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Friday, June 28, 2013

Roger Cohen, "The Service of Snowden": "History, the Real Sort, Will Judge Him Kindly"?

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Service of Snowden" (, Roger Cohen asks if Edward Snowden is a "self-aggrandizing geek who betrayed his country and his employer" or a "brave young American determined to fight — at the risk of long imprisonment — against his country’s post-9/11 lurch toward invasion of citizens’ lives."

Cohen's justifies Snowden's activities by observing:

"We would not know how the N.S.A., through its Prism and other programs, has become, in the words of my colleagues James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, 'the virtual landlord of the digital assets of Americans and foreigners alike.' We would not know how it has been able to access the e-mails or Facebook accounts or videos of citizens across the world; nor how it has secretly acquired the phone records of millions of Americans; nor how through requests to the compliant and secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (F.I.S.A.) it has been able to bend nine U.S. Internet companies to its demands for access to clients’ digital information."

Cohen's conclusion:

"Snowden has broken the law of his country. We do not know what, if anything, he has offered China or Russia — or been coerced or tricked into handing over. He has, through his choice of destination, embraced states that suppress individual rights and use the Internet as an instrument of control and persecution. His movements have sent the wrong message.

Still, he has performed a critical service. History, the real sort, will judge him kindly."

As I wrote in the past, instead of going after Iran and Hezbollah, the Obama administration has focused its efforts upon eroding American civil liberties (see: Moreover, I believe that a cost/benefit analysis tells us that the cost to American civil liberties of PRISM and other such NSA programs vastly outweighs the counter-terrorism benefits. As has often been asked, why didn't PRISM prevent the Boston Marathon bombing even after US intelligence services were warned in advance by Russia concerning the Tsarnaev brothers?

But does this in any way justify Snowden's conduct? Indeed, we don't know what Snowden passed on to Russia and China.

More to the point, there were other ways that Snowden could have conveyed his objections to these infringements of American civil liberties without revealing American secrets to countries that make mincemeat of basic human rights. With minimum effort, he could have brought the matter before members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Sure, there would have been no notoriety, but it could have been done without damaging the United States in broad-brush fashion.

"History, the real sort, will judge him kindly"? I don't know what the "real sort" of history is. Perhaps it is of the kind that will justify Cohen's infamous past declaration that Iran is "not totalitarian."

I don't judge Snowden kindly, nor will I ever. Moreover, if history judges him at all, it will ultimately be as one more footnote to a disastrous Obama presidency.

1 comment:

  1. Well, I happen to believe that Snowden is a
    "self-aggrandizing geek who betrayed his country and his employer."
    The 19th century Russian terrorists condemned American terrorists for terrorist acts because in their view there was a difference between their authoritarian country and a democratic country and between their lack of options and an a number of legitimate tools of protest in the USA.

    I don't idealize the USA. Actually, I see serious problems here, but as I said I do see Snowden as a traitor. He did have other options.
    Treason is treason is treason.