Edward Snowden had a well-paying job as an intelligence analyst with a high security clearance. Although already depicted by some conservative politicians as a "technician", he was in fact an analyst who had been a former senior adviser to the CIA. Edward Snowden and intelligence analyst living in Hawaii, which is to say he was living in paradise. In effect, he sacrificed a large salary and a pleasant lifestyle to inform the American people how their privacy rights had been invaded and abused by both Congress and the Administration. Will the result be worth the sacrifice?
The argument set forth in the media that giving up privacy is essential to combating terrorism is specious. After a potential terrorist is identified abroad, government authorities could go before a judge to secure a search warrant. The massive collection of data on all American citizens is not essential to anti terrorism work and is simply an abuse of privacy perpetrated upon the American people.
We have been exposed to the rhetoric of politicians and government officials claiming that he had sinister motives. However, such assertions may be readily discredited. He had access to thee rosters of everyone working in the CIA and elsewhere at home and abroad. Snowden could have sold that information for a great deal of money to the Russians and other governments. He did not do so. Snowden had such high level authorization that not only could he have intercepted your e-mails and phone calls, he could have done so to the President. Moreover, if he had wanted to shut down the entire secret system of spying on the American people, he said he could have done that in one afternoon. Referring to him as merely a "technician" is a falsehood and designed to diminish his status.
In the 12 minute interview that he gave that was presented on CNN (to their credit I might add), he made the fundamental argument that the public should have the right to say whether the government should have access to their e-mail accounts, phone records, and Internet usage. He also indicated that he was unwilling to live "un-freely" such a society. Snowden said that he recognizes that he could be extradited and charged with criminal penalties, hunted down by the CIA or its third-party operatives in other nations; he is prepared to sacrifice himself for the common good. What is his greatest fear? It is that the American people will stand by and do nothing about the revelations.
Unfortunately, Edward Snowden has every right to fear that the American people will fail to react. There is a long history of American political disengagement. Evidence of this was pointed out in Robert Putnam's sociological work "Bowling Alone", in which he cited that Americans under 40 were only 50% as likely to write a member of Congress, write a letter to the editor, or attend a public meeting.
A brief comparison may be helpful here in understanding the high level of political disengagement by Americans. When the Spanish government agreed to support the Iraq war, an estimated 16 million Spaniards took to the streets in cities throughout the nation. For a similar protest in the United States, we would need to see more then 70 million Americans publicly protesting. Such political engagement by a sizable percentage of American society has never taken place.
One other issue needs to be considered. The law banning the leak of classified information necessarily renders government workers and contractors accessories to unreasonable or criminal activities without any recourse but to break the law. Consider that any government analyst who knows of wrongdoing must remain silent and permit the wrongdoing to continue, thereby arguably becoming an accessory to such actions. How can such a law be in the best interest of American society? Some modification of the law is needed.
It took a great deal of courage to do what Edward Snowden did. If Americans fail to have privacy rights be restored and government agents must present probable cause to a court to obtain a search warrant before searching Internet and telephone records of American citizens, then his sacrifice will have achieved nothing at home. However, a horse named "exposed" has left the barn and is romping freely in the field of international inquiry. He has effectively diminished the image of President Obama as a leader with a measure of integrity that exceeded his predecessor.
Much of the world now shares a different opinion, particularly after the unjustified and outrageous pressure to block the flight o f the plane carrying Bolivian President Eva Morales. It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that surveys reveal that only one in four Americans has paid close attention to the massive invasion of privacy. However, these same people do not like America 's image tarnished abroad; President Obama will likely pay a healthy price for his abuses of power. Edward would appreciate your writing your Congressman asking to restore our freedoms and privacy, noting that secret courts have a home in a dictatorship, but not in a democracy.
Bill Honer is a social activist and author of "The Moon Landing and the Mob."