WAMC Dec. 26, 2013
I must admit it, when I first heard about Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations. I was not very sympathetic. His exposé of the National Security Agencies spying initially struck me as a copy-cat like effort inspired by wiki-leaks and it’s infamous prolific leaking of state department documents, private correspondence between officials of the American government that had significantly angered me.
Indeed, as I saw it wiki-leaks had made it even harder for the United States government to function successfully in the world that despite everything still needs effective American leadership, a breach of confidentially that I remain convinced should be punished to the full extent of the law. And then Snowden’s hasty flight from America, a flight that seemed to link his act not to our constitutional freedoms but to America’s international competitors from Beijing to Moscow hardly struck me as heroic.
No, as I initially saw it Snowden’s behavior seemed very different from one of my earlier heroes, Daniel Ellsberg, who a generation ago released the infamous Pentagon’s Paper, that secret history of how America had ever so stupidly trapped itself in Vietnam. Then of course Ellsberg hung around, to face the consequences.
No, my first reaction to Snowden revelations was that America needed the National Security Administration to be monitoring international communications least another nine eleven be sprung upon us, while Snowden himself should be jailed, the key thrown away.
But the more I reflect on his acts the less sure I am that my initial reaction was correct because, with each passing day it has become more and more clear that Snowden act was less wiki-leaks and more like Ellsberg’s decision to leak the Pentagon Papers. Because today’s Americans needed to know that the National Security Agency has gotten out of control.
In fact, just as America needed to know how we got into the Vietnam war we needed to know that the National Security Agency has, as we have all learned over the last few months, not merely been working to keep us safe from terrorism. But has more distressingly been counter productively undermining America’s core national security, our national security from unwarranted search all the while undermining our economic security by making our international corporations and their products more suspect to potential customers.
Moreover, as we have all learned the NSA has weakened our relationship with some of our closest allies by spying on their leaders.
No, I am beginning to think Edward Snowden was right and as someone old enough to be Snowden’s father I find my anger now directed more at Snowden’s superiors, those who put such a young man, one no doubt still full of the Idealism of youth in a position where he felt it necessary to sacrifice his own future to defend everyone’s else constitutional rights. And on his subsequent flight? Well, expecting the much younger Snowden to act like someone Daniel Elsberg’s age and experience seems a bit far fetched. No, while I am still convinced that Snowden’s act was wrong, still believe that punishment is deserved perhaps his punishment might better be more widely distributed.
We could for example, take some time off of Snowden’s punishment for leaking classified material and award it to the former Bush Administration with its Reaganesk obsession with privatizing government, its feverish employing of private contractors for work that more fully committed long term civil servants and military personal should have been handling.
And how about transferring a few more years of Snowden’s potential sentence to those computer data base idiots that allowed so much access to a single low level individual, and how about assigning some of the blame to the American government Itself, those many administrations that have since the darkest days of Vietnam through Bill Clinton’s disgraceful behavior in the White House not forgetting the fiasco of Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction to undermine the faith of the American people in their government.
No, quite frankly I think it is time for Snowden to come home, yes, come home to an America that needs to both punish him and offer its gratitude for the personal sacrifice he made to help defend all our freedoms.