The former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Chas W. Freeman, said at MIT on Thursday: We live in what the National Security Agency [NSA] has called “the golden age of SIGINT [signals intelligence].” We might have guessed this. We now know it for a fact because of a spectacular act of civil disobedience by Edward Snowden. His is perhaps the most consequential such act for both our domestic liberties and our foreign relations in the more than two century-long history of our republic.
This past spring, Mr. Snowden decided to place his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” and his allegiance to the Bill of Rights above his contractual obligations to the intelligence community and the government for which it snoops. He blew the whistle on NSA’s ruthless drive for digital omniscience. When he did this, he knew that many of his fellow citizens would impugn his patriotism. He also knew he would be prosecuted for violating the growing maze of legislation that criminalizes revelations about the national security practices of America’s post-9/11 warfare state.
Mr. Snowden does not dispute that he is guilty of legally criminal acts. But he places himself in the long line of Americans convinced, as Martin Luther King put it, that “noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.” As someone long in service to our country, I am upset by such defiance of authority. As an American, I am not.
Like Henry David Thoreau and many others in protest movements in our country over the past century and a half, Mr. Snowden deliberately broke the law to bring to public attention government behavior he considered at odds with the U.S. Constitution, American values, and the rule of law. One point he wanted to make was that we Americans now live under a government that precludes legal or political challenges to its own increasingly deviant behavior. Our government has criminalized the release of information exposing such behavior or revealing the policies that authorize it. The only way to challenge its policies and activities is to break the law by exposing them. [Continue reading…]