Earlier this month, in a press conference where he stated that he supported “greater oversight, greater transparency, and constraints” on the government’s digital surveillance programs, President Obama stated that he doesn’t believe Snowden is a patriot:
No, I don’t think Mr. Snowden was a patriot. As I said in my opening remarks, I called for a thorough review of our surveillance operations before Mr. Snowden made these leaks.
My preference — and I think the American people’s preference — would have been for a lawful, orderly examination of these laws, a thoughtful fact-based debate that would then lead us to a better place. Because I never made claims that all the surveillance technologies that have developed since the time some of these laws had been put in place somehow didn’t require potentially some additional reforms. That’s exactly what I called for.
Apparently for Obama, calling for a “thorough review” of government surveillance absolves him of any responsibility for their current state, or for pushing for—and getting—a reform-free renewal of the FISA law in 2012.
Obama said Snowden should have used authorized channels to question the government’s actions, and that he would have been protected by a presidential policy directive Obama issued. He said this, apparently, despite that his directive doesn’t offer protection for contractors like Snowden, nor were the procedures actually in effect in June 2013 when Snowden released classified documents.
He said this while knowing that his administration prosecuted an NSA employee, Thomas Drake, who did precisely what Obama says whistleblowers should do: he raised his concerns through authorized channels within the government. After later leaking non-classified information to a reporter, Drake was charged with several felonies that could have resulted in 35 years in prison, and the federal government attempted to coerce him into helping them prosecute other whistleblowers.
So, then, Snowden had very little choice to do what he did. He saw that the government is violating the privacy of Americans on a massive scale, and that the government was actively hiding the nature of these programs and lying to the public about them. Following proper “procedure” would have resulted in his persecution, and likely wouldn’t have led to the information being disseminated so widely, so he released it to journalists.
His choice—which came at incredible personal cost to him (losing his job, home, family and the right to live in his own country)—is what’s allowed the public to have any knowledge at all of what our government is doing in our name, and to have anything resembling an “open debate and democratic process” with regard to this issue. The actions of a man Obama says isn’t a patriot.
This administration has worked very hard to preserve the government’s surveillance and to prevent the public from understanding its actual extent. Obama’s calling for a “thorough review” and “greater oversight, greater transparency” are merely words. Words that come too late, and words that contradict his administration’s actions. Snowden’s actions are what have allowed us to have knowledge of what the government is doing.
At great risk to himself, he helped expose the government’s surveillance programs so the public could know what was being done to us in our name by our elected leaders. If that isn’t patriotic, what is?