Strict Standards: Declaration of C_DataMapper_Driver_Base::define() should be compatible with C_Component::define($context = false) in /nas/content/live/axisphilly/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/datamapper/class.datamapper_driver_base.php on line 609
Strict Standards: Declaration of C_DataMapper_Driver_Base::initialize() should be compatible with C_Component::initialize() in /nas/content/live/axisphilly/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/datamapper/class.datamapper_driver_base.php on line 609
Strict Standards: Declaration of C_Displayed_Gallery_Mapper::define() should be compatible with C_CustomPost_DataMapper_Driver::define($object_name, $context = false) in /nas/content/live/axisphilly/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/nextgen_gallery_display/class.displayed_gallery_mapper.php on line 4
Strict Standards: Declaration of C_Displayed_Gallery_Mapper::initialize() should be compatible with C_CustomPost_DataMapper_Driver::initialize($object_name) in /nas/content/live/axisphilly/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/nextgen_gallery_display/class.displayed_gallery_mapper.php on line 4
On Monday, when I watched NSA leaker Edward Snowden speak via videoconference from Russia at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas, I was angry, because I believe Snowden’s claims of patriotism to be rife with hypocrisy.
Hailed as a hero by his supporters for releasing thousands of classified documents concerning American surveillance programs to media outlets, Snowden maintains that he acted out of loyalty to America. The authorities disagree and have charged him with violating the Espionage Act. Snowden, who left the country before he could be arrested, was granted temporary political asylum in Russia.
But if, as Snowden claims, he acted because he believed in the U.S. Constitution, wouldn’t that same belief compel him to submit to U.S. justice? If he believed he was acting in support of the American people, wouldn’t he stand alongside those who defend him? If he believed that the benefits of his actions outweighed the harm, wouldn’t he stand up for those beliefs? I believe he should. But Snowden fled the country, and in my view, those are not the actions of a man driven by principle. They are the actions of a man driven by fear.
Government whistleblowers didn’t always act that way, even when they were forced to break the law. In 1970, there was a Philadelphia area group that called itself the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI. The group, which was recently immortalized in a book called The Burglary, by former Washington Post reporter Betty Medsger (Knopf, 2014), was much like Snowden.
Led by the late William Davidon, a Haverford College physics professor, the group rose out of the anti-war protests of the Vietnam era, and came to believe that the FBI was engaged in illegal surveillance of Americans. At great risk to themselves and their families, they broke into the FBI office in Media, Pa., on March 8, 1970, the night of an epic battle between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Once inside the office, they found proof of the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, an effort in which the FBI infiltrated civil rights and anti-war groups, whether or not those groups were in violation of the law.
Their actions led to changes at the FBI. In Medsger’s book, Davidon, who died last year, explained why they acted. “It was a matter of keeping alive a sense of purpose and accomplishment when the forces seemed so overwhelming,” Davidon is quoted as saying. “Sometimes we accomplished more than we had reason to expect, as in Media. It was a long shot, we didn’t know if we would find anything important. Other times we never knew if we accomplished anything…. But it gave voice to a sense of purpose and built little pockets of life that made sense at a terrible time.”
The group was never caught and revealed themselves to Medsger only when she tracked them down after years of personal research. While they never stood up to be punished for what they’d done—indeed, Davidon’s Philadelphia Inquirer obituary makes no mention of the burglary—they also never ran to a foreign country, and never presented themselves as media heroes. Instead, they did what they thought was right, and faded into oblivion.
There are numerous parallels between Davidon’s group and Snowden. Like Davidon’s group, Snowden’s actions have had ripple effects, including President Obama’s announcing the creation of a panel to examine how NSA data collection affects Internet companies and privacy rights. Snowden’s revelations also prompted Internet companies to announce changes in the way data is managed.
In spite of those developments, Snowden remains in hiding, occasionally peeking out from behind the curtain to denounce the NSA. It rankles me to see Snowden doing so from Russia, even as America pushes Russia over its invasion of the Crimea region in Ukraine. Still, there are those who believe Snowden’s actions were justified in the beginning, and remain so even now.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is defending Snowden from the espionage charges he faces here at home, is just one of a number of national and local groups supporting Snowden, according to Mary Catherine Roper, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
“There’s a whole circle of organizations that have been involved in the first amendment network,” Roper told me in an interview. “Some are environmental, some are animal rights groups, and some are anti-war. One thing they all share is a deep concern about the government spying on its citizens and tracking people.”
Those supporters, including a Philadelphia area group called Brandywine Peace Community, back Snowden on that principle, Roper said, despite Snowden’s flight to Russia.
“He ended up in Russia not because that was where he planned to go, but because the U.S. blocked him from going elsewhere, and threatened other countries if they accepted him and gave him shelter,” Roper explained.
“It wasn’t his plan to go to Russia. The charges of him supposedly aiding Russia? This [NSA] surveillance wasn’t aimed at finding Russian spies. It was supposed to keep us safe from terrorism. The terrorists, by and large, are not associated with the Russian government. That has nothing to do with what he did. And besides … all these disclosures that keep coming out are not because he released more information. It’s because the journalists are releasing it slowly.
“It’s not because Vladimir Putin says it’s time to give the U.S. another kick in the teeth and then [Snowden] releases something. He has put the journalists in control of this and they have been releasing the information.”
All of that sounds reasonable, but it doesn’t make it right. Snowden, even while portraying himself as a righteous defender of American freedom, is hiding in a country that is snatching the freedom of its neighbor.
That’s not acting on principle. That’s not defending the Constitution. It’s simply running away from the consequences of one’s actions.
If Snowden wants America to believe he’s in the right, then he should come home and submit to American justice.