Against Edward Snowden

I seem to have made a habit of annoying the editor of this site. First it was my unpopular views on intervention in Syria, and now this! Once again a piece I have written elsewhere has piqued their interest – this time over my lack of love for much vaunted martyr-in-the-making Edward Snowden. Once more, I have been given a chance to air my “unorthodox” opinions here, and do so with relish.

Essentially my point states that we must be pragmatic in pursuit of greater freedom; both at home and internationally. With regards to the travails of Mr. Snowden, we see a man who has – in a move allegedly about promoting liberty for all – shacked up with a brutal, murderous autocrat. While President Putin of Russia continues to provide the heavy weaponry which rains down on Syrian civilians at night, and continues to battle for religiously-sanctioned gay-bashing at home, Snowden hangs on to his virtual coat tails – subsisting on his hospitality, and operating with Putin’s leave.

For me, this is the stuff of dark irony: the earnest young crusader for freedom, ending up in the arms of a tyrant, in a desperate bid to harm a nation built on principles of independence and personal sovereignty. That Snowden is lionised for his actions is a deeply worrying sign of the way the movement is heading: towards hating the only nation-state which is effectively on our side.

This might seem an odd place to say it, but I am an American patriot, despite the fact that I was not born there. I see the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States as the finest point of law on the planet because (as I wrote in my article for Trending Central):

[J]ournalists and the public are granted freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. There is also the small matter of religious pluralism, and of the secular state – neither of which is too popular in Russia; see the Orthodox Church for further details.

In this respect, it is even more disappointing to me that Snowden has ended up as a de facto ally for the Putin regime. In his attacks on the US government, he is furthering their cause, and doing their bidding. For me, the bizarre attitudes of arch Snowden defender Glenn Greenwald perfectly sum up my case. He has an issue with the United States. A resident of Brazil (another repressive society, but oh well), he has promised retribution to the British government for the perfectly reasonable and legal detention of his partner, David Miranda.

Miranda was acting as an information mule, in ferrying classified documents and the like to Greenwald and his handlers at the Guardian. This action is helping, and thus conducted with the blessing of, a dictator. Notice I did not include the typical ‘foreign’ before ‘dictator’. In times such as these, with the increasing globalisation of the world’s nations, there is no such thing as a ‘foreign dictator’: all tyranny is local. For me, the ends – in this case the exposure of US spying – do not justify the means: cosying up to a truly evil individual, and requiring the support of the vile repressive government he leads.

It does not help that other organisations have been turning up ‘revelations’ such as this legally in the recent past. And, even if this had not been mentioned before, would it have actually surprised you? Genuinely, can you claim to have been entirely not expecting news such as this? I thought not. In reality, this debate has been conducted in the open for a few years now, and no act of trans-continental flight can alter that salient fact. The faux-outrage is out in force, and the story is routinely thrown back into the news cycle to remind us every so often that the US government are, like, bad. But I’m sure most of you – like me – never really cared.

This is, after all, what governments do. If this sort of thing is needed – and that is most firmly a debate for another time – then I can see no fundamental problem with the work of the PRISM programme and its sister projects. As I have suggested earlier, if you genuinely do: then you should actually do something about it.

Use websites which alter your IP address, base your snarky political gossip site in somewhere where it has some legislative protection over its head. Do something, instead of regularly moaning and then accomplishing nothing when it comes to crunch time.

Other than that, all I can do is to sit back in desperation. The lack of pragmatic sense among libertarians is simply staggering. Of course it is easy to go against the United States’ government, very easy indeed: it is a free country, after all! But to reject this intellectual and political laziness is far nobler. Rather than attacking the target closest to hand, maybe it is time to begin thinking internationally: and advocating for those in societies like Russia – who don’t have that simplistic luxury at all.


  1. This article confuses support for the principle of free speech and the 1st Amendment with the support of a political administration. By this logic anything – torture,bombing civilians, etc. – must be supported because of the importance of free speech. ‘How dare anyone not support a country that has free speech in its Constitution!’ Please.

    Snowden helped expose anti-freedom tyranny that threatens a 1984 vision upon all humankind. Hey, I like lots of countries but if their politicians were anti-freedom zealots I’d denounce them too. (And not that it matters, but Snowden’s first choice was to go live in Ecuador. Not that I’d vouch for the moral purity of any politicians anywhere.)



  2. I’m sorry but this is very wrong and in no way pragmatic.

    1. Where exactly could Snowden go without getting cozy with some sort of statist? The UK? Ok so the UK isn’t as bad as Russia but it has long since given up on the concept of individual freedom. What’s worse, the ignorant, opportunism of Cameron or the ruthless, cynicism of Putin? It’s a scale where no one in power is on our side.

    2. The constitution may be a fine document promoting fine ideals but it is just a piece of paper which the political class in America could not give two hoots about. It is as valid as the Roman reverence for the Rubicon which Sulla and then Caesar marched right over. The people of any country have to be continually willing to defend their freedoms otherwise they will wither and die. As they are in the West.

    3. There is no defence of the NSA and GCHQ, the idea that they exists to protect us from terrorism is nonsense. If an indigenous, well supported and well funded terrorist organisation wants to do you harm then there is zero you can do to stop them apart from negotiate. We placed an army in Northern Ireland and we failed, we placed an army in Iraq and we failed, we’ve placed numerous armies in Afghanistan and we failed, need I go on…

    4. Snowden’s exposure has at least raised the issue of Government monitoring of their people to a wider audience. Using the argument that, “oh we already knew this…” is ridiculous because the tiny proportion of the population who read content like yours take an avid interest in this topic. But the wider population don’t, which is why we’re in this situation.

    5. I don’t wish to live in a country where I have to justify myself to the state nor anyone else. Now the reality is I have to, but you’re not going to convince me it is ok.

    6. If you want to promote freedom you need to start at home, as it is what you know. I can’t help the people of Syria because I know precisely jot all about their predicament. Internationalism is a typically socialist idea that promotes the idea that we’re all the same, want the same things and suffer the same problems. We don’t, the world is much more complicated than that and the only chance you have is to act small and act locally which is exactly what Snowden has done.

    I’m sure I could go on, but I won’t. I appreciate what Snowden has done. And for me it doesn’t look like he has much other choice but to sit it out in Russia.



    1. How has the UK given up on individual freedom? I can still do what I want within the bounds of the law. I still have control over most of my funds. We are still a capitalist state. I don’t really understand what you mean.
      And if you provide examples to prove me wrong, there is nothing you can tell me which will convince me Russia is a fair alternative. We are legalising gay marriage in March. Putin despises gays and continues to persecute them. We allowed the Guardian to post that GCHQ was spying on UK citizens. Russia incarcerated a journalist reporting on a Greenpeace project for piracy.
      If you’ve not been to Russia, I’d advise you go. Not only does it have fantastic art, beautiful monuments and brilliant, authentic ballet, but you’ll see men in black suits, in black cars with black tinted windows: the place looks like 1930s sicily there is so much crime. You’ll see inequality so vast you’ll understand how Russia is a state of thieves, criminals and corrupt cowards. Then you’ll realise we’ve got it good over here on our island.



      1. London is a textbook Orwellian surveillance city. Every aspect of earning a living and running a business is subject to interference from petty council minions right up to MP’s, every asset you own is taxed to the limits of public tolerance – and you think the UK is a model of freedom??? I’ve lived in the UK and I’ve lived in mainland China and China is a hell of a lot more capitalistic than the UK – or the US. They all have coercive, thieving politicians, but let’s not kid ourselves that any of them are free countries.

        BTW, my definition of Freedom is when every individual has complete control of his own property. By that standard, no State offers Freedom. Sounds like your definition of Freedom involves you being owned by the State.


  3. “Once more, I have been given a chance to air my “unorthodox” opinions here, and do so with relish.”

    And once more you proof that you don’t have a clue about freedom and really worship the state. Since 9/11 I have been arguing with people like you, american flag waving supporters of the war on terror. I have yet to find out, why they even bother to call themselves libertarians. They are one of the most consistent totalitarians around. They are always quick to defend the surveillance police state against anyone who fights it.

    Snowden is not in Russia because he likes Putin. He has never endorsed Putin. But he cannot get a fair trial under the US government that you praise so much. Your collectivism of making someone responsible for the actions of the government that occupies the territory he happens to be on starts right there. You are supporting an increasingly totalitarian police state against a person who has risk his life to fight it. That is not libertarian pragmatism, that is just good old fascism. Yes, I know that word has been used too many times. But it is exactly appropriate in this case. And of course as a good fascist you have to hate freedom fighters like Snowden.



  4. What a bizarre post…..

    You laud the USA because its constitution should make it a liberal state then object when a whistle blower leaks information which proves that the mechanisms used by its government to retain power are highly totalitarian.

    If anyone doubted the lengths to which nation states will go to deter those who would expose their crimes they need only look at the relentless pursuit of Snowden and Assange and their appalling treatment of Bradley Manning.



  5. “Of course it is easy to go against the United States’ government, very easy indeed”

    It’s easy to notice the numerous crimes its government commits, if that’s what you mean.

    “This might seem an odd place to say it, but I am an American patriot, despite the fact that I was not born there. I see the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States as the finest point of law on the planet”

    Right, but you obviously don’t give a fuck about the other nine Amendments, do you? Especially the 4th, which Snowden’s evidence shows is being violated on an unprecedented scale. The America that you love is killing the America of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. If you were a true friend of America, you would understand there’s more to patriotism than chanting ‘USA, USA’ every time a drone blows up a wedding party.



  6. He isn’t stating an opinion on whether government spying is wrong or not. He is simply denouncing Snowden. “If this sort of thing is needed – and that is most firmly a debate for another time – then I can see no fundamental problem with the work of the PRISM programme and its sister projects.”
    And I partially agree. I really wasn’t surprised when the news came out that the USA was spying on it’s allies and citizens. I thought everyone already knew this was happening!



    1. You see no problem with ubiquitous State surveillance? When I see a comment like that my first thought is that it’s created by one of the trolls employed by the State to sway public opinion that monolithic State control is just fine and a hallmark of freedom. Or maybe your paycheck and pension just depend upon it.



  7. James,

    “It may be naive, but I think that a democratic system such as ours would not allow any major abuse of this information to take place, and, as has been outlined by Hague, all interaction between the government and the detritus it has gathered would be subject to extant national laws.”

    Yeah, it’s naiive.

    In the words of the authour, David Collum:

    ‘Michael Hayden refers to the rest of us Snowden supporters as ““nihilists, anarchists, activists, LulzSec, Anonymous, twentysomethings who haven’t talked to the opposite sex in five or six years”. I protest: I am not a “twenty-something”.’



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