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He's been smeared as a traitor. He's been labeled an egotist. He's been blasted for not going through channels. He's been chastised for supposedly not telling us anything we didn't already know at the same time he's been excoriated for supposedly helping America's enemies as well as tipping off allies to Washington's spying on them. He's been psychologically analyzed by the uncredentialed and ideologically dismantled by partisans.

Young Edward Snowden also has been called a "whistleblower" by critics more determined to get to the bottom of the National Security Agency activities he has exposed than of his personality quirks and libertarian political leanings.

Those of us who view him as a whistleblower point out that Snowden revealed government officials deliberately broke the law. That they lied about what they were and were not doing. And that Snowden was attacked for his exposé in typical powers-that-be fashion. As the Government Accountability Project points out:

Derogatory characterizations of Snowden‘s personal character by government officials do not negate his whistleblower status. On the contrary, such attacks are classic acts of predatory reprisal used against whistleblowers in the wake of their revelations. Snowden’s personal life, his motives and his whereabouts have all been called into question by government officials and pundits engaged in the reflexive response of institutional apologists. The guilty habitually seek to discredit the whistleblower by shifting the spotlight from the dissent to the dissenter.
The New York Times editorial board has now joined the whistleblowing camp with its own lengthy and strong editorial in Thursday's newspaper. Below the fold you can read key points from that opinion and further analysis:

Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community. [...]

In retrospect, Mr. Snowden was clearly justified in believing that the only way to blow the whistle on this kind of intelligence-gathering was to expose it to the public and let the resulting furor do the work his superiors would not. [...]

The shrill brigade of his critics say Mr. Snowden has done profound damage to intelligence operations of the United States, but none has presented the slightest proof that his disclosures really hurt the nation’s security. [...]

When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government.

One need not believe that Edward Snowden should be immortalized in bronze in every town square for what he has done. One need not defend everything he has done. One doesn't have to like him or agree with his Randian political views or find him pure at heart to accept that he has, indeed, done us "a great service." His motives, like the motives of many whistleblowers, may be flawed, may be narcissistic. But none of this counters the fact that he exposed criminality as well as legal but highly questionable policies for a democracy, just as other whistleblowers in the past have done, followed by efforts to discredit them or worse.

Early on, before Snowden's critics got up a full head of steam, it was argued that everybody who has been paying attention assumed the agency was doing all this surveillance, so no big deal. Those who had read James Bamford's seminal 1982 Puzzle Palace exposé of the NSA (and his work since then) certainly harbored no illusions about the benignity of the agency.

But if what Snowden revealed was really no big deal, there would be no need for official lies or demands for extradition or calls for life in prison or worse. The actuality: Assuming the NSA was doing what it's been doing is not the same as knowing it and seeing some of the details. For years, many of us assumed about Vietnam policy much of what Daniel Ellsberg would ultimately confirm.

Despite Snowden's critics' claims, the acid debate we're now engaged in over privacy and government surveillance as a result of his revelations and the media exposés that have derived from them would not have occurred without him. Those who argue he could have achieved a better result by going through channels are clueless to how such matters work in real life. How is that exactly? Law-breaking whistleblowers are pursued while law-breaking officials are left untouched or promoted.

No police state springs forth fully grown. It is built, piece by piece, aided by citizens who ignore the warning signs and officials who crush the warners. Snowden and the journalists who have followed up on his leaks have warned us. The worst response we can make is plug our ears to all they have said and let the crushers do their work.

These diarists have explored the Times editorial:

 • BREAKING: NYTimes: Snowden Deserves Clemency, Clapper Lied to Congress by Tasini.

NYT Editorial, Foreign Policy Mag Column Concur: Snowden’s Actions Justified, He Deserves Clemency by bobswern.

New York Times Calls for Clemency: "Edward Snowden, Whistleblower." by Jesselyn Radack.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Thu Jan 02, 2014 at 12:24 PM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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