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 the republic.

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 communication methods?

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 IV)

“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 e-mails.

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 perpetual safety.

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 enemy  by 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.


  1. "When government surveillance and intimidation is called "freedom from terrorism" or "liberation from crime", freedom and liberty have become words without meanings."
    Snowden absolutely did the right thing. I would much rather understand what surveillance is being used against me and risk being blown up by some terrorist than be watched by the government and have every inch of my life monitored without me even knowing. America has been so convinced that these terrorists are such a massive threat that there's no option BUT to have the government watch people and violate our rights to get them ever since 9/11, when absolutely nothing has happened since. And can you legitimately thank the United States Government for that, as incompetent as it is? Their surveillance is a violation of basic American rights and used only to hurt us, not help in any way.

  2. NSA leaker Edward Snowden sure has made some odd choices for someone who is so concerned about liberty and freedom from government intrusion. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the surveillance state any more than he does, but you have to question the motives of someone so tight with the Chinese government and who is reportedly on his way to seek sanctuary in Venezuela, with stops in Russia and Cuba. The NSA has prevented more than 50 attacks from foreign sources. Back in the 1700's our founding fathers had no idea of any technology like this, as technology progresses the amendments might have to change. Snowden has betrayed the United States and should be charged for his high crimes against the American people.

    1. I see where you're coming from, and I kinda understand your point, but in the end the government should no be responsible for our safety, or honestly in my opinion anything, but I'll stick to the topic and leave the anarchy out of this one. I think people should be responsible for their own safety, no one else should have to defend us. The only exception to that is outright war, where obviously a military would be somewhat helpful given how difficult it is for standard citizens to acquire military-grade hardware. And Snowden didn't choose those countries out of dislike of America, he chose them simply because they don't extradite for political crimes so he can travel through them somewhat safely.

  3. I agree completely. Obviously Snowden was feeling repulsive, and that coupled with his desire for attention led him on this entire stint. I think he had predicted that the left would look at him as a hero. It's very vogue these days to 'out' wrongdoings even with a disregard of the facts, legalities, and merits. But he may have screwed up by going to Russia. He might be there for a while...

  4. repulsive = impulsive (phone)