Good Snowden/Bad Snowden? Not So Fast

Edward Snowden 1

In his recent article, “The Two Snowdens,” Philip Giraldi issued warnings about making Edward Snowden an unqualified hero. (Giraldi is the executive director of the Council for the National Interest, and a former CIA and military intelligence officer.) Matters are more complicated than that Giraldi advised. Honoring the complication, he made the case for recognizing the existence of a good Edward Snowden on the one hand and a treasonous Snowden on the other.

According to Giraldi, the good Snowden is a true whistleblower. As such he rightly released documents about government surveillance of U.S. citizens. Such surveillance clearly violates the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and deserves to be exposed as criminal. On Giraldi’s analysis, this good Edward Snowden truly merits our admiration.

The bad Snowden, however, is another story. He’s the one who indiscriminately revealed U.S. espionage on foreign governments. Granted, Giraldi admits, eavesdropping on the cell phone conversations of the likes of Angela Merkel was stupid. Any possible gains were more than cancelled by the potential danger of getting caught.

But otherwise, Snowden’s revelations did irreparable damage to the legitimate espionage the U.S. requires for its national security and economic prosperity. After all, everyone spies on everyone else. The U.S. needs to follow suit otherwise it will be hopelessly disadvantaged.

More specifically, Giraldi continues, Snowden’s revelations have crippled U.S. efforts not only at counter-terrorism, but in its economic competition with China and Russia. While these latter are no longer our “enemies,” they are “competitors” and “opponents.” In any case, Snowden’s revelations give them unfair advantage in the marketplace.

It’s there that I fear Mr. Giraldi’s argument unravels. It misses the big picture that I suspect Edward Snowden sees. I mean, the ex-CIA officer assumes that market competition is somehow neutral and has a right to be protected. It further assumes that the U.S. is just one competitor among others, and that its activities also need to be safeguarded.

In so doing, Mr. Giraldi ignores the real “American Exceptionalism,” – i.e. its leadership of a system that is destroying the planet through its endless wars and its refusal to address the climate change unfettered capitalism causes. Meanwhile the system mercilessly takes advantage of workers privileged enough to be exploited.

That system, whether Snowden sees it or not, needs to be subverted, not supported as Mr. Giraldi would prefer. Anyone aiding and abetting the process of subversion in a non-violent way deserves support not criticism.

First of all, consider the assumptions about the neutrality of global capitalism. In reality, market competition as in the corporate globalization and “free trade” agreements championed by the United States is far from neutral. Its deck is stacked against the environment and the global workforce. It not only outsources jobs from the U.S. home front; it also exploits cheap labor in the former colonies, and takes advantage of lax environmental and labor laws.

The results include disastrous climate change and the deaths of more than 35,000 children each day – from absolutely preventable hunger-related causes. Free-marketers refuse to address those causes, because doing so would mean “interference” in the marketplace which they find anathema to their religious devotion to free market doctrine.

These are criminal charges – life and death matters. They reduce to insignificance the violations of the U.S. Constitution that Mr. Giraldi forefronts. They suggest that Mr. Snowden’s revelations about foreign espionage are even more laudable than his domestic disclosures.

Secondly, consider the overall U.S. project in the world. That project remains best described by George Kennan in the aftermath of the Second Inter-Capitalist War (aka World War II). In his capacity as National Security Advisor of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, Kennan is considered by all, the architect of U.S. Cold War policy. All contemporary indications confirm that his vision still guides U.S. policy – with the likely exception that it is even more tightly embraced today than it was in 1947. It was then that Kennan wrote:

“We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction. We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans the better.” <a

Once again, it turns out that Kennan’s project is a criminal enterprise. It is about keeping the world as it is – about the rejection of world benefaction, altruism, human rights, democracy, and raising living standards – so that the U.S. might control a disproportionate amount of the world’s limited resources. Today Kennan’s employment of “straight power concepts” to keep the envious and resentful at bay employs wars of aggression, torture, suspension of habeas corpus, extra-judicial (drone) executions, and the threat of nuclear holocaust.

To reiterate, that U.S. project needs to be undermined.

So rather than characterizing someone who does so as a “spy,” such a heroic individual deserves our unconditional support – and imitation.

Snowden represents non-violent resistance and international civil disobedience at its finest.

When the Government Turns Criminal: Edward Snowden and the Good Samaritan (Sunday Homily)

Snowden

Readings for 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time: DT. 30: 10-14; Ps. 69: 14, 17, 30-31, 34, 36-37; Col. 1: 15-20; Lk. 10: 25-37. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071413.cfm

In his recent book about the parables of Jesus (The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus), John Dominic Crossan poses the question: What happens to your world when the “best” people act badly and only the “worst” do what is right?

That scenario seems to be playing itself out in the case of Edward Snowden.

Snowden, you recall, is the NSA contractor and CIA employee who last month disclosed a vast secret program of U.S. government spying on its own citizens and on individuals, corporations, and governments throughout the world.

The program (Prism by name) seems to violate the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which reads: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Snowden made his disclosures three months after James Clapper, the Director of U.S. intelligence had denied its existence in testimony (under oath) before the Senate Committee overseeing the U.S. intelligence program. Snowden’s disclosures also followed hot on the heels of President Obama’s publically expressed concern that China was illegally spying on the U.S. in exactly the same way (though on a smaller scale) that the U.S. turns out to have been spying on China and its own allies.

For his troubles in exposing such lies, hypocrisy, and violations of the Constitution, Snowden himself has been designated a spy, traitor, and enemy of the United States – categories applied to its worst enemies. As a pariah in his own country, he has fled the United States and sought asylum in various countries including China, Russia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Snowden (and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International) alleges that if extradited to the U.S. he is unlikely to receive a fair trial, but instead to be tortured and indefinitely imprisoned like other whistleblowers such as Bradley Manning.

All of the countries just mentioned have histories less-than-friendly to U.S. interests, which they have each described as criminally imperialistic. Other “good” countries such as France and Germany have (under great pressure from the United States) refused Snowden asylum.

Meanwhile, James Clapper has not been charged with perjury, and President Obama has managed to deflect attention away from constitutional violations to the search for the fugitive Snowden.

In other words, the Snowden Affair presents us with a “Spy,” “Traitor,” and “Terrorist Sympathizer” obeying his conscience in his exposure of government crime. He has done the right thing. Meanwhile, the President of the United States, himself a constitutional lawyer, has been caught violating the Constitution, and the Director of Intelligence has been exposed as a perjurer. And on top of that, friendly countries often lauded by the United States as models of democracy refuse to respect International Law governing asylum seekers. Only the “bad countries” are willing to honor that law.

In this situation, the question Crossan posed earlier finds uncomfortable relevance: “What happens to your world if a story records that your “best” people act badly and only your “worst” person acts well?”

As I said, Crossan asks that question in the section of his book commenting on “The Good Samaritan” which is the focus of the gospel selection in today’s Liturgy of the Word.

The parable, of course, is very familiar. Almost all of us know it nearly by heart. Typically sermons find its point in simply calling us to be “follow the Samaritan’s example, treat everyone as your neighbor, and help those you find in trouble.”

That’s a good point, of course. But Jesus’ own intention went beyond simply providing an example of a good neighbor. More profoundly, it focused on the hypocrisy of “the good” and the virtues of designated enemies. As such, the story calls us to transcend those socially prescribed categories and look at actions rather than words of both the “good” and “bad.”

More specifically, the hero of Jesus’ story is a Samaritan. According hero status to such a person would be unthinkable for Jesus’ listeners. After all, Samaritans were social outcasts belonging to a group of renegade Jews who (by Jesus’ time) had been separated from the Jewish community for nearly 1000 years. They had also polluted the Jewish bloodline by intermarrying with the country’s Assyrian conquerors about 700 years earlier.

Jews considered Samaritans “unclean;” they were traitors, enemy-sympathizers, heretics and even atheists. They rejected Jewish understandings of Yahweh and the Temple worship that went along with it.

And yet in the story, Jesus finds the Samaritan to be more worthy, more pleasing in God’s eyes than the priest or Levite. That’s because the Samaritan’s actions speak much louder than the word “Samaritan” would allow. He is compassionate; so Jesus approves.

In the meantime, the priest and the Levite lack compassion. Their actions condemn them.

They say that slightly more than 50% of the American people think Edward Snowden is a traitor and spy. And this despite the fact that his accusers have advanced no evidence to that effect – and despite polls that indicate a solid majority believing that the government’s surveillance program is objectionable if not clearly unconstitutional.

Today’s parable invites us to reconsider – not just Snowden, but our very understanding of the world and its categories of “good” and “evil.”

Perhaps we’re looking for the real criminals, traitors, spies, and terrorists in exactly the wrong places.