information and received a five-year sentence, being released early in June 2021.

Note: The information provided is based on the knowledge available up until September 2021.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about whistleblowers

Who is Daniel Ellsberg and why is he mentioned in this text?

Daniel Ellsberg is an individual mentioned in this text who gained prominence for leaking the Pentagon Papers, a secret Defense Department study on the U.S. war in Vietnam. His disclosure made him a traitor in the eyes of the White House but a hero to opponents of the war.

What role did W. Mark Felt play in the Watergate scandal?

W. Mark Felt, also known as “Deep Throat,” was an associate director at the FBI who provided crucial information to journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein during their investigation of the Watergate break-in. Felt’s guidance ultimately led to the exposure of President Nixon’s involvement in the scandal and his subsequent resignation.

Who is Edward Snowden and what did he disclose?

Edward Snowden is an individual mentioned in the text who revealed the secret surveillance programs conducted by U.S. intelligence agencies. As a contractor at the National Security Agency (NSA), he exposed how the NSA collected extensive data from American telecommunications companies and spied on allied leaders. His disclosures ignited a national debate on privacy and national security.

What did Chelsea Manning leak and what were the consequences?

Chelsea Manning, an intelligence analyst in Iraq, leaked a massive number of documents to WikiLeaks. The leaked materials included State Department cables and classified video footage showing a U.S. helicopter attack resulting in civilian deaths, including journalists. Manning’s actions led to her conviction for violating the Espionage Act and a subsequent commutation of her sentence by President Obama.

Who is Reality Winner and what information did she leak?

Reality Winner leaked a classified report on Russian government efforts to infiltrate voting software during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. She mailed a copy of the report to a news outlet. Winner was eventually arrested, pleaded guilty to transmitting national security information, and received a prison sentence before being released early.

Are these whistleblowers considered heroes or traitors?

The perception of these whistleblowers as heroes or traitors is a subject of debate. Daniel Ellsberg, for instance, is often regarded as a hero by war opponents for exposing government misconduct. However, opinions on recent figures like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning remain divided, with some viewing them as heroes fighting for transparency and others labeling them as traitors who compromised national security.

More about whistleblowers

You may also like

Leave a Comment


BNB – Big Big News is a news portal that offers the latest news from around the world. BNB – Big Big News focuses on providing readers with the most up-to-date information from the U.S. and abroad, covering a wide range of topics, including politics, sports, entertainment, business, health, and more.

Editors' Picks

Latest News

© 2023 BBN – Big Big News