Edward Snowden is a traitor.
That’s what a lot of Americans – smart, reasonable Americans – think.
Not me, though. To me, Edward Snowden was a selfless hero for releasing those secret files when he had the chance. The NSA had been collecting data on millions of Americans without a warrant and it was only right that we knew the truth.
The government knew that it was behaving badly. That’s why they were hiding the fact they were doing it. Snowden was simply helping the government and our society by exposing bad behavior.
It is absolutely normal for a good government to go too far sometimes in the name of national security. And that’s why we sometimes need whistle-blowers and reformers to rein it in.
“1971” takes us back to another moment in our history when American patriots illegally leaked classified government documents.
In 1924, J. Edgar Hoover took over the law enforcement agency that would become the FBI.
After nearly 50 years in charge, the FBI had essentially become the fourth branch of government. And with great power comes no accountability. J. Edgar Hoover’s personal prejudices and paranoias became the law. And elected officials were too scared of him to do anything about it.
But eight young Philadelphia leftists weren’t. The documentary “1971” shows how they planned and executed a skillful heist at a Pennsylvania FBI field office.
The files that they stole exposed the bureau as an insidious American KGB. The FBI hardly investigated criminals at all. Mostly it just spied on and harassed dissenters.
The Philadelphia 8 discovered that their local FBI had hired the telephone switchboard operator at Swarthmore College to keep tabs on left-wing students and professors.
The FBI was systemically infiltrating all known black organizations and women’s groups on college campuses. One female agent reported that the women’s group that she had joined never talked about politics. Mostly the women complained in detail about their relationship woes and sexual frustrations. Her superior urged her to keep at it and continue sending him detailed notes.
One agent who had infiltrated an anti-war group started a rumor that the leaders of the group, a husband and wife, were cheating on each other. The agent boasted – on official FBI documents – that he had broken up their family.
The release of these damning FBI files led Congress to hold hearings and establish a permanent system of oversight so these abuses could never happen again. The Philadelphia 8 – who obviously had to remain underground – were anonymous heroes.
“But Edward Snowden is different,” his critics will say, “because he betrayed the government that he swore to protect.”
I disagree. I don’t think Snowden betrayed the NSA; the NSA betrayed him.
Let’s say that a kid swears an oath to his local Boy Scout troop. When he starts going to Boy Scout events, however, he discovers that all they do is sit around eating Doritos and watching Islamic State propaganda videos.
If that new Boy Scout informs the authorities, he isn’t betraying his troop. His troop betrayed him by promising him wholesome projects and then behaving so disgracefully. To me, Snowden is that whistle-blowing boy scout.
Snowden is no traitor. He’s a hero, just like the Philadelphia 8.