The NY Times editorial board released an editorial making the case for some form of clemency for former government contractor Edward Snowden on Jan. 1, 2013. While it is clear that Snowden violated his Top Secret clearance agreement, it is also clear that US citizens and the world needed to realize the lengths that the National Security Agency (NSA) is using to gain information for the “war on terror”.
The Times editorial summarized the case for clemency or a plea bargain.
“Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.”
This is a classic moral dilemma of the conflict in perceived interests of the government versus the moral obligations of an individual. Snowden did not disclose any secret procedures that were unknown to potential terrorists. We all knew that NSA was spying on us. Snowden told us how much spying was, or perhaps still is, being done under the USA PATRIOT ACT.
We didn’t know that NSA was spying on foreign allies, and doing it in cooperation with other allies including Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Did NSA seriously think that the Prime Minister of Germany or the President of Brazil was a terrorist threat to the US?
The NSA is not the only government agency involved in spying and harassment of individuals that might carry dissident thoughts against the US government. The CIA charter prohibits domestic spying. The FBI is restricted to lawful investigations against those that are threats or appear to be threats to the US government of other individuals. The restrictions refer back to the US Constitution, and specifically to the Bill of Rights. You can read the 1980 version of the FBI charter to see where they have been working outside their own charter.
The US is conducting a war on terror that is also a war on its own citizens. The spying into personal calls, social media and private internet messages is far beyond reasonable care in ferreting out terrorist activities. Snowden did all US citizens and the world a favor in opening the kimono of the US government’s spying operations.
The information revealed by Snowden does not increase the dangers from organized terrorists in carrying out their threats. It is an embarrassment to the US government agencies because it exposes the excesses that have been released by the USA PATRIOT ACT.
The first step in rebuilding trust in the US government has been made by the Obama administration directives to reel in the government spying. There has been a massive breakdown in government credibility due to the denial of the accuracy of Snowden’s early releases that have since proven to be true.
Snowden didn’t create the paranoia from Big Brother activities by US government agencies. He revealed the illegal activities and he has helped to reduce the abuses. Future generations will thank him if his actions result in the reinstatement of the Bill of Rights and the repeal of the USA PATRIOT ACT.
Whatever the outcome of criminal prosecution of Edward Snowden, he did a favor to citizens of the US and around the globe in disclosing the abuses of technology that destroy our freedoms and does little to make this a safer world. The fact that other governments were involved in similar activities now has the attention of citizens of the world.
Edward Snowden should get the Nobel Peace Prize, not life in prison, for helping making the world a more private place once again.