Defending the Actions of Snowden?

As Fareed Zakaria noted on his CNN GPS program today, smart people are starting to make that case that Snowden’s leaks have served U.S. national interests, moving to a more “multi-polar internet” as one commentator notes.

Most national security professionals still don’t agree, but this may be a change in the dominant view.  Edward Luce’s main arguments:

  • “Snowden reminds us there is more at stake over America’s sprawling data intelligence complex than hunting terrorists.”
  • “Nowadays anyone can download enough classified information to construct Tolstoyan epics about US espionage. Here too, Mr Snowden’s actions have been helpful.”
  • Obama now has the reason to reform the national security system, to repair the post 9/11 overcorrection.

To sum up, Luce notes that America’s soft power is taking a relative hit over these NSA spy leaks, and the US President has a chance to change the view of US power, from its “coming to stand for Big Brother” to an emphasis on the positive aspects.

via Edward Snowden has done us all a favour – even Barack Obama –


20 thoughts on “Defending the Actions of Snowden?”

  1. Has Snowden’s leaks given power to the US public over national security organizations? I would say no. The general public is more aware of what the NSA is doing with regard to private information but there is no way for them to control this, even while President Obama seems to support it. Perhaps with the presidents support, security agencies will become more limited to what they can and cannot do but how will we know that this has happened? They are secret agencies that will become more secret. Unless there is another leak, then the public will never really know. And these agencies are probably as paranoid about leaks as they are with 9/11, who knows what kind of extremism they will bring about now.

  2. Well, if there’s any silver lining here; it’s that BYU students should be in high demand in the intelligence community! We’re honest, upstanding citizens who believe in supporting their governments and reforming from the inside! There’s a reason why BYU students are sought after by the intelligence community. At least that’s what I’ve heard. People who get hired by the CIA tend not to talk about it.

    1. All these articles have still failed to convince me that Snowden did the right thing, or that his leaks are somehow more helpful to the US than harmful. But this one did bring up a point I hadn’t seen before: the topic of “stovepiping”. I think this, somewhat indirectly, hits the at least part of the problem on the head. People want an effective intelligence community. Except when it is effective, they don’t want it. There’s this disconnect where people don’t really understand the costs to improving it, just that they want it improved.

  3. While this article does bring up some very valid points about the opportunity for reform now, I still think that Snowden’s leaks to the public hurt the US more than it helped the people. Not just the US government, other countries, especially Britain, were hurt by these revelations. They created even more mistrust between the US and our allies, which really hurts our ability to come up with effective solutions to the world’s problems. Terrorism can only be solved through cooperation among states and Snowden’s leaks have delayed any solutions.

  4. I would completely agree with Heartlee. These leaks were lemons and now the only thing we can do is make them into lemonade. It would have been better, however, if we had never even had lemons to start with. Basically, we are making the best out of a detrimental situation. While we do have the chance for much needed and valuable reforms, we have been more hurt by this situation than the amount of good we’ve gotten from it. For example, there was an article I read the other day about how terrorists’ are now changing their communications because of the information contained in the leaks; so it will be even harder to track, catch, and keep tabs on terrorists…wonderful. And this affects every country engaging in counter-terrorism, not just the US.

  5. I disagree with the sentiment that somehow what has happened with Snowden will make BYU students more desirable. More pointedly, I don’t think that things along the lines of what Snowden did necessarily show a lack of support for the government. I think there is a difference between supporting the actions of the government and supporting the philosophy of the government. The latter does not necessarily require the former. I think we all support the philosophy of our government: a body in which we invest power in order to increase our quality of life and protect our freedoms. Yet, that doesn’t mean we all have to be on board with everything the government does. In fact, I think sometimes supporting the idea of our government means disagreeing with the actions it takes. The way in which you try and correct those problems is another discussion, but as BYU students (and any other students, really, I don’t think that Mormons should be unique in this regard) I would hope that we would realize that sometimes support requires dissent.

    1. You may disagree with me, but I’m simply relaying what I’ve been told in BYU alumni interviews. Also, my comment was not meant to address the philosophical conflict between supporting government through internal reform or public dissent. That being said, mormon culture is very loyal towards existing regimes and policies, regardless of the logic (or lack thereof) behind those policies. We denied blacks the priesthood for over a century without having any definitive reason, we accept a myriad of nonsensical administrative policies at BYU without question, and we’re asked to support local leaders even if they are doing a poor job because it improves our character. For these reasons a lone, any organization that demands loyalty despite grey ethical practices should want LDS employees. I’m not saying that our culture always acts in the best interest of our country, I’m simply acknowledging the affects of our church culture on individuals.

      1. This is a remarkably interesting conversation.

        I think that loyalty to institutions can sometimes be a good thing. But when that loyalty leads us to overlook things that are wrong (or “grey areas”), that, in my opinion, is a problem.

        If it is true that LDS culture serves to prepare individuals to offer loyalty to institutions and overlook ethical “grey areas”, that (in my opinion) reflects rather negatively on members of the Church, and, frankly, Church leaders (at the local level, in BYU administration, etc.) for not speaking out with more energy against this tendency. (Though I have missed a number of BYU devotionals, so perhaps this is Cecil L. Samuelson’s primary area of focus)

        But I hope Taylor’s analysis is incorrect. I have had plenty of experience with Church members and local leaders who were willing to discuss ethical “grey areas” and did not believe that Church administrative decisions were immune to criticism. Yay for anecdotal evidence!

  6. I agree with what John is saying. I don’t necessarily believe that what Snowden did was the right thing. But I also don’t think that what he did was completely wrong, either.

    As many posts have argued, there have been many negative consequences as a result of his actions. Diplomatic relationships have been harmed and severed. But, at the same time, you also have to consider the negative consequences of an unspoken tolerance for all of this intelligence gathering (read: spying). It’s hard to say whether the spying would have continued and for how long if Snowden went through internal routes or had not done anything about it.

    All of this debate shows that Snowden’s actions are still, very much, a gray area. In fact, I’d argue that it’s because the US’ spying is also a gray area. There have been many positive and negative things that have come from both. Ultimately, I think it comes down to which is more important to society as a whole, privacy or security.

  7. If it hadn’t been for Snowden, someone else would have disclosed the information that he disclosed. Snowden is not just the individual on NSA’s top list. Snowden never was just Edward Snowden. Like johndgriffith said, governments’ actions often don’t align with their proposed philosophy. As long as governments break and sully their own laws and ideologies, I will always applaud whistle blowers who point out those infractions. The definition of “corruption” extends to far more than we’re inclined to have it cover. It also covers any official, public servant, or agency that breaks the rules!

    Perhaps a more comprehensive and efficient Whistle Blower’s Act should be implemented…

  8. While I have no doubts that there needs to be reform in the US intelligence agencies, I believe that what Edward Snowden did was wrong. He – along with all of us – will probably never fully understand the diplomatic and security reifications associated with the leaks, and releasing this kind of data to the public is simply not the way to bring about reform. If Snowden was truly doing this out of a concern for the country and our liberties, he would have gone through the proper channels with this information, whether that’s within the NSA or outside of it. There are entire House and Senate committees dedicated to this kind of oversight, yet Edward Snowden somehow believes that it’s okay to bypass all of them, and take it upon himself to release this information.

  9. It is fairly indisputable that much of what Snowden did was harmful for the US and its interests. I am convinced that there will be many years of political work required to fix the damage that has been done. However, in 30 years when we look back at this, we may see that it was the beginning of greater transparency and government accountability than we’ve seen in the past 100 years. The question of whether that will be quantitatively greater than the damage done now is difficult, or in fact impossible to quantify. But whether he should have done this or not, it is done. The best thing to do now is simply to ask what can we learn from this? When we find answers to that, we can begin to change things and direct the results of this whole experience rather than let them direct us.

  10. Snowden has claimed that he used discretion in choosing what information to leak and not to leak, in the interest in safety and security. However, there are two issues with that. The first, I think the most important, being that who is he to make that decision? He is not qualified to know the full extent of the ramifications this exposed information will have. Even with the clearance he had and the information put in those documents, he could not have known. My second issue is that by holding back information, how is he any different from the government he is trying to expose? I’m thankful that he hasn’t released all information due to the possibility of it endangering individuals, but to me that is contradicting his purpose. If his goal is complete transparency then he isn’t doing a good job of it. I think by the fact that he sees the need to hold back some information, he should see the reasoning the government has in doing so as well. I don’t believe that this information has helped us, nor do I think it was in pursuit of liberty that Snowden did what he’s been doing.

  11. Has Snowden really benefited our national interests? Perhaps. To assert as much, I think, would be to agree with the old saying, “The ends justify the means.” And in his case, I’m personally not sure they do. By definition, Snowden IS a traitor. I agree with the above comment. “I don’t believe this information has helped us, nor do I think it was in the pursuit of liberty that Snowden did what he’s been doing.” And what about our international interests? Snowden’s actions have shattered our credibility with other nations. Not only that, but it has offered terrorists dangerous insight into classified US methods of surveillance. Snowden’s actions need to be looked at on a global scale, not just national, and I think overall, his actions have deeply wounded America.

  12. So, we continue the debate on what Snowden’s actions mean for us. I agree that U.S. credibility abroad has been shaken very badly. I can only hope, with Madeline, that we gain more transparency in our government as a result of this. There’s a long, rough road ahead, and Snowden’s revelations aren’t the only hurts we have to heal as a country

  13. The United States government has “spied” long before the CIA was formally established in 1947 (to coordinate espionage activities against the Axis Powers). The difference is that Americans now know about it and unlike wartime in the past, Americans are too far removed to realize the urgency of keeping America safe. Without war on our soil, drafts, wartime rations, increased taxes to provide for a war, or even organized efforts to aid the troops, Americans can not feel connected the military and intelligence areas of the government. The truth is that what Snowden did may change the government. It may bring more clarity to the working of the Intelligence Agency. However, most probably it won’t. Snowden succeeded in tarnishing America’s image, damaging its international relationships, and causing American people to doubt distrust the government.

    1. You’re right that the government has a responsibility to keep America safe, and when Bush was president (or even before this past year under Obama) I would’ve have cared if I found out that the government was doing this. I’m not doing anything wrong, so what do I have to be afraid of? Unfortunately, it is clear after the revelations regarding the scandals with the IRS and DOJ that this current government will use its regulatory arms for political purposes. This is without mentioning the fact that Snowden revealed the government has been flagrantly violating the 4th Amendment of the Constitution, which, in case anybody has forgotten, is the supreme law of the land. They should not be collecting all sorts of info on every single American regardless of threat level.

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