I don’t know if Edward Snowden is a hero or a traitor; an honorable whistleblower or a self-serving snitch. Those distinctions will be up to history, the public and the courts to decide. But I do know that, if his revelations ultimately show as he claims, that US spying is out of control, he is going about his mission the wrong way.
The initial revelations were really nothing surprising. But they did get the attention of the entire nation and initiated a useful discussion of how much surveillance is necessary to protect us from terrorists. In that regard, Snowden did us all a great favor.
The fact that he obtained his information through lies and deception, however, raises as many questions about his character and his methods as it does about the NSA. And the fact that he is on the run, seeking asylum from some of our nation’s adversaries, raises questions about his motives.
Snowden’s most recent claims are as unsubstantiated as they are sensational. Moreover, they have caused great embarrassment to the US and strained relationships with our allies.
All of this leads me to believe that, if Snowden’s motives were honorable, he would have approached his task in a much different way. Before going public with his revelations, he could have approached Congressmen or Senators to see if he could find a receptive ear. There are many, like Senator Ron Wyden, who would have helped him accomplish his goals in a more effective and legal, but less sensational, way. If that approach wasn’t to Snowden’s liking, he could have had the courage to stay in the US, divulge his information to the press, and continue his quest through the courts, if necessary.
If he found either of those paths too daunting, he could have protected himself by providing all of his information to his accomplice, Glenn Greenwald, as insurance that it would eventually be made public. If his goal is, indeed, to protect the American public, the American people would have his back and prevent any extraordinary consequences. He would have been viewed as the hero he apparently thinks himself to be.
But Snowden chose a more cowardly, sensational path.
As a result, he finds himself trapped in a Russian airport and denied asylum by other nations. If he returns to the US, he will be arrested and spend a lengthy time in jail while awaiting trial. If he travels to most other countries in the world, he will likely face extradition. And any nation that will grant him asylum is likely to be one in which he won’t want to live.
I, for one, will not feel sorry for him. He had other, and better, options.