The assumption that the title of this post is a feasible or fair debate is preposterous. Edward Snowden has certainly achieved fame and celebrity while proportionally drawing the ire of the U.S. government. But, let’s simplify this discussion while attempting to tone down the sensational status it has achieved in the 24 hour news cycle. First, it is paramount to explore the operational definitions of the charge of traitor along with the appropriate conceptualization of a heroic act. Secondly, and most importantly, what is national security? Do we have that internal debate in our households or on our congressional floor? Has it become an easily digested buzzword such as terror or freedom or patriotism. We will keep it short, but keep it brutally honest. We will keep it nationally focused, but individually driven. After all, we are the people and the government serves us.
A traitor is one who betray’s another’s trust. Alternatively, a traitor is a treasonous actor. Treason’s roots are found in monarchical England where the necessary and sufficient conditions for the charge consisted of three criterion: prohibited levying war against the king, adhering to his enemies, or contemplating his death. The paternalistic derivation of this legal clause is inherently understood and implemented from the perspective of maintaining central power in the king’s capacity. In America’s case, the intelligence community is the king of knowledge regarding the PRISM program and knowledge is, in fact, power for it is the most effective way to centralize control. So, Edward Snowden did in fact commit treason, but not against a free democracy, but rather, against a streamlined power structure of intelligence. That community, in which Snowden briefly participated, did have its trust betrayed by Snowden. However, that trust was betrayed in the interest of committing treason against a king who maintained absolute power over liberty and individual rights. Snowden is levying war against that unjust king, but the battle he desires to fight is similar to a type of revolution that our American heritage celebrates dating back to 1776. In that era, a group of treasonous individuals gathered to create the U.S. Constitution and are now referred to as the Founding Fathers, not traitors. Snowden was also adhering to the king’s enemies in this case-us, the people. How can this whistleblower be called a traitor when, in order for that definition to apply, he would be betraying Americans when, in fact, it was the rights of individual Americans he was hoping to preserve?
Because I drew a parallel with Snowden’s actions and those of the Founding Fathers then he must be considered a hero if he is a not a traitor. This assertion however is almost more unsettling than the ignorant suggestion that he is a traitor against the American people. The reason being is that this program is so unconstitutional and so absurdly illegitimate and unjustified that his choice is the intuitive and rational one. He is not a hero because heroes do extraordinary things that others are not capable of. We are all capable of recognizing the atrocities the NSA was committing against our personal freedoms. We are all capable of channeling the indignation he felt that led him to leak this classified information. His actions have taken a lot of courage and unfortunately might very well lead to harsh consequences in their wake, but his rationale is logical and simple. When something is wrong, fight it, when something is unjust, bring it to justice, and when something needs to be shared so that the centralization of power over information can be made accessible to each individual, leak it.
But, of course, Snowden’s actions have compromised national security. False. A nation’s security is only as solid as the foundation laid by its people’s trust in government. Security requires individual rights and protections more than it requires hacking skills or nuclear warheads. National security cannot be accepted as a quantifiable spectrum because those who are in charge of its maintenance are simultaneously in charge of defining and redefining its essence. We experienced an incredibly similar devolution of rights concerning terror following 9/11. We were told to fear terror by the same information sources (the government) who were responsible for educating us on what terror in fact was. That is an unacceptable relationship between government and people because it is tyrannical relative to the censored flow of information. National security and terror are words connoting fear. Fear, from the individual perspective, is truly manifested in a situation where the government no longer serves the people by no longer respecting their rights.
Snowden is not O.J. Simpson in the White Bronco on T.V. where the manhunt is as captivating as the purported crime. His actions were meant to provoke a meaningful discourse about individual freedoms and the government’s role in controlling information. However, it is our responsibility to engage in that civic duty. Instead of turning on the Evening News to see where Snowden may be flying to tonight, think about what caused him to take the risks he has taken. National Security was not compromised, our rights were compromised and the government backlash against this leaker is out of embarrassment for their actions. It does not represent an about face on their programs which have spanned over both a Republican and Democratic administration’s reign. Snowden was not treasonous to the American people, nor did he draft a new Constitution to base our political and legal lives after. Instead, he acted as all Americans should when in his unique situation. He should be applauded for doing what I hope all of you would recognize is necessary and just, he should not be vilified or extradited. Snowden: Traitor or Hero? No, he is an individual who is willing to risk suffering consequences to protect his individual rights-all American’s individual rights.