• author
    • Kelvin Wade

    • July 7, 2013 in Columnists

    Unsure and unsnowed by Snowden

    We’re split over NSA leaker Edward Snowden. According to a new Huffington Post/Yougov Poll, 38 percent of Americans think it was wrong to expose government secrets while 33 percent say it was the right thing. Another 29 percent are unsure. I find myself in that unsure category.

    It’s not because recent reports cast Snowden as an anti-Obama activist. It’s not that Snowden used to be pro-intelligence under President George W. Bush, and anti-spying, anti-government once Barack Obama became president. Nope.

    While I’m interested in knowing about the government’s domestic spying efforts, I’m wary of this manner of revelation. I question whether it’s a good idea to have self-appointed leakers of government activities. Is it worth it compared to the harm done? It’s not cut and dried for me.

    There are some who consider Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Wikileaks heroes for exposing the truth. I’ve never bought into that simply because they don’t know the big picture. They don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle. And as much as we may question government secrecy, why would we entrust individuals with the right to decide what should and shouldn’t be made public?

    What if a CIA analyst, Navy SEAL or Nightstalker helicopter pilot had misgivings about penetrating so deeply into the sovereign territory of Pakistan for the Osama Bin Laden raid and put the info online right before the raid? Would that be okay? What if Pakistan shot down the two helicopters carrying the special operations forces?

    What if instead of a U.S. contractor, it was a Chinese or North Korean agent that exposed the NSA’s spying program to the American public? Would you think those foreign intelligence services were heroic in revealing this information to the American people? Or would you be concerned about the nation’s security? Or both?

    When I think of whistleblowers, I think of someone who works at a job, discovers something is not right and then reveals it. Snowden, however, has said he took the job with the NSA contractor in order to collect and reveal secrets. That’s not a whistleblower. That’s a spy. And perhaps some wouldn’t make a distinction and perhaps it makes no difference as long as the information is revealed. I disagree. Of course, it’s up to the government to make sure its agencies and clandestine activities are secure, but if it’s true that Snowden took the job to spy, he’s not a whistleblower. He’s no different from a member of a foreign intelligence agency.

    Edward Snowden has said,  “I had access to the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all over the world. The locations of every station, we have what their missions are, and so forth.”

    On the surface, this looks like bluster. It looks like the same kind of puffery serial killers engage in when they’re arrested. They’ve killed 10 people but claimed to have killed 100. It seems like someone trying to inflate their importance and extend their 15 minutes.

    But what if he’s not embellishing? What if someone has this information and then goes to China and then Russia with it? Is Edward Snowden still a hero if he sells out the identity of human intelligence assets all over the globe, crippling U.S. intelligence? What if he exposes the identity of agents who were trying to prevent terror cells from obtaining radioactive material from Pakistan? What if he compromises the activity of individuals trying to prevent the next underwear bomber from flying into the U.S. and exploding a jetliner over a major American city? What if his information results in U.S. soldiers and contractors being killed or tortured around the globe? What if an operation to prevent an atomic weapon from being smuggled into the U.S. through a shipping container is compromised?

    His actions have seriously damaged the United States. Behind the scenes, assets have had to be reshuffled, operations halted and methodologies changed. That much is common sense. It’s harmed our relations with our allies. There’s no telling how many future helpful assets his revelations have cost us from people afraid to work with the U.S. for fear of their identities being compromised. There is also no telling what harm we’re inviting, not just through terror but also  economically. Remember that espionage isn’t only about warfare. It’s about keeping competitive advantages secret. There’s plenty of corporate espionage that goes on.

    Wikileaks and its cadre of spies and whistleblowers do serve an important purpose. It delivers transparency in government. It gives citizens more information to see if they approve of how their government is functioning. It forces governments to be more careful. It forces governments to be more meticulous about their hiring and screening process. It also forces them to be even more secretive. There’s a difference between government secrecy that involves national security vs. government secrecy that’s only about covering someone’s ass.

    But the eternal struggle is – who gets to decide?

    As for Snowden, the U.S. government is moving heaven and earth to get him. This past week  Spain, Portugal, and France denied the Bolivian president’s plane use of their airspace, forcing him to land in Austria over fears Snowden may have been aboard the plane. In a week’s time, Russian President Vladimir Putin went from welcoming Snowden to chastising him about harming relations with America. There had to be an incredible amount of unseen American pressure to get Putin to change his tune.

    However, the least of Mr. Snowden’s worries is being transported back to America for trial. In September 2011, the U.S. used a drone strike to kill American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Al-Awlaki’s crime was giving speeches that encouraged Al-Qaeda terrorists. Speeches.

    If the U.S. government will extrajudicially kill an American citizen for giving anti-American speeches, then what do you think they’d do to the guy who exposed the biggest intelligence program in American history?

    I wish I could unabashedly champion Snowden, Wikileaks and leakers in general. I want to know what our government is doing. I want there to be a check on the different branches, especially when a branch has given up their constitutionally mandated role. But at the same time, this isn’t an academic exercise. There are real world consequences to these actions that, as a citizen of this country, I may have to bear the brunt of.

    So while we may love being informed, let’s hope the cost isn’t too high.


    • Kelvin, we’re on the same page. I have such mixed feelings. But, beneath it all… my gut feeling about Snowden is very negative. What he did may be good for the Constitution, but it was bad for our country. And you bring up a good point… he entered into his job as a spy. He didn’t innocently notices something was amiss. He intended to expose classified information.

      I heard an excellent analogy for Snowden — he was like someone standing on the busiest street corner in New York City. He sees a lot of traffic passing by. Where they came from, where they’re going, and, more importantly, what the drivers plan to do, he has no clue. All he did was reveal that a lot of traffic goes by. But, he doesn’t really know ANYTHING more useful than that.

      I think he’s a slimy little weasel, and deserves to be charged with treason.

      • Terri Connett

      • July 7, 2013 at 12:10 pm
      • Reply

      Great column, Kelvin! I too am conflicted about this whole mess. But you masterfully pulled together the facts in your signature, cool style and helped me sort it out. I don’t want a drone attack to kill the slimy little weasel (good one, Debra!) But I do want him to shut the hell up and come back to the U.S. to face the music.

    • I don’t think he has revealed anything that the other nations already know about the US. I think he just let us know what we feared and didn’t know for sure. I have faith that all this too shall pass without any real damage. I have wavered as well. But I am glad I know more than I did know before he told. Whether all of it or none of it is relevant, the story is now out for the world and world leaders to evaluate and believe me they all do it too. If he had been from another country not sure if the US would have done the right thing and returned him either. How many do we hold and don’t extradite? Plenty.The other nations are all posturing and this has given them something to give and get from other nations to have it settle down again. Snowden will disappear where other 15 minuters of fame go.

      • PeggyO

      • July 7, 2013 at 12:15 pm
      • Reply


      ” … the U.S. used a drone strike to kill American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Al-Awlaki’s crime was giving speeches that encouraged Al-Qaeda terrorists. Speeches.” That should trouble all of us – greatly! What we have learned from these “facts” which Snowden reveled to the press should also trouble us, greatly! Where’s the snow job?

      Best we know & agree to what our government does because ALL that it does has consequences! Snowden is the messenger.We Can Expect Consequences precisely because of the illegal behavior, the secretive & unconstitutional behavior that our government has directed toward us, and our allies. So blame the messenger.

      Take a look at this. It might help your understanding and dispel some of your supositions. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=7pdzzZB7Xgo

      • Thanks PeggyO for the information. Interesting interviews.

        • Kelvin

        • July 7, 2013 at 9:53 pm
        • Reply

        I chose “unsnowed” because it was a witty play on the spy’s name. I believe what he’s revealed that can be verified but I don’t buy into him. Do I trust an unchecked executive branch that will log my phone calls and track my online movement? No. But do I trust the anti-Obama guy who got a job to hack into the government and then flees to China and Russia? No.

        I was troubled greatly by many things the government has done post-9/11. But not enough people have been troubled. As I’ve written in other columns. Americans have pretty much made their choice. They like drone strikes. This NSA spying made people look up and go “Oh shit” and then they went back to what they were doing. I think that’s due largely to the fact that people’s concerns right now tend to be a lot more local than that. “The government is spying on me? I don’t like that but I need a job.” Or I’m having trouble making my mortgage payment. I’ve got bills out the wazoo. I’ve got to find somewhere to live. My car needs work and my credit cards are maxed out. I think the character of the nation has changed so much in the post 9/11 world that people can’t be shocked anymore.

        The video was interesting. I stand by what I’ve written.

    • Terri – YES. He needs to be held accountable. I wonder how many lives of CIA and FBI agents he’s endangered. The ripple effect is HUGE.

    • I watched the interview that is referenced above and the Guardian isn’t releasing any names of people who could be harmed supposedly and the US is known in advance of what they will leak. Interesting dynamic.

    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rXPrfnU3G0
      Watch this, if you can, and then see if you feel the same. This is murder.

        • Kelvin

        • July 8, 2013 at 8:13 am
        • Reply

        Donald, Watched it. Why wouldn’t I feel the same way? You should read “Dirty Wars” by Jeremy Scahill or “The Way of the Knife” by Mark Mazetti. Bad intelligence and a tendency to shoot first and ask questions has resulted in many innocent people killed, not only through aerial bombardments but by JSOC’s kill teams that do targeted snatch n grabs and assassinations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere. The point of my column isn’t that the government is innocent and no one should expose when they cross the line. If that we’re the case then the two books I mentioned wouldn’t exist. I say in the column that whistleblowers and the like play an important role when the other branches of government cease to play their role as a check on another branch. But at the same time I’m unsure and uneasy about Snowden, Assange and Wikileaks because of the potential for unintended consequences. Because they don’t know the big picture. It’s right there in the opening paragraph. Some are pro-Snowden. Some are anti-Snowden. And some are unsure. This is a column about being unsure.

    • Donald, I have seen this video and it disgusts me. Sad that war brings out such vicious unwarranted killing. I remember from Viet Nam the same kinds of things happened. So very sad for all the innocent people killed.

    • In the open letter, Lon Snowden wrote in glowing terms about his son. “You have forced onto the national agenda the question of whether the American people prefer the right to be left alone from government snooping absent probable cause to believe crime is afoot to vassalage,” he wrote.

    • So no, Snowden will not be droned. Or rather, he cannot be droned, at least when held up to the US’s own criteria for killing its own citizens overseas. But when has non-compliance to its own (non-)laws ever stopped the US government and its closest allies from doing whatever the fuck they please?

    • The risk takers are the most concerning. I am of the mind that most is an illusion. Wait for your time to make a difference and, like Snowden, make it count. Risk it all. You may never get that chance but keep your eyes open. I choose to keep my life in constant disarray. I value a $1 and I have complete disregard for $100. I enjoy the occasional bouts of excess, and security, and I sometimes flourish in uncontrollable turmoil. From month to month I am both rich and I choose to struggle. I live. Day after day, I feel closer to all of you and believe that we all, deep down, want something more. We are becoming one planet of people. That is something that no government in the world can stop. Technology leads to direct communication which leads to direct democracy.

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