Snowden, a former U.S. Intelligence analyst, spilled the beans to the UK newspaper The Guardian, on how the US National Security Agency monitors electronic communications all over the world in its efforts to thwart terrorism. In a recent interview, Snowden explained his motives.
Over here in London, the government has been quick to say to anyone with a microphone that civil liberties of people living int he UK were not violated, and "appropriate safeguards" were in place at all times. Uh... okay. They of course can't say what those safeguards actaully are, because that's... you know... secret n' stuff.
Meanwhile back in the United States, the same folks who were all for spying on pretty much everyone in the name of "homeland security" back during the Bush Administration are now, ( wait for it....) "shocked and deeply concerned" over what the government has been doing!
I'll be honest, I have always just assumed that in a post 9-11 world, the government was monitoring everybody, and using PRISM, or whatever the system is called to search for keywords, I.P. addresses and suspicious activity between people with known or possible links to terror groups. And I realize I am going to horrify my libertarian friends when I say... I am pretty much okay with that... I know many of you right now are screaming the Ben Franklin quote about liberty and safety at your computer screens and wondering why I am not more worried about this intrusion on our right to privacy.
Let's be clear, I never said I wasn't worried about it, I never said I liked it. I am saying I have accepted it as a necessary evil. And yes, there needs to be clear and full congressional oversight of these programs to ensure the needed safeguards for civil liberties. I would remind folks that it was the Bush Administration's lack of interest in intercepted "chatter" that was at least partly responsible for America being caught unaware and unprepared for the attacks of September 2001.
Which is why, even though I may not be joining the call to storm the NSA with pitchforks and torches. Yet at the same time, I also am not ready to agree with those who say Edward Snowden, and the American Journalist Genn Greenwald, (who broke his story), are traitors. Clearly Snowden, (rightly or wrongly) felt that there were not adequate safeguards or oversight structures in place at the NSA to protect the civil liberties of all the people who's emails, phone calls, and web usage is being monitored.
It is very easy to side with the argument that "if you have nothing to hide, this shouldn't bother you..." and there is a certain logic to that, yet the flip side of that argument is the issue of privacy. Don't we all have the right NOT to have our lives examined by total strangers? I'll say what bothers me the most in that interview with Snowden, is the revelation that wasn't the Government was possibly reading my email, but rather Booz Allen Hamilton, a private corporation that was doing all this, as a Government contractor.
Am I saying I trust the Government more than I trust a private company? Yeah, pretty much. The Tea Party may think government is the problem, but the sheer lack of accountability Snowden describes is pretty unsettling.
So what about the question of Patriotism here? Are Snowden and Greenwald traitors? Well, motives aside, Snowden is a criminal. He broke the law. And Glenn Greenwald, aided and abetted that criminal activity We can, and many will, argue the nobility of their reasons, and even argue over the right or wrong nature of the laws they broke, but the fact remains, they did break the law. The real question is; have they put the country, or any person, other than themselves in danger because of their actions? If you listen to voices on the poltical right in the United States, you would certainly think so.
Fox News certainly has it's own ideological tint on all this, but it raises the question, are Snowden and Greenwald heroes who have struck a blow for all of our civil liberties, or are they traitors who have but the lives of Americans and National Security at risk. You can make a very convincing case for both. Yet it is worth noting, Fox News had no problem with the outing of CIA Agent Valerie Plame Wilson, by the Bush Administration, and never once asked if Scooter Libby and his boss, Vice President Dick Cheney should be charged with Treason.
An interesting side story to all this, is the background of the Journalist who broke the story. Glenn Greenwald . He is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian Newspaper . A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon. He is the author two recent books, highly critical of the use of executive power and the Patriot Act, by the Bush Administration.
Another interesting fact about Greenwald, who is Gay, is he also is living in DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) Exile. He was forced to move to Brazil because his relationship with his Brazilian partner is not recognized by the U.S. Federal Government for immigration purposes. Greenwald and his partner were recently profiled by OUT Magazine where they told their story..
"Brazil recognizes our relationship for immigration purposes, while the government of my supposedly 'free,' liberty-loving country enacted a law explicitly barring such recognition," says Greenwald, referring to the Defense of Marriage Act with the disdain he typically shows for policies he believes are eroding Americans' freedoms. Greenwald's attacks on the powerful make him a tempting target for reprisals. So it's no surprise that, soon after he started blogging, critics sometimes tried to out him in a game of "gotcha." But what upset Greenwald was the implication that he had been closeted in the first place. "There was nothing to out," he says. "I've been as out as I can be since I was 20."
CNN's Christiane Amanpour also featured Greenwald on her program
A Canadian friend of mine here in London asked me an interesting question yesterday; Did I think that having to live as a DOMA Exile may have colored Greenwald's attitudes towards the U.S. Government, in a way where he maybe didn't look as critically at the impact of breaking this story, as he might have otherwise? In other words did I think Greenwald might have taken some personal satisfaction in punishing the Government that currently is treating him as 2nd class citizen, and his partner as non-existent? I don't have access to Greenwald's though process so I can't answer that. However, I will be honest enough to say it's possible.
Like most Americans, I want the U.S. Government to do what is necessary to keep people safe and to thwart potential threats. These recent revelations give the American People a chance to examine and perhaps more clearly define what "doing what is necessary" actually entails. In the meantime, both Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald may well be thinking of another famous quote from Benjamin Franklin...