After conducting a two-year investigation into the actions of former NSA employee Edward Snowden, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released a summary of their findings on Thursday, September 15, 2016; one day before the new film “Snowden” hits theaters. Only three pages of the 36-page report are unclassified, with the other 33 pages remaining classified. Chair of the panel, California Republican Devin Nunes, said of the summary: “The report is based on facts, so it’s just all the facts that we gathered over a two-year process, and the report … I think, speaks for itself.” Not surprisingly, the report does not speak well of Snowden.
The report claims Snowden is not a “whistleblower,” nor is he anything more than a liar and traitor who put his country at great risk by disclosing confidential information regarding surveillance intel gathered by the NSA in their alleged ongoing attempt to fight and prevent terrorism in the United States. Before seeking asylum in Russia, where Snowden currently resides, he stole 1.5 million top secret documents while in the NSA’s employ in an attempt to expose the government for conducting unlawful and unconstitutional observations of average, everyday Americans under the guise of protecting them from potential harm. Each member of the committee unanimously agreed with the report’s findings and have all signed a letter addressed to President Barack Obama urging him not to pardon Snowden. An unclassified portion of the report reads, “[T]he vast majority of the documents he stole have nothing to do with programs impacting individual privacy interests — they instead pertain to military, defense, and intelligence programs of great interest to America’s adversaries.” The summary further claims Snowden is a “serial exaggerator and fabricator” who took the documents because he was dissatisfied with his job after having had an argument with his bosses. However, not everyone agrees with the Committee’s findings.
Many people still view Snowden as a patriot who put his life on the line to expose a deeply troubling issue; that the government was, and is continuing, to spy on us by monitoring our phone calls, online searches and even purchases made at the grocery store to create a “profile” of our daily lives in the absence of any prior criminal history or “suspicious” activity. President Obama acknowledged that Snowden’s actions began a necessary dialogue in the country, while the courts found the government’s use of the Patriot Act, (later replaced by Congress with the USA Freedom Act to increase transparency) to justify their collection of protected phone data immoral. Despite this, though, Snowden still faces charges of espionage in the U.S. and Obama and both future Presidential candidates have made it clear they intend to prosecute him if/when he returns to the states.
Some have argued the country is failing to recognize Snowden’s actions as heroic because more Americans have become increasingly aware of the potential violation of their rights to privacy. The President’s former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. said of Snowden in May that although he did break the law, “he actually performed a public service.” If that is the case, and Mr. Snowden did effectively expose extensive violations of human rights, shouldn’t he be applauded instead of chastised for his actions?
Whether you believe Snowden is a patriot or traitor, it can’t be denied he is responsible for the start of a revolution when it comes to our rights as citizens. As Snowden’s Twitter bio reads, “I used to work for the government. Now I work for the public.” Personally, I find that more comforting than not.