Frederic Whitehurst. Jeffrey Wigand. Bradley Manning. Mordechai Vanunu. Daniel Ellsberg. W. Mark Felt.
Add another name to that a) vilified b) revered (choose one, depending on how you feel about information leakers) group of whistleblowers: Edward Snowden.
He’s the guy who admitted to revealing the vacuum the National Security Agency has been using to suck up millions upon millions of phone records of ordinary Americans. Late Sunday night, Snowden went public, one week after his leak to the Guardian exposed the NSA’s data collection operation.
In a video released by the Guardian, Snowden said he had no intention of remaining in the shadows. He also acknowledged that now that the U.S.government knows his identity, his future is less than certain.
"I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions, but I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant."
Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant at the CIA and a former employee of various outside contractors to the NSA, told the Guardian he gave up a very good life in standing up for his principles.
"I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the U.S.government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building."
Snowden, who was last reported in Hong Kong, will most likely now spend the rest of his life in a prison of his own making; whether that’s in a federal penitentiary or on the run has yet to be determined.
Bruce Einhorn, writing for Bloomberg Businessweek said Snowden’s choice of Hong Kong as a roost might just be a stroke of genius.
Because of the United States’ treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning, which a United Nations special report characterized as "a violation of (Manning’s) right to physical and psychological integrity as well as his presumption of innocence," a Hong Kong judge may be reluctant to turn Snowden over, even if a formal extradition request is filed.
Last December, wrote Einhorn, a Hong Kong court ruled the local government "has a duty not to send people to places where they might face cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
Even though Hong Kong has been part of China since 1997, it is considered a Special Administrative Region and has been a safe haven for opponents to communist rule in the People’s Republic of China. Such a tradition might serve Snowden well.
We hope Snowden remains free as long as possible. It’s important for the truth to be known about the extent of the NSA’s data collection operation. Whether Snowden is a hero or a traitor is for history to decide, but, WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange said from his "prison" in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Snowden has helped expose "the creeping formulation of a mass surveillance state."
Assange went on to characterize Snowden and Manning as "very serious, earnest young men who really believe in something, and have shown great courage ..."
But Snowden now lives in fear. He could be snatched up by the Chinese, eager to pump him of all he knows, or he could be kidnapped in the middle of the night by special forces operatives or organized crime members and sent to a "dark site."
"That is a concern I will live with for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be," Snowden told the Guardian.
But Snowden said his fear and uncertainty over his future are nothing compared to the fear and uncertainty he has over the U.S.government’s infringement of the privacy of its citizens.
"What they’re doing (poses) an existential threat to democracy," he said.
Whether you agree with Snowden or not, Americans have the right to know what lengths their government has gone to in protecting them from terrorist attacks. Americans also should be given the right to decide if the loss of some of their privacy in exchange for their safety is worth the trade-off.
But we can’t make that decision without the knowledge of what practices our government is engaging in. For that, we owe Snowden a debt. Let us not squander his gift.