Contrary to my normal inclinations and following the historic NBC interview with the most controversial figure in the history of U.S. intelligence, I feel a need to express my initial impressions of Edward Snowden. Prior to the interview I had bought into the NSA’s description of Snowden as a young and relatively inexperienced computer hacker. I pictured him as someone who was trying to get attention and perhaps, somehow, make some money for himself. The interview changed my opinion.
Clearly, we have not heard the end of this story. Snowden says there is much more to come in terms of revelations, and the press is still awash with the international repercussions of his actions. But, for what it’s worth, my impressions:
1. Snowden is an idealist and it seems likely that he did what he did because of his convictions and not for aggrandizement. He seems to have forfeited his citizenship and his connections to his family and culture on behalf of ideals. One could compare, as he apparently does, his behavior to the same kind of treason committed by the founders against the British government over three centuries ago.
2. He was bright, poised and articulate in the interview and his mien lends credibility to his claim that he was advancing rapidly in the NSA organizational structure. His body language was assured, not defensive. His speech is not that of a youth, but of an experienced man. At 30, he is about the age of an O-3 (Lieutenant in the Navy), which is a responsible age. He now meets the minimum age requirement for senator in Congress.
3. His side of the story appears to be consistent with the facts as published thus far in the press. Notably, the NSA has pushed back on one of his assertions that he actually did try to express some of his legal concerns through emails, but of course it’s hard to prove a negative, i.e., that there weren’t other emails. In any case, anyone who has ever worked for a bureaucracy knows the fate of one who rocks the boat.
4. He has really angered the government, including, prominently, Secretary of State John Kerry, who has called him not just a traitor, but a “coward”, I presume for declining to come home to be tried on charges. Whether Snowden is a traitor or not is an unresolved legal question, but I see no evidence that he’s a coward. I think it’s naive for anyone to suggest that he “come home to face the music” and be tried for his crimes, especially since the law enables his former employer to classify its side of the story. He would be naive to do it.
5. I believe that the rule of law is essential to a properly functioning democracy, and by that standard, Snowden is clearly an outlaw. However, classification, as I and many others have discussed in these blogs, has been abused as long as there have been wars. Then too, there has been the explosion of secrecy and hidden budgets so well documented in the book, “Top Secret America” under the rubric of 9/11 fear. I have to wonder, is Snowden the only person to actually try to do something about unbridled bureaucracy and secret budgets?
6. Snowden has staked out his position and made it clear that he’s in this for principle. Whether he will be judged by history a traitor or patriot is an open question as far as I’m concerned. What will history eventually say?
7. NBC scored a major scoop with this interview. I am chagrinned to observe that the CBS News said not a word about it tonight. I don’t know about ABC. Maybe they’re both working on it?