US critics should stop flip-flopping on Snowden

What exactly do surveillance apologists expect of Edward Snowden?

From calling him a hypocrite for not speaking out against Russia’s use of mass surveillance to ridiculing him as a propaganda puppet when he finally does, it seems that security proponents will do whatever it takes to attack Snowden, even if it means contradicting themselves.

Last week, Snowden — the renowned NSA whistleblower responsible for unveiling the U.S.’s dragnet surveillance apparatus — appeared on live Russian television to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin whether his country was carrying out mass surveillance programs.

“Does Russia intercept, store or analyze, in any way, the communications of millions of individuals, and do you believe that simply increasing the effectiveness of intelligence or law enforcement investigations can justify placing societies, rather than subjects, under surveillance?” Snowden asked.

 

 

Putin predictably used the moment to deny the existence of a mass surveillance system, stating, “according to our law, it cannot exist.” Considering Putin’s KGB past and Russia’s history of restricted press, I highly doubt Putin was telling the truth, but how is that Snowden’s fault?

In response to his involvement in Putin’s PR stunt, U.S. critics have pegged Snowden as a propaganda stooge, criticizing his surveillance inquiry as “soft” and “canned.” Most of these critics were the same people who originally demanded Snowden press Russia on this issue.

Although Snowden’s question could have very well been scripted to whitewash Russia’s surveillance policies, was there a better alternative? Did surveillance apologists expect Snowden to infiltrate the Kremlin and steal vital security docs to prove his patriotism?

If it meant being seen as a Russian propaganda puppet, some critics would have preferred for Snowden to keep silent. How does that lead to believing he shouldn’t have asked the question at all?

The only way there can be a debate is if someone tries to start it. If Snowden’s actions sparked a healthy public debate over the justification of mass surveillance in the U.S., then why wouldn’t we want the same for Russia? We should be commending Snowden’s attempt to unveil the truth, not ridiculing it.

Any question employed in the service of seeking the truth is valuable to having a discussion, regardless of propaganda dress-up. Consider the now notorious exchange between Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and director of national intelligence James Clapper during the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee hearings, in which Clapper lied to the Senate about whether the NSA was collecting data on millions of Americans.

Even though Wyden’s question was met with a lie, it still had significant impact in igniting the national dialogue on the ethics of surveillance. Although the event was televised on C-SPAN, we did not demonize Wyden as a propaganda tool.

Snowden’s question bears the same intent and should therefore be praised. Anything else is an obvious attempt to discredit his name. Although I suspect the Kremlin had a hand in framing Snowden’s question, it could nevertheless help open the door for debate.

Reach the columnist at Alexander.Elder@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @ALEXxElder

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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