“If his motives are as he has represented them-–“I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant,” he wrote in a note accompanying his first set of leaked documents—-then he acted courageously and selflessly.”
—- Ethics Alarms, June 10, 2013, referring to the conduct and statements of Edward Snowden, NSA “whistleblower.”
Now we know that his motives are not as he represented them. From his statement that I quoted, I assumed that Snowden’s intent was to make himself available to U.S. authorities, and to prompt debate regarding the government’s widespread intrusions into the private communications of presumed-to-be-innocent citizens, as well as to ensure that the issue did not get drowned out, superseded and swept aside by distractions, as so many vital issues are. This was an indispensable second step, though I did not begrudge him some time to prepare for it. It would be the action of a one engaged in classic civil disobedience; it would demonstrate sincerity, public-mindedness and courage, and it would avoid his exploitation by the many around the world, and domestically, who wish the U.S. ill.
Instead, Snowden decided to run. Running always plays into the hands of one’s enemies—anyone whose ever seen a Tom Cruise movie knows that. The guilty run. Cowards run. Would-be do-gooders run who lose their nerve run; bad guys run. Julian Assange, Roman Polanski and Marc Rich ran. When you run, you make those you are opposed to look better. Cognitive dissonance then works swiftly: “Hmmm. maybe all those people saying he’s a traitor are right.”
Maybe. Snowden did worse than just run, he ran to the enemies of the U.S., first China, then Russia. He seeks help from nations whose record of abusing citizen’s rights is infinitely worse than that of the U.S.? What public minded hero would do that? Then he hooks up with Assange, a non-American and an anti-American. When it comes to heroes, we judge them by the company we keep.
Meanwhile, the saga of his escape has thoroughly over-whelmed the reason for it in the press. Americans love stories, not issues: the average low-information voter who determines our elections and what our deceitful and incompetent leaders can get away with can’t stay awake during debates over the minutia and technical details of how PRISM works, or discourses on the difference between gathering metadata from phone records and the conversations themselves. Their eyes glaze over; they are only paying half-attention at best. This is why, when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issues an “apology” to Congress for a bald-faced lie he expected to get away with (He didn’t expect Edward Snowden to blow his cover), spinning a manifestly unbelievable excuse that he got mixed up about which NSA program was being discussed—remember that this comes in July, and the answer in question was in March—the majority of your friends and neighbors say, “Oh, well, that’s OK then.”
It is not OK, of course. It is cynical and offensive that Clapper even tries such a gambit, frightening that so many high administrations officials, in the IRS, the Justice Department, the State Department and elsewhere (don’t forget liar-in-chief Jay Carney), routinely lie to Congress and the public and get away with it, and infuriating that the President doesn’t demand Clapper’s resignation. (But that’s management, and President Obama doesn’t do management, as we’ve learned.) A good story, however, like George Zimmerman’s trial, or Paula Deen’s travails, or any number of other juicy media tales with no genuine significance at all, rivets the attention of these part-time citizens as much as they can be riveted. So, thanks to Snowden, the NSA’s activities are a footnote. What’s going to happen to this computer hacker trapped in a Russian airport?
We have learned other reasons why Snowden isn’t a hero. For example, it appears that he plotted to gather the classified data and release it before he got the job with Booz Allen. He wasn’t a whistle-blower who stumbled on a secret that had to be told and the public had a right to know; he was working undercover, determined to steal government secrets from the start.
In short, I was wrong about Edward Snowden. That doesn’t make his revelations any less important, nor does it in any way minimize the degree to which the public trust has been abused by the Obama administration. It does mean that nobody should shed any tears for him when he’s finally caught and imprisoned.
Graphic: Classic Flix