Monday, June 10, 2013

Edward Snowden: Criminal or Hero?

"The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife's phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.

"I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under."  -- Edward Snowden
Bradley Manning is not a hero
He is a criminal who released classified information his country entrusted to him.  Don't think so?  What if his crimes resulted in soldiers dying?  What if he had endangered a humanitarian operation, resulting in the deaths of poor women enslaved by the international sex trade?  What if he had released information tipping off rightwing hate groups?  Would he still be a hero?  Didn't think so.

The Press are not Criminals
The Fox News reporter, the Guardian, the New York Times, and any other press outlet that repeats classified information provided to them is not a criminal.  We must make this distinction if we are to keep sacrosanct our freedom of the press, no matter how lap doggish they act sometimes.

The burden of protection falls upon the government and the employees it entrusts to carry out its business.  So punish harshly those who divulge government secrets, but leave the press alone.

A Government Leaker is a Criminal
A person with a security clearance who provides classified information to the press or anyone else not authorized to receive it is a criminal.  This can be justified even upon libertarian grounds:  The information is the property of the US government, whose activities are determined and monitored by elected officials.

Edward Snowden is a...
Now to the case of Edward Snowden, the Booze Allen contractor working for the NSA who released the details of the NSA's domestic spying.  He starts with a dark premise, but still not enough to justify what he did, in my opinion:
"The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to," he said. (Guardian)
This quote from his interview is what stopped me in my tracks:
"...the NSA routinely lies in response to congressional inquiries about the scope of surveillance in America. I believe that when [senator Ron] Wyden and [senator Mark] Udall asked about the scale of this, they [the NSA] said it did not have the tools to provide an answer. We do have the tools and I have maps showing where people have been scrutinised most. We collect more digital communications from America than we do from the Russians."  -- Edward Snowden
If true, that is damning.

I take it as given that any whistleblower hotline the government has set up doesn't fit the bill for something like this.  His only recourse then is to go to someone in congress briefed on NSA activities, and the logistics of that is not easy.  You can't just go off by yourselves and discuss stuff like this.  Discussions can only be held in specially designated facilities.

What if Snowden is telling the truth?
It is conceivable that the NSA is lying to congress, and congress has no way to check their veracity.  If so, the Congressional check and balance safeguard is raped and plundered.  Where do we go now?

So, other than keeping his mouth shut, what other alternative did he have? 

Instead of running to the press, he could have gone to Senator Wyden and caused an internal, classified stink, gotten himself and some other like-minded individuals whistleblower status so they could spill their guts in a classified environment to senators and congressmen on the Intelligence Oversight Committee.

He may have lost his job as a result, but he would not be on the run.

What say you? 

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