Secrecy News

Edward Snowden, Source of NSA Leaks, Steps Forward

A former CIA employee and NSA contractor named Edward Snowden identified himself as the source of the the serial revelations of classified documents concerning U.S. intelligence surveillance activities that were disclosed last week.

“I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he told The Guardian newspaper.

“I think that the public is owed an explanation of the motivations behind the people who make these [unauthorized] disclosures that are outside of the democratic model,” he told interviewer Glenn Greenwald in Hong Kong, where he has evidently taken refuge.

“When you are subverting the power of government– that’s a fundamentally dangerous thing to democracy.”

“I’m willing to go on the record to defend the authenticity [of these disclosures]. This is the truth.  This is what’s happening.  You should decide whether we need to be doing this,” he said of his disclosures.

In the history of unauthorized disclosures of classified information, a voluntary admission of having committed such disclosures is the exception, not the norm.  And it confers a degree of dignity on the action.  Yet it stops short of a full acceptance of responsibility. That would entail surrendering to authorities and accepting the legal consequences of “subverting the power of government” and carrying out “a fundamentally dangerous thing to democracy.”

There are occasions when breaching restrictions on classified information may be necessary and appropriate, suggested Judge T.S. Ellis, III of the Eastern District of Virginia in a June 2009 sentencing hearing for Lawrence Franklin, who pleaded guilty to disclosing classified information in the “AIPAC” case.  But in order to reconcile an unauthorized disclosure with the rule of law, he said, it must be done openly.

“I don’t have a problem with people doing that [disclosing classified information to the press] if they are held accountable for it…,” Judge Ellis said. “One might hope that, for example, someone might have the courage to do something that would break the law if it meant they’re the savior of the country; but then one has to take the consequences, because the rule of law is so important.”

“Simply because you believe that something that’s going on that’s classified should be revealed to the press and to the public, so that the public can know that its government is doing something you think is wrong, that doesn’t justify it. Now, you may want to go ahead and do it, but you have to stand up and take the consequences,” Judge Ellis said then.

9 thoughts on “Edward Snowden, Source of NSA Leaks, Steps Forward

  1. By the judge’s logic, Julian Assange should leave the Ecuadoran embassy and face the music in Sweden, or Jews who resisted the application of the Nuremberg Laws in Nazi Germany should have surrendered themselves to the authorities. I don’t buy it. It would nice if we could all be Henry David Thoreaus, but one is not morally obligated to respect the rule of law, as Lincoln exhorted us to, at the expense of being a martyr, when such rule effectively functions as a means for the powerful to trample the less powerful, who the powerful deem a threat, while the powerful escape punishment for their crimes. See Glenn Greenwald’s latest book for details. If this view were universal, then necessary revolution would be made impossible. There is a blatant double-standard here, which namby-pamby pieties like the judge’s overlook, or worse, ignore.

  2. Ms. Sand’s comment is unassailable. I would add that a datum of history that we can only speculate about is that proportion of inmates of concentration camps, detention centers, internment facilities – call them what you will – created by 20th and 21st century governments were astonished to find themselves, figuratively or literally, behind barbed wire because they had “nothing to hide,”

  3. What a shame Snowden is forced to do the job that used to be the domain of journalists before they resorted to tabloid heroics and pr masquerades, which is to ask and uncover whether it is better that the public decide for itself what it should tolerate or want perpetuated in the guise for freedom and freedom of expression, rather than allowing the state or a handle of individuals to make those vital concerns for us…

    What next? Perhaps a foreign embassy may want to take up Snowden’s cause in a show of unity against imperialistic policy…

  4. — In the history of unauthorized disclosures of classified information, a voluntary admission of having committed such disclosures is the exception, not the norm. And it confers a degree of dignity on the action. Yet it stops short of a full acceptance of responsibility. That would entail surrendering to authorities and accepting the legal consequences of “subverting the power of government” and carrying out “a fundamentally dangerous thing to democracy.” —

    This is an utterly loathsome thing to say, and I echo the sentiment of Ms. Sand above. “Accepting responsibility” for exposing criminal behavior certainly does not mean handing oneself over to the very “justice” mechanism the criminally-behaving organization operates.

    George Carlin said it best, and I paraphrase: “Yeah, it’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

  5. An enemy of the United States would not be expected to surrender himself to authorities. But a practitioner of civil disobedience would be obliged to do so. That’s not utterly loathesome, it is an essential part of the act. When Martin Luther King violated the law in Birmingham, he went to jail in Birmingham.

    1. And that was perhaps the right path for MLK’s time… though let’s not forget that the #conspiracy did patsy-assassinate the man, a real vulnerability in remaining within the Empire’s domain.

      In any case, “civil disobedience” a la Thoreau is all well and good, but guess what? The Pointy-Haired Powers That Be are entirely uncivil! Witness the torture of Bradley Manning[1], mass-gassing of peaceful protesters, the billion-plus rounds of rifle ammunition recently purchased by DHS, remote control drone thrill kills of even American citizens overseas, half a century of undeclared wars for empire, et cetera ad nauseam.

      I am an enemy of the United States! But what does that mean? Do I hate Americans, the American territory, the American Dream, America’s history or merely the American state? Or some combination thereof? “Enemy of the United States” seems to me such a horrid conflation of state with people as to serve little purpose beyond a propagandistic stirring of emotion. Therefore — and meaning no slight to you and the work you do — as Wolfgang Pauli might have put it, to include that phrase in your logical proposition above makes the entire thing “not even wrong”.

      [1] BTW, I was the original registrant and thereby co-founder of

  6. Our present society has a short attention span.

    There’s an initial uproar, followed by an Attention Deficit type of reaction from the public which quickly shifts it’s attention to the next sensational story.

    The flames die out, the embers turn cold, and the discloser is locked away in a cold dark cell . Out of the public eye, his/her cause is soon forgotten.

    He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.

    Probably more effective is a tactic of guerrilla war then that of a direct frontal assault. It would be suicidal to mount a direct frontal assault upon an enemy that outnumbers you a million to one.

    The fire most be stoked before one can return to face the music. When the fires stoke 100 million angry people to support his cause, then he will return to face the music.

  7. America is culture of war (see Cultures of War by John Dower) i.e. America creates its own enemies (e.g. Al Qaeda as one of many) and when the enemies like Al Qaeda take action against America then America continues with its war on terrorism and more enemies are created and more enemies keep agencies the NSA busy and busy in secret until people like Snowden or Assange come along. So the NSA is trying to find the enemies that America created so America can be protected from the enemies that America created. But gee – no one talks about the enemies that America created and perhaps that is why people like Snowden stand out. What if America was a culture of human rights advocacy bent on building ‘World Peace I’ i.e. Snowden wouldn’t have to say anything. It is not Snowden’s fault that America is so invested in war and security that America can’t see that our nation is just as much to blame for global anarchy as the folks that we hunt down like Osama bin Laden. And with OBL’s assassination is derived a movie – wow.

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