The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

January 7, 2014

Snowden deserves punishment, not amnesty

ENID, Okla. — Grant amnesty to Edward Snowden.

That is the position of a couple of news organizations. The editorial boards of the New York Times and the Guardian newspaper recently called for President Obama to offer clemency to the former National Security Administration contractor who stole government documents and has been selectively leaking them to the press.

He should be treated as a whistleblower, the publications argue, not as a traitor.

The editorials point out that while Snowden indeed stole documents and illegally released them, his actions exposed extensive governmental surveillance efforts against people both in this country and abroad, sparking public debate and potential government reforms. Perhaps.

I’m not sure that what Snowden did falls under the heading of treason, which is defined as going to war against the U.S. or giving aid and comfort to America’s enemies, but he did violate the law and released damaging information.

Some of the estimated 1.7 million classified documents Snowden stole while working for government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton revealed that the NSA had intercepted email traffic, cell phone calls and radio transmissions of Taliban fighters in Pakistan.

Included also was information about an operation designed to test the loyalties of CIA recruits in Pakistan, as well as emails intercepted in an effort to obtain details about what is going on inside Iran.

In addition, Snowden exposed the fact the NSA listens in to phone calls worldwide in an effort to identify and locate previously unknown associates of terror suspects.

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., we wondered how we could have been blindsided, how we couldn’t have known what the scoundrels were planning.

The NSA’s surveillance program is just part of efforts to prevent a repeat of 9/11.

Spying is nearly as old as civilization itself. Ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, in his classic book, “The Art of War,” wrote “Enlightened rulers and good generals who are able to obtain intelligent agents as spies are certain for great achievements.”

And this doesn’t just mean spying on our enemies.

Sun Tzu also wrote, “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” We watch them, they watch us, it’s the way of the world.

For his part, Snowden defends his actions, saying “Citizens have to fight against the suppression of information about affairs of essential importance for the public.”

Snowden broke the law, and violated the oath of non-disclosure he took when he went to work for a government contractor. For that he deserves to be punished.

And his was apparently not a sudden attack of conscience as he was poring over this classified material that disturbed him so. In an interview with the China Morning Post when he was in exile in Hong Kong, Snowden said he took the job as an NSA contractor because he knew the position would allow him “access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked.”

Reuters also reported that Snowden coaxed 20 or more of his colleagues to give him their work log-in names and passwords.

He said he needed the information to better do his job as systems administrator, when in truth he was seeking the keys to the information candy store.

Snowden considers himself a hero, a figure equal to Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971 to help bring an end to the Vietnam War.

The Pentagon Papers were historic documents, not containing information about any ongoing operations.

Snowden is no hero, he is a criminal.

As such, he certainly does not deserve clemency.

Sen. Rand Paul, who is expected to be a presidential candidate in 2016, likewise doesn’t think Snowden deserves clemency, but should instead receive a “fair trial and a reasonable sentence.”

That may be the only thing about which Sen. Paul and I agree, assuming that by “reasonable sentence” he means something approaching the 35 years Army Pvt. Bradley Manning received for a similar offense.

Why did we not know what the scoundrels were plotting on 9/11? A lack of sufficient intelligence of the sort the NSA and other agencies are in the business of gathering.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.

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