Edward Snowden needs to shut up for his own good and for those who support his actions. Seems like every time the self-confessed document leaker opens his mouth these days, he says something that gives the government more fodder for going after him with everything it's got. And that’s a problem because it detracts from the importance of his revelations.
A few days ago, Snowden raised a few eyebrows when he disclosed details about U.S. intelligence agencies allegedly breaking into government, academic and private networks in Hong Kong and China. Up to that point, most had assumed that Snowden was purely focused on exposing illegal domestic surveillance activities. Talking about what the National Security Agency was doing in China made it easier for the U.S. government to label him a traitor.
The latest is Snowden’s apparent admission to the South China Morning Post that he took his job at government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton specifically so he could get access to documents revealing top-secret government surveillance programs.
If that were indeed true, Snowden would appear to be even less of the knight in shining armor that he first seemed to be.
It’s one thing to want to blow the whistle on apparent government wrongdoings after coming across them as part of you work, or even just stumbling upon it accidentally. It’s another thing entirely to go after such information in a systematic and premeditated manner.
One makes you an idealistic whistleblower motivated by moral outrage. The other makes you a determined rights activist bent on exposing government wrongdoing.
There is little doubt that what Snowden was courageous and important. At the very least his actions have spurred calls for some much needed oversight and transparency over government surveillance programs. And it has exposed the breathtaking extent to which the government has been intercepting all sorts of private data under the aegis of counter-terrorism.
But Snowden himself has made it impossible for the government to simply forgive him as many have called for. A public petition to the White House seeking pardon for Snowden has surged well past the 100,000 signatures needed for a formal response from the Executive Office.
But given everything Snowden has done and said, the U.S. has no option but to go after him with everything it has got and for however long it takes.
Whatever the justifications for his actions, and however sympathetically you might view them, there’s no chance that the U.S. is going to be able to ignore them (even if for some crazy reason it wanted to). To simply exonerate him now would be to give a license to every idealistic (or disgruntled) worker out there, to steal and leak government secrets.
The government is going to want to make an example of Snowden, if only to deter others from blowing the whistle on secret government programs the way he did. Officials are going to try everything they can to put him away for life, or at least for a very long time. That’s why they have charged him with violating the provisions of the Espionage Act of 1917.
That is why, for his sake, Snowden better hope that Ecuador, or Iceland or any other country where he is seeking political asylum, comes through for him.