Monday, June 24, 2013

In Defense of Snowden

Edward Snowden, like most anti-establishment heroes, is being attacked by regime defenders, leftist sell-outs, and even indirectly by self-described libertarians at the Cato Institute. I will defend him against such charges as: (1) he's a narcissist, (2) he leaked something that was perfectly legal, and (3) he is a traitor.

First charge: he's a narcissist. Richard Cohen at the Washington Post claims that since "jettisoned a girlfriend, a career and, undoubtedly, his personal freedom to expose programs that were known to our elected officials and could have been deduced by anyone who has ever Googled anything," Snowden is a narcissist who is not worthy of respect. I will respond with the fact that Edward Snowden had $200,000 in salary, and he had a dream life with his girlfriend in Hawaii. He risked everything to reveal this fraud. Jeff Tucker, in his great article on Edward Snowden at The Freeman, reminds us that "he was surrounded by people who just took it for granted that every American deserves to be spied on, that government has the full right to everyone’s information." This was his culture. This was the world he was in. He had every opportunity to succumb to peer pressure and the lure of corrupting power. However, he resisted that lure and did the right thing. Fox News political analyst Kirsten Powers rightly analyzes that Snowden understood this truth: "the allegiance we have as Americans is to the Constitution, not the institution of government." This wonderful truth reminds us that the real commitment that Snowden has, and that we should all have, is to the rule of law, not to the rule of men. Snowden himself took a great risk to protect the liberty of all Americans; he did something that was noble, and he woke us up to the crimes of the state. He revived the true American spirit in us all, and in his own words, I’m neither a traitor nor a hero. I’m an American.” 

Second charge: He leaked something that was perfectly legal. William Saletan at Slate argues that (a) it is not wiretapping, (b) it is judicially supervised, (c) it is congressionally supervised, (d) it expires quickly until it's reauthorized, and (e) wiretaps would require further court orders. Is the order wiretapping? Maybe not. However, it is definitely mass in its collection of records. Glenn Greenwald at the Guardian notes in his explosive report that under the 2008 FISA law, there is no requirement for individualized warrants. "Under the FAA, which was just renewed last December for another five years, no warrants are needed for the NSA to eavesdrop on a wide array of calls, emails and online chats involving US citizens.Individualized warrants are required only when the target of the surveillance is a US person or the call is entirely domestic. But even under the law, no individualized warrant is needed to listen in on the calls or read the emails of Americans when they communicate with a foreign national whom the NSA has targeted for surveillance." This means that the State can listen to any phone call, read any email, and any other things. One might not know whether a foreign national is targeted by the NSA or not, as no one can know everything. This is contrary to the claims of Barack Obama and other defenders of the NSA. Not only that, "the Obama DOJ has repeatedly thwarted any efforts to obtain judicial rulings on whether this law is consistent with the Fourth Amendment or otherwise legal. Every time a lawsuit is brought contesting the legality of intercepting Americans' communications without warrants, the Obama DOJ raises claims of secrecy, standing and immunity to prevent any such determination from being made." The next argument made for the legality of the surveillance is that it is judicially supervised. However, the "supervision" it gets is empty and hollow. As Glenn Greenwald notes, "those documents [the top secret orders] demonstrate that this entire process is a fig leaf, 'oversight' in name only. It offers no real safeguards. That's because no court monitors what the NSA is actually doing when it claims to comply with the court-approved procedures." Also, as Greenwald further reveals, the NSA doesn't tell FISA who it is going to target for surveillance; rather, they just give general guidelines they ostensibly live by, and once they get the approval from FISA they can target anyone chosen by the analysts and order telecommunications and Internet companies to hand over their targets' emails, phone calls, chats and other records. I don't have all the time to reply to all the arguments; however, this is the best I can do. Anyways, even if he did break the law, he did so in defense of freedom and liberty. His only offense was that he revealed the creation of a mass surveillance state that was intended to humiliate and lord over the American people

Third charge: he's a traitor. This is the charge of Tea Party leader Michelle Bachmann, former Vice President Dick Cheney, House Speaker John Boehner, Chicago Tribune op-ed columnist Dennis Byrne, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (or "Frankenfeinstein" as conservative talk show host Mark Levin calls her) and others. The argument goes that the information he leaked will help terrorists, and many people opposing Snowden will argue that he will give this information to China, Russia, Ecuador, or any other country he might go to. I can respond to the argument on terrorists with a response from Glenn Greenwald that "the Terrorists already knew, and have long known, that the US government is doing everything possible to surveil their telephonic and internet communications. The Chinese have long known, and have repeatedly said, that the US is hacking into both their governmental and civilian systems (just as the Chinese are doing to the US). The Russians have long known that the US and UK try to intercept the conversations of their leaders just as the Russians do to the US and the UK." This means that any charge against Snowden revealing info to terrorists is meaningless and vapid. As Greenwald rightly notes, the only people who learned anything new at all is the American people. Also, unauthorized leaks aren't the Obama administration's main concern (for example, the Obama administration leaked vital information about the Seal Team Six raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan to Hollywood, which then made the two movies Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden and Zero Dark Thirty). What their main concern is are the leaks that will expose, embarrass, and reveal them. Also, in Snowden's own words, "I did not reveal any US operations against legitimate military targets. I pointed out where the NSA has hacked civilian infrastructure such as universities, hospitals, and private businesses because it is dangerous. These nakedly, aggressively criminal acts are wrong no matter the target. Not only that, when NSA makes a technical mistake during an exploitation operation, critical systems crash." This means that Snowden was not revealing information of US targets against terrorists but rather against civilian infrastructure, all while using fascism (the usage of private businesses in statist ways) to do so. Also, if Snowden really was a spy, then why didn't he go directly to Beijing to reveal information to China, and why didn't he sell all that information and become a millionaire and live in his own Shangri-La with his girlfriend? Why didn't he join Al-Qaeda, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood or any other terrorist group if he really wanted to hurt his country? Simple. Snowden is an American; he is "neither a traitor nor a patriot." He doesn't want to hurt his country; rather, he wants to save it before we reach the point of no return, before we reach to the point where we become an Orwellian state as described in the classic novel 1984. Snowden is indeed our modern Paul Revere. He was given great knowledge, and he fulfilled his responsibility to reveal that to those who needed it most, and for that most Americans, specifically the young generation, recognize him for the hero he is, even while they contradict themselves in supporting him being charged. 

My conclusion is that Edward Snowden is an American hero who revealed vitally important information that exposed the secret creation of a massive, Orwellian surveillance state. He left us, the American people, with the choice to either stand up against the State or to be a nation of sheep. He is not perfect; the only perfect hero was Jesus Christ, who was crucified 2,000 years ago and who came back to life three days to save us from our sin to restore perfect fellowship with God. However, he has done immense good to our generation; he has shown personal responsibility.

UPDATE (6/26/2013): Ivan Eland at has an article up on Snowden. He cautions us against automatically labeling Snowden a hero. "Even if Snowden has divulged too much about U.S. intelligence activities – and that would be a serious offense – this is more than offset by his vital revelation of the government’s unconstitutional search of likely every American’s phone records in direct contravention of the 4th Amendment’s prohibition against general searches and searches without probable cause that a crime has been committed." Also, what was Snowden's motive? I will answer that his motive was to expose surveillance state crimes. But what was his original motive before he found out about the surveillance state crimes against the people? Some would argue that he was looking to reveal classified information and sell it and make money. I will argue that he intended to find evidence of NSA surveillance. He intended to stop the wonderful tool of technology from being used for technocracy, similar to Aaron Swartz. Snowden himself said, "I don't see myself as a hero, because what I'm doing is self-interested: I don't want to live in a world where there's no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity." He was looking for someone else to act, but saw no one standing up. So he decided to do so himself. Also, why did Snowden run away to other countries, particularly Russia? William Grigg answers that "he is hopscotching around the world to countries not ruled by governments that kill people by remote control, and are strong enough to prevent him from being seized and tortured by the only government that routinely commits crimes of that kind." Ryan McMaken noted that Snowden "is simply doing what states do all the time, which is to engage in realpolitik in pursuit of their own interests." However, the main difference between Snowden and the State is that the State uses it to suppress others, while Snowden uses it to protect himself. He understands that it would be better to be in China than in prison like Bradley Manning. He is indeed "the master of realpolitik." Also, at The Tenth Amendment Center, Joel Poindexter calls Edward Snowden a "nullifier."

UPATE (6/27/2013): Butler Shaffer at the LRC blog today compares Snowden to a slave named Joshua Glover, a slave who in 1854 ran away from the plantation to Wisconsin where he was arrested under the abominable Fugitive Slave Act. The slave was probably seen as a "security threat" for upholding liberty in a similar way that Snowden is seen today.

UPDATE (6/28/2013): John Cohen at the New York Times has written an excellent op-ed on the service of Snowden. Also, even when Snowden broke the "law," he merely broke an unjust law. Such laws are no laws, as Thomas Aquinas and the Founders of this country recognized. As the classical-liberal scholar F. A. Hayek asserted long ago in his three-volume magnus opus Law, Legislation and Liberty, law is different from legislation. This is very crucial. Also, Justin Raimondo reports on the smear brigade going after Glenn Greenwald.

UPDATE (7/01/2013): Justin Raimondo at explores the relevance of the Snowden as "hero or traitor" debate in a brilliant article entitled "Politics and Persona: Edward Snowden as Symbol." Particularly attention-grabbing was the attention Raimondo gave to the claim of Snowden as a narcissist. "Pundits left and right denounce the "traitor" Snowden as a "narcissist," yet people like David Brooks deliberately conflate narcissism with individualism, and "selfishness" with independence of mind. More to life than material comfort or career stability? No narcissist would ever say such a thing. A true narcissist is a moral nihilist for whom the existence of other people, let alone the principle enshrined by the Constitution, is irrelevant." Snowden is anything but the selfish man that pundits made him out to be; rather, as Glenn Greenwald notes in his speech at the Socialism 2013 conference by the International Socialist Organization (ISO), he was willing "to throw all that away and become an instant fugitive and somebody who would probably spend the rest of their life in a cage" and that he recognized "there’s no point in waiting for a leader, that leadership is about going first and setting and example for others."