Today Edward Snowden, a former computer analyst for the CIA recently employed at the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, voluntarily revealed his identity as the source of The Guardian and The Washington Post‘s massive scoops about the NSA’s PRISM program, as well as its system of logging the metadata from every single call made from Verizon phones (and Sprint and AT&T, turns out).
Snowden fled to Hong Kong on May 30, and was interviewed there on June 6 by Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald. In the interview he is amazingly well-spoken about the principles surrounding his decision to leak top-secret documents.Until late last month, the 29-year-old seems to have had a comfy life in Hawaii with a girlfriend and a $200,000 a year job with Booz Allen. But the reported Ron Paul supporter who voted for “a third party candidate” in 2008, wasn’t interested in keeping that level of coziness while possessing information that he believed the public has a right to know.
“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under,” Snowden told Greenwald.
Snowden also seems eerily resigned to the likely consequences of his actions — namely that he may never see his home country again, and that government officials may come for him at any time.
So far the official response to this revelation has been limited. The White House didn’t comment. The NSA and Booz Allen were predictably outraged. Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.) suggests that we prosecute Snowden “to the fullest extent of the law.” King, chairman of the Homeland Security subcommittee on Counterintelligence and Terrorism, also said that no other countries should grant Snowden asylum. Predictable hawks such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have yet to comment, but the up-coming work week will no doubt bring about a smorgasbord of outrage.
Meanwhile, whistleblower Pfc. Bradley Manning continues his trial for 22 charges, including violation of the Espionage Act, with the potentially life sentence-bringing crime of “aiding the enemy.” Though Manning has garnered heartening amounts of support support for his actions, initially it seems that Snowden could be a more compelling case for whistleblowing as heroism. Manning messed with the military, and was a member of (and therefore a “traitor” to) the armed forces. He dumped massive amounts of documents in what some claim was a less-than-careful manner, and he shared them with Wikileaks and Julian Assange. Contrast this with Snowden who claims to have combed through and made sure only to release things that were in the public interest, and who shared documents with reputable newspapers. (Though even officials have admitted that they can’t point to anyone in particular that Manning endangered with his releases, only a vague worry that he could have.)
Though the NSA and the CIA can be looked at as fighters in the war on terror (thereby counting as protectors of Americans), they don’t have the same cultural clout as do soldiers. There are no bumper stickers demanding that we all support NSA agents, no ribbons for them.. There’s that, and the unfortunate truth that most Americans care more about an injury to them (in the form of domestic spying) than they do about the ugly face of a war that their government started. Hell, it’s hard enough to get Americans to care about the surveillance state, getting them to object to war — especially when a soldier “betrays” his fellows is even harder. Manning is not the perfect everyman for this cause of transparency and antiwar activism (his tiny stature, his emotional difficulties even before his grim treatment in prison, and his sexual orientation unfortunately don’t help, either).
By all means, if people on the fence before re Manning decide that Snowden is speaking the truth, that’s great. Any catalyst for people joining in and saying enough is enough is a great thing. But if Snowden becomes (and it’s very early yet, this is a lot of speculation) a better face for the noble art of whistleblowing, that doesn’t mean that Manning should be forgotten. Manning may have been impulsive and even reckless, but he acted in good faith, same as Snowden seems to have done.
Both men are heroes. They both risked their lives and their freedom to cast light into the nastiest, darkest corners of the powerful. And they’re both in serious trouble.
Please check out the full Greenwald/Guardian interview with Snowden, keep watching the Bradley Manning trial, and on Monday, when the usual suspects start howling about national security, don’t believe them.
And if you ever find yourself in possession of classified documents that show something wrong, leak them. Be like Manning and Snowden, and leak them.