2014-06-01 – I’ve written a couple of times about Ed Snowden (see links at the end), but now I’ve gotten to see him, thanks to NBC News. He seems like a good guy other than the fact that he’s wanted for exposing the deepest and darkest of America’s national security secrets.
So here’s the question: does the fact that he appears to be a good guy change anything?
I already believed that exposing NSA illegality was an important and valuable thing. But I also believe that the government does have some legitimate needs for secrecy and that violations of secrecy laws are legitimate crimes. If someone believes that the secrecy label is being used inappropriately or illegally, they take their chances by stealing the information and releasing it to the public.
It doesn’t matter if you are a good guy or not. (I’m not like NRA shill Wayne LaPierre. A good guy with a leak doesn’t stop a bad guy with a leak.)
Now, I am not saying that Snowden should be convicted of any crime. But what he did in releasing NSA secrets does give the government probable cause to charge him with a crime and he should be charged. He should be given the right to defend against the charge on the grounds that he exposed substantial illegality rather than legitimate state secrets. This should be a legitimate defense. And his right to plead and prove this defense should not be blocked by secrecy laws.
In other words, being a good guy is not enough. Bad guys who can prove this type of defense should walk free. Good guys who can’t should go to prison.
Think of all the different motivations that could have gone into a Snowden-type act. He says that he did it for patriotism, to guard the Constitution and restore citizen rights. Someone else could be a mole for al Qaeda. Someone else could be a political opponent of the sitting administration. Someone else could be a corporate spy.
Which of these people would you let off the hook?
Only the patriot? What if he released legitimate secrets? What if people’s lives were placed in jeopardy? What if people were killed?
What if an al Qaeda mole exposed rampant illegality and no one’s life was placed at risk?
Do we punish thoughts or deeds?
So Snowden is a good guy. He wants us to call him “Ed,” not “Edward.” He should be happy that the media isn’t calling him “Edward Joseph Snowden.” Three-name monikers apparently are reserved for assassins (Lee Harvey Oswald) or mass murderers (John Wayne Gacy).
But good guy or not, he is charged with a crime. Part of what makes him a good guy in the tradition of civil disobedience is that he took this personal risk to bring about change.
He should be allowed to defend himself as a legitimate whistleblower. Unless his defense is so obvious that the government would be willing to concede that he was right. Of course, that’s not going to happen.
Previous Snowden links: