Glenn Reynolds in USA Today:
Ever since whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked information about the National Security Agency’s widespread — possibly illegal, even criminal — program of data collection and spying, we’ve heard a lot about possibly the least important question raised by the event: Whether Snowden is a good person or not.
My own take is that nobody knows. In fact, Snowden himself may not know the full context or ramifications of his actions. But it also doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that the Snowden affair occurs in the context of an unprecedented administration war on whistleblowers. And that’s a bad idea because whistleblowing is one of the things that maintains the legitimacy of a government as big, and otherwise unaccountable, as ours.
I agree with parts of this and disagree with others.
First of all, of course it matters that someone with a bunch of our secrets is running to despotic countries all over the world, with stuff that has nothing to do with our liberties on offer, just to grease the wheels of diplomacy, don’t you know. And of course it matters what we should do with him: prosecute him as a spy, or welcome him back with open arms. Now: “Whether he is a good person or not” may be an unimportant question, but that’s because it’s a bit of a strawman, albeit one that in some people’s minds relates (though it shouldn’t) to the very important question of how he should be treated under the law. With all due respect to Prof. Reynolds, attempting to shunt to one side the dramatic and yes, important story of Snowden’s actions is what you do when you like some of the leaks Snowden is providing, but don’t want to talk about the nasty and (I’m putting my hand over my mouth in shock, folks) unpatriotic compromises Snowden has had to make in order to dump our secrets all over creation.
And Snowden is no “whistleblower.” He’s not someone who took a job to serve his country, didn’t like the illegal and unethical things he was seeing, and decided to go public for the greater good. That’s a whistleblower. Snowden took the job to vacuum secrets out of our government and spread them far and wide. I guess if you think the government shouldn’t have secrets at all, you’ll defend the portion of his actions that you can defend, and try to get the world to look the other way at the portion you can’t defend. But I think that mode of argument evades the debate on what should be secret, if anything.
That said, this administration is at war with whistleblowers — although it’s not unprecedented, except arguably in scale. I am working on a story that will hopefully advance the ball on that front. And Reynolds’s larger point about the size of government and the threat it poses is well taken.
AWKWARD TRANSITION ALERT: Why, even a government as small as Ecuador makes mistakes!
Snowden was Russia’s responsibility and would have to reach Ecuadorean territory before the country would consider any asylum request, the president said in an interview with the Guardian on Monday.
“Are we responsible for getting him to Ecuador? It’s not logical. The country that has to give him a safe conduct document is Russia.”
The president, speaking at the presidential palace in Quito, said his government did not intentionally help Snowden travel from Hong Kong to Moscow with a temporary travel pass. “It was a mistake on our part,” he added.
This was prompted by Snowden’s very open statement, before obtaining asylum from Ecuador, praising the country for helping him:
“The decisive action of your consul in London, Fidel Narvaez, guaranteed my rights would be protected upon departing Hong Kong – I could never have risked travel without that. Now, as a result, and through the continued support of your government, I remain free and able to publish information that serves the public interest.”
Does he not realize the difficult position in which he is putting the government of Ecuador? I think he does.
This is part and parcel of Snowden’s entire strategy. He could have waited to reveal his identity until after he received asylum, and he could have waited to reveal Ecuador’s part in his flight from Hong Kong — but he apparently thinks it’s to his advantage to gain maximum publicity from his actions as part of his bid for asylum. And evidently he thinks that by revealing how Ecuador already helped him, he can put pressure on them to follow through.
Advice from Assange, I suppose.
We’ll see if this high-stakes diplomacy, if you want to call it that, pays dividends. In the meantime, as I said the other day, I am giving myself permission to despise both Snowden and the dishonest and hypocritical actions of the U.S. Government in this affair. And I think it’s worth paying attention to both.