"I wish we might have health enough to know virtue when we see it and not cry with the fools, "madman' when a hero passes."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Like Edward Snowden - Stop Watching Us, Berlin, 27.07.2013 by mw238
Emerson was commenting in reference to John Brown, the extremist abolitionist who in 1859, along with a small force, raided the armory at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, with the object of inciting and arming a slave uprising. Brown failed at the task when a force of Marines and militia under Robert E. Lee forcibly retook the armory, killing half of Brown's men and capturing most of the rest, including Brown himself. Brown was hanged for treason, which, however high minded it may have been, was unquestionably his offense. In addition to his failure to provoke a slave uprising, his actions did not bring about a resolve to end slavery, but hardened attitudes in the South, hastening the onset of the Civil War. We who have the benefit of historical perspective may easily excuse Emerson, who proclaimed Brown a new "saint" who would "make the gallows glorious like the cross".
Surging one and a half centuries ahead, we find ourselves lionizing a new "saint", accused of treason. That new "saint" is Edward Snowden, having revealed to the American people, as well as the rest of the world, what our National Security Agency would have preferred not to have as a topic of public discussion, that being their use of modern electronic technology to access the entire flux of every form of electronic communication and keep it available for future action. Sometimes this was done with a court order, but clearly most often in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Snowden's revelations are hardly news, though. There were warnings of this possibility when the USA Patriot Act was passed in October of 2001. There was a previous whistle blower named Mark Klein, a retired AT&T communications technician, who, in 2006, made public the information that all U.S. telephone communications and internet traffic was being routed through an AT&T office in San Francisco, even specifying the room number where the NSA was camped out. After Klein testified before Congress a year later, this story was picked up by even such stalwarts of the corporate press as the Washington Post and ABC News.
Quite frankly, those who were shocked by Snowden's revelations were simply not paying attention.
With that, we may still consider Snowden to have performed a public service in making this NSA overreach a topic of discussion. Yet there is still much that is troubling about his behavior.
We can begin with Snowden's custody of four laptop computers to maintain his data downloads. We can conservatively estimate the capacity of each computer hard drive at 250 gigabytes. New laptop computers are available with hard drives of up to one terabyte capacity. That means a safe estimate that the four hard drives can have a total capacity of between one and four terabytes of data.
One terabyte of data would have been sufficient to contain everything that Snowden has released so far, many times over, with all of the discussion it has generated and plenty of room left for his music library and games, and whatever else he may have entertained himself with during his prolonged layover in Moscow's airport. It is possible that the use of four such computers may have been a security feature where one would need all four computers to access the data on any one of them, but such a thing could be accomplished more conveniently with a device like a portable thumb drive, and it seems that even that would be an extreme security measure for data that was intended to be made public in any event.
The NSA reports that it has not been able to establish exactly what data that Snowden had downloaded, oddly, indicating that their computers were likely the only ones in the United States that they weren't monitoring. They say that Snowden had used assorted techniques to cover his tracks though, including the failure to use sign-ins to gain access to certain parts of the system. Hiding his whereabouts within the system is also something that seems to be extraneous where the data were to be made public.
Then, it seems that there is some information to be gleaned from Snowden's travel itinerary. His first two, and thus far only, choices of destination, China and Russia, are considered to be principal adversaries of the United States. In favor of these choices is the fact that the United States does not have extradition treaties with either of them, but at the same time, both of them would consider intelligence regarding the NSA as a very high priority, and would likely be prepared to make generous offers to gain access to it. In addition, both of these states do not subscribe to the principles of individual liberty and the sorts of freedoms guaranteed (if one may still use that term) in our Bill of Rights. These are, ostensibly, the principles that motivated Edward Snowden to act against his employer, his country and the oath that he swore of fidelity to all of the above. Instructively, his oath was sworn after he accepted employment at Booz Allen with his admitted intention of exposing the NSA.
One could argue convincingly that if Snowden's intention were to expose the NSA's illegal practices via the Guardian newspaper with the assistance of Glenn Greenwald, a more logical choice of destination would have been Brazil. Brazil has an extradition treaty with the United States, but so do Bolivia and Iceland, which have been prominently mentioned as destinations for Snowden. The granting of political asylum would have negated the terms of the extradition treaty. Further, as one of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, Brazil would presumably have sufficient power and standing to resist any pressure that the United States might bring to bear on them. Then too, Brazil comes much closer than either Russia or China to subscribing to those principles of individual liberty that Snowden seems to hold in such high regard.
In the matter of his acceptance of a one-year grant of political asylum from Russia, this is the first time that I have ever heard of such a provisional grant of political asylum. It argues for a contract-like circumstance that could well be Snowden making his downloaded data available, making himself available for further debriefing, and perhaps conducting a few seminars for the Russian security apparatus before moving on to a nation with a political philosophy and lifestyle that he considers to be more compatible with his preferences. Certainly the high-minded declarations of Vladimir Putin in the run up to this granting of temporary asylum are easily and safely discounted based solely on his reputation.
Of course, none of this admittedly circumstantial evidence can be considered as positive proof of Snowden's subterfuge. But considered in the aggregate, one must admit that it has the odor of ill repute all over it. That should be sufficient to dampen any effort to lionize Snowden for what could well be a smoke screen for an effort to enrich himself at the expense of his nation's security.
Also, any comparisons between Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning are invalid. Manning released information on the spur of the moment, based on her disgust with what the American corporate media were withholding from the public, largely due to unnecessary government classification. The information released was embarrassing to the government, but beyond that, not damaging, and was done with no attempt at concealment, and no attempt to escape the consequences. One wonders at this point, how much will Chelsea Manning be made to suffer for the sins of Edward Snowden.
We cannot simply accept that anyone who acts against a government that so many regard with odium is automatically another of the same mind. We have to consider all of the circumstances and render individual judgments accordingly. I, for one, hesitate to see a virtuous hero passing where so many have seen it. Time will reveal the truth of the matter.