The controversy surrounding whistleblower Edward Snowden is no longer an issue of the National Security Agency (NSA)’s scandalous PRISM program — nor should it be a comprehensive analysis of his lifestyle outside of work as an intelligence analyst.
Snowden, whose disappearances and subsequent reappearances across the globe in an effort to avoid media spotlight and U.S. extradition, is a silhouette scorched on the backdrop of a growing schism between what the U.S. government considers treason and what a sizable chunk of the U.S. populace considers citizen activism.
The U.S. Department of Justice has already filed a criminal grievance, extraditing Snowden for espionage from his Hong Kong hub, an autonomous Chinese economic zone that has long had cordial relations with the U.S. government.
Within 24 hours, Snowden was once again amuck, his next destination Russia, America’s long-time geopolitical adversary and former Cold War rival, possibly en route to an Ecuadorian embassy.
The wild goose chase is yet to end, and the disparity between the actions of the U.S. government and the sentiments of its constituents grows with each unconfirmed report.
The debate comes down to what distinguishes traitor from whistleblower.
A well-paid intelligence officer, unwilling to repress objections of what he believed was unethical, would hardly be grounds for imprisonment from the standpoint of an average American. But the government is not composed of average Americans and has often found itself at odds with its own people.
The argument can be made that laws enacted by the federal government would lend credence to Snowden’s disloyalty.
But if such laws are conflicted with constitutional principles, would it not be fair to say that Snowden is not just a whistleblower, but an advocate of constitutional privilege and review?
The power to extradite, try, imprison and execute American citizens in matters relating to intelligence is overwhelmingly consolidated in the hands of the federal government.
How this skewed balance of power came to be is an underlying question that has yet to be answered in Snowden’s case.
If Snowden has indeed compromised the integrity and security of the American public by releasing these documents, then by all definitive
means, he should be considered a traitor. But if these leaks reveal an egregious deviation from American constitutional principles and the rule of law on behalf of the U.S. intelligence community, then the answer is a resounding no, he is not.