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They’ve done it. The United States Department of Justice has filed a criminal complaint against Edward Snowden, charging him with espionage. In so doing, the feds have declared a kind of war on the American people. The war on terror has morphed into a war on America. Our enemies abroad find their best allies in Washington, in a group of power-mad and paranoid officials who think they have to spy on their countrymen in order to protect them.

The feds had three options here. They picked the one that is worst for them. How it goes for the rest of the country is hard to tell.

They could have let the news from Hong Kong die out, which would have happened fast enough. When someone tries to rescuscitate Benghazi or IRS targetting, we see how hard that is. We always have new stuff coming along to keep us busy. We focus on one thing for about as long as it takes to read a text message or a tweet. We can focus on big news stories for a little longer than that, but please, don’t bore us.

Second, the feds could have admitted tacitly that Snowden was correct. They could say, without saying it, that yes, we’ve gone far enough, too far in fact, and we’ll try to clean this whole thing up. The first thing we’ll do, the feds say, is remove the top secret wraps from domestic surveillance programs. That would be a signal they want to restore trust between citizens and their own government. They wouldn’t have to thank Snowden for his services, but you have the idea.

Lastly, the feds can capture and prosecute Snowden as a spy. This is a trial that has potential to be as spectacular as the Rosenberg case fifty years ago. Cold War hysteria reigned then, and a certain post-9/11 hysteria reigns now. We have to get the terrorists! We must prevent the terrorists from getting us! Edward Snowden is a spy and a traitor because he helps our enemies! He won’t go to the electric chair, but like Bradley Manning, the feds want to lock them both up, and destroy the key. Perhaps Manning and Snowden can share the same cell to economize.

The half of the country that agrees Snowden is a traitor likely does not perceive that their government has declared war on them. The half of the country that sees Snowden as a hero likely does perceive a declaration of war, or at least they see the war coming. Totalitarian governments never side with the people they rule. Only party members, government insiders, and other criminals are protected, and even they don’t know when some plot, purge or conspiracy will cost them their positions or their lives.

From the feds’ perspective, they have to prosecute Snowden to protect secrets in the future. They think that if they do not prosecute and imprison him, others will reveal secrets on the assumption they can do it with impunity. I would not call exile in Hong Kong or elsewhere impunity, but the feds want more. That want to make an example of Snowden — as they have with Manning — that people will remember. They want to deter and intimidate, to prevent future leaks.

Washington officialdom, from the president down, is scared. They are arrogant, fearful, and altogether foolish in their use of power. People entrusted them with authority, and they violated the people’s trust. People hired them to protect their country from its enemies. Instead they betrayed every citizen, destroyed the country’s Constitution, and gripped the republic’s fundamental freedoms so tightly that even the most fanatic jihadists abroad must smirk to see it happen.

These officials know what happens to rulers who betray their people. They don’t survive. Tyrants and their helpers always lose their power in the end. How they lose it varies through history. Almost always, their self-destructive actions, misjudgments, mistakes, distrust, fear, and ultimately hatred all contribute to their decline and fall.

To say it once more: the United States government has declared war on any citizen who reveals its secrets. It regards a citizen who tries to protect our Constitution as guilty of espionage. In declaring itself so openly, it makes itself an enemy of the Constitution. No one can have any doubt now where the government stands on the matter of individual rights. If protection of rights conflicts with protection of secrets, we know which as priority. The feds will pursue Edward Snowden until they have him in jail. They’ll consider it a success.

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