Snowden NSA Leak: Correcting the NY Post's Ridiculous Snowden Op-Ed


On Tuesday morning the New York Post's Ralph Peters authored an op-ed called "Making Treason Cool," in which he bashes PRISM whistleblower Edward Snowden as an "impossibly self-important Kim Kardashian with stubble." His article is riddled with the type of misinformation that is corrupting public discourse, and so I've set out to correct a few of Peters' falsehoods.

Peters: "He broke his oath to protect the information with which we entrusted him, lied about who we target, and aided those who want to kill Americans."

Peters should take care to reread the oath he himself took when he enlisted into the U.S. Army. While the oath of enlistment does call on each enlistee to obey the president and his superior officers, it begins with "I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." The Fourth Amendment protects people's "papers" as well as their "persons," "houses," and "effects," from "unreasonable searches and seizures," such as those by the NSA.

Despite being approved by a secret FISA court, the acquisition of private information from all Americans seems to be a quite obvious breach of the 4th Amendment's protections against unreasonable search and seizure, the same amendment the National Security Agency pushed the government to "rethink."

Peters: Snowden's actions are "plain treason."

As I explain in an earlier article, the governments have repeatedly used the Espionage Act, originally meant to prohibit the disclosure of information that could help the enemy, to turn whistleblowers into enemies of the state. If arrested, Snowden told the Guardian in an interview that he believes he will be charged with treason under the Espionage Act. Legal experts have noted that such a charge would require proof of intent to betray the United States. Snowden said that his "sole motive" was to inform the public and spur debate. 

Peters: "It's always been a hipster thing to trash government, but the left's generations-long effort to destroy the positive image of patriotism has made betraying our country a fashion statement."

Whereas Peters' last statement is debatable from a legal standpoint, this one is pure fallacy. Peters is suggested that by leaking confidential information Snowden is acting life a typical leftist and betraying a country that, by Peters's own admission, is ruled by an administration of "left-wing militant[s]" and "leftist kill-for-peace activists."

Peters: "There's nothing brave about his brag that he was the source of the NSA leaks (especially since he fled the country first). This is clearly about the desire to be a star."

Not that Snowden's perceived bravery or lack thereof should have any bearing on how we react to the NSA programs the leak revealed, Peters' implication that fleeing the country is somehow a cowardly move that will protect Snowden is incorrect.

Again a factual note: The United States has bilateral extradition treaties with 109 countries. While this list does not include China, Hong Kong's administration has a rendition treaty with the American government, allowing extradition subject to final approval from the government in Beijing, which would surely grant it to avoid a diplomatic conflict or giving the impression that the government supports leakers.

Peters: "Claiming that he only wants to make government accountable, Snowden then brags that he could expose CIA stations around the world. He wants 'asylum from any countries that believe in free speech.' So he went to China? Hope you enjoy your stay, Mr. Snowden." 

Although Hong Kong was transferred from Britain to China in 1997, Hong Kong operates under its own laws, which allow significant freedoms for students, universities and journalists. In fact, when outgoing Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Hong Kong, he was greeted by demonstrators emphasizing the separateness of Hong Kong.

Peters: "The American public does vote on these programs — through their representatives in Congress. That's why we have regular elections."

Firstly, we cannot vote for senators or representatives based on these programs when until now they were secret. With this leak senators have been showing where they stand on this issue, allowing us to finally vote on these programs.

Further, even as individuals, the Supreme Court ruling in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA says that Americans lack standing to challenge an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that authorized electronic surveillance of non-U.S. citizens abroad because the program is classified and therefore cannot be proven to exist.

As Lyle Denniston, a legal journalist and constitutional adviser to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, told FP: "The Clapper decision rules out any reliance upon probability of being overheard, so it is difficult, given the secrecy of the program, to imagine that anyone can show they actually were monitored." 

Peters: "There is a scandal here, though, one that's overdue for serious attention: the out-of-control use of contractors to perform vital government services."

While this is a subjective statement, here Peters finally writes something I can agree on. As I wrote in an earlier PolicyMic article, when Edward Snowden revealed the details of two NSA programs, among other details soon to be released, he once again showed the risk of employing private contractors in the U.S. intelligence apparatus, a risk becoming far too great as the expensive "faux privatization" of our security, and now our privacy, continues.