Hillary Clinton to Edward Snowden: Face the Music

Edward Snowden: Face the music -- or perhaps a firing squad
Edward Snowden: Face the music — or perhaps a firing squad

W.J. Astore

A revealing question and answer came in this week’s presidential debate among the Democratic candidates.  They were asked if Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who revealed illegal spying by the NSA and the U.S. government, should be considered a hero or traitor.

Hillary Clinton’s answer was revealing of who she is and what she stands for; here it is in full:

CLINTON: He broke the laws of the United States. He could have been a whistleblower. He could have gotten all of the protections of being a whistleblower. He could have raised all the issues that he has raised. And I think there would have been a positive response to that.

COOPER: Should he do jail time?

ClINTON: In addition — in addition, he stole very important information that has unfortunately fallen into a lot of the wrong hands. So I don’t think he should be brought home without facing the music.

According to Hillary, Snowden is not officially a whistleblower, since he failed to apply for such status within the government. If he had, she suggests he would have been given a fair hearing.  (Right!  Just like the “positive response” Hillary Clinton’s State Department gave Peter Van Buren, who for his honesty about Iraq reconstruction was outcast and hounded into retirement.) She also suggests that Snowden’s revelations have “fallen into a lot of the wrong hands,” by which I think she means not foreign terrorists but the American people — what she terms “everyday” people to distinguish them from people like her.

But, finally, this sentence is the killer: I don’t think he should be brought home without facing the music.

Facing the music: Do you know what that potentially means for Edward Snowden?  Accused of treason (his information having fallen into all those “wrong hands“), he would face the possibility of execution by the U.S. government.  Facing the music in this case may mean facing a firing squad.  At the very least, we’re talking about a LONG jail sentence, doubtless in a maximum security federal penitentiary.

By comparison to Hillary, the other candidates showed measures of compassion.  Lincoln Chaffee said he wanted to bring Snowden home: that he deserved praise for revealing illegal activities by the U.S. government.  Martin O’Malley essentially agreed with Clinton but without the ominous warning about the need to face the music.  Bernie Sanders applauded Snowden for his role in educating the people about their dishonest and abusive government; he said that important service should be taken into account if and when Snowden returns for trial.  Jim Webb punted the question to “the legal system” but he also highlighted the dangers of uncontrolled surveillance and how such power can be used for undemocratic purposes: “We’ve got a vast data bank of information that is ripe for people with bad intentions to be able to use,” Webb said.  Of course, we truly wouldn’t know the full extent of this without the revelations provided by Snowden.

Following on from what Webb said, the conclusion is obvious: Edward Snowden is a hero.  He should be brought back to the United States and praised for his courage in revealing how our government has spied illegally, not only on the American people but on much of the world.  Untrammeled spying is not making us safer; it’s people like Snowden, those who still have integrity and who believe in the ideals of democracy, who are making us safer.

On the question of Snowden, hero or traitor, all the candidates disappointed. But in calling for Snowden to face the music, Hillary Clinton’s answer represented the deepest bow to the National Security State.

If I were Snowden, I wouldn’t plan on returning to the USA if Clinton is elected president.

Petraeus and Snowden: Both Leakers of Classified Material, Same Punishment?

Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden

W.J. Astore

Two news items this morning caught my eye.  The first involves Edward Snowden, the security contractor who revealed massive (and ongoing) spying by the National Security Agency (NSA), much of it illegal.  Snowden says he will consider returning to the United States if he is given a fair trial (he is currently in Russia, where he’s been granted asylum and a residency permit for three years).

Watching the Citizenfour documentary (which I recommend highly), it’s apparent that Snowden revealed the sweeping extent of the NSA’s spying not out of malice, not for money, and not out of disloyalty, but rather because he wanted to serve the people by shedding light on the dangerous activities of powerful governmental agencies.  Snowden, in short, was motivated by patriotism. He saw how power was corrupting governmental agencies like the NSA, he recognized the dangers of that power to democracy, and he acted to warn the people of the possibility of this power ending in tyranny.

If he returns to the USA, how should he be punished?  May I suggest that he receive the same penalty as General David Petraeus, who also leaked highly classified information?  That penalty would be two years’ probation and a $40,000 fine.

Actually, that penalty wouldn’t be fair to Snowden, since Petraeus’s motivation for leaking classified information was personal. According to the New York Times, Petraeus shared his “black book” notes, much of the content highly classified, freely to Paula Broadwell, his lover and biographer.  He apparently did so in order that she could write a more glowing account of his life.  It’s also possible that this was part of the seduction process between the two: the sharing of those “sexy,” highly classified notes in exchange for further intimacies exchanged between the sheets (or under the desk).

Irony of ironies: The "ascetic" Petraeus bonded with Broadwell as they ran six-minute miles
Petraeus and Broadwell: “All In”

So, Paula Broadwell gained access to “classified notes about official meetings, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and the names of covert officers.”  Later, Petraeus lied to the FBI about the sharing of those notes.  And for these transgressions, he remains at liberty, with a lucrative deal at a private equity firm, teaching at Harvard University and walking the halls of power as an ascetic “hero” of the Surge in Iraq (2007).

Meanwhile, Snowden, who has been very careful not to compromise covert assets, remains in exile, vilified by many as a traitor to his country.

That’s the American moment for you.  A general with powerful friends gets a slap on the wrist for leaking highly classified material to his mistress and lying about it to the FBI, and a young patriot who acts to shed light on the growing power of governmental agencies to spy on the people and to violate their liberties is hounded into exile and denounced as a traitor.

And justice for all, America?

Update (3/5/15): 

Glenn Greenwald notes that Snowden’s desire to return to the U.S. is nothing new (and not news). The main obstacle is that U.S. law prohibits Snowden from using the defense that the documents/information he leaked should never have been classified to begin with. In other words, in a democracy, government should be transparent and accountable to the people, rather than being shrouded in secrecy and unaccountable to the people.  Imagine that!

Greenwald’s article, of course, changes nothing that I wrote above about the two-track justice system in the U.S. If only Snowden had been a military general and ex-chief of the CIA before he became a whistleblower! But, sadly, he was just a young man inspired by idealism and fired up about the dangers of the total surveillance state.

Idealism driven by concerns about the overweening powers of the national security state: We can’t have that in America.  Hang Snowden! Opportunism and deceit by a powerful man who ran a key component of that state (the CIA) and who should definitely have known better about violating security and lying to investigators? Well, that’s OK, “hero” Petraeus. Pay a token fine — and here’s your “Get out of jail free” card.

https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/03/04/snowden-wants-come-home-stories-case-study-media-deceit/