When the story first broke that Edward Snowden had leaked information regarding the NSA and their metadata gathering program, strong opinions were voiced by many on both the Left and the Right. Some instantly declared him a traitor, others a hero. I was skeptical of both claims, given the complexity of the situation. So rather than accept one view or the other from a second-hand source, I decided to read Snowden’s initial statements to The Guardian and make up my own mind.
After reading it several times, I was inclined to give Snowden the benefit of the doubt that he was whistleblowing on a program he felt violated the very Constitution he had sworn to uphold. Civil disobedience has long been a respected method of protest against a tyrannical government. After all, our own country was formed by civil disobedience against a tyrannical English king. It is an unpleasant but sometimes necessary action to take in order to protect and preserve freedom.
Additionally, the recent revelations of the unprecedented abuse of power by the Obama administration made his claims about the NSA even more alarming. This was no longer a paranoid conspiracy theorist’s fiction, it was reality. The government had used the power of the DOJ and the IRS to go after its political enemies and journalists they happened to dislike or disagree with.
Despite all of this, there were still questions in my mind that prevented me from proclaiming Snowden an outright hero. His actions and words troubled me, even after the first interview. Why did he leak the information to a foreign paper and a rabidly anti-American one at that? Why flee to Hong Kong and praise China’s freedom of speech? A country with some of the worst human rights abuses on the planet. What led him to work for the CIA? Surely he was aware that spying went on there. Added to that he only worked for them less than three months. This is not a man who wrestled with his conscience through the years and decided to speak out. It just appeared odd.
As the days have unfolded, my skepticism of Snowden has increased. He has not released one specific piece of evidence that the NSA was spying on the American people. Even though he claims to have more information to leak. He has claimed to be in fear of his life, but then holds a three hour online chat session today in which he answers questions. If you are in fear of your life, why draw massive attention to yourself and your location?
Even more troubling is his change in rhetoric. He is no longer just criticizing the spying of American citizens or the potential for it (a valid position), he is criticizing the United States and its allies for spying on foreign governments. Pardon me, but the United States has every right to spy on any country it wishes to in order to protect and preserve the safety of its’ people. In fact, it is the duty of the government to do so.
Snowden then went on to express radical left-wing views, from his disdain for the Iraq war to his desire to see Guantanomo shut down. This is not the voice of someone primarily concerned with the advancement of Big Government or Big Brother. This is an agenda-driven and or idealogical driven narrative. With his statements today, Snowden significantly hurt his credibility and his defense. He essentially squashed the 4th Amendment defense that was readily available to him a few days ago.
For the record, I do not believe Snowden to be a spy for the Chinese. I have come to view him as a utopian idealist of the Leftist variety. I think he truly believes in what he is doing. Yet there is a sense I get that he is not really in touch with reality. Some of his statements appear that he thinks he is living in a spy-novel or a movie. I am not intimating he is mentally ill. Many in the millenial generation (my generation) live in a pseudo-reality daily and are not clinically mentally ill. Recall that our social interaction is virtual for the most part and we are exposed to media at an unprecedented rate. Snowden no doubt sees himself as the lead in some great drama, forgetting that rarely does art imitate reality. Unlike the movies, this will not have a happy ending.
This is not to say that the NSA program should not be reviewed or questioned. It is alarming to think that the government has this capability. Additionally, if they violated the Constitution by reading the e-mails and tracking the internet behavior of American citizens then we have a serious problem. Freedom cannot be sacrificed for security. It only leads to tyranny.
But instead of propping up Snowden as the hero, why not point out the real heroes. The men who have recently been on Fox News who were former NSA employees and who are speaking out. These men went through the proper channels with their concerns. For their pains they were demoted, ignored, and blackballed. Yet they stuck to their convictions and did it in an honorable manner. These men are the real heroes and the real whistleblowers. They lost their careers to stand up for what they thought was right.
It is they who should be applauded at this point, not Snowden.