In light of Edward Snowden’s attempts to receive asylum abroad, the debate on his character began right on cue.
On Sunday, June 23rd, news outlets reported that he arrived in Moscow after fleeing Hong Kong. It is unclear where he will go next. It’s possible he will end up in Ecuador or Venezuela. WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange has stated that his organization’s legal team is trying to help Snowden go to Iceland. As of June 30th, people still had no idea where Snowden will go.
In a rare moment of bipartisanship Michelle Bachmann, Dick Cheney, Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, Dianne Feinstein, and John Bolton have joined forces in condemning Snowden. Many people have jumped to agree with the very administration spying on American citizens without reasonable cause by declaring Snowden a “traitor” and accusing him of being a Chinese spy.
“If I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn’t I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now,” a writer who identified himself as Snowden said in an online question-and-answer session hosted by The Guardian newspaper.
This counterfactual has not quelled the suspicions of people who have taken to the internet to support the government’s portrait of Snowden.
Snowden said that he is planning to find asylum “in a democratic country.” This led to some snark, such as this blog post titled “Edward Snowden Makes Some Odd Choices for Someone So Concerned About Liberty.” Articles have been released to support Snowden’s detractors, such as this piece pointing out that Ecuador does not have a free press. Conservatives and liberals alike have joined forces on Twitter paying more attention to where Snowden is trying to go rather than evaluating the consequences of the information he shared with the public.
Arguments about whether Snowden is a traitor or not is a debate welcomed by the NSA and the administration. Rather than being forced to answer for their misdeeds, the press and the public are deflecting attention away from the government. They evaluate Snowden’s statements of allegiance to the United States rather than covering his leaks:
In a moment of virtual fist-pounding, [Snowden] intimated that prison is not the worst thing that could happen to him.
“All I can say right now is the US Government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped,” he wrote.
One commenter asked what advice Snowden would give to others who could leak classified information “that could improve public understanding of the intelligence apparatus of the USA and its effect on civil liberties?”
“This country is worth dying for,” he replied.
Here’s a simple question: What is more important?
- Is it Snowden’s character or the fact that the NSA has been performing sweeping warrantless surveillance on law-abiding American citizens?
- Is it Snowden landing in Moscow or the knowledge that Verizon has been releasing its customers’ records to the NSA?
- Is it that Snowden spoke to Glenn Greenwald from Hong Kong or that the government has stretched the limits of FISA’s implications to include domestic surveillance?
- Is Snowden himself more important than the knowledge that the government has been engaging in the very tyrannical activities people have worried about since the passage of the Patriot Act?
Those who focus on smearing Snowden are aligning themselves with the very politicians and administration violating their civil liberties. Those who emphasize Snowden’s character shift the media’s lens from the implications of Snowden’s leaks to a debate over the man’s qualities.
It doesn’t matter if Snowden is a hero or a villain. This debate about the man himself helps the NSA and the government deflect scrutiny upon its actions.
The government thanks you guys for your voluntary assistance.