Snowden: A pseudo-martyr for a pseudo-leak

The whole discussion surrounding Edward Snowden and the PRISM 'story' highlights an inherent lack of principle on the Left, even the libertarian Left.

Edward Snowden, 'whistleblower'
On 24 June 2013 12:25

In times of crisis headlines, the Left likes to be pretend it owns the idea of blowing the whistle on big government, on the nanny state, on the incursion of officialdom into the private lives of individuals. It's all a bit galling, especially in relation to government snooping headlines, which have been the backbone of libertarian and anarcho-capitalist blog sites for as long as such things have existed.

I'm no fan of the Alex Jones types, but when free-thinking right-wingers point at government programmes like PRISM and say so much as, "Excuse me?", they're all immediately lampooned as 'conspiracy theorists', 'swivel-eyed-loons' or 'wing nuts and whack jobs'. And then along comes The Guardian with Julian Assange, or more recently, Edward Snowden in tow, to save the day from the big bad government programmes aimed at spying on us all.

"What a breach of civil liberties!" they cry. "What a disgraceful debasement of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution!" 

The Left's happenstance approach to codified laws and notions of freedom when it obtains 'a good scoop' is no more prevelant than when considering the debate about CCTV cameras or anti-social behaviour orders in the United Kingdom, or indeed the Second Amendment in the United States. It's pick and choose as far as they are concerned - and this approach extends to Leftist morality, as well as policy detail or self-styled martyrdom operations.

Setting aside what much of the libertarian right has been saying for years about government encroachment, Edward Snowden's leaking of the NSA PRISM programme was in reality, hardly a leak at all. Commentators and journalists noted as early as 2003 that America's Patriot Act contained sufficient wiggle room for government to obtain basically whatever information it wanted from private organisations (Section 215), which even dear Senator Obama voted for back in 2005. In 2008 of course, he raised concerns about the bill he helped pass three years earlier, though did nothing about them, extending the Patriot Act again in 2011, leaving Section 215 in tact. 

And then we come on to the fact that 'hackers' or 'whistleblowers' like Snowden evidently, by the very nature of their approach to these issues, seek to create a cult of personality around themselves. Julian Assange is perhaps still the best example of this. Even some of his closest friends and allies have recently rounded on his efforts, with Jemima Khan insisting that it was possible Assange was turning into an "Australian L Ron Hubbard"-type character who could and would not accept criticisms of any sort. 

If indeed the core objective is to release information into the public domain - there need not be a lovable geek at its helm. Information can pour online or into the newspapers completely anonymously, as long as it is sourced soundly, does not endanger lives, and is in the public interest. Assange fails at the first two hurdles, Snowden, arguably, at just the first. 

But nonetheless, one might argue that "two out of three ain't bad" - a decision which The Guardian and the New York Times would have had to consider deeply before publishing Wikileaks information, or the PRISM story. But again, even upon publishing, the story revolved around a character or two. Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who is no stranger to criticism, was perhaps a driving force behind the Snowden story and indeed subsequent (and much ridiculed) Guardian investigations. Since breaking the PRISM story, Greenwald has attempted to thrust himself into the limelight, and fellow Guardian contributors spent more collaborative time talking about what a great a scoop it was than they did the actual merits of the story. Another cult of personality obscures the presumptive focal point. (But maybe that's because it wasn't a story at all?)

And that leads us on to the current developments. Of course, now, most people (except funnily enough, not the libertarian right) have forgotten about PRISM, and are deadly focused on the movements of Snowden. "Where will he go? Where will he live? How will he get there?" 

Riveting as a Carmen San Diego cartoon can be, a man's narcissistic travels across the world in his search for a paradise of liberty communism is hardly newsworthy to the extent that the Western media has been obsessed over it. What merits comment however is how a man with such an intrinsic belief, or so we are made to believe, in freedom, privacy, and in halting the encroachment of government, can be flirting with Putin's Russia, or Castro's Cuba, with a post-Chavez Venezuela or indeed, Ecuador - a country that Freedom House suggests is only "partly free" and which last week further lashed out at the independent media in the country. 

So it must continue, however, that the Leftist cult of personality, or narcissism, trumps principle. 

Snowden should take his lumps, knowing full well what he did and what the penalty of such actions are - instead of hotfooting it around the globe for refuge. If these men were able to face the consequences of their actions head on, then perhaps the wider public would embrace their personas, and the eccentricities that go with them. In the mean time, they should continue to be viewed as vacuous publicity seekers devoid of principles, and certainly lacking in the cojones it takes to make a real whistleblower.

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Addendum: Speaking truth to power was an old Quaker ideal, one borne out of the institution's roots in classical liberalism, and the demand for the freedom of the individual. But much like many of yesteryear's classical liberals, the Quakers themselves have become allied to the Left. There was once a fellow by the name of Richard Nixon, who resigned as President after spying on a few members of the opposition political party. It's no surprise that after being found to have continuously spied on every single person in the United States of America (and many beyond), President Barack Obama remains in place. 

The Left has lost whatever bite it once had on these issues, and will be viewed with suspicion as a matter of course from here on out. But it is particularly concerning that following Benghazi, the IRS scandal, these PRISM 'leaks' and more - President Obama can still preside, without so much as a dent in his public image. Think about it... 

Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of and tweets at @RaheemJKassam

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