Edward Snowden: Hero, Traitor or What?

Just when I thought national politics would nearly bore me to death this summer, what with Congress having gotten so good at accomplishing so little, up jumps a fascinating story in the form of Edward Snowden.   Certainly by now you know the gist, a 29 year old government out-sourced computer systems administrator has released numerous top secret documents to the press and is now making a home in Hong Kong, hoping the Hong Kongites will protect him from the long arm of American law.


snowden_nyc10june_DSC_0003 (Photo credit: Michael Fleshman)

There are several elements that interest me about the Snowden affair, but unlike so many others, I’m not interested in making a snap judgement on the man.   Hero, traitor?   What’s the rush?  Why not let the story play out for awhile, let more facts come out and get more clarification?


What’s most interesting to me about this is you can’t jump to the usual conclusions as to who is on which side of the debate.  It is truly one of those “you can’t tell the players without a program” moments.   For example, how often do you find Michael Moore and Glen Beck on the same side of an issue?  Like never?   But both see Snowden as a hero.  Ron and Rand Paul are also on the Hero Team.  This is one of those odds moments when the spectrum of left to right curves into a circle leaving extremes on both sides holding hands.

Both have a deep distrust of government.

Among those on the Traitor Team are, of course, members of the government, such as the head of the NSA, but also frequent Republican critics of the administration, like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.   Add to that group Diane Feinstein (D.) and Mike Rogers (R.), the chairs of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees respectively.

It is the trade off of  security vs. privacy that divides the two teams, with the Hero Team imagining the administration committing worse crimes through government technological over reach than Edward Snowden has in divulging “state secrets”.   The Traitor Team, on the other hand, believe there are sufficient checks and balances on government spying on Americans in place.  They believe this because they see themselves as part of those checks and balances, or at least know more about them than we, the public, does.


I imagine some of you are on the Hero Team and others on the Traitor Team.  I am more interested in whether his actions did more good or bad for our country.  I tend to think what Snowden did was more good as it opens the possibility of a real debate over security vs. privacy, which the President has said he wants but we wouldn’t have had without Snowden or the like revealing some government secrets.

On Thursday FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress:  “…these disclosures have caused significant harm to our nation and our safety.”   O. K., but haven’t they also done some good for our democracy?

Without these revelations (whatever they may be in total), what would we have to debate about?   Back in 2011 Ron Widen, on the Senate Intelligence Committee,  obliquely warned “when the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.”

Hint.  Hint.   But hint is all he could do with the top secret knowledge he had.  How can you have a public debate when those in the know aren’t free to talk about it publicly?  As Ruth Marcus wrote  in the Washington Post yesterday“Edward Snowden, in an instant, was able to achieve what Wyden has been seeking for years: a vigorous, informed and public debate about the proper balance between liberty and security.”

The judgement as to whether to call Snowden a hero or a traitor does not exclude the possibility that he did more good than bad when releasing that information.   Liberal leaning Columnist Matt Miller has said Snowden is “no hero,” that he is basically a law-breaker with a “grandiose” sense of himself.   Others well versed in national security assert that the young man  is exaggerating what he knew or could know in his position.

So what if he is on a giant ego trip.  You don’t have to be a great man or woman to do a good thing.


P. S. –  I don’t know who is holding that sign in the photo above, but he may be a high school classmate of mine who has a rebellious nature, normally lives in Kansas and is known to wear strange disguises on occasion.  We’ll call him MB, whose hair in normally gray, but the brown beard and hair could easily be faked.

2 responses to “Edward Snowden: Hero, Traitor or What?

  1. The bluster about the Patriot Act and who’s collecting and using what information, and whether or not this young chap is a hero or traitor I find rather dull. The real question screaming for an answer is why a twenty something high school drop out working for a private contractor had such a high security clearance, not to mention why three million people with security clearances. The laws of averages eradicate any semblance of security with vetting these types and these numbers.

    • I would say the underlying problem is you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. With every terrorist attack that is successful we look back at how the dots could be connected better, and it usually suggests that the walls between information gatherers need to be erased or at least lessened, while also suggesting a need for more information. You can’t do all that without a few million people with high security clearances. An additional thought, I think Snowden being 29 and a high school drop out is irrelevant. He apparently could do the job well. More to the point, he is a naive idealist as well as a true blue patriot, which probably helped him get a high security clearance. When others didn’t live up to those ideals, however, he took matters into his own hands.

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