There’s a fine line between whistleblower and ‘Benedict Arnold’
Uncomfortable truth of the day: history is written by the winners. Think about it for a minute – we’re talking about the difference between how we view the Founding Fathers and how we see the Rebels of the Confederacy.
More on this in a minute.
I mentioned over the weekend that most Americans seem to be losing an appropriate sense of the proper role of government in a federal republic, and last week discussed some thoughts about the freedom of the press and its importance in said republic. Both notions remain top of mind as I’ve been reading more and more about the current scandal involving former NSA/CIA contractor Edward Snowden – a man who, depending on who you ask, is either a patriot or a modern-day Aldrich Ames.
So here’s the thing – which is it? To hear left-leaning pundits like Jeffrey Toobin tell it, Snowden is dangerous and should be in prison as a traitor to his country.
What makes leak cases difficult is that some leaking—some interaction between reporters and sources who have access to classified information—is normal, even indispensable, in a society with a free press. It’s not easy to draw the line between those kinds of healthy encounters and the wholesale, reckless dumping of classified information by the likes of Snowden or Bradley Manning. Indeed, Snowden was so irresponsible in what he gave the Guardian and the Post that even these institutions thought some of it should not be disseminated to the public. The Post decided to publish only four of the forty-one slides that Snowden provided. Its exercise of judgment suggests the absence of Snowden’s.
Snowden, by the way, fled to Hong Kong under the presumption that he probably is in some deep water, at least with the current administration. I’m not sure a territory controlled by the Chinese would have been my first choice for a safe haven, given their track record with political dissidents, but it’s not surprising that a 29-year-old whistleblower/possible-traitor-to-his-country would seek asylum elsewhere.
Other writers are likewise lining up to discredit Snowden: take for example this piece from the Politico that points out that Snowden was discharged from the Army within months of enlisting (he alleges he broke both legs in a special forces training accident), and that he has neither a college nor even a high school diploma, despite having an insanely high security clearance.
How trustworthy can you be if you only made it in the Army for five months and you don’t have a high school diploma anyway? </sarcasm>
Expect this sort of public prosecution to continue, because while the legality of Snowden’s actions is obviously debatable, the importance of his revelations are not. The United States government is tracking and cataloging quite likely every single phone call or email you send and receive, and you didn’t know it.
And here’s the obvious truth – some version of this happened long before Barack Obama took office, so this isn’t necessary a partisan thing. Folks have been complaining about the Patriot Act, for example, from the get-go. Furthermore, President George W. Bush was pilloried by the mainstream press and liberal punditry (do I repeat myself? kidding, kidding) for the whole “warrentless wiretapping” debacle.
So why is this such a big deal now? Perhaps because taken within the context of the reality that IRS employees were targeting Americans because of their political beliefs, such blatant and blanket tracking of citizens’ communications is quite a scary thing. I might believe the President Obama himself wouldn’t authorize the NSA to create a database of his political critics and then use the IRS to target them, but the fact that he apparently didn’t know about the IRS’ bad behavior tells me that there are enough unsavory characters in Washington to trust with this level of potentially abuse-able power.
Take all of that into consideration when you read stories that the Department of Homeland Security is working to purchase 1.1 billion rounds of ammunition, and you start to wonder exactly what is going on in Washington these days.
Lest you think I’m a partisan hack just trying to blame anything and everything on the President, understand that I might not have said anything about any one of these stories. In aggregate, however, the crazy conspiracy theorists out there seem just a little less crazy every day.
So is Snowden a hero or a villain? I’m not sure I have the answer. But I do know this: if the President is vindicated and the story is written by his fans, Snowden will forever be an embarrassment to his people. If, however, the American people stand up for themselves and tell Congress and the White House that such blatant intrusions in to the private lives of the populace are unacceptable, then that’s a horse of a different color altogether.