Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has been the subject of judgement since he leaked classified documents detailing U.S. mass surveillance programs run by the NSA late last fall, and now a CBS approval poll and the statements of critics and supporters this week have shown that the jury is still out regarding Snowden.
Is Snowden a hero or dissident, a whistleblower or a spy, a traitor or a patriot? The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press asked Americans what they thought of Snowden between Jan. 15 and 19. Of Pew’s 1500 randomly selected adults, 56 percent wanted to see the U.S. prosecute Snowden legally; 32 percent opposed legal prosecution. Pew found that 45 percent of the participants in their survey thought that Snowden’s actions served public interest while 43 percent believed his leaks harmed American interests.
Congressman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) recently made statements in a TV interview that Edward Snowden was working with Russia before Snowden began his fugitive asylum in Moscow. Edward Snowden replied to Rep. Rogers in a rare interview published in The New Yorker Tuesday. Snowden denied the allegations, calling them absurd and making fun of similar accusations made against him in recent months. Snowden also questioned the editorial position of the media outlets responsible for the smears against him, who, Snowden claimed, published speculative allegations without providing any factual basis to credit them. Snowden pointed to the seriousness of holding to account both public representatives who make, and media organizations who publish, baseless statements because the perceptions of the American public depend on these sources of information.
The senior security contributor for CBS News, Michael Morell, who is also a former Deputy Director of the CIA and who served on President Obama’s task force on surveillance, made statements that refuted Rogers’ claim. Morell said that U.S. intelligence believed that Snowden did not work with any outside source, and that there was “no evidence” to the contrary.
President Obama, in his Jan. 17 speech on American surveillance, criticized Edward Snowden for publicly disclosing secret U.S. information. Obama said that the leaks were “not worth the damage done, because there was another way of doing it,” and characterized Snowden’s actions as shedding “more heat than light.”
Julie Bishop, Australia’s Foreign Minister, added her voice to the chorus against Snowden. Snowden’s leaks hurt Australian politics by showing that Australian spies had targeted the president of Indonesia, a main trading partner of Australia. On Bishop’s recent visit to Washington, the Foreign Minister visited U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice and at a keynote address to an Alliance 21 conference, Bishop derided Snowden for betraying his nation and committing “unprecedented treachery.” She characterized Snowden’s exile as “skulking” in Russia. Bishop expressed faith in the joint intelligence operations relationship between the U.S. and Australia and stated that the purpose of such operations was “about saving lives.” Bishop declared that Edward Snowden was “no hero.”
Dr. Ron Paul spoke out in a television commentary to defend Snowden, however, calling Snowden a hero and stating that Snowden was closer to the Constitution than the “clowns” in Washington. Paul cited the President’s use of “kill lists,” publicized in The New York Times in 2012 as a contrast to Snowden’s actions. Paul also took aim at the President’s NSA speech, calling out the President for condemning Snowden while praising the idea of the public debate that is taking place in America over Fourth Amendment rights. Paul pointed to the NSA for blame, saying that the NSA overstepped their proper limitations and violated Americans’ rights.
In spite of the statements of critics and supporters, and in spite of the judgment of approval poll participants, Edward Snowdens are in demand in America and worldwide, as leakers have become celebrities and heroes to many. It is uncertain how the trend might be reversed, as so-called information-liberators have shown that they prefer leaking classified documents to protecting their own safety and security, let alone prosperity. Edward Snowden was earning six figures before he chose his current life of exile and persecution. Booz Allen Hamilton, the security contracting firm for which Snowden worked, is currently seeking to hire an Insider Threat Analyst to identify future Snowdens before they become leakers.
By Day Blakely Donaldson