World owes Snowden debt of gratitude
Updated: 2013-06-14 08:15
By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
There have been raging debates about whether Edward Snowden is a whistleblower, hero, criminal or traitor after the former CIA employee revealed the US National Security Agency's top-secret surveillance program of people's phone, e-mail and Internet records.
But people both inside and outside the United States owe the 29-year-old a thank you for telling them that they are being closely watched by a government that likes to portray itself as a protector of privacy and civil liberties, and a role model for other countries.
Most people, except those at the NSA and a few lawmakers like Dianne Feinstein, chair of the US National Intelligence Committee, were not aware of the surveillance until Snowden exposed it.
Those who want to cast Snowden as a traitor argue that the information he leaked could aid the US' enemies and poses a national security threat. That has been a familiar excuse used in the US since Sept 11, 2001, to scare people into supporting actions they don't necessarily agree with.
Holding prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center without trial and drone attacks in other countries are all conducted in the name of keeping the country safe. However, the morality and legality of such actions have been questioned globally.
Now Snowden has bitterly reminded people in the US of the surveillance society they are living in.
There is no doubt that the Obama administration has been hugely embarrassed by the scandal since the Democratic president has long campaigned for transparency and against the government's overreach during the George W. Bush years.
The phone and Internet companies that have aided the NSA in mining people's phone and e-mail data have also come under public scrutiny. Indeed, such companies as Google, Apple, Twitter, Microsoft, Facebook, Verizon and AT&T have betrayed the trust of people worldwide.
The American Civil Liberties Union, a Verizon Communications client, has already filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration in a bid to stop the data gathering and purge any storage of its information.
What is chilling is that the Obama administration has not only denied any wrongdoing, it has vehemently defended the NSA surveillance program as legal and necessary. It is also doing everything it can to hunt down Snowden and charge him with treason.
That is what they have done to Bradley Manning, a 25-year-old soldier who was arrested in Iraq three years ago on suspicion of passing classified information to WikiLeaks.
US prosecutors have also targeted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is now living in asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, at the opening of Manning's trial, alleging that he directly encouraged and aided Manning's leaks of classified documents and conspired with Manning in the theft of classified information.
Supporters of Manning and Assange have launched a worldwide campaign to nominate them for the Nobel Peace Prize, and a petition to pardon Snowden on the White House website had already gathered 63,013 signatures by 7:40 am Thursday.
For the past few months, the US has been viciously accusing China and other nations of cyberespionage, yet Snowden's whistle-blowing has revealed that it is the US that has been engaging in a monstrous spying program on people all over the world.
And that's not all. A recent Reuters report showed that the US government has become the largest buyer in a burgeoning gray market where hackers and security firms sell tools for breaking into computers. It said the US intelligence and military agencies are using the tools to infiltrate computer networks overseas, leaving behind spy programs and cyberweapons that can disrupt data or damage systems.
The report claims that much of the offensive cyberwarfare is done by publicly traded US defense contractors, such as Raytheon Co and Northrop Grumman Corp.
It may sound paranoid - like some in the US House Intelligence Committee - to brand those US firms who collaborate with the NSA as a possible national security threat, as they did to Chinese telecom firms Huawei and ZTE. But it is so ironic when recalling Obama's many passionate speeches on freedom, civil liberties, the rights of the individual and government transparency.
Those speeches sound hollow now.
The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
(China Daily USA 06/14/2013 page15)