“All of us, in truth, detest a traitor, no matter how he sugarcoats his treason or justifies his betrayal.” – Aldrich Hazen Ames (CIA spy for Russia)
In the 1943 classic film Watch on the Rhine, Paul Lukas, in his Academy Award winning role, plays a German underground anti-fascist agent who moves to America with his American wife and family. Shortly after arriving, his mother- and brother-in-law ask him what he has been doing in Europe, after he reveals that he has not been a practicing engineer for several years. The year is presumably 1938-39, and the American family, reflecting the isolationism of the interwar years, is completely ignorant of European politics and the menace of fascism. He struggles to explain the tragic and serious nature of his new “profession,” which, he says, does not pay well. His wife’s family hears him speak, but does not quite understand until he is forced to kill a Nazi-sympathizer in their garage after being blackmailed. It is only then, at the end of the movie, that they appreciate how utterly shielded they have been from politics beyond American shores.
The ignorance of this fictional American family comes to mind today, when on one hand you have Edward Snowden being hailed as a hero and awarded the Pulitzer Prize by proxy, and on the other a minority of people adamant that he is an agent of Russia.
Imagine you were in the position of Snowden. As a contractor to the National Security Agency, you knew that your government was monitoring what seemed to be an indefensible amount of electronic communication, from emails, to phone calls, between ordinary Americans. What would you do? Perhaps you would:
Resign in protest?
Go to the Press with declassified information?
Point the Press in the right direction, to ask the right questions?
Go public? Other whistleblowers in modern American history, such as Daniel Ellsberg, are today hailed as heroes.
Help to start a national conversation about fundamental privacy rights, and the Constitutional provisions of the Fourth Amendment?
Maybe you’d do some or all of the above, among others thing. But would you ever consider fleeing to Russia via Hong Kong after leaking a tremendous amount of sensitive classified information to newspapers around the world? Most people consider such a course of action to be plainly treasonous.
It is a testament to the goodness of the American people that we were outraged to learn about, what appears to be, the routine and institutional incursions into our personal lives by domestic government surveillance. This is a healthy instinct. Even in an age of terrorism, in which electronic communication of suspicious actors must be monitored by law enforcement, there is no good reason for such a large and untargeted dragnet. Indeed, as we learned from the Boston Marathon bombing, these catch-all tactics do not provide bulletproof assurances of safety.
And yet does this excuse Snowden, and his collaborators at The Guardian and Washington Post? It recalls the similar actions of Julian Assange. Working with convicted spy Bradley Manning, Assange publicized thousands of State Department cables, classified intelligence about the war in Iraq, and stolen information from the intelligence firm Stratfor. Assange is currently holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. (Ecuador’s President, FARC man Rafael Correa, insists he would still consider granting asylum to Snowden.) Assange previously had his own television show on RT, i.e., Russia Today. The parallels in each case are undeniable to the most naïve of observers.
The damage done by Snowden’s obvious defection is already critical. After learning the specific of how American intelligence uses their electronic capabilities, the Russian military was able to amass troops on the Ukrainian border without detection. The crisis in Ukraine, easily the most serious in Europe in a generation, was precipitated by precisely the information provided by Snowden to Russian intelligence. To say nothing about the other roots of this crisis, explained here, today millions of Ukrainians are living in fear of a Russian annexation. And this is a man that Americans consider a hero?
A few other points worthy of your consideration.
Hypocrisy from the FSB
To hear the Russian authorities, especially ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin, lecture America on privacy is completely laughable. In a study published in GeoJournal entitled “Geographies of global Internet censorship,” the authors explain Russian monitoring and censorship of the internet.
“In Russia, where the conventional media are already under tight government control, the Putin government gradually sought to extend its inﬂuence over the Internet, essentially following the Chinese model of granting the secret service extensive monitoring powers, ostensibly on the grounds of ﬁghting corruption (Troianovski and Finn 2007). As Russia’s penetration rate increased, threatening to broaden the sphere of public debate and give rise to autonomous voices, the administration responded by purchasing independent websites, promoting pro-government websites, and fostering a network of government-friendly bloggers. Russia’s Internet surveillance law, the System for Operational-Investigative Activities, allows state security services unfettered physical access to ISPs and requires them to report statistics about users, and has been emulated, to one extent or another, by other countries in this region.” [emphasis added]
Furthermore, in July 2014, Russia is set to implement a draft order that would “amend the current surveillance mechanism, by obliging Russian internet service providers (ISPs) to store comprehensive records of all activity by users for a period of 12 hours, with direct and immediate access to this information provided to the FSB.” The FSB is an agency formed after the dissolution of the KGB by Boris Yeltsin, and is essentially the KGB’s domestic presence with little but a new name and sign on the door.
It is an insult that Snowden and Putin, through a blatantly staged interview, would feign concern with the privacy of Russian citizens in such a farcical manner. It is hypocrisy of the first order.
A hero to whom?
Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty announced this week that it would defy a federal (IRS) inquiry into its donors. Why would the IRS want to know who is donating to the Campaign for Liberty, especially at this time? Ron Paul has been a bewildering voice against all American aid to Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression. Moreover, Edward Snowden’s father was recommended to his now lawyer, Bruce Fein, by Rand Paul’s office. According to Fein, “someone in Senator [Rand] Paul’s office” referred him to his new client. It is also worth noting that for a March SXSW interview, Snowden was pictured in front of background of the Constitution, with the words “We the People” prominently displayed on the greenscreen parchment. Ron Paul is known for, among other things, his “We the People Act,” which would drastically circumscribe judicial review, fundamentally altering the system of checks and balances that has been in practice since 1803.
Both Ron and Rand Paul have consistently urged leniency toward Edward Snowden (in Ron’s case, in fact, clemency), and some of the loudest voices lauding Snowden are Paulist “libertarians.” This should not be wholly surprising, considering that Edward Snowden is a Ron Paul supporter himself. Given the documented, multilayered relationships between the Pauls, Russia, and Russian-tied entities, maybe none of this should be a surprise to anyone. Then again, it is the American journalistic establishment who awarded a Pulitzer to Snowden in the first place. Competence is ostensibly not their forte. But what exactly is?
There are many things to despise about overzealous domestic spying. But to elevate a spy, a traitor who has helped to kick off what may be lead to open warfare in Eastern Europe, to the status of national hero, is an actual national disgrace. Like the family in Watch on the Rhine, maybe only violence in Ukraine will call us to our senses.
Right Side News contributing writer William Michael