The world of espionage has been turned on its head a bit by Edward Snowden and his startling revelations. The Obama Administration and most in the government consider him an extraordinary criminal who took treasonous actions against the interests of the United States. Others think him a hero, who took on an out-of-control NSA and outed the agency.
Figuring Out Who Supports Snowden
In the past, the lines of separation on Snowden could have been drawn more along party lines. In the current political climate, wherein some on the right are more afraid of seeming to agree with the president than speak to their beliefs, it’s more muddled. Mr. Obama has struggles of his own. The progressive base isn’t on board with what appears to be very ham-handed overreach that rakes in mountains of useless information. Outside of the left and right, there are plenty of people who aren’t sure what to make of what Snowden did. While outspoken support for Snowden can found in libertarian and anarchist groups, the majority of people view him as anti-American.
Initially, the Administration was united in vehement opposition to Snowden. The tide has changed somewhat since the worldwide exposure of communications interceptions of leaders. From Brazil to Germany, outraged leaders heaped statements of shock and disgust on the NSA and the entire American government. President Obama found himself stuck between having to claim he knew nothing, or acknowledging the actions. Either way, there was no way to avoid egg on the face. What has emerged, regardless of how much the president knew, is that there is a troubling lack of oversight when it comes to intelligence gathering.
The bottom line when it comes to intelligence gathering may seem to be whether or not the methods yield results. Fundamentally, the question of what is given up in return for that intelligence also has to be asked. There’s something intrinsically wrong with having all of our private conversations and messages subject to review. It doesn’t matter if the information leads to taking down a high value target.
At first, the revelation that phone calls were being tracked and searched for commonalities that could lead to an important target seemed relatively harmless. If no conversations were being recorded unless they were deemed relevant to a threat, it didn’t matter as much, and that’s where the danger lies. Where is the line drawn between what at first looked acceptable, but now seems clearly over the line? Was it the fact that the NSA was spying on almost every world leader? The discovery that internet providers were deeply involved in the collection of data that was then shared with intelligence organizations? Or the troubling news that revealed just how easy it was for a relatively low level worker like Snowden to have so much access?
Is Snowden a Traitor, or Hero?
In truth he’s a little of both. He did reveal information that can, and in the case of relationships with allies, did damage the United States. On the other hand, what we have learned can lead to reforms that box in what appears at this point to be a rogue agency. His ultimate legacy may be in just how comprehensive any reforms are.