Two Views on Snowden
12 July 2013 | Pago Pago, American Samoa
Two Views on Snowden
Mr. X Too many assume 1 Snowden is being truthful and 2 this is all bad. I don't, on either count. I think Snowden is reckless, irresponsible and a serious criminal. If he had concerns, he should have raised them with members of Congress. His actions were arrogant and harmful to the nation. To the extent his revelations were useful to public discourse, it was not his decision to make.
We have, in a democracy, elected officials to make important policy decisions -- in this case the members of Congress to whom he should have brought his concerns. By going over the heads of all of our elected officials and making this profoundly important decision on his own, he violated the public trust and endangered the nation. Your admiration for him mystifies me.
As you know, I am a staunch civil libertarian, but what he did deserves only scorn. It shows the courage of a Sirhan Sirhan or a Lee Harvey Oswald, who also thought they were acting in the public interest. There are no doubt those who think they were.
Yours Truly: My take is different. I tend to believe Snowden because the government has quite clearly lied to us about these matters, e.g., 1) It is now clear NSA gathers all communications into and out of the U.S., despite its earlier claim that it only intercepts foreign traffic coming in; 2) NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander lied to Congress by saying the agency could not determine how many U.S. communications are gathered - but NSA's auditing tool, Boundless Informant, does just that; 3) NSA has also lied by saying such data gathered by NSA programs can only be analyzed when linked to foreign targets; and 4) other examples. I could go on.
Secrecy covers a multitude of sins here I suspect, and too badly compromises on the public's right to know, a concern redoubled where our own constitutional rights are at stake within the scope of what is claimed to be secret. Why should Snowden lie, render himself homeless and place himself at risk so? To be sure, he has violated the law by his disclosures and has also made himself a homeless fugitive, cut off from family and friends. He knew as much would occur before hand.
As for whistle-blowing on NSA within proper channels, that has been tried by at least three others who have been shunted aside and left isolated and intimidated. Mr. X trusts to the democratic process and trust elected officials to act in the public interest much more than I do, particularly with my training and observations as an economist. I tend to agree with Robert Kuttner's view that history will look more kindly on Snowden than Mr X does because of the lies emerging and the ensuing and long overdue national debate that he is bringing to the fore. More examples of such lying emerge daily.
I am even more radical than Mr. X or Kuttner and contend events surrounding Snowden are a historical watershed marking the start of a long run and widespread collapse of trust in our government, which has also breached that trust in too many other and earlier regards as well, especially on economic matters. An adversarial relationship of mutual distrust is slowly developing in an ever broadening segment of the American public with its government. The problem moves out of just the fringes, I suggest.