Edward Joseph Snowden

Edward Snowden is a patriot.

Edward Joseph Snowden is a patriot.

Edward Joseph Snowden is a patriot.

The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is an American hero. Every American should wish we had many more people like him (including Bradley Manning and Julian Assange), not fewer. He is a genuine patriot. He has done far more to bring accountability to government than ANY current Republican Congressman or Senator who sticks his chest out and says he believes in “limited government” and “the Constitution.”

Of course, there are many who hold the exact opposite view, that he is a traitor and not a hero. Such people include conservative commentators (!), retired military officials, and a number of Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

Trying to understand their objections to the invaluable service Mr. Snowden provided our country, they just don’t make any sense.

Here, in no particular order, are the most pointed arguments his critics have leveled at him:

1. “He’s a high school dropout.” This is just ridiculous, and a blatant personal attack. And this is only said to distract the listener or reader from learning about what it is Snowden really did. If it is wrong to drop out of high school, why didn’t these guys criticize Princess Diana? What about Thomas Edison? Benjamin Franklin? Albert Einstein? All these people dropped out of high school too, and that had no long-term effect on their character now, did it?

2. “He has endangered national security.”

Keep in mind that “national security” is an ambiguous phrase that is nowhere to be found in the Declaration of Independence or our Constitution. It pretty much means whatever a fearmongering, warmongering politician (like Lindsey Graham or John McCain) wants it to mean. In other words, it is a term that can easily be used to manipulate people into giving up their freedom. For over a decade, the American people (probably one of the most gullible in the world) have happily traded their liberty for security. And to quote Benjamin Franklin (one of my favorite Founding Fathers): “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Personally, I would much rather die a free person from terrorists than live under a tyrannical, fascist government that knows my every move.

3. “He has broken the law. He violated his agreement/oath to keep this information secret.”

One must ask a question for the people who make this claim: What if a law is unjust? Were abolitionists wrong to hide slaves just because slavery was the law of the land in America in the 1800s? Was Oskar Schindler wrong to hide Jews just because Adolf Hitler said that to do so was wrong? Was Sophie Scholl wrong in exposing the horrors of the Nazi government with her fellow patriots in the White Rose non-violent resistance group? I do fear that many of the authoritarians calling for Snowden’s head (who essentially believe anything the government says no matter what it does) would support the Nazis and the pro-slavery politicians if they lived in a different time. Obey the powers that be, right guys?

Another question: What about Mr. Snowden’s oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America (specifically the Fourth Amendment, which states that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”)? Turns out Edward was just following this oath and did not forget it, unlike 99.99 % of the other people (it seems) who “take” the oath.

Oh, and the government violated ITS agreement (the Constitution) with the American people first! Why don’t Snowden’s critics stand up for the rule of law? Why is it his defenders who are doing so instead?

UPDATE: June 23, 2013

ACLU to Obama: “We are tired of living in a nation governed by fear”.

Under President Obama, the United States is “a nation governed by fear,” the American Civil Liberties Union says in an open letter that echoes the criticisms Obama has made of George W. Bush’s national security policies.

“We say as Americans that we are tired of seeing liberty sacrificed on the altar of security and having a handful of lawmakers decide what we should and should not know,” the ACLU writes in a statement circulated to grassroots supporters and addressed to Obama. “We are tired of living in a nation governed by fear instead of the principles of freedom and liberty that made this nation great.”

It’s strange to read in light of Obama’s disavowal of Bush. “Too often — our government made decisions based upon fear rather than foresight, and all too often trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions,” Obama said in 2009. “Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, we too often set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. And in this season of fear, too many of us — Democrats and Republicans; politicians, journalists and citizens — fell silent.”

The ACLU is circulating that statement in response to the Justice Department’s efforts to prosecute Edward Snowden, who leaked information about the National Security Agency’s data collection programs before fleeing to Hong Kong (and now, Russia).

“We stand opposed to any attempt to treat Edward Snowden as a traitor,” the ACLU writes. “Snowden is innocent until proven guilty before a court of law and he must be afforded all of his rights as an American citizen. If he is brought to an American court, he must be afforded every opportunity to defend himself and convince a judge that what he did was justifiable and patriotic, even if he is charged with violating laws that themselves pose a threat to our democracy.”

UPDATE: August 3, 2013

NSA leaker Edward Snowden has been granted one year asylum in Russia.

Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano said we “should be grateful” to Snowden for exposing the government’s “massive violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

Napolitano went on to say that “Snowden’s behavior is not always easy to defend,” and added that should the NSA leaker ever return to the U.S., his case would “absolutely” end up in the Supreme Court.

UPDATE: January 2, 2014

Edward Snowden Clemency: The New York Times, The Guardian Urge Obama To Help NSA Whistleblower. . .

The editorial boards of The New York Times and The Guardian published editorials on Wednesday (January 1, 2014), urging the Obama administration to treat Edward Snowden as a whistleblower and offer him some form of clemency.

Seven months ago, the former National Security Administration contractor stole as many as 1.7 million highly classified documents about the U.S. government’s surveillance program and released the information to the press. The files revealed how the NSA forced American technology companies to reveal customer information, often without individual warrants, and how data from global phone and Internet networks was secretly intercepted.

While the release of these documents forced Snowden to flee the U.S. and move to Russia, it also alerted the American public — and many U.S. allies — of the government’s intrusive, unethical and possibly unlawful spying efforts.

Beyond sparking public debate, Snowden’s actions have prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the NSA. The suit aims to force the U.S. government to disclose details of its electronic surveillance program and describe what protections it provides to Americans whose communications are swept up during the search for terrorist suspects, Reuters reported.

Eight major technology companies — including Google, Facebook and Twitter — have also joined forces to call for tighter controls on government surveillance.

In November, the White House rejected a clemency plea from Snowden, and told him to return to the U.S. to face trial.

UPDATE: March 2, 2015

DoD Releases “Evidence” of Snowden’s Damages to National Security… and It’s COMPLETELY Redacted.

Per a Freedom of Information Act Request lawsuit filed by Vice News, the Department of Defense has released a report on the damaging effects of Edward Snowden’s 2013 NSA leaks. The only problem? It’s redacted. Entirely. Not a crumb of evidence was present in the “evidence” the government released.

The “assessment” is made up of multiple reports collectively over 100 pages long and was released by the Defense Intelligence Agency, a wing of the Department of Defense. It was made by two dozen DIA analysts and is fully blocked out, save for several headings. For example:

  • “Assessment”
  • “Talking Points”
  • “Compromised Information”
  • “Background”
  • “Recommendations”

The redacted reports were constructed from September 2013 to April 2014. According to a declaration signed by the DIA’s FOIA office chair, Aleysia Williams, it was used by DOD “leadership” to “mitigate the harm caused to national security” by Snowden.

David Leatherwood, the DIA’s director of operations, said that to do this, secrecy must be employed (as usual). He alleged:

“To accomplish this goal, the reporting of the task force focuses entirely on identifying the magnitude of the harm. Much of that reporting, for very legitimate reasons, remains classified.”

Further, at a conference on Monday (February 23, 2015), NSA chief Mike Rogers claimed of the Snowden leaks:

“Anyone who thinks this has not had an impact… doesn’t know what they are talking about.”

Since Edward Snowden exposed the expansive spying practices of the federal government, authorities like Rogers have claimed that the former CIA and NSA analyst compromised national security. However, they are yet to provide a single instance of their claims. They have not even been able to prove that the NSA’s bulk data collection has an effect on terrorism whatsoever.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (of the same name as the NSA chair), who had the privilege of reading a different-and apparently less redacted-report last year, insisted,

“[That] report confirms my greatest fears — Snowden’s real acts of betrayal place America’s military men and women at greater risk… Snowden’s actions are likely to have lethal consequences for our troops in the field.”

Rather than focusing on what Snowden’s actions have allegedly done to “troops in the field,” it would be more productive to acknowledge other revelations: America is spying on world leaders, its military has murdered journalists and raped boys in front of their mothers, the CIA botched an attempt to give fake nuclear plans to Iran and later launched a cyber attack while the NSA hacked North Korea long before the Sony scandal. This is but a handful of the egregious crimes committed by the federal government. They have compromised national security and the safety of American troops exponentially more than Snowden’s revelations ever could. They create ill-will and terrorists through corrupt meddling and violence.

The government’s attempts to deflect the realities of its illegal spying are growing increasingly desperate and pathetic. Those at the DIA and DOD have no evidence to offer of their claims but stacks of blacked out pages and the tired talking point that they are “here to help.”

UPDATE: March 4, 2015

Snowden indicates he wants to come home.

NSA whisteblower Edward Snowden’s lawyer says that his client wants to come back to the United States as long as he can receive a fair trial.

Snowden has been in Russia since 2013, living under a three year residency permit after having been granted asylum.

It’s not clear what charges Snowden would face. He apparently won’t come back if he faces espionage charges.


“We’re certainly happy for him to return to the United States to face a court in the very serious charges” he faces, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Tuesday, March 3, 2015.

“So he absolutely can and should return to the United States to face the justice system that will be fair in its judgment of him,” she said. “But he is accused of very serious crimes and should return home to face them.”

Kucherena said Snowden has so far received a guarantee from Attorney General Eric Holder that he will not face the death penalty — but that Snowden also wants a guarantee of a “legal and impartial trial.”

Such a trial, Snowden’s legal advisers have said, would mean he wouldn’t face charges under the Espionage Act, a World War I-era law that was used to charge Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.

Snowden’s lawyer said he’s allowed to travel outside Russia now under a three-year Russian residency permit, but that he believes Snowden would be taken immediately to a U.S. embassy as soon as he leaves the country.

“With a group of lawyers from other countries, we are working on the question of his return to America,” Kucherena said.

The government just slapped former General David Petraeus on the wrist for leaking a couple of sensitive documents to his mistress. Does Snowden hope he will get similar treatment?

It’s hard to see how leaking thousands of NSA documents could be considered anything but espionage. Whether that was his intent or not, Snowden’s actions revealed secrets that the enemy could use to avoid detection. Even many Snowden defenders acknowledge this, but believe he should receive whistleblower protection because ot the importance of the programs he exposed.

The political climate has changed since 2013, with people being less upset about Snowden and angrier at the government for theiir illegal snooping. That may play into some kind of plea deal where Snowden would plead guilty to a lesser charge and perhaps avoid jail time altogether, or receive a minimum sentence.

Would he accept any jail time at all? Or would he take his chances in court? The best guess is that he won’t want to risk a long prison term and will accept a deal only if he can serve his time at a minimum security facility. Otherwise, he’ll stay put, hoping the political winds continue to blow in his favor.

UPDATE: June 2, 2015

Snowden awarded freedom of expression prize in Norway.

Oslo (AFP) – Former security contractor Edward Snowden won a Norwegian prize for freedom of expression Tuesday and received yet another invitation to leave his exile and receive the award in person.

The Norwegian Academy of Literature and Freedom of Expression said the 31-year old fugitive had won the Bjornson Prize — named after a Norwegian Nobel literature laureate — “for his work protecting privacy and for shining a critical light on US surveillance of its citizens and others.”

Snowden, a former analyst at the US National Security Agency, has lived in exile in Russia since 2013 after revealing mass spying programmes by the United States and its allies.

The US administration has branded him a hacker and a traitor who endangered lives by revealing the extent of the NSA spying program.

The academy requested assurances from the Norwegian government that Snowden would not be extradited to the US if he travelled to Norway to receive the 100,000 kroner ($12,700, 11,500 euros) prize money in person on September 5, 2015.

Norway’s justice ministry said it was up to immigration authorities, who indicated they would consider any entry request when and if they received one.

Snowden was awarded Sweden’s Right Livelihood Award in 2014 but chose to accept it by video link rather than leaving his exile in Russia.

He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the second year in a row. The Nobel will be awarded in Oslo on October 9, 2015.

UPDATE: June 23, 2015

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has adopted a resolution calling on member and observer states to improve the protection of whistleblowers. It also urged the US to let Edward Snowden return without fear of criminal prosecution.

The resolution adopted at the council’s meeting on Tuesday called for its member states and observer states to “create an appropriate normative, judicial and institutional framework for the protection of whistleblowers.”

It urged the states’ governments to “enact whistleblower protection laws also covering employees of national security or intelligence services and of private firms working in this field.”

PACE said that the states must also grant asylum to whistleblowers threatened by retaliation in their home countries “as far as possible under national law” if their “disclosures qualify for protection under the principles advocated by the Assembly.”

The 47-nation body upholding human rights and democracy also set up special “guidelines” for staff members on “reporting wrongdoing.”

“The Assembly stresses the importance of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, upholding the right to privacy, freedom of speech and the protection of whistle-blowers, including in the fields of national security and intelligence.”

In a separate paragraph, the resolution called on the US, a PACE observer state, to allow the the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden to “return without fear of criminal prosecution under conditions that would not allow him to raise the public interest defense.” Snowden faces up to 30 years in prison in the US on charges of espionage and theft of government property.

PACE stated that the US 1917 Espionage Act under which he has been charged, does not allow for any form of public interest defense.

Snowden spoke to council members on Tuesday via video-link from asylum in Moscow shortly after the resolution was voted on.

“We need to set an international standard of protection from retaliation which can be made greater by national governments, by institutions, by organizations,” he said.

He noted that the resolution would help whistleblowers around the world. “If you can’t mount a full and effective defense – make the case that you are revealing information in the public interest – you can’t have a fair trial,” he said.

The resolution backed up the May report made by PACE’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights’ rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt.

The issue of whistleblowers’ safety was raised following the disclosures made by Snowden in 2013 concerning mass surveillance and intrusions of privacy carried out by the NSA and other intelligence agencies. Public concern was also raised following charges brought against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who found asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in the UK. He has been residing there for three years, fearing extradition to the United States where he could face espionage charges.

UPDATE: October 5, 2015

Edward Snowden Says He’d Go to Prison to Come Home

Speaking to the BBC, the NSA whistleblower said his lawyers were still awaiting a plea deal from the U.S. government.

Edward Snowden isn’t the spy who came in from the cold, but he might be edging slowly toward the warmth.

In an interview with the BBC, the beloved and reviled whistleblower said he’d presented concessions to the U.S. government in an attempt to return to his home country from Russia. “I’ve volunteered to go to prison with the government many times,” Snowden said, according to The Guardian. (The BBC program is not viewable in the U.S.) What I won’t do is I won’t serve as a deterrent to people trying to do the right thing in difficult situations.”

But his overtures haven’t been met with any concrete plea offers: “We are still waiting for them to call us back.”

Former NSA boss Michael Hayden gave the BBC a typically hardline answer, saying, “If you’re asking me my opinion, he’s going to die in Moscow. He’s not coming home.” But there are signs both sides have softened a bit. Shortly after leaving office, former Attorney General Eric Holder told Michael Isikoff that Snowden had sparked an important discussion about surveillance. Holder seemed to signal the Justice Department might be thinking about some sort of plea deal for Snowden: “I certainly think there could be a basis for a resolution that everybody could ultimately be satisfied with. I think the possibility exists.” However, Holder’s successor Loretta Lynch said the U.S. government hadn’t altered its position.

The position Snowden laid out to the BBC would appear to represent a softer view, too. After Holder’s comments in July, Snowden’s lawyer Ben Wizner applauded Holder for his openness, but rejected even his hypothetical ideas. Wizner said Snowden wouldn’t accept any deal that involved a felony plea and prison time. “Our position is he should not be reporting to prison as a felon and losing his civil rights as a result of his act of conscience,” he said.

In March 2015, former General David Petraeus struck a plea deal with prosecutors in a leak case, derided by many observers as evidence of a double-standard for different kinds of leakers. At the time, another of Snowden’s lawyers, Jesselyn Radack, said her client would accept a similar deal.

The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Snowden’s remarks. While it’s hard to parse these lawyerly statements and bluffs, one could easily read the last few months as having brought the two sides closer together on a possible arrangement. But closer and close enough are not the same thing.

UPDATE: October 29, 2015

European Union tells countries to protect Snowden as human rights defender.

The European Parliament on Thursday (October 29. 2015) voted to encourage its member countries not to extradite Edward Snowden to the U.S., in a decision that the government leaker called a “game-changer.”

The nonbinding resolution, narrowly approved in a 285-281 vote, acts as a symbolic blow to the Obama administration’s calls for Snowden to be returned to the U.S. and face criminal charges that could land him in jail for years.

The resolution calls for the European Union’s 28 member states to “drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden, grant him protection and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties, in recognition of his status as whistle-blower and international human rights defender.”

Snowden has spent the last two years holed up in Russia, on the run from U.S. espionage charges filed against him following his theft of vast amounts of secret government documents.

Though he has repeatedly expressed a desire to come back to the U.S., he has refused to do so unless granted a fair trial. Advocates of Snowden say the charges against him make it likely that he would be prevented from fairly giving his side of the story in court, should he return.

In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the U.S.’s position “hasn’t changed a bit.”

“He needs to come back to the United States and face the due process and the judicial process here in the United States,” Kirby said. “That’s been our position from the beginning.

“It’s our belief that the man put U.S. national security in great danger and he needs to be held to account for that.”

Earlier Thursday, a federal appeals court refused to immediately shut down a National Security Agency surveillance program revealed by Snowden in 2013, since it is already due to be wound down later this year.