The Muckrakers: Edward Snowden and Co.
I’d like to continue my First Amendment Watch with a discussion on Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and all those whistle-blowers and muck-rakers.
Attesting that all information disclosed will remain confidential is no doubt part of the contract when one signs up for a job with the CIA, NSA, FBI, American Army or other governmental offices. It’s an odd sort of assault on our right to free speech, although it makes sense because the purpose of the job, which said applicant is applying for, is to protect the nation. Leaking that information can be quite damaging to national security.
Edward Snowden worked for the NSA. Julian Assange, the founder of Wiki Leaks, did not and therefore did not have to abide by such a contract. Snowden was obviously displeased with what was transpiring, and Assange clearly wanted the truth out at any cost. The catch here is: do the ends justify the means?
When it comes to national security, the ends always seem to justify the means, no matter the cost. The United States, as a recent article I translated for Watching America from French news site Le Point pointed out, is not alone in its methods of spying and espionage. Torture has been used across the world by governments “liberal” and “conservative” alike in the name of national security. But just as torture has a bad name to it in the post-Guantanamo era (er, wait, the prison is still there….) spying is now having its trial in the public square. Except that spying on a country, as opposed to torturing a specific person, seems to be more insulting to allies and enemies alike.
Did Snowden’s means justify the immediate, and any future, results? I think people like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange have, well, incredible balls (excuse my poor language choice). I am 100% in support of voicing your own opinion, especially in the name of justice, equality and human rights. However, the path these men and others took is not an easy one. I cannot imagine being expelled from one’s country…for something one said. I cannot imagine being stateless, homeless, with the whole world closing in on you because of a system of “allies” (oh dear, is it World War I again?) Depending on the nature of the information, revealing it can be very dangerous indeed to national security. But how else is the United States government (or any government) going to take the hint that they’re doing it wrong unless they are publicly humiliated?
On an individual level, Snowden will dearly pay a price; even if he does make it to Ecuador or Venezuela, or manages to stay in Russia as he seems to wish (probably because the United States government would have nil chances of capturing him there, ever) he will be living in exile forever, unless he chooses to return, where he will then be charged. And Assange clearly is paying a price, since he is now hated the world over and stuck in the Ecuadorian embassy (I wonder if Ecuador’s London location is a glossy, gilt embassy, as embassies often are, or is it all business?) Unless he does a sex change and dyes that platinum hair of his, I doubt he’s ever going to get out of there a “free” man. The moral of the story is that if a government is on the hunt for you, you will never be a free man. Trading freedom for liberty for all–a liberty these men will never again taste. I admire these men for their sacrifice and guts to do such an act, but I believe that there should be a better way to make governments accountable for their actions.
In order to prevent more leaks that could potentially damage national governments, I feel two things must be done: Snowden et al. should not be villified the way the media and politicians have made them out to be; and two, the morals and ideology that make up this country should extend to our national security. Former vice-president Dick Cheney recently labeled Snowden a “traitor,” saying that he suspects Snowden is a spy for the Chinese. How is it democratic if one is not allowed to criticize the government without being labeled unpatriotic? How is a government democratic if it is so deep in secrets that nothing is transparent, not even our own electoral system? How can the United States government sit here and rail against other nations and their human rights records when we bug our allies and even (especially) our own people, just in the matter of national security? Setting up microphones sounds like a KGB move, not a post-Cold War American move.
The Assange-Manning matter shows where one of the many whistle-blower difficulties lies. The information Julian Assange, Wiki Leaks founder, and Bradley Manning, former US intelligence analyst, leaked about the War in Afghanistan to Wiki Leaks, is regrettable for it seriously endangered the lives of those Afghans mentioned. I’m not quite sure why the names of the innocent weren’t blacked out before they were posted, and in terms of this information I’m not so sure why it had to be revealed unless it revealed gross misconduct on behalf of the US military. Manning unfortunately has to report to the military, but Assange simply published the material; he didn’t source it. Transparency is not important if the general public has no intelligence regarding a certain matter, such as certain army tactics (is Joe Schmo down the street trained for combat?) but it is certainly important when the government is spying.
But, as someone who believes in the truth, I don’t believe people should ultimately be locked in jail for speaking it.
Are we supposed to support these men, give them an honorary medal or hang them up at the gallows? They are not strictly Benedict Arnolds; they are revealing this information because they want to make the United States, and the world, a better place. Their acts are not entirely malicious in intent as words like “traitor” would make them seem. What I find most interesting is the public support of these whistleblowers, because it seems to smack in the face of international cooperation. But aren’t countries, organizations and individuals entitled to their own opinions? I was shocked to click on a recent New York Times article, only to find out that Julian Assange had wrote it. Obviously the New York Times, the best newspaper in the world, has no qualms about letting a wanted man write for them. And what about Ecuador, whose embassy harbors Assange? Does the US government condemn Ecuador and refuse to cooperate with the country because it refuses to expel Assange from the premises?
This is the Age of Information. Clearly the First Amendment and 21st-century technology have some issues to work out.