Edward Snowden: Hero or Traitor?

by | May 28, 2014

It may be true that revealing information about the NSA's methods -- some of which it uses legitimately -- could make a terrorist's job easier. But if revealing those methods is necessary to alert the American people to the injustice committed by the NSA, then so be it.

Let me start by saying that I respect Peter Schwartz and am very much looking forward to his new book on altruism, The Tyranny of Need.

In addition, those familiar with my podcast and writings know that I agree with Schwartz’s condemnation, in an article he posted yesterday on his blog, of the NSA’s indiscriminate surveillance programs. However, I disagree with his view, stated in that article, that “what Edward Snowden has done is worse.”

Schwartz questions Snowden’s commitment to the principle of “the individual’s right to be free from a coercive state” for a few reasons.

First, he notes that Snowden stole over one million classified documents, many of which concern legitimate NSA surveillance programs. But I doubt that Snowden, working covertly, had the luxury of sifting through the million-plus potentially relevant documents. He may have had a window of only a very few minutes to download what he needed. Moreover, Snowden has given permission for only a fraction of the total documents to be released and Glenn Greenwald has said that he and the other journalists have heeded Snowden’s wishes (more on Greenwald in a minute). Finally, it may be true that revealing information about the NSA’s methods — some of which it uses legitimately — could make a terrorist’s job easier. But if revealing those methods is necessary to alert the American people to the injustice committed by the NSA, then so be it.

Schwartz writes that, when Snowden went to Hong Kong, he “identified for Chinese officials which of their computers had been penetrated by the NSA.” I did a brief Google search on this and found this article, in which we learn that Snowden spoke to the Hong Kong press about NSA monitoring of computers in Hong Kong and mainland China, but I didn’t see anything about Snowden indicating, to Chinese officials, which specific computers had been hacked. As for “cozy[ing] up to rulers of . . . police states” (Schwartz quotes Snowden praising several of these), he unfortunately had no choice. It is only that type of state that entertained, in any serious way, Snowden’s request for asylum. Early on, Snowden said he had hoped to go to Iceland, and in later interviews he said he sent requests to numerous countries. But I am unaware of any semi-free state in the world that offered to take Snowden in, much less give him safe passage.

Finally, Schwartz criticizes Snowden’s choice of Greenwald as the journalist to whom he entrusted the stolen documents. Snowden decided, I think reasonably, that the only way to fight the NSA’s unjust surveillance programs was to publicize their existence via the press. Snowden has spoken repeatedly about his attempts to complain about the programs via the proper chain of command, as well as the fact that the whistleblower statutes that Obama keeps talking about do not protect contractors like Snowden. So Snowden needed to leave the country, and then find a sympathetic member of the press, one with journalistic integrity. I don’t know of a non-leftist journalist who would (1) agree with Snowden that what the NSA is doing is wrong and be willing to travel to Hong Kong to meet him, and (2) have the position and contacts necessary to broadly disseminate the information. Greg Gutfeld and Ambassador John Bolton, for example, are two of the better libertarian-conservative commentators on Fox News. Both Tammy Bruce and I were surprised when both of these men came out in favor of the NSA bulk metadata collection programs and, consequently, against Snowden. (You can find my interview of Ambassador Bolton, in which we discussed Bolton’s condemnation of Snowden, here.)

I believe Snowden allied himself with Greenwald for the limited purpose of publicizing the NSA’s unjust, indiscriminate surveillance programs. In fact, Greenwald said that Snowden put restrictions on the release of the data with which he, Greenwald, disagreed, but nonetheless honored as a matter of journalistic integrity.

I am no fan of Ron Paul, and I disagree with some Snowden asides that sound like they’re right out of Paul’s foreign policy. But I have not seen anything that I believe Snowden has done with the intention of undermining a proper policy of self-defense. So far as I can tell, all has been incidental to the actions one in Snowden’s context would take if he wanted to uphold “the individual’s right to be free from a coercive state,” but not martyr himself completely in the process.

For more on Snowden as hero or traitor, listen to Leonard Peikoff’s podcasts here, here and here.

Amy Peikoff, J.D., is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, CA. She runs a blog at dontletitgo.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.


  1. Great article Amy! The mainstream media is doing a good job of demonizing Snowden lately. But like you and Leonard Peikoff, I think he is a hero. The idea that the government needs a haystack to find a needle (what needle?) is absurd beyond words. To form a concept to search for the criminals based on a trail of clues and then connect the dots using reason is beyond most politicians. I think there are some with sinister motives who know exactly what they are doing. The revelations being publicized about the NSA mass surveillance activities should terrify Americans. Sadly that is not the case. I agree with Leonard Peikoff, without a place to hide, we are dangerously close to a totalitarian state.

  2. Daniel Ellsberg: Hero or Traitor?

    New Left rabble: Hero!

    Edward Snowden: Hero or Traitor?

    New Left media: Traitor!!!!

    The diff?

    Ellsberg acted against the USA during a time of (undeclared) war, undercutting American military efforts against a foreign enemy.

    Snowden acted against the U.S. Government, undercutting U.S. government covert operation efforts against all U.S. citizens (aka: the USA).

    “People who bite the hand that feeds them usually lick the boot that kicks them.” –Eric Hoffer

    As for Mr. Schwartz’s position, I can understand it, but I disagree with it. The U.S. chose not to declare war (thereby limiting such laws as the Patriot Act to the duration of that war) on several Islamic states (Iran & Saudi Arabia), instead choosing to hunker down and seek out on a criminal manhunt so called Islamic “terrorists.” Thus we have emphasis on security at the price of liberty.

    The logical result: xenophobia … domestic surveillance & domestic covert ops … warrantless searches & seizures … suspension of habeas corpus … internment camps … censorship … militarization of non-military/non-police agencies … all of which have but one end: dictatorship.

    Or, in short: We must enslave the country to save it.

    Given the certainty of the above, even if Snowden released all of the material, he’s still a hero, because one cannot defeat an enemy by spying on them, let alone defend a nation against such enemies by spying on its citizens.

    If the USA is serious about defeating the Islamic enemy, a declared war coupled with both covert espionage and military action is the only way. All else is evasion–or worse.

    Snowden’s actions–were he to have released all data–has forced the USA either to finally act in such manner or to remain open to further attacks like 911. If those who declare Snowden a traitor are serious, then they ought petition the U.S. to do just that: declare war & wipe our Iran & Saudi Arabia.

  3. Snowden used a key logger to gain access to the information that he claims the NSA is illegally collecting. That is the cart before the horse and that is the behavior of a traitor! If he really wanted to be a hero, he would have provided certain information to the media that exposes the NSA’s illegality without damaging American security. Why didn’t he go to Rand Paul or Ron Paul? Yet Snowden sought asylum from a country run by a devout Communist, a sworn enemy of America, and Russia’s top SPY, Putin. Does anyone in their right mind believe Putin gives a rat’s behind about anyone’s privacy rights or freedom? There is no spin you can put on these facts that can make Snowden appear not to be a traitor, much less a hero.

    Snowden is just as much a traitor as Bergdahl.

  4. PS. Thank you, Edward Snowden; it’s doubtful we’d be hearing of this from Vodaphone had it not been you who first broke the story.


    “LONDON (AP) — Government snooping into phone networks is extensive worldwide, one of the world’s largest cellphone companies revealed Friday, saying that several countries demand direct access to its networks without warrant or prior notice.

    “The detailed report from Vodafone, which covers the 29 countries in which it operates in Europe, Africa and Asia, provides the most comprehensive look to date at how governments monitor mobile phone communications. It amounts to a call for a debate on the issue as businesses increasingly worry about being seen as worthy of trust.

    “The most explosive revelation was that in six countries, authorities require immediate access to an operator’s network — bypassing legal niceties like warrants. It did not name the countries for legal reasons and to safeguard employees working there.

    ” ‘In those countries, Vodafone will not receive any form of demand for lawful interception access as the relevant agencies and authorities already have permanent access to customer communications via their own direct link,’ the report said.”

    “Vodafone’s report comes one year after former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden revealed that U.S. and other countries’ intelligence agencies routinely gathered huge amounts of private data belonging to millions of innocent people in America and across the globe….”

  5. Using a key logger expedited his document gathering.

    “First, he notes that Snowden stole over one million classified documents, many of which concern legitimate NSA surveillance programs. But I doubt that Snowden, working covertly, had the luxury of sifting through the million-plus potentially relevant documents. He may have had a window of only a very few minutes to download what he needed.”

    Your implication (elsewhere) that Snowden is hero to the (New) Left is absurd on its face.

    The (New) Left wants Snowden’s hide–unless you think Obama, Kerry, Warren, Holder, etc., somehow represent the Right.

    “The Obama administration has argued in court that cellphone customers ‘have no privacy interest’ in their location data. Further, most of the cases in question do not involve national-security matters — which led the National Security Agency to gather phone data on millions of Americans — but use many of the same surveillance methods.”


    Yeah, the (New) Left isn’t leading the charge to spy on American citizens:

    “Feds Reanimate the Janet Reno–Era ‘Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee”


    You remember “Right winger” Janet Reno, of course?


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