Sanford Speaks Out is the latest blog sensation written, edited and produced by Sanford D. Horn, a writer and educator. Sanford will write about issues of the day covering a myriad subjects: politics, education, culture, sports, religion and even food.
Monday, June 24, 2013
Snowden: Hero or Villain?
Snowden: Hero or Villain? Commentary by Sanford D. Horn June 24, 2013
I’ve been wrestling with the issue of whether Edward
Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) information leaker, is a
hero or a zero; a patriot or a traitor.
As more and more information comes to the forefront the
challenge to define becomes no less murky. But, as we are judged by the company
we keep, Snowden’s behavior itself has tipped the scales for me.
I am Constitutional Conservative (using capital “Cs” as
it may one day become a political party replacing the floundering GOP). As
such, I am critical of government, all three branches and both major parties,
for its constant violation of the document that is the glue holding together
Thus the challenge in assessing the actions of Snowden,
29, charged with violation of the Espionage Act for allegedly leaking material
pertaining to NSA surveillance activities, a charge which carries a maximum of
a 10-year prison term. Additionally, Snowden, who worked for Booz Allen
Hamilton, a Virginia-based government contractor, has been charged with the
theft and conversion of government property.
Upon leaking the classified information, including how
the US government conducts surveillance of potential terrorists, which also
includes monitoring of American citizens’ phone conversations and e-mail correspondence,
a firestorm of debate ensued.
Is Snowden a hero for unearthing material illustrating
Americans are the victims of government surveillance? Or is Snowden a traitor
for providing the enemies of the United States knowledge that they are under
government surveillance and giving them the opportunity to change their
Clearly there is a Fourth Amendment issue at work here.
“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.” (US Constitution, Amendment
“Houses, papers, and effects…” could include telephones, which are presumably inside one’s home, could include e-mail, which without the
advanced technology of computers would probably be written correspondence, thus
making phone and e-mail protected from a warrantless search as the Founding Fathers
could in no way predicted such technological advancements.
On the other hand, a strict Constitutionalist might suggest,
since phone and e-mail are not included in the “houses, papers, and effects…”
portion of the Fourth Amendment, they are not protected from a warrantless search,
thus giving government free reign to listen to phone conversations and read
However, the caveat of “probable cause,” gives government
a grand amount of leeway to conduct such searches of phone records, e-mails, as
well as the ability to listen to conversations of people deemed a national security
risk, also a term that can be loosely defined to fit virtually any instance.
For years, thousands upon thousands, if not millions upon
millions of people have had phone conversations monitored, and more recently
e-mails, under the scope of national security much to our own ignorance.
I must add that as a journalist, not just an opinion
writer, I am always an American first and a journalist second when it comes to
the dissemination of secure data. We the people really don’t need to know
everything coming out of Washington or our various state capitals. Let the
behind the scenes work of how we the people are protected remain there for our
Without our national security, without the ability to
conduct surveillance of our enemies in an unfettered manner, we have no hope of
freedom. My ability to be free does not hinge upon whether the government listens
to my conversation with a friend about the latest Mets game or about for whom I
will vote in the next election. In fact, the First Amendment gives us the right
to say what is on our minds, save for the incitement of violence, which, one
may assume includes the overthrow of the country and government.
If Edward Snowden believed what he did was right, moral,
and righteous, he would not have fled to Hong Kong, a territory of China – not exactly
a friend of the United States. He knew he was revealing more than just
information about government surveillance of citizens’ phone conversations and
e-mails. Snowden leaked vital information pertaining to the thwarting of up to
50 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Snowden, who said he would not voluntarily return to the
United States, clearly fears what he did was inconsistent, if not treasonous,
within the framework of giving aid and comfort to the enemyby revealing government tactics in the surveillance
of enemies foreign and domestic. Instead, he tucked his tail between his legs
and slithered away like the coward he is. His flight is tantamount to an
admission of guilt.
As for asylum being sought elsewhere, be it Russia, Cuba,
Ecuador, or anywhere else, the government of the United States had better make
it clear, that to not extradite Snowden, is akin to harboring a fugitive from
American justice and action must be taken. If financial aid is provided to the
country granting Snowden safe harbor, it should be denied.
And as mentioned above, Snowden can be judged by the
company he keeps – the Chinese, the Russians, possibly the Cubans, possibly the
Ecuadorians – all nations at odds with the United States. Additionally, Snowden
has received a pledge of assistance from Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks,
the anti-secrecy group also charged with acting contrary to the best interest
of the United States.
Even Snowden’s father, Lonnie Snowden, who served his
country for 30 years in the US Coast Guard, wants his son to return home and
not reveal any more damaging information. “I hope, I pray, and I ask that you
will not release any secrets that could constitute treason,” said Lonnie Snowden
in an interview airing on Fox News, June 18.
Additionally, Assange’s attorney admitted Snowden’s
options were limited. “You have to have a country that’s going to stand up to
the United States. You’re not talking about a huge range of countries here,”
said Michael Ratner. (Philip Elliott, Associated Press)
Snowden himself is merely a symptom to a greater concern –
how many people should have security clearances in the first place? How many people
should have access to the top echelon data? Snowden already admitted releasing
information to people not qualified to have it in the first place – seems an
act going against the better interest of the United States.
Were Snowden genuinely concerned about American citizens’
Fourth Amendment rights, he could have spoken privately to the appropriate
government agencies to demonstrate how easy it was for him to access the
material he came to possess without leaking secrets damaging the manner in
which the NSA conducts its covert affairs.
Snowden “attempted to make a political point by leaking
several documents that have seriously harmed America’s ability to identify and
respond to terrorist threats,” wrote US Senator Dan Coats (R-IN), in The Indianapolis Star (June 19, 2013).
Coats asked NSA Director Gen. Keith B. Alexander what the
consequences of Snowden’s leak are during a Senate hearing. “If we tell
terrorists every way we track them, they will get through, and people will die,”
said Alexander. (Indy Star)
Coats further defended the NSA by reminding the people how
after September 11, 2001 there were demands to “connect the dots” in an effort
to thwart terrorist plots. And while the government does not have the unilateral
authority to eavesdrop on citizens’ phone calls or read their e-mails,
foreigners have no expectation of such protection.
Coats correctly called Snowden a “grandstander” who
clearly does not have the best interest of the United States at heart. Like the
notion of not throwing out the baby with the bathwater, the US needs to tighten
the reins on who has clearance while strengthening the ability to prevent
future terrorist acts.
Sanford D. Horn is
a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.