Monday, June 10, 2013

Patriot or traitor?

Libertarians are hailing Edward Snowden as a hero for bravely telling his story and blowing open a government abuse of power.  The Obama administration is opening a criminal investigation into Snowden for leaking details of a top secret intelligence program, on the grounds that national security has been damaged.  Who's right?

Seems to me that it's too soon to say for sure, and we need more details to make a judgement, but there are some serious red flags.  On the one hand, Snowden let the public know about the NSA PRISM program that, while maybe legal, certainly isn't Constitutional.  On the other hand, he didn't come forward to members of Congress or even the American media; he went overseas to the British paper The Guardian to tell his tale.  It's hard for me to see him as a patriot when he told his tale in a foreign country.  While you can argue that the Brits are allies,  he is now hiding out in China, certainly not an ally of America.

Then there is the personal side of his story, his motivation for what he's doing, that just doesn't quite add up.  An analyst for the NSA, he claims that his girlfriend thought nothing unusual about him leaving mysteriously for a few weeks as he prepared to tell his story.  He said, "That is not an uncommon occurrence for someone who has spent the last decade working in the intelligence world."  Really?  An analyst contractor for the NSA jets around the world on hush-hush missions?  And now, this jet setting James Bond Jr takes counter measures to ensure his own privacy-

He is deeply worried about being spied on.  He lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping. He puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them

The guy who disclosed that the any low level analyst at the NSA can tap anyone, anywhere via the internet or cell phone is using pillows and blankets to prevent being spied on, while he logs on to the internet and checks his email?

Then there is his military story.  Snowden says he had to go to community college to complete his GED.  Then he joined the Army and 'began a training program to join the Special Forces'.  First and foremost, an above average IQ and intelligence level are a pre-requisite for any unit inside Special Forces.  In fact, not having a high school diploma would require a waiver from an officer in his command.  Second, you don't join the Special Forces; they recruit the cream of the crop.  He would have had to be a stellar performer in basic training to draw that kind of attention.

But he soured on the military because 'most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone'.  That is the standard anti-war boilerplate that we have heard so many times from so many anti-war protesters, many of whom have been found to have only a casual relationship with the truth.  Snowden gives no more details about how long he was in the Army or where he was assigned, so it is impossible to draw more conclusions.  But it does seem certain that he never deployed, in fact he may have never gotten out of initial entry training.

But despite his disillusionment with the military and our presence in Iraq, he then joined the CIA?  He says he was more disillusioned by working with the CIA overseas, specifically when they used nefarious methods to recruit sources.  It seems over the top Pollyana-ish to somehow believe that the CIA only recruited people who were innocent and pure.

Lastly, he says he spent the years 2009-2012 learning just how massive the NSA snooping program was, yet said nothing in an election year, when he would have the ability to transform the national political scene.  Instead, he made his story public at a time when the government is already mired in scandals, enough so that this latest one may just get lost in the clutter.

One thing is certain-Edward Snowden is not another Bradley Manning.  Manning indiscriminately released millions of documents that he had only partial awareness of.  Manning leaked his info to a self promoting glory hound, who profited from the release, and was shocked when he was arrested.  Snowden seems to have had no illusions that by opening his mouth, he was saying goodbye to his former life.

But the fact remains that Snowden broke the law by releasing classified materiel.  Conservatives have to be very careful not to let out feelings about President Obama color our desire to hail Snowden as a hero.  History is full of examples of bad people with bad intentions accidentally doing the right thing.

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