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I have a very good article for you to read about the critically important revelations that have come from the leaks of the American traitor Edward Snowden. It’s here: “11 Shocking Things Snowden Has Taught Us (So Far)“ and it’s subtitled “Falling behind on the increasingly byzantine NSA scandal? We’ve got you covered.“
(You may notice some tension between the first and second halves of that first sentence.)
I’m totally willing to throw Edward Snowden — whom I’ve come to think of as “Eddard” Snowden — to the wolves. Jail him, execute him — whatever you want, whatever befits someone who has betrayed the secrets of the country for whom the company that hired him worked — except could we please follow our own law this time and not torture him first? That would be nice.
Take your medicine, Eddard, just like your namesake in Game of Thrones did for doing what he reasonably believed was just.
What I care about is not what happens to Snowden himself. Letting the people who want to execute him do so removes him from the story — which is only right, because as he himself knows he is not the story.
I just have a couple of conditions.
(1) Hero’s burial. He should be buried in a tomb to be erected on the National Mall itself — let’s call it the Traitor’s Tomb. Into it will go the bones of all of the whistleblowers who break federal law while divulging information that they swore to keep secret so as to serve the national good. (There’s precedent for someone first being treated as a villain and then as a saint: consider Joan of Arc, burned at the stake by a Bishop of the Catholic Church at the age of 19 in 1431 and then canonized by the Catholic Church in 1920.) I recognize that there has to be a penalty — barring a Presidential pardon or other clemency– for people who break the law, something that many in the Bush Administration never seemed to get. (And that’s a big reason why we have this NSA scandal itself.) So build the tomb — hell, let Snowden help design the tomb, for all I care, as well as the exhibit therein discussing his case — and bury him there for his crimes.
(2) Justice for Snowden should await justice for those he exposed. We’re going to find that some of what Snowden exposed was legal. That in itself is a scandal, but if it’s legal then it’s legal — you can’t punish people. You can investigate them, expose them further, discredit them, make them out to be villains, pass civil laws that prevent anyone who did what they did (themselves included) from ever again having access to power again, expose them to civil liability for their actions wherever possible — but you can’t jail them. So the rest will have to do. Then, once every damn malefactor has faced justice, then we get to kill Snowden for betraying his solemn responsibility to keep the nation’s secrets.
I recognize that execution may strike some people as harsh. I recognize that execution — delayed, perhaps until old age and combined with a hero’s burial — may strike everyone as contradictory. But it’s no more contradictory than the advice of Jesus of Nazareth to “render unto Caeser what is Caeser’s and render unto God what is God’s.” (Atheists can probably substitute “humanity” without losing much of the meaning.) Snowden broke the laws of Humans — betraying his pledge — and we need deterrence from others doing the same with less (or even bad) justification. Nevertheless, in serving God’s law — pursuit of justice — he may still be a hero and deserve the secular equivalent of sainthood.
Let’s face a hard truth: it is not uncommon in our society to expect people to die for doing the right thing. We say that death is the worst thing in the world, but we don’t act like it. (Thousands of our troops killed over the past dozen years and hundreds of thousands of people we’ve killed — probably millions that we’ve let die — can attest to that.)
We celebrate, we venerate, people who die for doing the right thing. Firefighters who head directly into danger even when it means almost certain death: heroes. Those police who don’t shoot first and ask questions later — who save lives we never even hear about — occasionally dying themselves as a result because sometimes that following the law can lead to their own death: heroes. The soldiers who disarm bombs or walk point in a platoon and end up dead: heroes. Those teachers who could have hidden or run away but stayed with their schoolchildren under armed attack to try to protect them: heroes.
The captain who stays with the sinking ship, the pilot who doesn’t eject over a populated area, the miners who risk their lives to bring us what we treasure, the doctors and nurses who treat those with communicable diseases: heroes. The politician or civil rights leader who puts their life in jeopardy despite death threats, the judge or prosecutor who takes on the worst criminal groups, the juror or witness who helps convict them rather than taking the easy way out, the lawyer that takes on the corrupt organization, the journalist who enters the danger zone or publishes the critical story — if and when they die as a result of doing the right thing, they are heroes, heroes, heroes, heroes.
We demand heroism in our society. In many cases — most obviously the military draft that I missed by only a few years — we require it by law or by professional code. So let’s face the fact: whistleblowing is a dangerous business, more dangerous than many of the actions listed above. If you blow the whistle because you think it will profit you, you’re probably wrong. Chances are that you will suffer for it. But like many of the other examples above, you do it because it is heroic. You are rendering unto God what is God’s. You’re doing it because it is right. You’re doing it because society depends on people like you doing it, even if you no more chose that path than the bystander witness to a brutal murder chose the burden of being a witness. You do it because it’s necessary.
And sometimes, that has to be enough. If society says that you must be punished for it, or that it will allow others to suffer for it, that’s on society’s head. If you believe in morality, you must also believe in moral obligation — sometimes regardless of consequences.
So is Snowden a hero — or a traitor? He’s both! And, again — he’s also not the story. The willingness to see him punished and even put to death, if that’s what society demands, should make him no longer the story. You want blood? OK, he’s got a few quarts of that. So let’s put that aside for now.
What is the story? This is the story. That link also contains information on the consequences so far of the acts addressed below.
It comes in the form of a list — and it’s already out of date, so I’ll add a twelfth item to it. I’m just going to list the items and the dates of the revelation; click the link for the rest. These are things that you ought to know — and, in my view, ought to appreciate knowing — as part of your duties as a citizen.
- June 6: NSA collected caller metadata from Verizon (and others) as authorized by the USA PATRIOT Act. (This, as I’ve commented previous, was old news — but most people didn’t know it.)
- June 6: Through the PRISM program, NSA can access live information, photos, video chats and data from social networks directly through the companies’ servers without required consent or individual court orders.
- June 8: Through the “Boundless Informant” program, NSA can compile and track “metadata” collected from around the world — including 100 billion pieces of information from this past March alone, about 3% of which was collected in the U.S.
- June 12:The U.S. is hacking China. You hear a lot about how China is stealing the trade secrets of U.S. companies (and multinationals — it doesn’t seem to make much difference to our government), but you hear less about laws we break re China. One, of course, can be used to excuse the other.
- June 16:Great Britain hacked officials from other countries who attended a G20 summit there in 2009. This includes our allies in Turkey and South Africa, as well as countries whose international behavior we like to condemn, such as Russia.
- June 20: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (all members of which are appointed by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts) upheld the NSA’s ability to keep (and make use of) information inadvertently gathered on US citizens for a period of up to five years — without a warrant — but only if the information is deemed to be relevant in preventing national security threats or to aid further investigations. Two documents.
- June 21: Direct “wiretap-level” access to information traveling over 200 underseas fiber-optic cables. This is a program of the British government, but they began sharing the contents of the GCHQ databases with us in 2011. Now 850,000 NSA employees and US private contractors with top secret clearance — until recently including Edward Snowden — had potential access to the over 21 petabytes (1024 gigabytes) of data produced each day.
- June 23: NSA targets China’s largest research hub and a major telecommunications provider. Read the link to the overall story for details. Chances are that, like Nixon’s “secret bombings of Cambodia” that were not (obviously) a secret to Cambodia, China has already known about this sort of thing. What Snowden did was reveal it to us — the people paying for it.
- June 25:Snowden has a fail-safe “Dead Man’s switch” that will release more information if anything bad happens to him. This was announced by Glenn Greenwald, the former American blogger — self-exiled in South American for years to live with the husband that he could not bring into the U.S. until last month’s overturning of DOMA — who now writes for Britain’s The Guardian. I’ll tell you what before you even asked: if Greenwald committed treason, which as a careful lawyer I don’t think he did, you can kill him too. Same terms as with Snowden.
- June 29:NSA revealed to be engaged in electronic surveillance of Europe — including NATO Headquarters. This includes European buildings, officials, and private citizens. They are now unhappy at us.
- July 1:At least 38 foreign embassies were hacked as of 2007. I sort of thought that we knew that already, but if Snowden has to hang for it, so be it. And I’m going to add:
- July 9:Former FISC Court Judge says that the secret court is currently unaccountable and is in need of reform. Let’s look at this one in greater detail.
Retired Judge James Robertson[, who served for three years on the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), has] said the structure of the FISC as a court that hears only from one side — the government — is no longer suitable to the kinds of programs the court is charged with approving. “The process needs an adversary,” Robertson said, speaking at a workshop hosted by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in Washington, D.C.
Robertson, who was appointed to the District Court for the District of Columbia by President Clinton, offered insight into why he served on the secret court and why he abruptly left three years later in 2005. “I asked to be appointed to the FISA court, frankly, to see what it was up to,” Robertson said during his opening remarks to the board. … I resigned because the Bush administration was bypassing the FISA court. It’s as simple as that.”
During his tenure on the court, Robertson said he was “deeply impressed” by the court’s scrupulous work evaluating surveillance orders from the government. “The FISA court was not a rubber stamp,” he said. “The point about how many warrants get approved did not take into account how many were sent back for more work before they were approved.”
However, Robertson said that this careful work is no longer sufficient because the scope of what FISC judges do has changed since his tenure. “Under the FISA Amendments Act [of 2008], the court now approves programmatic surveillance,” Robertson said, arguing that this development necessitates a system where a judge can decide between two sides. “Judges don’t make policy,” he said, but the 2008 act turned the FISA court into something like an administrative agency “which makes and approves rules for others to follow.”
Now, Snowden didn’t release that story, obviously. But would Judge Robertson have said this publicly — and would the media have followed up on it as it has rather than overlooking it, and would it have the same potential capacity to affect national policy — were it not for Snowden’s revelations? I tend to doubt it.
Now, was the release of all of this information worth dying over? We ask people to die for much less. Was it worth killing someone over? Theoretically, yes — but we can answer that question, as more information dribbles out and has its effects — in the fullness of time.