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Edward Snowden, One Year Later: Hero, Traitor, Or … ?

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As an example regarding how current events are often viewed in a highly-polarized manner which leads to pointless concept-derived debates – as well as how a more balanced view can potentially be far more useful – here’s an overview of matters related to Edward Snowden, and the controversy surrounding his actions.


Edward Snowden, the former contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA) who took and disclosed information on top secret NSA programs related to the mass surveillance of American citizens, has been one of the most polarizing figures of recent times.


This is largely because many people view Edward Snowden through polarizing conceptual lenses:



On the one hand, many see Snowden as a hero – for fighting government excesses that they are sure are unconstitutional.


Or, on the other hand, many see Snowden as a traitor – for violating his security clearance, betraying his country, and very likely being solely and simply a self-serving spy for one or more foreign powers.


Are there other possibilities?



There certainly seem to be clues that there may well be. Recognizing these other possibilities boils down to reviewing the facts – and, most importantly – being willing to form opinions after review of the facts, rather than before.


Regarding the idea that Edward Snowden is a traitor, there are a few facts that I feel are pertinent which indicate that he is not. These facts do not necessarily vindicate him overall, but they do indicate that he is not a traitor.


First, the U.S. government, which has taken a hard line against his actions, has not charged Edward Snowden with treason. They have charged him with theft of government property (per the files he took, regarding the NSA programs), and espionage (for passing the information to journalists, who do not hold security clearances).


Second, Snowden himself seems to have an ability to clearly self-assess, as well as to articulate a clearly-stated and consistent message, which he has provided at many different times in the thirteen months or so since his initial actions took place.


Speaking via video to a TED audience in March 2014, Snowden replied to the “hero or traitor” question by saying:


"Everybody who is involved with this debate has been struggling over me and my personality and how to describe me. But when I think about it, this isn't the question that we should be struggling with. Who I am really doesn't matter at all. If I'm the worst person in the world, you can hate me and move on.



What really matters here are the issues. What really matters here is the kind of government we want, the kind of Internet we want, the kind of relationship between people and societies. And that's what I'm hoping the debate will move towards, and we've seen that increasing over time.



If I had to describe myself, I wouldn't use words like "hero." I wouldn't use "patriot," and I wouldn't use "traitor." I'd say I'm an American and I'm a citizen, just like everyone else."


Regarding whether or not Snowden may possibly be a hero, despite his own modesty, there are some significant opinions from credible parties which differ wildly from the opinions of certain offended Americans and the United States government.


As just one example, in September 2013, the parliament of the European Union nominated Snowden for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, considered Europe’s top human rights award, which has previously been bestowed on luminaries such as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela.


In March 2014, that same body, the parliament of the European Union, invited Edward Snowden to provide testimony, regarding what many people feel are intelligence-related human rights violations by the United States and some of its European allies.


To clarify his attitude and views further, in his introduction to his testimony, Snowden said:


"I worked for the United States' Central Intelligence Agency.  The National Security Agency.  The Defense Intelligence Agency.  I love my country, and I believe that spying serves a vital purpose and must continue. And I have risked my life, my family, and my freedom to tell you the truth.


(Snowden does not object to targeted surveillance, which he feels has been legal, ethical and effective; he objects to clandestine mass surveillance, which has been implemented, prior to his disclosures, without the knowledge or consent of the general public.)


A bit further on in his testimony, Snowden clarifies his position regarding clandestine surveillance, and the inherent right of people, in his view, to be free from it:


"The right to be free of unwarranted intrusion into our private effects -- our lives and possessions, our thoughts and communications -- is a human right.  It is not granted by national governments and it cannot be revoked by them out of convenience. 


Just as we do not allow police officers to enter every home to fish around for evidence of undiscovered crimes, we must not allow spies to rummage through our every communication for indications of disfavored activities."


Finally, it is pertinent to note that at least one federal judge in the United States has stated via legal ruling that he agrees with Edward Snowden that the NSA programs in question are, indeed, unconstitutional.



This ruling, along with the fact that in May 2014 the United States House of Representatives passed the first legislation (and with extremely rare bipartisan support) to restrict the activities of the NSA – activities that were not known even to members of Congress or the President, prior to Snowden’s disclosures.


And so – is Snowden a hero? A traitor? A whistleblower?



After listening carefully to what he has said over the last year, I would describe Edward Snowden as “an interesting and potentially powerful social catalyst”.



He has served as the impetus and catalyst for a series of important national and international conversations to take place – as well as for hitherto unprecedented citizen-protecting legislation.




PS – Per the fact that the best and clearest information on Edward Snowden comes from Edward Snowden, I’ll plan to put some additional posts in this thread featuring Snowden’s video interviews and talks, transcripts, articles, etc. – so that Snowden can speak for himself – and so we can discuss what he has said as we may decide to do.

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Complete Edward Snowden interview, article and video, from The Guardian, Saturday, July 19, 2014.


"I, spy: Edward Snowden in exile"


This is one of Snowden's most interesting,varied and detailed interviews to date - and it was made public in full just today (the interview itself was conducted in Moscow - journalists from The Guardian traveled to meet Snowden there - on July 10, 2014).

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I feel our for fathers of the United States did what they could to keep the government from owning the people. One perfect example to me is the right to bear arms.

Some how I think society has come to the opinion that its okay for a government to own its people. Because of this shift in perception it has made it real hard for someone to step forward like he has.

Many people today put the government before the people. I would bet if this shift continues more rights will be lost. One of which as I mentioned could be even the right to bear arms.

If that happens, I hate to see what the outcome could come to. But I'm hopeful in that people will begin to shift back into believing that the government works for us. Not the other way around. And people like Snowden that step forward will be treated with a little more dignity.

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