JUNE 2013 - Edward Snowden: America’s Biggest Whistleblower

 Photo Caption and Credit: Edward Snowden speaks about NSA programs at Sam Adams award presentation in Moscow. (Courtesy of McZastz/Wiki Commons)

By: Benjamin Barett

In June 2013, America discovered that its citizens were having their privacy invaded by their own government. After a series of leaks emerged showing new unknown surveillance programs, The Washington Post and The Guardian quickly released stories informing the public of these leaks.

Two weeks before on May 20th, Edward Snowden flew to Hong Kong, China where he gave journalists documents containing substantial information on the United States government and its intelligence agencies (Gellman et al., 2013). Snowden, who was 29-years-old at the time, had worked in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) (Gellman et al., 2013). In their first article published about the leaks on June 9, 2013, The Guardian credited Snowden for the information per his request. Snowden didn’t want to remain anonymous because he knew his information would have less influence if he did (Greenwald et al., 2013). He noted that it’s easier for the government to cover up something someone said anonymously than if they had said it publicly. Snowden also felt that releasing the information was morally correct and therefore didn’t have any shame in being associated with the leaks. “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” stated Snowden (Greenwald et al., 2013).

Snowden’s actions sparked tons of controversy in part due to the repercussions his leaks had and still have. In Edward Snowden, Frenemy of the State, Tarzie, a Brooklyn-based blogger says, “Snowden’s most striking difference from other NSA whistleblowers is the warm embrace from mainstream media, which has made him a celebrity” (Tarzie, 2017).

The repercussions of Snowden’s leaks seem to steer in two different directions. The first is that he hacked and leaked information from a United States intelligence organization. The reputation of the NSA, CIA, and other government agencies were tarnished. Due to this, there are some who consider Snowden a criminal and consider his actions treason. However, there are others who consider him a hero as he provided the public with important information on the state of their privacy. Snowden notes that he was expecting this controversy to occur because that’s what comes with being a whistleblower. Cynthia Nolan, the author of The Edward Snowden Case and the Morality of Secrecy, asks her readers, “Is it permissible to attack a foreign government if that government acts contrary to the moral law?” (Nolan, 2017, p. 300).  

Snowden’s leaks continue to play a role in American society. According to the Associated Press, “The top U.S. counterintelligence official said journalists have released only about 1 percent taken by the 34-year-old American,” (Riechmann, 2018).

Snowden’s actions had numerous implications, some of which he intended and others that he did not. Many people think of him as a criminal and others recognize him as a hero. However, one important aspect of Snowden’s actions that can’t be overlooked is the impact he had on journalism. Whistleblowers have played a crucial role in journalism throughout history and have allowed journalists and news organizations to expose corrupt people and institutions. With Snowden’s leaks, journalists were able to share information about the immoral use of power by the United States government. Monitoring the powerful is a crucial part of journalism and the Snowden leaks allowed journalists to do so. 

Works Cited: 
Gellman, B., Blake, A., & Miller, G. (2013, June 9). Edward Snowden comes forward as source of NSA leaks. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/intelligence-leaders-push-back-on-leakers-media/2013/06/09/fff80160-d122-11e2-a73e-826d299ff459_story.html. 
Greenwald, G., MacAskill, E., & Poitras, L. (2013, June 11). Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/09/edward-snowden-nsa-whistleblower-surveillance. 
Nolan, C. (2017). The Edward Snowden Case and the Morality of Secrecy. Catholic Social Science Review, 22, 291–310. https://doi.org/10.5840/cssr20172223 
Riechmann, D. (2018, June 4). Costs of Snowden leak still mounting 5 years later. AP NEWS. https://apnews.com/article/797f390ee28b4bfbb0e1b13cfedf0593. 
Tarzie. (2017, March 7). Edward Snowden, Frenemy of the State. [Abstract]. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 76(2), 348–380. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ajes.12179