Edward Snowden’s Brave Integrity

Exclusive: President Obama says he welcomes the debate on post-9/11 surveillance of Americans and the world, but that debate was only made meaningful by the disclosures of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who was then indicted and sought asylum in Russia, where he just met with some ex-U.S. intelligence officials, including Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

I’ve had a couple of days to reflect after arriving back from Moscow where my whistleblower colleagues Coleen Rowley, Jesselyn Radack, Tom Drake and I formally presented former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden with the annual Sam Adams Associates award for integrity in intelligence.

The thought that companioned me the entire time was the constant admonition of my Irish grandmother: “Show me your company, and I’ll tell you who you are!” I cannot remember ever feeling so honored as I did by the company I kept over the past week.

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden speaking in Moscow on Oct. 9, 2013, after receiving an award from an organization of former U.S. intelligence officials. (From a video posted by WikiLeaks)

That includes, of course, Snowden himself, WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison (and “remotely” Julian Assange) who, together with Russian civil rights lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, helped arrange the visit, and – last but not least – the 3,000 Internet transparency/privacy activists at OHM2013 near Amsterdam, whom Tom, Jesselyn, Coleen and I addressed in early August and who decided to crowd-source our travel. (See: “In the Whistleblower Chalet” by Silkie Carlo; http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/in-the-whistleblower-chalet)

As representatives of Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, we were in Moscow last Wednesday not only to honor Snowden with the award for integrity, but also to remind him (and ourselves) that we all stand on the shoulders of patriots who have gone before and pointed the way.

Because of speaking commitments he could not break, Pentagon Papers truth-teller Dan Ellsberg, whom Henry Kissinger called “the most dangerous man in America” and who in 1971 was vilified as acidly as Ed Snowden is being vilified now, could be with us only in spirit. He did send along with us for Ed the video of the award-winning documentary that uses Kissinger’s epithet as its title, together with Dan’s book Secrets, in which he had inscribed a very thoughtful note.

Ellsberg’s note thanked Snowden for his adroit – and already partially successful – attempt to thwart what Snowden has called “turnkey tyranny,” that is the terrifying prospect of a surveillance-driven government tyranny ready to go with the simple turn of a key.

Two at our table – Ed Snowden and Tom Drake – enjoy with Dan the dubious distinction of having been charged with espionage under the draconian Espionage Act of 1917 that is so much favored by the administration of President Barack Obama and other zealous protectors of the national security state and its multitude of secrets.

Call me naïve, but I had no sense that I was cavorting with treasonous criminals. Rather, it seemed crystal clear that Ed Snowden is simply the current embodiment of people so castigated when they feel compelled to speak out, as Ed did, against gross violations of the Fourth Amendment.

Compelled? Well, yes, compelled. Those of us like Snowden, who took a solemn oath “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic” recognize that our oath has no “expiration date.”

During interviews, I found it easy to put the Snowden disclosures into perspective regarding the seriousness of the Bush and Obama administration crimes against the Fourth Amendment by simply reciting that key part of our now-fractured Bill of Rights; it’s just one sentence:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper may be able to tell Congress with impunity (in his own words) “clearly erroneous” things, but neither he, nor his duplicitous sidekick NSA Director Keith Alexander, nor complicit Senators and Representatives, nor the President himself can easily bend the Fourth Amendment that far out of shape once people read the text.

And that, of course, explains why co-conspirators in Congress like House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein call the kettle black by branding Snowden a “traitor.” And it is also why former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden and House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers indicate publicly, as they did two weeks ago, that they would like to see Snowden’s name added to the infamous “Kill List” for the President’s approval.

That list renders the Fifth Amendment “quaint and obsolete,” the words used by George W. Bush’s White House counsel Alberto Gonzales when troublesome legal restrictions might otherwise impinge on what the White House wished to do.

American Traditions

At our dinner with Ed Snowden, Coleen Rowley reminded him that his willingness to expose injustice fit in with a patriotic tradition modeled by Founders like Benjamin Franklin even before the American Revolution.

Coleen recounted how Benjamin Franklin got himself in deep trouble in 1773, when he acquired and released confidential letters from the British governor of Massachusetts to the Crown showing that the colonial authorities did not think the American colonists should enjoy the same rights as British citizens in England. Franklin was fired from his post as Postmaster General and called a traitor and every other name in the book – many of them the same epithets hurled at Snowden.

More poignant still was a reading from Albert Camus beautifully rendered aloud by Jesselyn Radack, who related some of Camus writings to Snowden’s testimony (earlier read on his behalf by Jesselyn) to the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs on Sept. 30.

Snowden wrote: “The work of a generation is beginning here, with your hearings, and you have the full measure of my gratitude and support.”

What follows is how Jesselyn Radack presented the quotes from Camus:

Edward Snowden, you are in good company. “The Wager of Our Generation” is how Albert Camus described what you have called “The Work of a Generation,” when he spoke of a similar challenge in 1957, the year he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. And the similarity between Snowden and Camus does not end there. The official Nobel Prize citation praised Camus for “his clear-sighted earnestness illuminating the problems of the human conscience of our times.”

In 1957, Camus expressed hope in “the quality of the new generation and its increased unwillingness to adopt slogans or ideologies and to return to more tangible values.” He wrote: “We have nothing to lose except everything. So let’s go ahead. This is the wager of our generation. If we are to fail, it is better, in any case, to have stood on the side of those who refuse to be dogs and are resolved to pay the price that must be paid so that man can be something more than a dog.”

Camus rejected what he called the “the paltry privileges granted to those who adapt themselves to this world,” adding that, “those individuals who refuse to give in will stand apart, and they must accept this. Personally, I have never wanted to stand apart. For there is a sort of solitude, which is certainly the harshest thing our era forces upon us. I feel its weight, believe me. But, nevertheless, I should not want to change eras, for I know and respect the greatness of this one. Moreover, I have always thought that the maximum danger implied the maximum hope.”

In December 1957, the month he won the Nobel Prize, Camus strongly warned against inaction: “Remaining aloof has always been possible in history. When people did not approve, they could always keep silent or talk of something else. Today everything is changed and even silence has dangerous implications.”

And concrete dangers – like “turnkey tyranny.”

A key figure in the French Resistance, Camus in July 1943 published a “Letter to German Friend,” which began as follows: “You said to me: ‘The greatness of my country [Germany] is beyond price. Anything is good that contributes to its greatness. Those who, like us young Germans, are lucky enough to find a meaning in the destiny of our nation must sacrifice everything else.’

“‘No,’ I told you, ‘I cannot believe that everything must be subordinate to a single end. There are means that cannot be excused. And I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice. I don’t want for my country a greatness born of blood and falsehood. I want to keep it alive by keeping justice alive.’ You retorted, ‘Well, then you don’t love your country.’”

Edward, that may have a familiar ring to you. But, of course, the truth is the very opposite. Let us take one more cue from Albert Camus, who emphasized that, “Truth needs witnesses.”

We are honored, Edward, to be here at this time and place to be your witnessesYou have the full measure of our gratitude and support.

End of Jesselyn Radack’s presentation.

People have been telling me how eloquent Ed Snowden was in responding to the award. And although DemocracyNow! hosted us for 40 minutes on Monday, we four did not have time to point to small, but significant, things like the fact Ed’s remarks were totally ad lib; he did not know he would be asked to give remarks until I whispered it to him right after Tom Drake presented him with the traditional Sam Adams corner-brightener candlestick holder.

One of the things that impressed me most was Ed’s emphasis on the “younger generation” he represents – typically those who have grown up with the Internet – who have (scarcely-fathomable-to-my-generation) technical expertise and equally remarkable dedication to keeping it free – AND have a conscience. My first personal exposure to the depth, breadth and importance of this critical mass of those often dismissed as “hackers” came at the OHM2013 conference outside of Amsterdam in early August.

The James Clappers and Keith Alexanders of this world simply CANNOT do what they see as their job of snooping on the lot of us on this planet without this incredibly talented and dedicated generation. They CANNOT; and so they are in deep kimchi. If only a small percentage of this young generation have the integrity and courage of an Ed Snowden, the prospect is dim that repressive measures in violation of citizens’ rights previously taken for granted can succeed for very long without full disclosure.

That is the good news. And with each new Snowden-enabled disclosure of infringements on our liberties, it becomes more likely that an awakened public will create sustained pressure for restoration of our Constitutional rights, and for holding accountable those senior government officials who have crassly violated those rights, and continue to violate Ed Snowden’s rights simply because he made it possible for us to know the truth.

Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. Ray entered the CIA as an analyst on the same day as the late CIA analyst Sam Adams (a direct descendant of John Adams, by the way), and was instrumental in founding Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence.

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14 comments on “Edward Snowden’s Brave Integrity

  1. peter marychuk on said:

    Thank you for your courageous work…

  2. Donald L. Anderson on said:

    Snowden almost makes me proud to be Amerikan. That’s something in this disgusting country

  3. rosemerry on said:

    Thanks to Ray and all the whistleblowers.We can but hope that Boehner, Feinstein and most of the others are NOT representative of the real USA population, as real, courageous and knowledgeable people are needed, not the ‘leaders’ at present in charge.

  4. F. G. Sanford on said:

    “And that, of course, explains why co-conspirators in Congress like House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein call the kettle black by branding Snowden a “traitor.””

    The supreme fiduciary transgression in a democracy is the use of political office for the purpose of subverting the law. And by the way, doesn’t a “kill list” constitute conspiracy to commit murder? They’re rabid, vicious and hungry for blood. Ed Snowden achieved the unthinkable. He revealed a conspiracy, and this time, they can’t write it off as…”just a theory”.

    Thanks, Ray, as usual, you’re a ray of hope in the moral abyss we’ve become.

  5. marina ragsdale on said:

    any time I heard “silence of majority” I see America . And it so frightening .So thanks for stood and advocate for Edward Snowden .

    • Dave Winslow on said:

      The silence is even worse and more frightening in Canada, even though we are the NSA’s favourite lab rats next door. And our tin pot dictator has a kill list too, quite different than Obama’s because they are all Canadian.

  6. McGovern, I appreciate your perspective on this man and this matter. For those of us who are in the industry and recognized what it meant when the NSA was sucking in the entire pipe from AT&T in 2006, I find very little surprising in what he has revealed. For those of us who recognize the infiltration (and much worse) activities of the government on civil rights groups and even simple students in the 1960s, nothing he revealed surprises me. I find Bradley Manning’s efforts to be far more revealing and much less politically motivated.

  7. Hoai Quoc on said:

    Where to enter my password?

  8. Hoai Quoc on said:

    I used to admire Patrick Henry for his words :”Give me liberty or give me death!” until I read the recent quote from Patrick Henry given by historian Robert Parry, on these pages of Consortiumnews.com, warning the anti-Federalists against the Constitution because it would “free your niggers.”

    I still like much of Albert Camus’s writings and attitude, except for his cry “Algérie française!” Can anyone tell me if that cry was wrongly attributed to Camus or if Camus ever retracted that cry?

    Talking about history, I cannot let today pass without mentioning the passing of General Vo Nguyen Giap, a professor of history who not only knew history, but also made history, and gave an interesting twist to Santayana’s admonition that “those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it.” The general made history in defeating French colonialism in 1954, then, in 1975, rose to repeat history by defeating U.S. imperialism. When will U.S. rulers learn from history?

  9. EthanAllen1 on said:

    Mr. McGovern – Thank you for this your second account of the meeting with Edward Snowden to join in presenting him this well-deserved recognition. I did watch the Democracy Now program you mentioned, and did come away feeling that the 40 minutes could have been better spent actually discussing Edward Snowden and the increased credibility his extraordinary veracity has provided to the community of whistle-blowers that you and the other participants represent. It would indeed, as you suggested, be of great importance and interest to have had the unaltered text of his response included in a discussion ostensibly devoted to his recognition. It occured to me that it would be equally germane if it had been included in your account; which I suspect, had no such alleged time constraints.
    As Usual,
    EA

  10. Ed Snowden is now a proud resident of Russia. Russia, as we know, allows lgbt human beings to be beaten to death, sexually and phsychiatrically devastated; Russia has announced that it will move to confiscate the biological children of lgbt parents for resettlement with extreme Russia Orthodox religious, notoriously anti-Semitic, homophobic, and racist; the Sochi Games were estimated to cost $10B but, due to corruption at the highest levels, the games quickly turned into a racketeering and organized crime project that is a perfect reflection of the corrupted Russian government, with the latest estimate for the games now over $50B. Jews are routinely torture-murdered, as are migrants of color (a manifestation of Russian xenophobia). Migrants were attacked recently in a mass assault (the police will do noting), Greenpeace activists have been arrested and had drugs implanted on their ship; Dutch workers were arrested en masse because they said it was ok to be lglbt. Once they come for the children of lgbt parents, it is widely believed that Putin, with the support of the Russian Orthodox church and the neo-fascist youth organizations he has created, will decide what to about the “Jewish” problem. In in this moral ethos that Snowden appears to be thriving. But not for long. Exile, as it has shown throughout history, can have a devastating effect. It seems only a matter of time before Snowden realizes he exists in an atmosphere of pure fascism. He has said he wishes to start a human rights site in Russia. He’ll have as much luck with that as he would in the DPRK. In time, as history has shown us repeatedly, Snowden will discover the consolations of vodka, drunk in ever-increasing amounts, until his alcoholism becomes evident, and he is left in Russia, battling what will likely become pathological alcoholism. Meanwhile, his compatriots in Russia will continue torture-murdering lgbts, Jews, and people and immigrants of color. They will confiscate the biological children of lgbts, jail lgbts, jail immigrants, jail Jews. That’s the Putin style. If an organization wishes to congratulate Snowden, then why not open a branch office in Moscow. Oh, yes, you’d be arrested and shut down the same day. Best of luck, comrade Snowden, since you did this all to yourself and now live in service of the Russians. One moral bankruptcy meets another moral bankruptcy.

  11. Karen Romero on said:

    I am truly grateful to Edward Snowden. He is indeed made of the stuff that hero’s are made of. He went with his conscience and that is something grand and that is of God. Clapper and Alexander ought to try that out, or do they even have a conscience? They better start focusing on their conscience real quick like, because their Akashic Records say they will both be joining W.Lee Rawls in HELL! I SURE WON’T MISS THEM!But then I never favored pussy cowardly boys!

    Thanks for yet another excellent article Ray.

  12. Generally we cannot allow analysts to decide for themselves what should be disclosed. So the question is did the information revealed rise to the level of it being necessary for the greater good for committing the crime of espionage? Was it new information? I know most of it was already known. It did make the media wake up and start reporting though. Perhaps it was but lots of gray here so I wish the author would stop the one sided reporting. It is misleading and he knows better. At least help to better define the line.