Guest post by Daniel Noe
I just want to say unequivocally that 29-year-old NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is a hero. I wish we had many more people like him (and Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, but that’s for another time), not fewer. He is a genuine patriot. He has done far more to bring accountability to government than ANY current Republican Congressman or Senator who sticks his chest out and says he believes in “limited government” and “the Constitution.”
Of course, there are many who hold the exact opposite view, that he is a traitor and not a hero. Such people include conservative commentators (!), retired military officials, and a number of Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
Try as I might to understand their objections to the invaluable service Mr. Snowden provided our country, they just don’t make any sense.
Here, in no particular order, I will debunk the most pointed arguments his critics have leveled at him:
1. “He’s a high school dropout.”
This is just ridiculous, and a blatant personal attack. And this is only said to distract the listener or reader from learning about what it is Snowden really did. If it is wrong to drop out of high school, why didn’t these guys criticize Princess Diana? What about Thomas Edison? Benjamin Franklin? Albert Einstein? All these people dropped out of high school too, and that had no long-term effect on their character now, did it?
2. “He has endangered national security.”
Keep in mind that “national security” is an ambiguous phrase that is nowhere to be found in the Declaration of Independence or our Constitution. It pretty much means whatever a fearmongering, warmongering politician (like Lindsey Graham or John McCain) wants it to mean. In other words, it is a term that can easily be used to manipulate people into giving up their freedom. For over a decade, the American people (probably one of the most gullible in the world) have happily traded their liberty for security. And to quote Benjamin Franklin (one of my favorite Founding Fathers): “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Personally, I would much rather die a free person from terrorists than live under a tyrannical, fascist government that knows my every move.
3. “He has broken the law. He violated his agreement/oath to keep this information secret.”
I have a question for the people who make this claim: What if a law is unjust? Were abolitionists wrong to hide slaves just because slavery was the law of the land in America in the 1800s? Was Oskar Schindler wrong to hide Jews just because Adolf Hitler said that to do so was wrong? Was Sophie Scholl wrong in exposing the horrors of the Nazi government with her fellow patriots in the White Rose non-violent resistance group? I do fear that many of the authoritarians calling for Snowden’s head (who essentially believe anything the government says no matter what it does) would support the Nazis and the pro-slavery politicians if they lived in a different time. Obey the powers that be, right guys?
Another question: What about Mr. Snowden’s oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America (specifically the Fourth Amendment, which states that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”)? Turns out Edward was just following this oath and did not forget it, unlike 99.99 % of the other people (it seems) who “take” the oath.
Oh, and the government violated ITS agreement (the Constitution) with the American people first! Why don’t Snowden’s critics stand up for the rule of law? Why? Why is it his defenders who are doing so instead?
4. “He has fled to Communist China.”
Mr. Snowden has actually fled to Hong Kong. Surprisingly, the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank says that Hong Kong is the freest country in the world, even freer than the “land of the free,” the good old USA. Heritage adds that Hong Kong, despite technically being a ” Special Administrative Region” of China, “is self-governing on a day-to-day basis and enjoys a wide range of freedoms under a mini-constitution known as the Basic Law.” Nice try guys!
5. “He has aided our enemies.”
This is a statement with absolutely no substance to back it up. He did not sell secrets to what his critics would refer to as “our enemies.” They have presented no evidence with this charge. Furthermore, they essentially believe that the US government is NOT the greatest threat to our liberties, an absurd statement judging by how fascistic and totalitarian America has become since the beginning of the “war on terror.” In a way, Edward aided the greatest enemy to tyranny: an informed and alert public.
6. “These NSA programs are entirely legitimate. Besides I don’t have anything to hide. I’ve done nothing illegal.”
Many who supported the Patriot Act while it was being “debated” in 2001 said the same thing. Keep in mind, however, that it is not illegal to have imtimate relations with your spouse. It is not illegal to have an enlarged prostate or an overactive bladder or irritable bowel syndrome. It is not illegal to have cancer or other health issues. It is not illegal to keep money in a bank in a specific account. It is not even illegal to have an affair! But, just because you “did nothing illegal”, does that mean you really don’t care if the world knows such personal information? I challenge the people who still make such an argument to voluntarily disclose their sexual habits, health concerns, and bank account information. I mean, they have nothing to hide, right?
As Michael Rozeff explains:
We do not want privacy only to conceal our wrong-doings. That’s why this argument fails. We want privacy for a host of other reasons that have nothing to do with hiding wrongs. We do not put up curtains or draw the shades to conceal wrongs. We do not keep our financial affairs to ourselves to hide crimes. We don’t conceal our social security numbers from people because we’re doing something wrong. We don’t invite anyone and everyone to listen in to our conversations, and it’s not because we’re plotting crimes. Does a child want his parents to broadcast his or her grades in school to everyone? Do children want their parents to tell everyone their habits and their imperfections? Children want privacy as much as adults. It comes natural. The demand for privacy has very, very little to do with concealing wrongs.
7. “He should have used the proper channels to communicate his concerns.”
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says Snowden should have used established channels to raise his concerns, but there are no effective channels. Members of the congressional intelligence committees are prohibited from telling the public what they learn from their briefings. Two members of the Senate committee, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, for years have warned — without disclosing secrets — that the Obama administration is interpreting the Patriot Act and related laws far more broadly than was ever intended by those who voted for those pieces of legislation. Their warnings have made no difference.
A court challenge wasn’t open to Snowden either. Glenn Greenwald, who published Snowden’s leaks in the Guardian, notes that for years the ACLU has tried to challenge the surveillance programs in court on Fourth Amendment grounds, but the Obama administration has blocked the effort by arguing that the ACLU has no standing to bring the suit. It’s a classic Catch-22. Since the surveillance is secret, no one can know if he has been spied on. But if no one knows, no one can go into court claiming to be a victim, and the government will argue that therefore the plaintiff has no standing to challenge the surveillance. Well played, Obama administration.
8. “He should turn himself in.”
Like Obama is really going to give this guy a fair trial, after how he literally caught the government with its pants down?! However, jurors can still acquit Snowden if they believe that the laws he was being prosecuted under were thought to be unjust! Ever heard of jury nullification? If not, read more about this perfectly legal (yet underrated) concept here.
9. “These NSA programs don’t break any laws. There is no evidence the NSA did any wrongdoing.”
Um, have they not heard of the Fourth Amendment? The spying done by the NSA is WARRANTLESS. That means it is illegal! End of story. Furthermore, it’s sad how some will justify these programs by taking every single word the official government’s website says about them as gospel.
Frankly, it’s a downright shame many will think that Edward Snowden is the enemy and not the federal government.
I believe that every single man and woman who works in government at any level has a moral obligation to expose clearly corrupt and unethical behavior by government officials, irregardless of what the law says. In fact, in the hundreds of thousands of pages of laws on the books, I wouldn’t be surprised that there just might be a long-forgotten about legal obligation as well.
A truly free society needs a government in which whistleblowers should have no qualms coming forward with immoral behavior being committed by “our” leaders. How else will government really be held accountable? Elections? Congress? The Courts? Been there, done that.
We are no different than communist Russia if we allow the government to spy on us (regardless of the reason they give, such as “keeping us safe.”) Remember what Ben Franklin said.