I do not come to praise Edward Snowden, but to pardon him — or at least, to suggest that President Barack Obama do so, if and when he is charged. Even if Snowden has committed crimes, he has done his country, and free people everywhere, a service.
There is heated debate as to whether Snowden is a hero or a villain. Having leaked particulars of the National Security Agency’s information-gathering program, the former CIA employee has given those who would condemn or canonize him much to consider.
He has a hero’s bravery, inasmuch as he opted to follow his conscience and forgo a normal life, honking off the most powerful government on Earth in the process. Conversely, there is some measure of villainy in being given the confidence of an intelligence outfit, only to reveal its methods to the world.
But doing the right thing on a large stage is no proof of heroism. Most heroes don’t get to be famous.
One wishes there were more circumspection from political leaders about the charges Snowden has put forward — that the NSA collects and retains all emails, along with phone records, of U.S. citizens, and has constructed an apparatus for “turnkey tyranny,” in the name of fighting terror.
Instead, we’ve got Sen. Lindsey Graham storming around like Nathan Jessup, insisting these excesses save lives. Sen. Dianne Feinstein accused Snowden of treason. Indeed, politicians of both parties are burnishing their terrorist-warrior credentials by finding new and exciting ways to call this guy a traitor.
Even the most admirable man in American public discourse, Charles Krauthammer, is wrong on this one. He likens the government hoarding private information to police having guns, suggesting neither empowerment is proof of abuse. But besides that the National Safety Council concludes you are eight times more likely to be killed by a cop than a terrorist, the larger question is what befits a free society.
A common tack of both liberals and conservatives defending government surveillance is to state that it is “legal” and “constitutional,” as though that were the end of it.
In the first place, “legal” has never been a synonym for “moral,” or for “wise.” As to “constitutional,” we have become inured to the notion that just about anything can be judged so, if you read deeply enough into those squiggly letters on parchment.
Lest we forget, slavery was once legal and, by some notorious interpretations, constitutional, too.
But let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that if you stand on one leg, tilt your head, and squint just right, you can somehow read this egregiousness as “constitutional.”
You know what else is “constitutional”? The Fourth Amendment. It reads:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Both cannot be true. Either the warrantless collection of emails and phone data from supposedly free citizens is unconstitutional, or the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment does not mean what it says.
Snowden’s claims that emails are collected by the NSA and can be accessed with ease are disputed by officials, who insist these methods are not used on American citizens or people within the United States. Even so, politicians and intelligence folks remain mad as wet hens that Snowden has revealed their systems.
But again, both propositions can’t be true. Either Snowden is lying, in which case the authorities’ spitting fury seems oddly disproportionate; or he is telling the truth, in which case the revelation of these abuses is a lesser evil than the abuses themselves.
As to phone records, the program’s defenders are eager to explain that it is not voice content but “data points” and “metadata” — phone numbers, durations, locations, etc. — that the NSA collects. Even if that’s true, as other NSA whistleblowers have pointed out, investigators can learn as much or more from whom you called, when and from where, than from the content of your conversation.
All that said, I am more inclined to believe Snowden’s version.
Having watched both of them respond to questions, I find Edward Snowden more trustworthy than James Clapper. As director of national intelligence, Clapper has repeatedly shocked the nation with his incompetence — from referring to the Muslim Brotherhood as “largely secular” to being unaware of a terror plot in London that was headline news around the world — but his demeanor is more disquieting.
Watch Clapper’s March 12 responses to questioning from Sen. Ron Wyden about whether U.S. intelligence agencies gather citizens’ private data and decide for yourself. Clapper mutters, runs his fingers across his skull and croaks out legalisms as he studies the table in front of him.
One needn’t be an expert in body language or behavioral science to surmise that when a person keeps scratching his forehead like a tamarin with a rash and comes up with nonsensical replies about “not wittingly” doing whatever he has been accused of, that person is probably lying.
Conversely, whether Snowden is Nathan Hale or Benedict Arnold, he clearly speaks from his heart.
Snowden must be made an example of, some say, because we must prevent more people from doing something similar. The U.S. government hands out security clearances at a rate of 1,800 per day. If there is a problem with information being leaked, perhaps our crack intelligence folks could pull up their own socks before demanding we send every blabbermouth to Leavenworth. In the meantime, I want every punk kid who has access to Americans’ private records to come forward and say so.
Not only will this serve American ideals of personal liberty, as Snowden purported to do, but it will force the peeping Leviathan to reconsider its methods.
Even if other politicians are too incensed to offer Snowden their thanks, the Leader of the Free World should grant him a pardon.
Theo Caldwell, host of TV’s Global Command Centre, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.