Foreign and Defense Policy

Snowden’s sleight of hand

greensefa (Flickr) (CC-BY-2.0)

greensefa (Flickr) (CC-BY-2.0)

Key to a magician’s sleight-of-hand trick is misdirection, making sure the audience focuses on one area or a thing and not where the magician is actually pulling the trick off. Not surprisingly, sleight of hand is now being employed by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contract employee. In the Washington Post today, the headline reads: “U.S. officials, Snowden clash over e-mail records,” with NSA claiming that they have found only one email by Snowden raising a question about the statutory status of executive orders and Snowden, in response, saying that he left a hefty trail of emails and personal conversations in which he raised his concerns about the legality of NSA programs. According to Snowden, “I did raise such concerns both verbally and in writing, and on multiple, continuing occasions — as I have always said, and as NSA has always denied.”

But how credible is Snowden’s claim? After all, this is same person who secretly downloaded millions of documents, who artfully put himself in position to do so by getting hired by an NSA sub-contractor, and then clandestinely fled to what he thought might be a safe haven in Hong Kong. If there was a trail of emails, why didn’t Snowden download those and release them already? Incredibly, the Post reporters, Ellen Nakashima and Barton Gellman, report the story as though this is a clear case of “he said, she said.” In the case of Gellman, of course, this is to be expected since Snowden’s leaks to him have led to his winning a Pulitzer Prize and he has little interest in challenging Snowden’s claims.

But the real sleight of hand here is that any of this matters. Presume Snowden had raised the issues he said he did, and even that his queries were ignored. None of that would justify morally or legally his releasing to the world, including to our enemies, all the massive amount of classified material that he did—90% of which had nothing to do with anything touching upon American privacy.

And while it is technically true that as a sub-contractor employee he might not have been protected from coming forward by the law covering whistleblowers, how likely is it that, if he had gone to someone like Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy with his concerns, that the Justice Department would have prosecuted him for the unauthorized release of information? I’m pretty sure that is a road no one in Justice would have wanted to or dared take. It’s possible of course that Snowden would have lost his job by going outside channels but presumably that was a penalty he was already willing to pay by the fact that he left Hawaii as he did.

Nope, the fact is, Snowden never intended to engage in the kind of civil disobedience that traditionally has been accepted in this country as a justifiable course of action. And all of Snowden’s “I did too raise concerns” is just so much misdirection to hide the ugly reality that Snowden is a self-indulgent, narcissistic traitor to his country.

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4 thoughts on “Snowden’s sleight of hand

  1. It isn’t enough to just ask “how credible is Snowden’s claim?” I want to know if Snowden is more believable than the NSA. When Sen. Wyden asked NSA director Clapper “does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper responded “Not wittingly.”

    I am not aware of what, exactly, constitutes “all the massive amount of classified material” that was released by Snowden to the whole world, other than the fact that the NSA has the communications records of hundreds of millions of Americans. What else did Snowden reveal for which he was not morally or legally justified?

    If you think that the collection of these private communications records — see my Verizon Privacy Agreement for proof that it is private – is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment, then show me the FISA court-issued warrant that specifically mentions my name and the probable cause for the government to suspect all Americans of being terrorists, as required by the Fourth Amendment.

    Anyone who wonders why Snowden left the country should find out what happened to NSA officers Thomas Drake, William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe when they tried to blow the whistle at

    If Snowden did nothing more than reveal to the world that the government routinely ignores and violates the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, then he was morally and legally justified in doing so. In fact, since he took an oath in allegiance to the Constitution, he was morally and legally required to tell the whole world.

  2. An NSA subcontractor had access to vital information? And most of the NSA budget now goes to contractors?
    How many Snowdens are out there, but dumping data for profit and thus not revealing themselves?

  3. And sadly I have to agree with sentiments of an earlier commentator: Snowden is lying, or the NSA? Who knows?

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