When Secretary of State John Kerry tells you to "man up" after calling you a "traitor" and a "coward," phrases he never deigned to use against the people who falsely trampled his own integrity when he ran in the most important political race of his life, well, you can guess something's up.
And if you engage in a little more inductive reasoning, you can guess that it has to do with an interview Mr. Snowden provided to NBC News that aired at 10 pm EST last night. Because the NSA now has a full-blown PR problem:
According to a survey scheduled to be published this week by research firm YouGov and commissioned by security firm Tresorit, 55 percent of employed Americans believe Snowden was right to expose PRISM. Eighty-two percent believe their personal information is still being analyzed by the US government, and 81 percent believe their personal information is being analyzed by corporations for business purposes.Granted, the survey only counts "employed Americans." But what's remarkable in an Internet age where considerations of personal privacy have undergone a generational shift is the level of support for his actions among the young:
Nearly one in two employed Americans name constitutional rights as the reason for their support of Snowden’s exposure of PRISM: 44 percent of employed Americans cite their civil rights as key reasons that they support Snowden’s cause. Snowden supporters tend to be younger: Just 20 percent of young adults aged 16-34 believe Snowden’s actions were wrong, compared to 41 percent of adults aged 55 or older.Some highlights from the interview shed some light on why the NSA might be so concerned :
On using 9/11 as an excuse for invasive surveillance:
I think it’s really disingenuous for — for the government to invoke — and sort of scandalize our memories, to sort of exploit the — the national trauma that we all suffered together and worked so hard to come through to justify programs that have never been shown to keep us safe, but cost us liberties and freedoms that we don’t need to give up and our Constitution says we should not give up.”For the generation who've had it drilled into them that 9/11 "changed everything," and came of age in a Bush Administration that regularly used the threat of terror attacks to manipulate the political process, this is quite the radical notion--one which they haven't heard expressed much at all--and least of all by someone of their generation. When was the last time someone barely past thirty was permitted this type of exposure in the corporate media? When was the last time such ideas were expressed by anyone in the media, regardless of age? One of the great failings of the Occupy movement was its lack of a clear leader or spokesman. The lack of a unifying theme manifested in a single persona is one of the reasons the movement appears to have died out.
On "manning up," as Secretary Kerry likes to put it, and returning to the U.S. where under the Espionage Act he would be prohibited from defending his actions in a public trial:
“These are things that no individual should empower themself to — to really decide — you know, ‘I’m gonna give myself a parade.’ But neither am I going to walk into a jail cell — to serve as a bad example for other people in government who see something happening, some violation of the Constitution, and think they need to say something about it.” .And there is little doubt he would be taken directly to jail and muzzled:
Ben Wizner, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union and a legal adviser to Snowden, said the whistleblower hoped to return to the United States one day, but that he could not do so under the current Espionage Act charges, which make it impossible for him to argue that his disclosures had served the common good.Since the 1960's, the idea of breaking the law for the greater good has been--to put it mildly--out of favor. Not something you'll hear from a politician, and certainly not something you'll hear from the Very Serious persons in our mainstream media. Those of us of a certain age may understand the historical precedent for it. Those under 30--not so much. Public protestors today are (at best) shunted into "free speech zones," and (at worst) threatened by riot police in menacing and overblown SWAT garb. Civil disobedience is now routinely met with pepper spray and tasers, wielded by governments and increasingly by the corporations they serve. But here is this mild-mannered looking Millennial guy coming forward with some really radical notions:
“The laws under which Snowden is charged don’t distinguish between sharing information with the press in the public interest, and selling secrets to a foreign enemy,” Wizner said.
“The laws would not provide him any opportunity to say that the information never should have been withheld from the public in the first place. And the fact that the disclosures have led to the highest journalism rewards, have led to historic reforms in the US and around the world – all of that would be irrelevant in a prosecution under the espionage laws in the United States.”
Snowden also could face an untold number of additional charges if he returned to the United States. “He could be charged for each of the documents that has been published,” Wizner said. “The exposure that he faces is virtually unlimited under this.”
I think the most important idea is to remember that there have been times throughout history where what is right is not the same as what is legal. Sometimes to do the right thing, you have to break a law. And the key there is in terms of civil disobedience. You have to make sure that what you’re risking, what you’re bringing onto yourself does not serve as a detriment to anyone else.”And on whether he considers himself a "patriot:"
You know, I — I think patriot is a word that’s — that’s thrown around so much that it can be devalued nowadays. But being a patriot doesn’t mean prioritizing service to government above all else. Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your Constitution, knowing when to protect your countrymen from the — the violations of an — and encroachments of adversaries. And those adversaries don’t have to be foreign countries. They can be bad policies.He might have added that they are policies for whom the ordinary citizen has no real recourse, either through the Courts or through the voting booth. The actions of the NSA are shrouded from the public and as a result it is simply not possible to hold them to account--not only for ordinary citizens but--as has been shown--for our political representatives in government. Snowden has advanced the dangerous notion that some changes can't be fixed at the ballot box. It's easy to see why our elected officials haven't rushed to embrace him.
Whatever you may think of Snowden (and I doubt we'll see a monument on the National Mall anytime soon), the fact is that is that sentiments like these haven't been given a public hearing in a very long time. As the overweening power of corporations and the ineffectiveness and dysfunction of our own government becomes more and more an ingrained fact of life, as forms of protest degenerate into commodities to be exploited rather than vehicles for actual social change, the instance of someone breaking through the noise becomes increasingly uncommon.
We shouldn't be under the illusion that the NSA and Administration's discomfort with Snowden is indicative of any significant policy shift. As the future unfolds and the sophistication of toys available to agencies like the NSA grows, the surveillance tactics exposed by Snowden may in twenty years seem positively quaint, particularly as the surveillance state intertwines itself even further with the corporations whose products and services now rule our lives. And when the next terror attack occurs, the intelligence agencies will blame Snowden, regardless of their own operational incompetence.
But Snowden will be remembered as someone who shook the system to the core. He's not only revealed the men behind the curtain, he's revealed the curtain itself. The curtain we allowed to be woven slowly all around us while we stared, fascinated, into our little screens. His impact has been worldwide and profound. And whether you admire him or hate him, you will never look at your electronic communications --or your government--in the same light.