Upon leaking documents that expose the NSA’s spying on American citizens, Snowden expressed that he didn’t “want public attention because I don’t want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the U.S. government is doing.” Surely to Edward Snowden’s chagrin, numerous headlines online have been veering away from the real issue of the NSA leak, which is the leak itself, and have been focusing on his admonishment as a criminal.

Now, one would honestly think that because of the severity of the leak and mass outcry against the government for violating several aspects of citizen privacy, that a long and detailed look at the allegations against the NSA would be in order. This is not at all the case. Writer David Sarota of Salon points out that “according to the [New York] Times and Reuters, the Justice Department and the unnamed national security agency are pursuing investigation into the whistle-blowing but not into the potential crimes against the Constitution.”

This action by the government completely downplays the importance of the leak, and further, “blurs the the definition of crime.” As terrible and reprehensible as this action may be, government powers have a background in such a practice.

Organizations from intelligence firms to law offices have made a habit of stamping out opposition from activists and whistleblowers in the past. In 2010, defense contractors collaborated with attorneys retained by the Chamber of Commerce to coordinate an effort designed to “sabotage left-leaning critics.” The three defense contractors involved, Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies, and HBGary Federal, engaged in disturbing behavior against those opposing the Chamber of Commerce. The contractors planned to use malware and other “malicious software” to hack into the opponents’ computers, as well as computers belonging to family members. The plans were leaked before they could actually be carried out.  

This practice, along with many others socked away, are illegal. However, there were no charges or prosecutions of conspiracy of any kind against the contractors after these plans were leaked. And yes, conspiracy to commit computer hacking is a real crime, one that’s on the books.  

These examples are only but a drop in the bucket of the government and its contractors’ ability and dreadful success in diverting attention away from their own crimes. By pitching all amounts of wrongdoing and criminal activity onto those acting as watchdogs to ensure a fair system of checks and balances between the people and elected officials, they undermine and betray the trust of the people, the people who have trusted them enough to put them into office.

Joshua de Leon is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.