Like many Americans, I have found myself in conflict over how I feel about the actions taken by Edward Snowden. A poll discussed today on the news shows that 74 percent of Americans view him as a whistleblower, and not as a traitor. I can understand the sentiment behind that kind of opinion. In this country, we value our privacy. We have an inherent distrust of any government actions taken without our knowledge. We champion those with the courage to put their own livelihood on the line to bring to light what they believe is too important to be left in the dark. That poll, the survey showing the 74 percent recorded as believing Mr. Snowden is one of those champions for transparency, is a snapshot of how principled actions are seen.
I believe that snapshot is too general and fails to dissect the details of the situation. I also believe that, knowing how much I personally have been conflicted, the poll misses an analysis of how strongly people feel, how sure they are of their opinion, and why people see him in that light. Do they believe in the concept of a whistleblower in general and believe in any actions that bring out truth? Do they know what actions he took since his release of information? Are they able to separate their disdain for government intrusion with the specifics of this situation?
Here is how I see it. I am all for anyone standing up and saying “I know this, I believe it is wrong to keep it quiet, and here is what you all should know!” When a corporate employee at Bank of America knows of institutional issues that are unethical and possibly illegal, by all means, let it out. However, you do not take what you know and run to Wells Fargo, or TD Bank, or Citizens. You don’t run with the information and tell others players in your industry.
In the case of Edward Snowden, you don’t run to China or Russia and tell them what you know. Yes, he began by giving information to the press. An article in the Guardian first gave us a peek into a government program where phone records — not wiretapping and recording of actual phone calls, mind you — were being collected for comparison and flagging. I’m still on the fence about this program, to be honest. But that will require further consideration. My issue with him is that what he did next was flee to countries that are not among the most friendly with the United States, begged for protection while proclaiming he had juicy information, and touted himself as a defender of American principles.
Here is America, we believe in transparency, in courage of convictions, in a press willing to report without fear of retaliation, in singular Americans loving their country more than they love their government.
Here is America, you get to call yourself a whistleblower when you fight for more transparency, display courage of your convictions, work with and for a press willing to report without fear of retaliation, when you love your country more than your government.
Here in America, I call you a traitor when you use those principles and give away what you know to another country halfway around the world. I believe in transparency and standing up against overreach by our government, but I don’t excuse using that belief as a reason for turning against the country you proclaim to be standing up for.