How Best to Support Edward Snowden?

Edward Snowden NSA LeakIn Washington, where the state of war and the surveillance state are one and the same, top officials have begun to call for Edward Snowden’s head. His moral action of whistleblowing — a clarion call for democracy — now awaits our responses.

After nearly 12 years of the “war on terror,” the revelations of recent days are a tremendous challenge to the established order: nonstop warfare, intensifying secrecy and dominant power that equate safe governance with Orwellian surveillance.

In the highest places, there is more than a wisp of panic in rarefied air. It’s not just the National Security Agency that stands exposed; it’s the repressive arrogance perched on the pyramid of power.

Back here on the ground, so many people — appalled by Uncle Sam’s continual morph into Big Brother — have been pushing against the walls of anti-democratic secrecy. Those walls rarely budge, and at times they seem to be closing in, even literally for some (as in the case of heroic whistleblower Bradley Manning). But all the collective pushing has cumulative effects.

In recent days, as news exploded about NSA surveillance, a breakthrough came into sight. Current history may not be an immovable wall; it may be on a hinge. And if we push hard enough, together, there’s no telling what might be possible or achieved.

The gratitude that so many of us now feel toward Edward Snowden raises the question: How can we truly express our appreciation?

A first step is to thank him — publicly and emphatically. You can do that by clicking here to sign the “Thank NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden” petition, which my colleagues at will send directly to him, including the individual comments.

But of course saying thank-you is just one small step onto a crucial path. As Snowden faces extradition and vengeful prosecution from the U.S. government, active support will be vital — in the weeks, months and years ahead.

Signing the thank-you petition, I ventured some optimism: “What you’ve done will inspire kindred spirits around the world to take moral action despite the risks.” Bravery for principle can be very contagious.

Edward Snowden has taken nonviolent action to help counter the U.S. government’s one-two punch of extreme secrecy and massive violence. The process has summoned the kind of doublespeak that usually accompanies what cannot stand the light of day.

So, when Snowden’s employer Booz Allen put out a statement Sunday night, it was riddled with official indignation, declaring: “News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm.”

What are the “code of conduct” and “core values” of this huge NSA contractor? The conduct of stealthy assistance to the U.S. national security state as it methodically violates civil liberties, and the values of doing just about anything to amass vast corporate profits.

The corporate-government warfare state is enraged that Edward Snowden has broken through with conduct and values that are 180 degrees in a different direction. “I’m not going to hide,” he told the Washington Post on Sunday. “Allowing the U.S. government to intimidate its people with threats of retaliation for revealing wrongdoing is contrary to the public interest.”

When a Post reporter asked whether his revelations would change anything, Snowden replied: “I think they already have. Everyone everywhere now understands how bad things have gotten — and they’re talking about it. They have the power to decide for themselves whether they are willing to sacrifice their privacy to the surveillance state.”

norman solomonAnd, when the Post asked about threats to “national security,” Snowden offered an assessment light-years ahead of mainline media’s conventional wisdom: “We managed to survive greater threats in our history . . . than a few disorganized terrorist groups and rogue states without resorting to these sorts of programs. It is not that I do not value intelligence, but that I oppose . . . omniscient, automatic, mass surveillance. . . . That seems to me a greater threat to the institutions of free society than missed intelligence reports, and unworthy of the costs.”

Profoundly, in the early summer of 2013, with his actions and words, Edward Snowden has given aid and comfort to grassroots efforts for democracy. What we do with his brave gift will be our choice.

Norman Solomon

Monday, 10 June 2013


  1. TL says

    Snowden should not be thanked, he should be hung. He is treasonous scum. Go figure “laprogressive” to side with the anti-American regime.

  2. JoeWeinstein says

    The indignation of commenter Chris (and maybe others) is triply misguided:

    First, all that Snowden did was help reporters tell the people of the USA what their taxes are paying for – and convey to Congress some idea of what it has actually been getting for big-time moneys quietly budgeted [even as Congress insists on sequestering modest overtly budgeted moneys for overt programs]. As noted in Sotile’s parallel article here in LA Progressive, what the reporters essentially are just telling us that formerly well-publicized data-collection and examination activities which supposedly were disbanded years ago by Congress are in fact continuing.

    Second, it’s misguided to assume that a big-ticket snoop program – or indeed a big-ticket program of any kind – could long be kept secret.

    Third, in the case of a would-be effective spy or snoop program it’s moreover misguided to assume that the program SHOULD be kept secret. Obama et al indignantly seem to assume this, but that’s simply part of their habitual and knee-jerk lack of common-sense. (Snowden’s precaution, to stay abroad, reflects an astute awareness of this.)

    On the contrary, as exemplified even in Orwell’s 1984, the effectiveness of any program aimed at deterring criminals or dissidents is greatly magnified by making sure that everybody knows – or anyhow believes – that the program exists. When this happens, 99% of what would have been criminal or dissident actions will be forestalled: the perpetrators will figure that they will be caught. The few perpetrators that try to use the bits of revealed knowledge about the program will mainly find to their chagrin and defeat that meanwhile the program itself has evolved new measures to trump their would-be countermeasures.

  3. Joseph Maizlish says

    The administration’s claim about the surveillance is that it is helping “Keep Americans safe” [quoting Pres. Obama].

    What the administration calls “terrorism” would be easily much diminished by the U.S. government stopping its interference and interventions in the mideast and relinguishing its goals of dominating the region’s politics and resources.

    Since even open discussion of that course is taboo for most political figures (Ron Paul excepted), and those presenting that perspective are accused of such things as excusing or justifying the attacks, we can conclude that if “keeping Americans safe” is a goal of policy-makers, it is secondary (as well as counter-productive) to the goal of persisting in the many decades-long policies.
    Snowden’s revelations have shown us how far in the intrusions on U.S. people’s liberties the administration is willing to go in its persistence in suppressing the liberties of the mideasterners. And by the way, the liberties and rights of the victims of U.S. policies including sponsorship of repression and prosecution of wars in the mideast are, at least in my opinion, rather more basic than violations of privacy of phone records or email contents.

  4. Chris says

    Is Edward Snowden a hero? Is he Daniel Ellsberg? No, this narcissistic fame whore is neither.

    Snowden said he wanted the “public” to decide the fate of the NSA programs and how much information is made available about them. But he didn’t let the public or its elected representatives decide. He usurped this power to himself — a single, unelected individual with no high school degree but with grandiose visions of his own importance.

    Snowden claimed to be standing up for principle and transparency and said “I’m not going to hide.” But he fled to China (not exactly a beacon of transparency and civil liberties) and hid there. He said he would put his fate in the hands of Hong Kong’s courts and its rule of law to avoid extradition and prosecution in the U.S. Yes, Hong Kong has its own laws, but seriously, with all his intelligence experience, does Snowden not know that Hong Kong’s sovereignty lies with China and that China, not Hong Kong, makes decisions for Hong Kong when it comes to national security and foreign affairs? So, he’s put himself — and all the sensitive information he hacked into while abusing his position as a tech dude for the NSA and CIA — at the mercy of China, widely known to be running the world’s most aggressive military and economic spying programs against the United States. Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the U.S. The only way Snowden could could avoid extradition and stay in Hong Kong or flee to another country, would be with China’s help. And you can guess what they’ll want in return (if they haven’t got it already). This could well prove to be far more damaging than any of his leaks of classified information to the media.

    Some people are naively comparing Edward Snowden to Daniel Ellsberg (and perhaps Ellsberg himself may be sympathetic given his own views, though I’ve not seen such statements yet). But their stories couldn’t be more different.

    Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon papers because the government’s lies were perpetuating an unjust war in which thousands of young American and countless Vietnamese civilians were being killed. Lives were at stake with every passing day. Snowden exposed a program that many may find objectionable but which was operating legally. Sure, the privacy issues are serious. But the only lives at stake here are the ones Snowden may have put in danger with his actions.

    Ellsberg exhausted all other “whistleblower” avenues before leaking the classified information to the press. He went to members of Congress, etc. And when the New York Times first published the information, it was breaking a promise to Ellsberg to keep it confidential for the time being. Snowden could have gone to members of Congress who were already engaged and pushing back against the “surveillance state” to generate a debate in a more responsible fashion without the damage to national security. Instead, he went running first to someone who is not an unbiased journalist, but rather a well-known activist on privacy issues and opponent of government programs like the ones exposed.

    Most importantly, Ellsberg, inspired by an antiwar draft resister who was willing to go to jail for his beliefs, had the guts to remain in the U.S., and bravely accept the legal consequences of his actions, even though he knew this could have meant spending the rest of his life in prison, which could have been the result had it not been for the illegal shenanigans of the Nixon administration that led to Watergate. No, Ellsberg didn’t run away and hide in a foreign country like Snowden.

    Yes, a debate on the balance of privacy vs. security is needed, but this wasn’t the way to advance it. If Snowden had the balls to stand up for what he supposedly believes in, he would have stayed in the US to face the consequences and continue making his case.

    p.s. here’s what Glenn Beck tweeted about Snowden: “I think I have just read about the man for which I have waited. Earmarks of a real hero.” Say no more!

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