Snowden Needs a Better Public Interest Defense, Part I: Bildungsroman

If I were Zachary Terwilliger, the US Attorney for Eastern District of Virginia, where Edward Snowden was indicted, I’d call up Snowden’s lawyer, Ben Wizner, and say, “Bring it on.” 

Since Snowden first went public, he has claimed he’d return to the US for trial if he could mount a public interest defense where he could explain why he did what he did and demonstrate how his leaks benefited society. With his book, Permanent Record, Snowden did just that, albeit in a narrative targeted at the general population, not prosecutors and a jury. And yet, the book falls far short of the kind of argument Snowden would need to make to mount such a legal defense. If Terwilliger were to make an exception to EDVA’s precedents that prohibit defendants from mounting a public interest defense (he won’t, of course), then, this “permanent record” would be available for prosecutors to use to pick apart any public interest defense Snowden tried to make.

Let me be clear, I think Snowden can make such a case — I’ve addressed some of the issues here. I also am well aware of the tremendous debt both domestic and international surveillance activism, to say nothing of my own journalism, owes to Snowden. While I’m agnostic about his true motives and implementation (I’ve got more questions after reading the book than before), he is undeniably a courageous person who sacrificed his comfort and safety to do what he did. Whether he can mount a hypothetical public interest defense or not is not necessarily tied to the lasting value of his releases, something I’ll address in a follow-up. And the book serves other purposes as well, such as alerting non-experts to the privacy dangers of Silicon Valley’s unquenchable thirst for their data.

But the book fails to do adequately what Snowden has been claiming he wanted to do all along, and as such, I found it profoundly disappointing. I’ve been struggling to write up how and why, so will need to break up my reasons into three parts. 

I’m an expert on surveillance. But I also happen to have a PhD in literature. And it was the narrative structure of the book that first triggered my frustration with it.

The book–which Snowden wrote with novelist Joshua Cohen–is a classic Bildungsroman, a narrative that portrays the maturation of its protagonist as he (usually it’s a he) struggles with the conventions of the world. Snowden was pretty much stuck writing his memoir as a Bildungsroman, because he needs to explain why, after enthusiastically pursuing jobs at the center of the Deep State–something he’s now bitterly critical of–he then turned on the Deep State and exposed it. He attributes his prior enthusiasm, bitterly, to naiveté, and the narrative does portray young Snowden as emotionally immature and kind of annoying. People would only voluntarily work in the Deep State because they’re naive, this narrative approach insinuates. 

For the general public, writing a Bildungsroman is a really effective genre because (for the same reason we get assigned Bildungsroman to read in high school), it helps the public vicariously travel the same path of maturation. For lay readers, the genre may help them develop a more mature view on technology and privacy. 

For a guy with legal problems, though, writing one is fraught with danger. That’s because any public interest defense will depend on Snowden arguing about his state of mind and motives for leaking, and in writing this book, he committed to a chronology that maps that out. So the serial moments that, in Bildungsroman you read in high school, are just means to reaching an ethical adulthood, here serve as roadmaps to measure whether, at key moments when Snowden engaged in certain actions related to his leaking (taking a particular job, seeking out certain files), he had the state of mind that might sustain a public interest defense. The genre provides a way to measure whether he had the maturity and pure motive to make the decisions he did at each stage of the process.

From an ethical perspective, if the moment he becomes mature comes too late in the story, then it means he was not mature enough to make the decisions he did to take NSA’s documents, and we should question the judgment he exercised, particularly given how painfully immature he portrays himself at the beginning. From a legal perspective, if that moment comes too early in the story, it means he started the process of taking the documents before he got what he claims (unconvincingly) was a full understanding of what he was taking, so he must have taken them for some other reason than a measured assessment of the problems with the NSA’s programs.

As a reader (with, admittedly, far more training in narrative than virtually all of Snowden’s imagined readers), I found it hard to determine when, in Snowden’s own mind, he graduated from being the emotionally immature and naive person he disdainfully describes himself as at the beginning of his development to being the sophisticated person who could make sound decisions about what is good for humanity he claims to be when he takes the NSA documents. He makes it clear there were several such moments: when he realized how our spying is like China’s, when he read the draft NSA IG Report on Stellar Wind, when he saw the kid of a target and realized it could have been him. The process was iterative. But every one of those moments presents problems for either his ethical or legal claims.

It doesn’t help that there were key gaps in this story. The most discussed one involves what has happened to him since he got to Russia. That gap feels all the more obvious given how much time (3 hours out of 11 in the Audible version of the book) he spends describing his youth. 

What Snowden has done since he got to Russia obviously can’t change the events that happened years ago, while dissident Snowden was being formed and as he carried out his exfiltration of NSA’s documents. But whatever has happened to him in Russia may change the perspective through which Snowden, the narrator, views his own actions.

Just by way of illustration, much of Snowden’s discussion of the law and privacy in the book bears the marks of years of intellectual exchange with Wizner and Glenn Greenwald — both of whom he invokes in his acknowledgments. If Ben and Glenn are a tangible part of the focal point through which Snowden views his own story — and as someone who knows them both, they are — then so must be exile in Russia (as well as his relationship with Lindsey, though he foregrounds that lens throughout the book). The narrator of this book is sitting in exile in Russia, and as such Snowden’s silence about what that means is jarring. 

The other gaps, however, are more problematic for this Bildungsroman of public interest.

A minor example: Snowden doesn’t address how he got sent home from Geneva, an episode that, per HPSCI’s report on Snowden, involved a disciplinary dispute. From the Intelligence Community’s perspective, that’s the moment where Snowden turned on the Deep State, and for petty emotional reasons, not ethical ones. So his silence on the point is notable.

Far more significantly, one of the episodes that Snowden treats as a key developmental moment, a moment where he shifted from repressing the problem of being a key participant in a dragnet to wanting to defeat it, came when, during convalescence after his first bout of epilepsy, he set up a Tor bridge to support Iranian protesters during the Arab Spring. 

I wanted to help, but I didn’t know how. I’d had enough of feeling helpless, of being just an asshole in flannel lying around on a shabby couch eating Cool Ranch Doritos and drinking Diet Coke while the world went up in flames.

[snip]

Ever since I’d been introduced to the Tor Project in Geneva, I’d used its browser and run my own Tor server, wanting to do my professional work from home and my personal Web browsing unmonitored. Now, I shook off my despair, propelled myself off the couch, and staggered over to my home office to set up a bridge relay that would bypass the Iranian Internet blockades. I then distributed its encrypted configuration identity to the Tor core developers.

This was the least I could do. If there was just the slightest chance that even one young kid from Iran who hadn’t been able to get online could now bypass the imposed filters and restrictions and connect to me—connect through me—protected by the Tor system and my server’s anonymity, then it was certainly worth my minimal effort.

[snip]

The guy who started the Arab Spring was almost exactly my age. He was a produce peddler in Tunisia, selling fruits and vegetables out of a cart. In protest against repeated harassment and extortion by the authorities, he stood in the square and set fire to his life, dying a martyr. If burning himself to death was the last free act he could manage in defiance of an illegitimate regime, I could certainly get up off the couch and press a few buttons.

Four paragraphs later, Snowden describes realizing (once on his new job in Hawaii, on his birthday) that his life would take a new direction.

One day that summer—actually, it was my birthday—as I passed through the security checks and proceeded down the tunnel, it struck me: this, in front of me, was my future. I’m not saying that I made any decisions at that instant. The most important decisions in life are never made that way. They’re made subconsciously and only express themselves consciously once fully formed—once you’re finally strong enough to admit to yourself that this is what your conscience has already chosen for you, this is the course that your beliefs have decreed. That was my twenty-ninth birthday present to myself: the awareness that I had entered a tunnel that would narrow my life down toward a single, still-indistinct indistinct act.

As described, this is a dramatic moment, that instant where the protagonist becomes a mature actor. But it’s also (as all story-telling is) narrative manipulation, the narrator’s decision to place the key moment in a tunnel in Hawaii, after he already has the job, and not weeks earlier on a couch in Maryland before he starts looking for a new job. Nevertheless, the proximity narratively links his response to the Arab Spring inseparably to his decision to become a dissident.

Immediately after his response to the Arab Spring, then, he moved to the pineapple field in Hawaii, yet another new job at NSA helping run the dragnet. Immediately upon arriving, he set up a script to obtain certain kinds of documents, Heartbeat. He insists that he first set up the script only to read the files to learn what the NSA was really doing and also claims that that script is where most of the documents he shared with journalists came from (the latter claim would be one of the first things prosecutors would rip to shreds, because the exceptions are important ones). 

Before I go any further, I want to emphasize this: my active searching out of NSA abuses began not with the copying of documents, but with the reading of them. My initial intention was just to confirm the suspicions that I’d first had back in 2009 in Tokyo.

[snip]

Nearly all of the documents that I later disclosed to journalists came to me through Heartbeat. It showed me not just the aims but the abilities of the IC’s mass surveillance system. This is something I want to emphasize: in mid-2012, I was just trying to get a handle on how mass surveillance actually worked.

That’s a crucial step for the public interest defense, because unless he had some basis to determine the NSA was doing stuff egregiously wrong, stealing the documents to expose them would not be based on the public interest. That he could learn more in the six months to a year he spent doing that covertly, part time, than the handful of journalists who’ve spent the better part of five years doing nothing but that is questionable (though Snowden rightly claims he has a better understanding of the technology and infrastructure than most of the journalists who have reported on the files).

But the way the epilepsy narrative immediately precedes his move to Kunia hurts his public interest defense, because it means he had already started thinking in terms of action at the time he sought out a job where he’d have reason to scrape the NSA’s files in bulk.

That’s all the more true given that it would be unlikely he’d be sharing information about Tor bridges during the Arab Spring with core Tor developers and not interact with Jake Appelbaum. I know the Snowden story pretty well, but this is the first that I heard of the possibility that he was interacting with Jake — who already was a fierce critic of the US government and had close ties to WikiLeaks at the time — before he went to Kunia. And if the process by which he became a dissident involved interacting with Jake, then it makes his decision to start a new job at NSA rather than just quit and apply his skills to building privacy tools, far, far more damning. It also makes Snowden’s explanation of why he leaked to Laura Poitras and Glenn (his explanation for the latter of which is already thoroughly unconvincing in the book) far more problematic. To be clear, I don’t know if he did interact with Jake, but Jake had a very central and public role in using Tor to facilitate the Arab Spring, so the gap raises more questions than answers.

There are other, similar gaps in the narrative. I won’t lay them out because the FBI sucks ass at narrative, and there’s no reason for me to help them. Suffice it to say, though, that Snowden’s own story about when and how he became an ethical dissident hurts his legal story far more than it helps.

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42 replies
  1. James J Hare says:

    Not sure how anyone could believe anything someone as casual with the truth and supremely self-involved as Snowden says.

    • bmaz says:

      Yeah, I am not sure that is exactly the right take. Nothing in the Snowden story is anywhere near that simplistic.

  2. oldoilfieldhand says:

    It is so beneficial to have your perspective. Wherever you find the time, it is invaluable to us; the people who follow your research and analysis, while holding our collective breath. We are grateful for your dedication to helping us understand the part of the world we inhabit and the actors on the stage.
    Thank you for following the white rabbit Marcy!

    • sharl says:

      Seconded.

      I’m so grateful you’re reviewing this book Marcy, given your long existing concerns about ubiquitous surveillance. It’s a shame there weren’t one or two “friendly skeptics” like you in Snowden’s inner circle back in the day. As it stands, the supportive crowd around him after he fled to Russia were more reminiscent of people having a circle jerk inside of a sensory deprivation tank.

      In my opinion, John Oliver’s generally sympathetic 2015 interview with Snowden remains one of the best broadcast media treatments of him, where he was confronted with perspectives he apparently had never encountered before. (link: You Tube, 33m13s; the actual interview with Snowden starts about 16 minutes in, though it’s more fun to start at 14 minutes, if you cannot watch the entire thing).

  3. bmaz says:

    Note that this is G. “Zach” Terwilliger. The old George Terwilliger, contemporary of Bill Barr (actually replaced Barr at DOJ at one point) is still around at Mcguire Woods.

      • Mark D Caval says:

        I think Snowden’s biggest nightmare has come true. I myself served in the military 20 years if I had to call him anything it would be a hero. What he did took a lot of guts and courage the problem is he’s the only one under 50 years of age that gives a damn the problem is the millennials all they care about is their self and they don’t even see what Snowden did as something every American should be concerned about.in America nobody is above the law including the president as a matter of fact he should be the example for the rest of the country

        • PhoneInducedPinkEye says:

          While I appreciate your frustration and concern, as a millennial who is very concerned about the role surveillance is playing in our world, I disagree about the apathy of younger generations. We didn’t build these networks after all.

  4. Greg Hunter says:

    Very interesting analysis about when someone makes the decision to give up their lives for the “greater good”? I have not read the book, but I have listened to his story and I find it compelling as it tracks with my own narrative when dealing with government. The pull of making money and doing interesting things often collides with the foundational principles that form the human and at some point each person makes a decision. I can still remember being offered the management of a “black box” program at Fort Huachuca, pre-911, a place where servers resided that I personally knew were vulnerable to hack (low level servers with environmental data) and I had worked enough with the FAA to not be surprised at all by the 737 MAX. I did not take the job, as I was getting married and stayed in Dayton, OH. Besides I had good clients and I could drag them to any contractor I wanted, eventually to my own firm.

    When 911 occurred I was teaching a training session at Naval Weapons Station Charleston on a piece of crappy software, a crappy connected government contractor had made. I was 37 years old and Snowden was 18, but he was in Fort Meade watching Mr. Total Information Awareness Gen. Michael Hayden send everyone home.

    I chose to run for Congress to change the world post 911 and it failed, but I tried again after Trump and it failed.

    I think Snowden had a similar trajectory of thought when he was at the nexus of American espionage. He was wanted to help America win the war on terror, but saw that we, the USA, had lost its way especially with the 4th amendment and projection of power.

    Marcy I think where you are leading is that he “decided” to do this before Hawaii and his rationale does not fly for you. Marcy you are certainly right, but for me I think he gave it one more shot but he rightly felt, in my humble opinion, that Mr. Hope and Change was more of the same. Whatever the decision point might have been, I agree with what he did as his path changed the world more than mine, the supposed “right way.”

    PS I did not know he had epilepsy, as this disease appeared to be a defining part in Madison’s life as I learned from reading Lynne Cheney’s book A Life Reconsidered.

    • emptywheel says:

      As I said, I could make what I think would be a compelling public interest case for him. So it’s not that I don’t think it can be done.
      But the Hawaii thing has far more to do with the possibility that Appelbaum may have been involved before he took the job in Hawaii than that he made iterative decisions generally.

      • Greg Hunter says:

        I was working for a company called Jaycor as a VP. The company was very similar to SAIC, but with one important difference, it had a fibre channel switch that ended up being very lucrative to the whole company, but my niche was environmental. I had good clients and a GREAT programmer but my big boss lost my only contract by not putting an electrical engineer in a SF330; she was fired and I was forced to close the Dayton operations. Jaycor had all kinds of interesting and high tech contracts and I had proved capable enough to eradicate my elders (retired Air Force Colonels) so I got the offer, but the lure of my new wife, interesting clients and living on a thoroughbred horse farm (Father in Law) held sway over that Fort Huachuca decision. Little did I know that those stock options I left were worth 1.5 million when Jaycor went public. Post tech bubble Jaycor was absorbed by the infamous CACI of contractor interrogation fame and I began tilting at windmills.

  5. Don Utter says:

    unR̶A̶D̶A̶C̶K̶ted

    FYI

    @JesselynRadack
    ·
    4h
    @Snowden
    can make a public interest argument, but not until the sentencing phase…at which point he’d already have been convicted.

    • sharl says:

      ew’s reply (link) to Jesselyn Radack’s tweet:

      emptywheel @emptywheel

      Replying to @JesselynRadack @Snowden

      Yup. Which is why I wish he had made a far better one in his book.

  6. Dmbeaster says:

    I have over time become more skeptical about his alleged narrative. It is reasonable to assume that foreign powers got important information from him. He has allied himself with Russian apologists, and ended up in Russia who gave him asylum. I think in the MICE acronym describing the motivations of spies, he falls in the ideology category. That easily makes him a whistleblower and engaged in espionage – the two motivations are consistent. A lot of his story has sketchy details in important ways. Your review becomes another data point.

    • Fmr. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says:

      I haven’t seen a shred of evidence that Snowden gave anything of value to foreign countries. He gave everything to journalists and then spent 40 days in an airport because the USG revoked his passport while he was in the air (en route to South America) and it took 40 days for Russia to figure out what to do with him. His leaks were the major tipping point that led to the only oversight of the intelligence community in a generation, so in that sense, his motivations are secondary to what he has accomplished. Plus, plenty of courts have ruled that the surveillance was illegal, and the court cases had gone nowhere until they got actual documentation of the spying.

      It’s probably pretty safe to assume that Russia and China both had a pretty good idea of our spying capabilities before Snowden, so the main beneficiary is the public in whose name this spying is occurring.

      • emptywheel says:

        All points I hope to address in the last of three installments of this. That’s the part I’m struggling with.

  7. Beatty says:

    I think this is the first posting of yours that I followed from beginning to end without needing to re-read and digest the numerous points that are implied from earlier points made. Your other posts on this site are so dense and I just don’t keep up enough. Such an interesting angle, talking about Snowden’s book from the perspective of an English PhD but also someone steeped in tech. The writing is just different here.

    I do recall your writing up notes contemporaneously during the Patrick Fitzgerald court case way back in Fire Dog Lake days. I remember having to refresh my browser to get the updates.

    I need to read more here and catch up.

  8. Tyler says:

    I appreciate and enjoyed the article, but I was left scratching my head at a few things.

    How is it up to the US attorney whether Snowden can mount a public interest defense? The law either allows for it, or it does not, right? And in this case it does not.

    Second, if such a defense were allowed, why would Snowdens motives prior to the release even be a factor here? The crime was the handing of the info over to journalists. The affirmative defense would be that the public benefit of the disclosure outweighed the harms. The jury would decide.

    • bmaz says:

      It is not up to the US Attorney, it is simply not provided for at law currently. That said, if the prosecution joined the defense and stipulated that such a defense could be argued, then the court “could” allow it. I am not sure a court would, but they theoretically could.

      Adding also that a public interest defense is an affirmative defense that you have to establish. For that, a lawyer has to tell the tale and complete the story in a nice little package that the jury can understand. And, yes, facts, motives and thoughts before and after count.

    • emptywheel says:

      Adding to what bmaz said, one reason motive would matter is bc the Espionage Act includes a clause that says the accused “had reason to believe [that the information conveyed] could be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of a foreign nation.” If Snowden were able to prove that he had reason to believe sharing the info would *help* the US, then it might undermine that part of the proof.

  9. Thomas says:

    I think the young man is someone we should all look up to. He puts his life and carrier on the line to tell the world about what goes on behind closed doors at the White House and at the CIA, only to be called a trader to his country. I don’t get it. I’m thankful to the man for explaining to me how these shaddy politicans brake the law and record EVERYONES information and intimate conversations are recorded. They should give him a medal! Drain the swamp!

  10. Tyler says:

    I’ve thought about this some more and think I understand better. you are imagining the prosecutor allowing Snowden to argue that the jury should not find him guilty because he was acting the public’s best interest when he disclosed.

    Hence, if he had other motives, pointing these out would undermine his claim?

    If that is the case, then i guess what id like to say is that is not really a public interest defense, it’s jury nullification. And as far as I know, that’s not what Snowden is asking for.

    • bmaz says:

      So called “jury nullification” is improper and contrary to law (and for good reason, it is for kooks). In certain cases, however, a legally sanctioned public interest defense can be pleaded and argued. Snowden’s conduct is not eligible for that. Many feel it “should” be, but it is not.

  11. PhoneInducedPinkEye says:

    I think Snowden did perform a public service by releasing what he did, but I’m ambivalent on how he handled the aftermath. Any thoughts on how his post-leak actions would affect such a defense? Does he address his rational for not staying and making his case in the book?

    PS:
    Anyone wonder if Obama would have pardoned Snowden like Manning had he not fled? Or even more cynically, perhaps Obama only pardoned Chealse draw a distinction to Snowden, and had Snowden stayed neither would have received a pardon?

    • bmaz says:

      Obama did NOT pardon Manning, he commuted her sentence after she had been in custody for nearly seven years. Would Obama have pardoned or commuted Snowden? Pardon, no, commute highly doubtful.

  12. Savage Librarian says:

    Marcy and bmaz, thank you for your detailed observations and explanations. They are very much appreciated and helpful. They make sense to me but, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I will retain this, other than in a vague, general sense. For some reason, my mind can’t file this in a place that I am able to access at a later time. Thank goodness you are here to remind us!

  13. TomA says:

    I think Snowden wrote the book simply because he wanted to tell his story from his perspective for posterity and the historical record. Future historians will place his actions in context with all that has happened since 2013 plus everything else that occurs in the coming years. The reality is that privacy effectively became extinct nearly two decades ago, and not just because of the NSA, but because many other nations and private entities also harvest the firehose of data streaming from evermore numerous and intrusion electronic devices that have become epidemic in our culture. Despite the illusion that laws and legal mechanisms protect individual privacy, billions of dollars have already been spent building the mass surveillance infrastructure and it largely runs on autopilot. The only time humans interact with this ever-growing archive is when queries or analyses are performed. Theoretically, laws and legal protocols ensure that all queries are conducted legitimately and lawfully, but that is not always the case. As Snowden noted in his book, sometimes a rogue employee cruises the database for purely prurient reasons and sometimes rogue government officials do so for much more sinister ends. Either way, the toothpaste ain’t going back in the tube.

    • Americana says:

      Yeah, privacy may have become obsolete two decades ago but there are different kinds of privacy even if there is cross-referencing of privacy from one platform to another. Commercial information about one’s Amazon’s shopping is qualitatively different from signifier information about one’s political affiliations, social/ethnic affiliations, professional affiliations, religious affiliations, etc. This is true even if Amazon can compile a quasi-accurate profile of you as a person based on your spending habits and your purchases.

      The Big Brother aspect of computer compiling of information outside of government relies on passive aggregation and active aggregation of information about people. The melding of social media platforms like Facebook w/the political intention of secretly harvesting accurate social data that enabled unique manipulation of each of us — and all our contacts — as voters without our consent by designing a stealth intrusion/extraction program was nasty. Reading Christopher Wylie’s book about Cambridge Analytica’s data mining and the eventual political ad targeting that resulted from that data harvesting was terrifying.

      You can watch a video of someone pitching Snowden’s fave PC — the Librem from Prism — because of its privacy features. Here’s an Amazon link to Wylie’s book…

      https://www.amazon.com/Mindf-Cambridge-Analytica-Break-America/dp/1984854631/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=christopher+wylie&qid=1573364303&sr=8-1

      https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/data-war-whistleblower-christopher-wylie-faceook-nix-bannon-trump

  14. Viget says:

    Yeah the problem with the surveillance state is that it always comes down to the Watchmen quote of Juvenal (excellent graphic novel, very good series on TV right now too!). Someone needs to be the guardian of the guardians, but that’s really hard to do when all the data is top secret. It essentially comes down to “trust us”, but is rife for corruption and misuse.

    Regarding Snowden, I totally agree with Marcy’s analysis. Not sure about his true motivations or if he’s even being honest with himself,especially wrt Applebaum. I would also like to know more about who Lindsay is too. Like, when did they meet, when did they start dating, who are her parents, what role if any did she play in his decision to go to Hawaii, etc? I’m not trying to impugn the guy, just generally curious and skeptical, and have been for a couple of years now. I’m sure it’s way more complicated than what I’m thinking, so I’m really not trying to raise bmaz’s ire ( already did that once w Snowden). Just trying to understand things better, if that’s possible.

    • emptywheel says:

      He does talk a lot about his relationship with Lindsey in the book, so if you’re interested it’s worth reading for that alone.

  15. Nikki says:

    I have read the book. Personally I find it helpful. Whatever his reason for telling the story, I am glad he did. You can not presume motives. You simply do not know. The truth is the goverment is willingly defying the Constitution. It negatively affects the people of this country and corrupts people with the ability to use this illegal search of a persons personal life and the ability to hurt someone with that knowledge. It is proven that people do use it for personal gain, personal knowledge, and personal revenge.

    • bmaz says:

      Hate to “well actually” you, but, well actually, you can indeed presume motives. And it happens every day in every court in the country. Motives are presumed and found based upon circumstantial as well as third party direct evidence. Juries and judges, i.e. the fact finders, consider the evidence and make findings. It is the most routine thing imaginable. So, when you say you can’t do it, you are either uninformed and wearing rose colored glasses, or you are being disingenuous. This is exactly what courts and fact finders do.

      • TomA says:

        I think Nikki was suggesting that presuming a motive for Snowden is a bit like piling on. He has already sacrificed greatly for the public good by whistleblowing about the NSA abuse of personal privacy and his life is forever changed, whether he winds up in prison or just remains in exile. He deserves the benefit of the doubt until clear evidence to the contrary is revealed. How many of us would have had the courage to do what he did under similar circumstances?

        • bmaz says:

          I object. I think what Nikki was propounding is total nonsense. She/he thinks the law is what it is not, but what they think it should be. That does not cut it.

          It is NOT “piling on” to be honest about where things are in actual law as opposed to the wistful, rose colored view of people that don’t actually go to courts and whatnot.

          • milestogo says:

            So we presume motives for pragmatic reasons for instance in the pursuit of justice and that is necessary. However, a clever person could feign and even design the appearance of one set of motives while working at another. The cleverest (or luckiest) get away with it even when they’re committing crimes. With respect to Snowden I have generally assumed his motives are as he presents them – to genuinely help the American public. However it is possible Snowden has snowed me so to speak and is not being fully or even partially honest. However, I for one am grateful for his actions.

    • emptywheel says:

      1) I’m not presuming motives. I’m taking what he says in good faith. And pointing out that–even if that’s the case–there are still holes in his story.
      2) There’s thin evidence to substantiate your last sentence. In fact, Snowden goes all in on LOVEINT, even so far as misrepresenting what that specific report say, and underestimating the kinds of audits that happen, at least at NSA.

  16. PR says:

    Your entire premise is ironically based on the presumption of personal freedom. Do you sincerely believe Snowden (a traitor) is a free man? I think not. He’s a puppet at this point. Critical thinking, people. Seriously. Analysis and intelligence is wasted without global context & situational awareness: the man is under house arrest and is presumably an unwilling agent of Russia (graduated from naive idealist).

    One can be an idealist, fight the system, and still not be a traitor. Ask me. Any damn MFing day.

    We on the OUTSIDE can have valid points about the INSIDE 1984 tactics of ODNI et al. that torch our collective constitutional rights. TVs being turned on as black mirrors like webcams, bulk collection of all data and coms, and real time GPS movement. Yes, we’re there, honey booboo. We can say it’s overkill, overreach, fascist, etc. and it is, BUT IT’S SMARTER to ARGUE THE TRUTH: these NS tactics have put us at risk for geopolitical payback i.e. WWIII

    Welcome to the present. Snowden had good intentions. INSIDE gov employees did, too, but they left us bleeding out in the gutter facing our common enemy because we neglected to share our common good.
    Privacy is not diametrically opposed security. We have set up a potential for future existential crises because these INSIDE 1984 tactics are antithetical to democracy.

    Whistleblowers need to look no further than present day or to the Anita Hills and Dr. Fords.

    In a country where police are EVEN ALLOWED to toggle ON/OFF bodycams, we are setting ourselves up for worse.

    We need future Snowdens to have legitimate INTERNAL recourse whereby they can directly meet with members of intelligence committees NOT their organizational leadership.

    If anything, diversity of opinion can better MODERATE how much privacy we need to sacrifice for security.

    The zero sum game was lost by ODNI.

    We’re now at war.

    Next time try a powwow with an a citizen on the OUTSIDE. You’d get a lot more than WASTED YEARS & MILLIONS OF BUCKS DOWN THE DRAIN.

    Lifelong learning – it’s a thing.

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