An extraordinary week in U. S. and world history ended three years ago today. From June 5 to June 12, 2013, the world began to discover what Edward Snowden had on his hard drive. Documents make a difference. People had suspected NSA and other national security agencies of illegal conduct for a long time. Snowden was the first to demonstrate the suspicions correct. The documents he disclosed destroyed NSA’s ability to deny what people said about its surveillance practices.
An interesting evolution has occurred during these three years. U. S. government officials pursued Snowden as a traitor during the summer of 2013. They said he was a spy. They demanded that he be turned over to the U. S for prosecution. To increase their chances of success, these officials promised not to torture Snowden, or execute him, extraordinary promises for a great power to make to the world. Now, Snowden’s self-assured pursuers are silent. Snowden is not.
What happened? The simple answer is that the officials failed to bring Snowden back, so why call attention to your failure with more accusations against your target? An even simpler answer is that Snowden is right and the officials are wrong. People grasp the difference between Snowden’s views about privacy and NSA’s requirements for secrecy now. NSA wants privacy for itself and access to everything else. Snowden’s arguments about the pernicious effects of surveillance, so precarious and in the balance as he awaited asylum at Moscow’s airport, are now self-evidently established. They need defense only because the national security state still exists, not because people doubt their truth.
One person’s courage made people everywhere understand the government based in Washington DC, with all of its symbols of power, is actually a hypocritical, secretive, and pernicious center of illegal spying. As a sign of that hypocrisy, consider President Obama’s remarks at the Justice Department on January 17, 2014, about seven months after Snowden’s initial disclosures:
Our nation’s defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation’s secrets. If any individual who objects to government policy can take it in their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy.
That opening sentence says it all, doesn’t it? Obama, a man who promised to defend the Constitution against all enemies, says that we depend “on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation’s secrets.” Laying aside the question of why our government needs to keep so much information secret, and why it goes to such extraordinary lengths to do so, let’s focus on the question of fidelity.
If Obama showed any fidelity at all to the responsibilities of his office, he would react with anger if he discovered that he had self-important, bureaucratic criminals in his own executive branch who flagrantly violated the Constitution every day they showed up for work. A president with fidelity to the trust we have placed in him would award Snowden a Medal of Freedom, and fire the criminals. Instead, he praises the criminals and agrees with those who call Snowden a traitor.
The president considers every word in a speech like that with care. He does not toss them off the way he might at a roast. President Obama jails whistleblowers, and protects the people who manage his national security state. Presidents have become so accustomed to serving the national security state’s interests now, that is how they see their job. When Obama calls the people at NSA hard-working patriots, he means what he says. He sees himself that way, too. Snowden’s disclosures show clearly who respects the Constitution, and who does not. We now know that those who violate the Constitution – who disrespect it in every way – consider themselves patriots.
In publication for since the early 2000s, The Jeffersonian has produced several excellent collections of essays on politics. To learn about these books, and their author, visit Dr. G’s Writing Workshop.