In reply, or rather addition, to Simon Williamson’s article “Give Snowden a medal” published on 03-01-2014.
Snowden, one of the people singlehandedly responsible for the dramatic increase in the amount of mentions for the words “patriot” and “traitor” in the past 6 months, has yet again proved, as Nietzsche put it, “all things are subject to interpretation; whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth”. Although it will be a contradiction for one person to equate both these qualities to Snowden from their own viewpoint, nothing stops the equation from changing depending on who is peeking through the looking glass.
I am neither an American citizen, nor bound by the American government, but this issue is far reaching, far beyond the landmass of the USA. The American government has a far greater accountability to its own; and if that is how a mother would treat all her children for the potential infringement of a portion so small, it is indistinguishable from zero to the fifth decimal, one would have to ask how far she’ll go in regards to someone else’s child.
Initially I found America’s diplomatic pressure on its allies to refuse Snowden asylum completely counterproductive to its own self-interest. From the moment the story broke, Snowden would have much bettered served the US government nicely settled in Canada or the UK, where they have significant influence, and can ensure that he’s not pressured into divulging more sensitive information. You might even be able to stop him of releasing additional information at all by making it conditional to his asylum … because we know all the countries on the shortlist to grant Snowden asylum is not doing it for free – information is a valuable commodity.
Unfortunately, as Simon pointed out, stopping whistle-blowers from coming forward in future is clearly the desirable end here, which is why America is so intent on locking them away with such merciless ferocity – as evident with Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange as well. The fact that asylum is so hard to come by doesn’t help the likelihood of future leaks either.
Yet, if all the cards face-up makes it impossible to win a game, no matter the value of those face-down, why would you go to such an extreme to keep from flipping them over? Maybe because those cards reveals a stacked deck, and it is much better to be humiliated in a few rounds, than disqualified completely. Although only speculation (and at risk of sounding like a conspiracist), the most probable conclusion I come to when evaluating the USA’s actions in regards to all three cases, is that we have been shown but bone shavings in comparison to the mass graves of skeletons in the closet, and the rewards of silencing future whistle-blowers by making a harsh example of three individuals outweighs the risk based of what they actually know in the larger scheme of things.
The scariest of all for me is that people are more at ease with the whole controversy since the government confirmed that they (supposedly) only gathered metadata as opposed to specifics - especially from people that advocate that innocent people have nothing to fear. It is the specifics that prove guilt or innocence without doubt. It is the non-specific (metadata), particularly in large volumes, which can incorrectly open or close the door of reasonable doubt, or even bring the specifics into question¹. Metadata, more often than not, is a game of connect the dots, and the more active imagination you have, and the more dots you have, the easier you can manipulate it to your advantage. Too often in court of law we have seen the tactic of demonising, disgracing and demeaning an individual in order to discredit; something which metadata can very easily facilitate outside the actual scope of the case.
As for the claim that none of the things Americans take seriously – guns, (ignoring all informed opinion on) food portions, war, (the definition of marriage) etc. – trumps the Constitution, someone might want to tell the government. The fact that the government could so easily establish the (oxymoronically named) Patriot Act and its own court to do its bidding seems more than a little conflicting.
All-in-all, somewhere, somehow, someone made a lot of money, and no doubt greed and power (usually begotten by money, begotten by greed) was a considerable force in the implementation of the PRISM surveillance program. With the increasing billions being pushed into the American political system by profit driven corporations, openly accepted as “campaign contributions”, undoubtedly so does the number of blind-eyes, quick signatures, bought votes and unjust silences. Can we really be all that surprised when the government starts acting like a corporation?
Through my glasses, I would be the first in line to praise Snowden not as a patriot, but a humanitarian, worthy of a medal. However, I’d rather see some political reforms in his honour, which would make the fate of future whistle-blowers on government wrongdoing non-negotiable². And if everyone was paying attention as they should be, these reforms wouldn’t be restricted to the borders of the USA.
¹ Metadata can “prove” that a suspected terrorist was on his cell phone miles away from an incident, when the specifics could prove someone else had used his cell phone, just like the specifics could prove you really did call the wrong number and struck up a 30 minute conversation with an interesting person, while the metadata makes you look like an accomplice to said terrorist, more likely responsible for the incident in question.
² I purposely specify “government wrongdoing”, as divulging confidential information simply because you can, should be unlawful.