This Week’s Water Cooler Question:
Edward Snowden…enough said.
Is Edward Snowden a traitor or a hero?
Colin: Spying Never Changes.
Program Editor, Global Horizons
A timely question. MI6 has only now confirmed that Snowden’s revelations forced the agency to withdraw agents or else risk losing them entirely. MI6, however, deals with foreign intelligence. To see if Snowden has actually had an effect, we would need to look at domestic intelligence agencies.
In the United States, this would be the NSA. In Britain, MI5 and the GCHQ for human and signal intelligence, respectively. In Canada, CSIS and CSEC for human and signal intelligence.
The answer? Domestic surveillance hasn’t ended at all. It’s merely been outsourced.
All three of the above countries, as well as Australia and New Zealand, are part of the ‘Five Eyes‘ alliance, an intelligence sharing group second to none. These five countries cooperate so deeply in this that they share information gleaned from spying on each other’s citizens. The NSA doesn’t need to track what John Smith is doing – if they want to know, they’ll ask CSIS, and get the information.
As long as this remains true, all else is just semantics.
Jeff: It Doesn’t Matter What His Intentions Were. He’s a Traitor.
Program Editor, International Business and Economics
It’s not the fact that he went against his government that makes him a traitor. It’s the fact that Snowden went to Russia and China. Even if he wasn’t directly working for them, it would be hopelessly naive to think that they couldn’t pry state secrets out of him which directly endanger U.S. citizens, the same people he purports to protect by revealing the NSA’s spying. It’s not as if it was a spur of the moment decision, either. He had plenty of time to choose his moves, and fleeing directly to the arms of those most hungry for state secrets is both damning and foolish. Strip away the extra details, and we have the naked truth that someone with clearance for national defence secrets ran away to Russia. How can anyone justify that? It’s just a case of him valuing himself over his country – like every other traitor.
Corinne: I Have a Shrine to Snowden in My Room.
Program Editor, Society, Culture and International Relations
He’s a hero. Whatever his intent, whatever his cause, whatever the outcome, he stood for a core democratic value in our society.
Our individual rights and our civil liberties should be protected and not violated by our governments. Our government’s power is exercised by the consent of the people, if this power is exercised covertly there is no consent. What Snowden did was expose this lack of consent in domestic spying and covert intelligence. There is an inherent value in accessing information when it informs; informing citizens informs judgment on public policy.
At the end of the day, national security is not an overriding and overruling issue that can undermine our inalienable and unchallengeable civil liberties.
Whether he’s a hero or a traitor, what’s more important is:
What kind of society do you want to live in?
Stefan: Snowden and the Murky Grey World.
Program Editor, Procurement
Edward Snowden is neither a hero nor a traitor. It is true that Snowden did break domestic U.S. law. But as he has explained, there was no legal alternative. In recent years, numerous respected journalists have written about weak oversight of the U.S. Intelligence Community and the lack of effective mechanisms for whistle-blowing. I think there is a strong argument to be made that the United States Government, particularly before Snowden, lacked the legislation and organizational culture necessary to take whistle-blowers seriously and protect them those they reported on.
I’m also persuaded that Snowden’s motivations were pure and honest. This is a man who may never see his home country again, who committed career suicide and could very well be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life. It’s also important to take a step back. If Edward Snowden had been born in another country (such Russia or China or even a U.S. ally) the United States Government would have applauded his personal sacrifice for the greater good. If any other government was exposed collecting intelligence on such a mass domestic scale, the United States Government would have condemned them unreservedly.
There is also another facet to this whole debate. Edward Snowden’s actions demonstrate that the United States Government failed on a counter-intelligence level. Incompetence is the only word to describe the U.S. Government’s handling of the situation. Over an extended period of time, Edward Snowden as a private contractor had immense access to highly classified databases without any thorough periodic review of his activities. The recent data breaches involving U.S. Government security clearances and the Office of Personnel Management indicate that a great deal of work remains to be done.
Victoria: As The Only American Here. . .
Program Editor, Women in Security
In order to save my future self and any prospective career with the U.S. Government, I’m going to go ahead and say: yes, traitor. All the way. As a daughter of two military parents and a sister to a U.S. Airman, I personally cannot condone an action that could potentially put my family in danger. Arguably, Snowden’s actions did just that. Whether he intended to or not.
We all knew spying was going on, if you didn’t then you were definitely living under a rock somewhere. Probably in North Dakota or something. The extent to what was happening was shocking, but come on Snowden, was there not another way to expose it? I don’t think he was intentionally trying to be a traitor and expose the secrets to Russia or China, but they have definitely been exposed due to both his, the media and the government’s incompetence.
But if we look at the technical meaning of the term, then he didn’t steer clear from the label. He betrayed his government and his country but as others will argue, he did so while trying to help his people. But, the US Government has to take a stand against such actions, if not, then they leave themselves open to more whistleblowers or traitors in the future. Then what do we have, anarchy?
The Wall Street Journal in 2013 asked Americans if they thought Snowden was a “Whistleblower” or a “Traitor.” The split was 55% to 34%. I’m just going to give Snowden a warning: don’t come back to the US, because that 34% isn’t happy.