A Bloomberg headline says it all: “NSA Leaker Recalled as Shy Computer-Bound Maryland Teenager”
“He was always very quiet, and he was always on his computer,” Joyce Kinsey, a neighbor, told reporters Julie Bykowicz and Greg Giroux. Obviously, if Edward Snowden had devoted more time to football or baseball he wouldn’t now be on the run.
As U.S. investigators begin a probe into how Snowden copied highly classified materials and disseminated them to two news outlets, another looming question for members of Congress and the White House is why he decided to become disloyal to the government that sustained his family.
Snowden bit the hand that feeds his family — the unintended implication being that loyalty to the U.S. government is generally reliably sustained by cash. You get paid, you keep your mouth shut.
As for political insight into Snowden’s motives for becoming a whistleblower, supposedly the only clue comes from his two $250 donations to the Ron Paul presidential campaign in 2012 — no doubt federal employees who happen to be Paul supporters will now be more paranoid than ever, with good reason.
The narrative thrust in this profile is one which we will see again and again: Edward Snowden did what he did because of who he is — not because of what he saw.
But the questions that should concern Americans and journalists who have an interest about the way their government operates and the nature of the society they live in, should not be about the personal details of Snowden’s life.
What he has revealed, hundreds — perhaps thousands — of other Americans already knew about and were willing to keep concealed from their fellow citizens. No doubt some had unshakable conviction that such surveillance is essential and for these true believers, maintaining secrecy amounted to doing the right thing. But Snowden could not have been alone in being troubled by the extent to which surveillance had become expanded without any public awareness or consent.
Ask not why Snowden blew the whistle but why so many others didn’t. And beyond that, ask why it is that during a decade which has seen illegal war, illegal killing, torture, kidnapping, and mass surveillance, not a single senior government official has tendered their resignation and said that as a matter of conscience they had to speak out.
We live in a society where it appears that for anyone to advance into a position of great responsibility, the individual’s conscience must become tethered in the process.
By the time Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971 he was 40 years old, had served as a U.S. marine in Vietnam, held senior positions at the Pentagon and Rand Corporation, acquired significant influence and yet his integrity remained intact.
For those who ask why today’s whistleblowers are so young, the answer seems to be that the halls of power now stifle dissent so effectively that responsibility is only invested in the hands of those who long forgot how to do the right thing.