Widgets Magazine


Edward Snowden: Not a hero

I am sorry to say that my opposition will not be writing the column with me this week. I am looking forward to discussing another issue with him in two weeks. The topic we had planned to discuss this week was Edward Snowden and whether or not we ought to consider him a hero.

Edward Snowden, a computer scientist and  former CIA employee, unveiled several National Security agency (NSA) programs as well as a large number of documents and data to three major media outlets, most notably The Washington Post. Since then, Snowden has become a figure of debate and controversy. Some argue that he went through the proper channels of attempting to redress the issues he saw when he came across surveillance programs he felt were immoral, while others, myself included, argue that he was not justified in dumping sensitive information onto the media.

Snowden caused operational and economic harm in his actions. The threats that the U.S. had been tracking have since learned about the surveillance and adapted. According to former NSA General Counsel Rajesh De, threats have changed strategies in the counterintelligence community because of Snowden’s actions. There are sophisticated international cyber threats, and there is a bit of mosaic theory at work here.

In mosaic theory, which appropriately describes how Snowden caused operational harm, several small pieces being aligned at the right time make sense of a greater picture. Programs that had nothing to do with American privacy interests were discontinued, the perfect example being a program used to collect real time intelligence for troops in Afghanistan. So, operationally, Snowden caused harm. Economically, Germany-U.S. relations have now been strained in discussions with ISIS and the economy. International businesses are using this negative cybersecurity attention to essentially beat down the American transatlantic system of data transfer. And as everyone from Stanford probably knows, big data has become the business of business.

Alternatively, he did shed light on the “Section 215 program” that definitely expresses a gap between what public law is and what the public understands. However, what statement are we making by lauding Snowden as a great civil-disobedient citizen who began his correspondence with the media under the pseudonym Cincinnatus?

In Livy’s third book of the History of Rome, we learn that Cincinnatus was a statesman and a diligent farmer who was appointed dictator for 16 days before returning to his farm. In what way can Snowden call himself Cincinnatus? We are not in an early Roman institutional construct in which a dictator is necessary in times of upheaval. The U.S. is a democratic republic, and I do not see the democratic tenets pursued and applied in one man’s making a decision for the entire nation.

After the announcement of three movies, several books and countless articles, is this celebrity who fled the country a hero? Are we to examine the relationship between Socrates, Ghandi, Thoreau and King and their strife and include  Snowden among them? I would like to allow Thoreau to conclude this week’s column, as he stated, “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”


Contact James Stephens at james214 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

  • britbob

    Interesting to note that Snowdon revealed that the UK was keeping an eye on Argentina and her Malvinas claim. Argentina’s Falklands’ claim is debunked: https://www.academia.edu/10490336/Argentinas_Illegitimate_Sovereignty_Claims

  • Terry Lint

    damn you! he is a hero. he has exposed a lot of government secrets that we all needed to know. its thanks to him that we have an upper hand to fight and get our freedom back!

  • wgalison

    “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.” As Thoreau once also stated: “WTF?”. Are you suggesting that the US does not imprison any unjustly? Or that it does, and therefore you, who are presumably not in prison, are unjust? Or that Snowden should be in prison because he is just, in which case your preceding thesis is false? Or that Snowden should be in prison because he is unjust, and never mind Thoreau? Please elucidate.

  • FedUp

    A pathetic article written by a clueless punk. Someone should slap your mon

  • gezzerx

    The real Traitors are the members of our 3 branches of Government, both Republicans & Democrats who conspired in this criminal conspiracy & violated the Constitution only after they are prosecuted, should Mr. Snowden be charged with a crime. Prosecute those who broke the law first, in chronological order, then the Government can get around to Mr Snowden .

    No more lies, excuses, rationalizations,or justifications, the public needs to hold these officials to account to the fullest extent of the law under Title 18 sec. 241 & 242 (Google it), so any future traitors will know there will be consequences to such behavior.

    We get the Government we deserve, and nothing will change until we stop electing Democrats & Republicans after all they are the ones subverting the Constitution, & they must be held to account both politically & legally !

    Unaccountable power is absolute power, & is absolutely corrupt !

  • Joe Kluertz

    What a nice propaganda piece. He writes about how trade relations have been harmed because of the US spying practices but they offer to take no responsibility for it and only places blame solely on Snowden.

    I guess James would always prefer to shoot the messenger.

  • Chris Winkley

    I didn’t read this coz it’s utterly full of shit, he is a hero the American government at best are insane at worst pure evil if you cannot see that your delusional… The American government /military think they can do what they want keep all calls all data, look through your phone camera or listen I, I’m not a terrorist, why should we be spied on because of the USA and its insane foreign policy? They have an agenda and its not peace or liberation is it? If you can’t see that your dumb or lying. So yes he is a hero, did he give all the documents to China or Russia or did he carefully release our information so as not to cause shit for operatives? He gave the info to the people, so how is he not a hero.. How much do you get paid for writing this nonsense? Or are you being promised a home deep underground for you and your family…..?

  • Chris Winkley

    Look at the comments.

  • Chris Winkley

    He has either been paid to do this by the American government or he is woefully misinformed.

  • Chris Winkley

    The same government that killed the best president ever, new documents showing the CIA to be involved in JFK, so if they can do that 911 was easy. Why would anyone stick up for the American government, never has there been a force for evil and don’t include the nazi party coz they were bankrolled by Prescott Bush, kind of like ISIS /ISIL.


    He hasn’t committed half the crines twit Killary & lunatic Obama hsve- both are traitors

  • Tat Gregson

    Bulk collection of data vs actual spying on U.S. citizens is different. Not that the former is right, but this idea that the NSA was actually looking through your phone and reading your emails for kicks is ridiculous. I’d love to see what evidence you can point to from Snowden that the NSA was doing that.

    Second, he didn’t secure the data properly and U.S. government is acting as if China/Russia do have the data and second while he was in Hong Kong he did give information to the Chinese governments about targets that were spied on.

  • Tat Gregson

    oh I just saw your other comments – you believe in all those conspiracies? ok nevermind, people like you will always put the government in the wrong regardless of the evidence.

  • AnonNext

    He doesn’t understand that exceptional threats need exceptional treatments. The US’s mass surveillance with that scale was the first time in the entire human history.

  • NotJesus

    “this idea that the NSA was actually looking through your phone and reading your emails for kicks is ridiculous.”
    Except that, just for kicks, that is exactly what the NSA operatives did.
    Thanks for playing though!

  • Tat Gregson

    Sure bud. Point out where this happened as a formal government program. Were there bad apples? Sure. But was it formal government surveillance of personal emails targeting u.s. citizens? Nope.

    Thanks for playing though!

  • Alex Adamson

    Everyone is acting like the US government built these programs for the sole purpose of violating the privacy and intruding into the private lives of Americans, maybe for some larger aim of quelling internal dissent. There have been no indications that that was the case. There is nothing indicating that the purpose of these programs was not ultimately to protect innocent citizens from unreasonable bodily harm, which is something that I certainly expect the government to do.

    While the road to Hell may be paved with good intentions, I think it is still a serious equivocation to draw parallels between the past and present actions of oppressive regimes (e.g. Stasi, modern China) to quell dissent and track political opponents and the actions of a basically democratic, basically rights-respecting government attempting to fulfill its duty to defend the public.

    I’m not sold on Snowden’s status either way. I think he may be a narcissist, and I think it is probably not the place of a subcontractor to leak a trove of classified documents to the press and perhaps to adversarial states. There’s “traditional” whistleblowing (for instance, leaking the general details of secret programs to the press and corroborating them with documents), and then there’s what Snowden did. If he was concerned about making sure invasive and abusable programs do not operate without the informed consent of the public, he could have taken the former route. He seems like a man with more principles and platitudes than foresight.

  • Kate Jex McQuillen

    the ends never justifies the means. ask any historian. to believe so is moral evil. yes, he is a hero. a government that conducts affairs secretly and most importantly without the public’s permission is bad and should be overthrown.

  • James Stephens

    Mon or mom? Please edit for clarity.

  • The author of this article is a huge troll.

    He justifies what the NSA did by using a quote from the former NSA general counsel – a representative of an agency which has consistently lied to the American people in front of Congress. There hasn’t been any definitive proof that Snowden’s revelations caused any harm to U.S. operations.

    And then he says that Snowden hurt U.S. business interests by sharing what the government has been doing in secret. Did he consider that if government behavior is hurting business, then perhaps the government should stop that behavior?

    The NSA was violating human privacy on the largest scale ever seen in history. Snowden did the right thing by bringing this to the light.

  • jonathanmilo

    Whether to call him a hero or not is beside the point. Most of your arguments against the “Hero” label are weak, because you are not considering the value of exposing just how invasive the government had become and still is. Yes, terrorists have adapted their strategies. Yes, relations with Germany and other allies have become strained in critical ways.

    You might have additionally made a case for human fallibility, either by Snowden himself or the journalists he entrusted the documents with, that did or could have led to intelligence compromises or deaths.

    But you have to weigh that harm against the multiple threats to individual privacy and autonomy he exposed.

    First, the abusive programs being exercised under cover of section 215 of the Patriot Act were/are unconstitutional. To argue otherwise is ludicrous, although we can go down that path if you wish. They were a mass violation of our privacy rights, and we were completely in the dark about it. Even the author of the Patriot Act, Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., considered the programs a complete misreading and abuse of the Act.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but your argument is that Snowden is not “a hero” because of the aforementioned negative impacts, and that the resulting exposure of blatant violations of our privacy rights, the highly nefarious potentials they could be put toward if those capabilities were to (in the tide of time) come under control of less noble souls (I’m thinking of the human fallibility mentioned above at best, totalitarianism at worst), were simply not sufficient counterbalances to the temporary tensions and strategic changes we are enduring.

    Wow. That, in my mind, is some seriously fucked up priorities, but to each his own, i guess.

    As to the whole whistle-blower argument, you know, “Why didn’t he just come in and have a chat with us, we’d have listened, honestly”, you would be intellectually dishonest to not acknowledge the Obama administrations near complete dismissal and harsh treatment of whistle-blowers. In case you really are in the dark about this here is some information for you to digest:





    So Germany is pissed, and they have every right to be.

    So terrorists hide their tracks better. That’s bad, and probably the most harmful impact of Snowden’s actions, but considering all those programs stopped one very minor “terrorist activity” of a cabby giving money to terrorist groups, I’m thinking not so horrible as it’s made out to be.

    In return, we are now aware of just how invasive the government has become in our private lives, all under the auspices of protecting us from terrorism. We now know that everything we’ve ever done on the internet, every porn site, odd curiosity search on suicide or grey market drugs, every diary rant about how we wanted to kill our ex slowly and painfully, every nude photo or dick pic is now swept up in a vast government database to be used at anytime throughout your life in one way or another, depending on who eventually has authority of these powerful technologies.

    I guess knowing that wasn’t worth it to you. I hate vague terms like hero unless used in very literal contexts, i.e. “He pulled the baby of the train tracks just in time”.

    But did Snowden provide an invaluable service to our awareness of how are constitutional rights were/are being violated? Absolutely.

    And what’s with the Cincinnatus argument? Weak, man. Weak.

  • Terry Lint

    So you’re saying you don’t appreciate that you have a good advantage to fight for your freedom and you want to be spied on?

  • El Diablo Rojo

    James, Why focus on Snowden? Obama took an oath of office to uphold the constitution. Snowden exposed the unconstitutionality of it all. He embarassed the president, the NSA and our very own Dianne Feinstein. Of course they charged him under a rarely used law. Of course they paint him as criminal. This is what you should expect from the National Socialist Regime that we currently have in DC. With the loss of Habis Corpus there is no longer rule of law in this country. The government can call you a terrorist or tell the media that you are a terrorist and throw you infinitely in a ghost prison. In that prison they will water board you and feed you anally if they wish. Because the government lawyers have deemed it legal. So while you are on your soapbox talking about all the lost business. Have you ever stopped to think about all the business we’d have if we had no enemies? All the business we’d have if the boys in DC stopped fighting these proxy wars to enrich their friends.

  • I have seen some very good anti-Snowden arguments. This is not one of them. What a very Stanford piece though. 1) Inability to differentiate between morality and legality 2) Knee-jerk defense of authority…because they have authority 3) Trife critique of a pseudonym. Half this article attacks Snowden for…what? Poor historical research? And are you saying that the US is just or unjust? I’m so confused…