Edward Snowden contemplates a return home

Important caveats apply, but the news out of Russia is that Edward Snowden is seeking a return home to the United States.

Edward Snowden, the former contract analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency who fled after leaking classified documents to journalists, has expressed a desire to return to the United States, provided he is guaranteed a fair trial for his crimes.

Snowden, who joined the CIA in 2006, and enjoyed a short career as an employee or contract employee with the intelligence services of the United States and eventually fled after leaking classified documents related to surveillance programs, has expressed a desire to return home and face trial.  Snowden worked in Switzerland, Hawaii, Japan and Maryland where he earned a reputation as a cyber-intelligence expert and specialist in cyber surveillance.

Prior to his flight, his last assignment was with contractor Boze Allen Hamilton, where he was trusted with hacking into global Internet and telephone traffic and where he found his greatest trove of classified documents.  In May 2013, Snowden broke for Hong Kong after leaking documents, primarily to Guardian journalist, Glenn Greenwald.  Since fleeing, Snowden found sanctuary in Russia, which has repeatedly refused to allow his extradition.

Analysis

As Snowden cobbled together a cache of documents prior to his flight, he tirelessly labored to construct a narrative in which he was an enlightened and progressive government employee besieged by his conscience, driven by principles and the utter justice of his cause, his pleas for cooperation were vilified or disregarded by superiors, was left with little room to maneuver and fleeing was his only alternative, was unabashedly devoted to the United States, and his primary goal in exposing American deception was for the benefit of his countrymen.

Snowden is in a fair amount of trouble and his account for his duplicity is a brazen lie concocted to posture himself as a dignified whistleblower.

A curious display of his deception was his flight:  Despite a chorus line of whistleblowers of which he could have joined, many of whom had worked in government positions for decades as opposed to Snowden’s handful of years, Snowden took flight uttering concern his employment as a contractor did not provide him with adequate legal protection and never spoke of the blatant violation of his oath not to reveal classified documents.  Despite a signed vow not to disclose classified information, Snowden’s decision to escape abroad was impelled by the vast ramifications and penalties he faced should he violate the pledge.

Current U.S. law does provide some form of sanctuary and would have elicited sympathy and applause among individuals and legal organizations granting legal counsel to whistleblowers.  Snowden’s ethically-unacceptable behavior is driven less by principle than for his own self-aggrandizement and should be viewed as yet another dastardly attack on American intelligence capabilities.

Now Snowden finds himself battling a jungle and personal demons he finds loitering therein. What Snowden never considered is the necessity for the United States, in a dangerous world, not allowing our tactics to be any less ruthless than those of the opposition.  Another obvious indicator of character:  Snowden appears untainted by remorse and his actions appear to be inspired by a drive to find a place in history.

While there are some who would rapture the opportunity to deliver justice with an unholy elation, Snowden will get a fair trial should he return.  What Snowden fears most is the lengthy prison sentence which awaits for his shabby betrayal.

 

[Reuters]

 

6 Comments

  1. Nick Seebruch

    If Snowden’s motivations were somehow impure as you seem to imply, then does that make the information he released any less true?

    Also, if he was witness to, and had evidence of, the NSA violating U.S. law, as he did,
    was he then not morally obligated to become a whistle-blower.

    The NSA frequently violated U.S. privacy rules, let alone did damage to American foreign relations abroad.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsa-broke-privacy-rules-thousands-of-times-per-year-audit-finds/2013/08/15/3310e554-05ca-11e3-a07f-49ddc7417125_story.html

    If the government doesn’t keep itself accountable, and the media doesn’t keep the government accountable, then we must rely on men like Snowden to make sure that the government does not violate U.S. law no-matter the reason.

    Snowden and Greenwald took conscious steps to minimize the danger, while calling out the government for its improprieties. This is why some documents are being withheld, according to Greenwald, and why they weren’t all uploaded to Wikileaks all at once. If Snowden was seriously trying to betray the U.S., don’t you think that’s the course he would have taken? He clearly could have.

    Where is your proof that Snowden’s actions were “driven less by principle than for his own self-aggrandizement “?

    Finally, I challenge that your quote that

    “Snowden never considered is the necessity for the United States, in a dangerous world, not allowing our tactics to be any less ruthless than those of the opposition.”

    seems to be in the same spirit to what Obama said when he asserted that “You can’t have 100% security and 100% privacy.”

    I would argue that Ben Franklin was right when it comes to issues of security and privacy when he said, “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

    1. Florian Sohnke

      Nick:

      Snowden’s intent was impure because he did flee. I stated implicitly he had the option to become a whistleblower and join numerous others who had discovered objectionable U.S. action within government agencies, not always within intelligence, and brought it to the attention of their superiors or eventually went to the media or sought guidance at advocacy/watchdog groups. If what Snowden witnessed offended his conscience then he did have a moral obligation to become a whistleblower. He chose to leave the country and then allegedly co-operated with both China and Russia.

      If Snowden and Greenwald took steps to minimize Snowden’s activities and the material he took, thus violating his oath, why turn to Wikileaks at all?

      My proof for Snowden grandstanding is the numerous interviews he gives and his tactic of attempting to negotiate his penalty from Russia. Whistleblowers typically disappear: Snowden enjoys the cameras. Further, unlike the abundance of whistleblowers, many of whom, if not a good majority, worked for government agencies for decades, Snowden worked as a contract employee or government employee, on and off, for less than a decade. I hypothesize, which is my right, based on evidence since his departure, that Snowden planned his betrayal and remained within government to do so. While it is conjecture on my part, there exists an abundance of circumstantial evidence to support my theory.

      I stand by the necessity for the United States in times of crisis to devise tactics which may mirror the ruthlessness of our enemies. I would prefer to remain on a moral high ground; however, there are narrowly-defined moments where we must reduce ourselves to a squalid level, albeit less often than our opponents.

      1. Nick Seebruch

        I think that it is understandable that Snowden fled given the recent treatment of whistleblowers in the U.S.

        Granted some, Ellsberg for instance, did not go to prison. While other recent high-profile ones, like John Kiriakou, the whistleblower in the CIA-torture scandal, was a long-time government worker and in his words “no one went to jail but me.”

        Given that recent precedent and the fact that Snowden’s leak was the largest in history, its understandable that he might assume he would face harsh treatment. Yet he made the leaks anyway.

        According to the Washington Post’s extensive report on their interview with Snowden, he denies aiding China and Russia, of course, but also that “three officials acknowledged there is no evidence,” that he has done so.

        When Snowden went to Greenwald, he did not break his oath, he broke his civil contract with the government, but the oath of allegiance is not an oath of secrecy, it’s an oath to protect the principles of U.S. Constitution, including the 4th Amendment, which the NSA has breached. The documents that WikiLeaks have are only the ones that Greenwald has released with Snowden’s agreement. They are withholding ones which they feel there is no benefit to the public and could only do harm.

        The amount of time he spent in the government I feel is hardly an indicator of his motives. When he saw something illegal was he supposed to wait 10 years before he blew the whistle?

        I can’t begrudge you your right to your hypothesis of course, and I don’t. I don’t know Snowden, and I don’t know what’s in his heart. Maybe he does want to be famous. As for your view that the U.S. has to descend to the level of its enemies to preserve its higher values, I can’t really begrudge you that either, I just have the opposite perspective on the matter. If anything we could have a healthy debate on that.

        1. Florian Sohnke

          Nick:

          Related to whistleblowers, what is troubling is the tendency for the “lowest” man on the pole to face prison and the “higher ups” avoid prison or fines; far to often, the “higher ups” are only grilled in front of Congressional committees only.

          While I have no strong evidence he actually co-operated with either or both Russia and China, I am sure he did submit to questioning and may have passed on information which did not appear in public. My real contention is his turning to Wikileaks: If Snowden was motivated by his conscience, he could have clutched his oath and joined the whistleblower crowd, a group I do have a measure of respect for, and protested without leaking any sensitive documents to the media.

          I do not find a whistleblower has earned a bad name; many men and women, as you and I agree, have protested and avoided leaking damaging information, sought legal refuge and found they did not face prison. Snowden, on the other hand, collected a vast amount of information, some of which, as you and I agree, was made public. This was unnecessary and strengthens the argument Snowden did, in part, act to grandstand.

          In my view, Snowden’s tenure is key: His time working for the government is far less than other whistleblowers and leads me to find he may have been motivated to seek employment with the government or as a contractor to do precisely as I contend, steal the amount of documents he chose to do.

          I am not familiar with the nuances of the oath he took, but it is, as you point out, a key element. As far as his length of time, prior whistleblowers followed a decorum by approaching superiors, which Snowden claims he did. Perhaps Snowden was an impatient man and his gesture toward superiors with what he found unconscionable was perfunctory.

          I can not look into Snowden’s soul; however, my interpretation of his actions demonstrate he sought further employment in a government position, deliberately collected documents and fled as part of a plan instead of remaining persistent with what he found to be offensive activity by the U.S. government and followed the path of numerous others in similar government positions and protested in the same manner.

          I find some of our government’s activity revealed by Snowden as deeply disturbing. Had Snowden not fled and followed the path of many other whistleblowers, I would have been able to lend prestige to his actions.

          By fleeing and seeking refuge in Russia, I find he betrayed his motives when many fellow whistleblowers turned elsewhere and did not face jail or penalty.

          I also want to extend a thanks for your willingness to remain civil in this exchange. It strengthens my fading belief civil discourse is possible.

          Who knows? Maybe Snowden will return and be offered a “Reality” TV deal.

  2. ScJohnson

    Florian,

    I find your column most illuminating. And believe it or not, I agree with you on this one 1000%.

    My question is this, if Snowden was so concerned about human rights, why did he wind up in Russia, “the home of the free?” LOL!

  3. SCJohnson

    Florian,

    I agree with you 100%! Perhaps he had good intentions (although questionable), however assuming he had America’s freedom in mind, how is it that he elected to escape to Russia? Is Russia the land of the free? I think not!

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