After reading about a statue of Snowden that was put up in Brooklyn near next to a monument to the American revolution, only to have the police remove it within hours, I’ve been thinking about how public opinion in the US is supposedly mixed about Snowden. Some think he’s a hero, some think he’s a traitor.
I think it’s really interesting that people think he’s a traitor. The most common denouncement of Snowden that I’ve heard is that “He gave away secrets to our enemies!” The people who spout this rhetoric are usually horribly misinformed about what Snowden revealed, and most importantly, to whom.
I can only imagine that it’s a sort of deeply rooted tribal sentiment in the minds of these people. From my perspective, their entire thought process seems to go along the lines of “I have my team. I will support my team no matter what. This person did something to hurt my team. Therefore this person is a traitor.” I think these types of people are the most dangerous people.
“Traitor” is obviously a negative word, at least in the context Snowden’s detractors are using it. I think a monument to the revolutionary war was a great location to illegally place a Snowden statue. The same people who call him a traitor forget that the people who started the US were all traitors. They were breaking the law because they felt the law was unjust. Sadly, I don’t think the people denouncing Snowden have the mental capacity to process that fact.
In a February, 2014 interview of Snowden by German television network ARD, which was never run in the US media and quickly removed by youtube, (seriously, that kind of information blackout is stuff you only see from oppressive regimes) Snowden said the following:
“If I am traitor, who did I betray? I gave all my information to the American public, to American journalists who are reporting on American issues. If they see that as treason, I think people really need to consider who they think they’re working for. The public is supposed to be their boss, not their enemy.”
The core issue here is something authoritarian absolutists, be they moral authoritarians or political authoritarians, can’t tolerate: What if “authority” is in the wrong?
It’s a nonsensical question to these illogical people. I ran into a good deal of people like this during my time at college. My school was located 5 miles away from the largest Christian baptist fundamentalist “university” in the US, “Liberty” “University”. At the time it was common for me to get into discussions with the fundamentalists who went there. “Could God ever do something evil?” To them this question was absurd. Of course God could never do something evil. He’s everything that is good. I’d then ask these biblical literalists to explain Numbers 31:17-18, where God commands Moses to commit genocide and mass rape. Oh man, the mental gymnastics…I mention this story because I see the same mental patterns as with Snowden’s detractors.
Snowden saw that the US government was committing crimes against humanity. When I say that “crimes against humanity,” I mean it. I’m willing to bet that when most people hear that phrase, the first thing they think about is some ruler committing genocide against another population somewhere in some country. Here’s the definition of “crimes against humanity” on the International Criminal Court’s website. Murder, torture, imprisonment, we know about those crimes thanks to other whistle-blowers like Chelsea Manning. What the US is doing, what Snowden saw and risked his life to reveal, is something far more subtle than genocide, but potentially far more dangerous in the long term because of how many people it affects.
Snowden saw an undemocratic and secretive agency using technology that the vast majority of people, citizens and lawmakers alike, don’t understand to build a global surveillance apparatus. Why is this more dangerous than one group exterminating another group in some corner of the world? Because when people are under surveillance they are no longer free. People who know they are under surveillance change their behavior. They self-censor for fear of reprisal. They live in fear. Free discussion of ideas is no longer possible. The foundations for democratic society are no longer possible. This is happening, has happened, on a global scale. It doesn’t affect one group in one country. It affects everyone in the entire world. The global surveillance apparatus is a tool for global oppression.
The NSA has a stated goal to “collect it all.” They are building the capacity to store all that information for 100 years.They will have the ability to track everything you do in this digital age from birth to death. They expressly deny your right to privacy and proclaim dominion over all that you do. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re innocent. With all the data they have on you, someone from this undemocratic origination can go to a secret court, with secret evidence that you’re not allowed to see, and make up any story they want about you from your data, and you have no defense.
Snowden revealed that to the world and started a discussion that those in power would prefer we never have the opportunity to have. Remember, when exposing a crime is treated as committing a crime, you are being ruled by criminals.