In the Two Minute Drill, we explain complex issues in politics in 250 words or less (roughly the amount of words it takes the average adult two minutes to read on a monitor). Politics just isn’t always that complicated. Without the fluff and partisan bias, even the most complex of our political differences can be explained succinctly. This week: is Edward Snowden a hero?
In response to a question tweeted by CNN’s Jake Tapper, Edward J. Snowden said that returning to the United States is “not possible” because he is not covered under whistleblower protections. Tapper asked “under what conditions would you agree to return to the U.S.?”
Snowden responded in an online chat, “The hundred-year old law which I’ve been charged, which was never intended to be used against people working in the public interest, and forbids a public interest defense. This is especially frustrating, because it means there’s no chance to have a fair trial, and no way I can come home and make my case to a jury.”
How should the government handle the case of Edward Snowden, who admitted disclosing secrets about NSA surveillance? Is he a whistle-blower? A criminal? Or both?
The Explanation (250 or Bust)
It is true that Snowden’s revelations about NSA surveillance of American citizens have triggered a valuable debate. And certainly, Snowden has uncovered behavior of questionable constitutionality. But his decision to leak the documents was, as he more or less acknowledges, a crime. The U.S. government allowed Snowden to achieve a position of trust in an area of vital interest to national security. His decision to leak classified documents was a breach of that trust.
How best to balance secrecy with transparency when it comes to national security is a difficult question. But Snowden’s leaks present a different question: who should do this balancing?
National security programs sometimes require secrecy to be effective, and elected and judicial officials are charged with weighing the value of transparency against the national security benefits of secrecy. Surveillance for threats can certainly be done legally, and all three government branches approved the NSA programs. Snowden, therefore, wasn’t blowing the whistle on anything illegal. Rather, he was exposing something with which he disagreed.
Snowden and other citizens have the right to disagree. But leaking deeply classified national security information was a usurpation of the democratic process. It is important to separate the leak, which is simply wrong, from concerns over the NSA program itself. Snowden exploited his position of trust to settle a personal grievance or score political points.
Snowden broke the law, and he should be prosecuted for it.
Word Count: 235.
The Five Most Interesting Things We Read This Week
Here are the five most interesting articles (both political and non-political) we’ve read this week:
- “On a cold day in early 2003, two senior CIA officers arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw to pick up a pair of large cardboard boxes. Inside were bundles of cash totaling $15 million that had been flown to Germany via diplomatic pouch.” From The Washington Post: The hidden history of the CIA’s prison in Poland.
- “You’re sitting at your desk in your office at home. Digging for something under a stack of papers, you find a dirty coffee mug that’s been there so long it’s eligible for carbon dating. Better wash it. You pick up the mug, walk out the door of your office, and head toward the kitchen. By the time you get to the kitchen, though, you’ve forgotten why you stood up in the first place, and you wander back to your office, feeling a little confused – until you look down and see the cup.” From Scientific American: Why Walking through a Doorway Makes You Forget.
- “The script would search his target demographic (heterosexual and bisexual women between the ages of 25 and 45), visit their pages, and scrape their profiles for every scrap of available information: ethnicity, height, smoker or nonsmoker, astrological sign – ‘all that crap.'” From Wired: How a Math Genius Hacked OkCupid to Find True Love.
- “My dad had given me a screenwriting program and I started the script just as an exercise to see if I could write a screenplay. Swingers is what came out.” From Grantland: So Money: An oral history of Swingers.
- “In my last year on Wall Street my bonus was $3.6 million – and I was angry because it wasn’t big enough.” From Sam Polk in the New York Times: For the Love of Money. And consider this: “The world’s richest 85 people control about $1.7 trillion in wealth, equivalent to the bottom half of the world’s population.”
And in case you missed it, check out The Weekly Column. This past week examined the NSA programs at the heart of Snowden’s revelations. Read the Column – What You Need to Know About the NSA’s Surveillance Programs.