As the revelations of mass NSA surveillance raised shock-waves around the globe, 29-year-old Edward Snowden came forward to identify himself as the one behind the largest leak in NSA history. His video interview with the Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald went viral and the the world saw and heard the man who left his life behind to expose this insidious global-spying program. Snowden spoke of the motives behind his action:
I don't want to live in a world where there's no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity. My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.
As Snowden himself expected, the calls for aggressive prosecution quickly rolled out from Washington. Republican speaker of the House John Boehner called him a "traitor". House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for his prosecution. Diane Feinstein, head of the senate intelligence committee, denounced him for what she called his "act of treason'.
The backdrop for this is incessant drumbeat of the war-on-whistleblowers that the Obama administration has engaged in constantly since he took office. This president has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other administrations combined. The inevitable political and media backlash poured out from corporate media as they demonized him by painting him as narcissistic and grandiose. An article in the New Yorker characterized his deed as speaking more to his ego and depicted it as reckless dumping of necessary secrets, when in truth he had carefully examined what was to be released and shared that authority of judgment with responsible journalists. David Brooks of New York Times Op-Ed columnist described him as a "solitary naked individual and the gigantic and menacing state". Distortion flows freely with character assassination just as it did with the personal attacks on Julian Assange and Bradley Manning.
Yet, the general public saw it differently. After the Guardian interview unmasked him, Snowden temporarily dropped out of sight. He then stepped out into the limelight in Hong Kong and spoke to a South China Morning Post reporter: "I'm neither traitor nor hero. I'm an American.... I believe in freedom of expression. I acted in good faith but it is only right that the public form its own opinion."
According to Reuters/Ipsos poll, roughly one in three Americans sees this former security contractor behind the exposure of the NSA surveillance program as a patriot and feels he should not be prosecuted. Associate editor at Reason magazine reported a poll that shows more Americans approve of Snowden than approve of Congress.
The unprecedented and egregious erosion of civil liberties is ever more out in the open for all to see. More and more people are realizing how the stale government narrative of 'national security' is simply used to cover abuses of the Constitution and the right to privacy.
As of June 11, already over 30,000 people had signed a thank-you note to this young NSA whistleblower at SupportEdwardSnowden.org - a website set up by RootsAction.org. Right after Snowden emerged in public, protesters around the world rallied to show support for the whistleblower. In New York, people gathered in Union Square with the message "I stand with Edward Snowden". In Hong Kong, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets on Saturday to stand up against US surveillance policies and voice support for this former CIA employee.
Praises for this young man's action came from older generations; those who remember a time when there were laws effectively protecting whistleblowers who revealed government crimes. Retired CIA analyst Ray McGovern noted Snowden's "uncommon courage, uncommon devotion to the Constitution", and shared his hope for a future society:
"It's very, very encouraging to see that young people like that have been able to do some of the things that have been very difficult for people of my generation to do because we have been so hidebound behind secrecy strictures."
Daniel Ellsberg recently spoke at a panel discussion on "Our Vanishing Civil Liberties" in Berkeley. This former military analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Nixon administration, thus exposed the criminality of the Vietnam war spoke of how Snowden made him proud to be an American and that this NSA leak was worth risking one's life, the same way Ellsberg felt when releasing the Pentagon papers 40 years ago.
In 2010, after the release of more than 91,000 classified military records on the war in Afghanistan, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange spoke about the inspiration behind his work:
What keeps us going is our sources. These are the people, presumably who are inside these organizations, who want change. They are both heroic figures taking much greater risks than I ever do, and they are pushing and showing that they want change in, in fact, an extremely effective way. (July 28, 2010)
The WikiLeaks motto, "Courage is contagious", is showing itself to be true. Behind the NSA leaks are those who are infected by courage. In an interview on DemocracyNow!, Glenn Greenwald spoke of how he was inspired by Snowden's deed:
....To watch what he did, because he knows ... because he knows exactly how the government treats whistleblowers, and yet he went forward and did it anyway. And what I really hope is that his courage is contagious, that people get inspired by his example, as I have been, and decide that they ought to demand that their rights not be abridged and that they have the full authority to stand up to the United States government without being afraid.
This exposure of NSA abuse of power would not have been possible without the integrity and bravery of one woman. Award-winning documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras was the first media contact on the story. She was behind the camera for Snowden's interview at a hotel in Hong Kong. When asked by a Salon reporter about whether she was concerned about becoming a target of government investigation, Poitras said:
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