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Edward Snowden: Hero or Traitor? - a Revisiting
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2014-06-02 08:52:15
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NBC Interview with Brian William of NBC in Moscow

On Wednesday 28 of May 2014 Brian William of NBC gave an exclusive interview to Edward Snowden in Moscow. The reader may exclaim: so what else is new? Don’t we already know everything we need to know to make a judgment on Snowden’s revelations of government spying and cover-up, one way or the other? Yes and no. Yes, many of the facts about Snowden are well known by now. However, this exclusive interview brought to light some facts not previously known, as well as some new developments since the original event of a year or so ago.

What is well known and has not changed is Snowden’s own assessment of the situation. He continues to believe that far from being a villain or a traitor and far from being a modest whistle-blower unconcerned for his own welfare, he is a Patriot and a Hero, one who deserves a place in the history books and the pantheon of US heroes (together perhaps with that of Washington and Lincoln). During the interview he reiterated time and again, that “I am still serving our country,” and “I am doing this to serve my country” and therefore personal considerations are not important. He did, however, also say that people do not abandon a life of comfort at home for nothing. So, logically something big must have happened, however one wishes to interpret such enormity. And that’s where the rub is; in the interpretation of the facts.

The facts have been quite clear from the beginning: Snowden has been charged by the US government with theft of state secrets and two counts of espionage and declared a fugitive from justice. As such his passport has been revoked and now finds himself stranded in Russia, an authoritarian country which is providing him with political asylum due to expire sometime in August. Snowden revealed in the interview that he will ask Russia to renew his asylum in August while at the same time saying that if there is a place he’d rather be it is home. It will be interesting to see if the asylum is indeed renewed or if Snowden is acknowledged as a hero and duly pardoned.

What is, however, a new revelation by Snowden is his insistence that far from being a “29 year old low-level computer hacker” (as colorfully described by President Obama) he was actually trained as a spy and conducted operations in counterintelligence and security of data abroad for the CIA and the NSA. He also revealed that he was for a time a lecturer at a DIA Joint Counterintelligence Training Academy. In other words, he was cloning spies. That intriguing revelation ought to change the overall assessment of the situation.

The question can now  legitimately be asked “Was Snowden a double agent?” Why does he insist on the fact that he was more than a mere computer hacker? As a spy, which he claims to have been, would it not have been more deceptive to make people continue to believe that he was a mere irrelevant hacker? Was this revelation due to love of truth or the spontaneous response of an offended ego? And if he was just a hacker, as the government claims, why did he have access to so many important documents, by the millions in fact? Was that not, at the very least, negligence on the part of spy and security agencies on securing important secret documents? But wait a minute, was it not, after all, the spy who revealed the secrets; that is to say, who is guarding the guardians?  

This conundrum became apparent by the response of the government by way of Secretary of State John Kerry. On the same day as the interview, Kerry affirmed that Snowden has made it harder for the US to break up plots, harder for the nation to protect itself from terrorists, called Snowden a coward and a traitor, who, far from facing the music as a hero would, is a fugitive from justice. The catch 22 of course is that Kerry when asked cannot reveal the secrets that have been brought to the surface by Snowden and put people’s lives in jeopardy, because that would play right into the hands of terrorists and make it harder for them to be caught. It would appear that the truth is the first casualty of war and spying.

A few reflections of my own: what I found most intriguing and novel in the whole interview is that Snowden referred to “civil disobedience” based on the fact that not everything that is legal and lawful is ethical; that there are some laws that are bad and should be disobeyed and opposed. However what Snowden forgot to mention is that such an idea is not new and is not his, unless he is reinventing the wheel. They belong to the likes of Henry David Thoreau (who wrote a book titled Civil Disobedience), and Gandhi who invented the idea of non-violent resistance, and Martin Luther King who disobeyed unfair racist laws violating citizens’ civil rights. They all disobeyed bad laws, but they all faced the music, went to trial, and endured jail or death.


The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David (1787)

Of all the ancient Greek tragedies I have ever read, I recall none with a hero who refuses to face the music, who puts others’ lives in danger, or is a fugitive from justice (however one wishes to interpret the concept of “justice”). One such hero that comes immediately to mind is Socrates, who had the option to become a fugitive and live in another city, but instead stayed put, faced the music of a trial, and was condemned to death. Socrates bravely took the hemlock, reminding the villains who had condemned him (democratically, it should be mentioned): “gentlemen, the issue is not whether I live or die but rather whether corruption, which is faster than death, will catch up with you and once it has caught up it will be leery to let you go.” What Socrates was prophesying is that history will eventually give the final verdict on who the heroes and who the villains are in the inevitable tragedies of life.

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