Conservatives, in fact America as a whole, are split over whether National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden is a villain or a hero for disclosing boatloads of top secret information about U.S. surveillance practices. According to a poll published on July 10 by Quinnipiac University, a significant majority view the fugitive as a whistleblower. [See story about the poll here.] On the question over whether Snowden is a whistleblower or a traitor, only 34 percent responded that he is a bad guy, compared to 55 percent who view his actions as justifiable.
Take that position a step further. If a majority believes he’s a whistleblower, that means most Americans think he should be protected by the government from retaliation for his actions rather than being hunted down for them. There are numerous repercussions to this stance. The most obvious problem is that it encourages countless other bureaucrats with security clearances to violate the oaths of loyalty they swear to guard the nature and specifics of the country’s intelligence-gathering apparatus. Even if leaks are poured out with the intention of protecting individual civil liberties that are perceived to be at risk, the classified information that is divulged benefits our enemies, who acquire invaluable insight into how our nation defends itself. In the long run, weakening America – the freest land on earth – does more to undermine the cause of liberty than it does to safeguard it.
None of this is to downplay the seriousness of Big Brother snooping on the private lives of American citizens or to belittle the appropriateness (or inappropriateness) of federal surveillance efforts. There are very real concerns about the extent and mission of acquiring and storing data related to the personal lives of millions and millions of citizens innocent of any wrongdoing or connection to bad actors out to do us harm. Only a simpleton trusts that government won’t misuse any and every power it has. “Our Founders never intended for Americans to trust their government,” libertarian Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, explained, “Our entire Constitution was predicated on the notion that government was a necessary evil, to be restrained and minimized as much as possible. Indiscriminate monitoring of citizens’ records is precisely the kind of general warranting we fought a revolution over.”
There are many legitimate doubts about the effectiveness of the NSA and other intelligence services casting such a wide net over the entire population when the specific contemporary threat of radical Islamic terrorism comes from a small, easily defined group. There are over 300 million people in America but under 3 million Muslims. Of course, not every Muslim is a terrorist, but ignoring these numbers by pretending everybody in America is a potential risk is inefficient, which puts lives in danger. Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and the CIA, stated that dozens of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil were thwarted thanks to NSA practices. This may be true, but what the man on the street sees are the deadly attacks that weren’t prevented even though there were glaring red flags, such the Boston Marathon bombing and the jihadist rampage at Fort Hood.
The wild card in all this is political correctness, which sticks its fingers in the engine of the nation’s intelligence services and mucks up the machine. Part of the reason why our spooks snoop on everyone are counterproductive PC restrictions that prohibit the targeting of specific ethnic groups, for example Muslim fanatics. This forces a broad dragnet, which is more the fault of lawmakers than intelligence agents.
To the question of whether Mr. Snowden is a villain or a hero, it’s not evidence in his favor that his first two destinations were China and Russia, two places notorious for heavy-handed police states which happen to be strategic competitors (formerly known as “enemies”) of the United States. As late-nite host Jimmy Fallon cracked, “The source of the leak said he’s hiding out in Hong Kong, marking the first time anyone has ever said, ‘I don’t want to be punished by the government – so I guess I’ll go to China.’” Rumors that Snowden may be headed to the socialist thug state of Venezuela reinforce skepticism about the leaker’s motives. Would he go there out of desperation or in search of kindred spirits? The eternal tug-of-war between security and liberty continues.
Written by Editor-in-Chief Brett M. Decker on behalf of the Rare Editorial Board. Follow him @BrettMDecker.