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In Defense Of Nuance: Edward Snowden Is Both A Criminal And A Laudable Whistleblower

Depending on your political perspective, NSA leaker Edward Snowden is either a traitor to his nation and countrymen or a heroic whistleblower. The debate over what should be Snowden’s fate ranges from hanging in the public square to immortalization in bronze. Opinions on Snowden among political partisans are set, inflexible, and perfectly righteous. Rarely does one hear a nuanced opinion on the matter, but I find both sides of this argument compelling. In my admittedly conflicted opinion, Snowden is both a criminal and a self-sacrificing whistleblower.

At the risk of appearing insufficiently convinced of the virtue of my own political belief structure, I have to confess that the NSA leak scandal has resulted in my being deeply conflicted. I have always supported the aggressive prosecution of the war on terror and still do. I resent it when individuals privy to national security secrets decide to go public with that information. Those individuals are, if not treasonous, certainly criminals. Edward Snowden definitely falls in this category.

However, the NSA’s gargantuan communications electronic and telephonic monitoring program is deeply troubling. These programs are unrestrained in their scope, subject to dubious oversight, highly susceptible to abuse, and may even violate precepts in the Bill of Rights. Supporters of the government’s position say that FISA courts have overseen this program, but the Supreme Court has not been able to weigh in on the constitutionality of NSA surveillance directives because the government exercises its prerogative to maintain the secrecy of these programs.

The only way that the public was ever going to be made aware of the full extent of these programs was if a selfless whistleblower forfeited his or her own security in order to leak it. Edward Snowden falls into this category as well.

When Republicans like GOP strategist Ron Christie call Snowden a “traitor” and a “coward,” he articulates a point of view to which I cannot subscribe:

Similarly, when Democratic commentator Kirsten Powers notes that Snowden could only be construed as a traitor to those who are loyal to the government over the Constitution of the United States, this strikes me as a vast oversimplification:

In a business like punditry, where expert analysis and conviction are at a premium, indecision can be detrimental to one’s career. Nevertheless, I find arguments on both sides compelling.

What is clear is that Snowden should and will face production for breaking the law and threatening national security. I welcome that outcome. At the same time, the national conversation that he has made possible about the scale of the national surveillance state is also a beneficial result of his actions.

It does not make any sense to me that these two reactions to the NSA leaks scandal, though conflictual, should be mutually exclusive.

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