Civil Liberties

Sorry Mr. FBI Director, Challenging Government Snooping Is Heroic


FBI Director James Comey

FBI Director James Comey is perplexed. It seems many Americans view revealer-of-snooping-and-eavesdropping Edward Snowden as a whistleblower on wrongdoing and a hero. How can this be, he asked a room full of reporters at a lunchtime interview Thursday. After all, the president said hoovering up everybody's private information is OK, lawmakers said it was a swell idea, and judges gave a big-ol' thumbs-up to the practice. "I see the government operating the way the founders intended," Comey insists. "So I have trouble applying the whistleblower label to someone who basically disagrees with the way our government is structured and operates."

Here's the thing that Jimmy doesn't understand. When government officials do terrible things, and structure the rules to authorize themselves to do terrible things, blowing the whistle on their shenanigans is a good thing to do because it goes against the horrible, horrible "way our government is structured and operates." Given the risks involved—former CIA Director James Woolsey suggests Snowden "should be hanged by his neck until he is dead."—challenging government officials in defiance of the rules those same officials have crafted to whitewash their misdeeds can, understandably, be characterized as "heroic."

The fact is, many Americans don't think of Comey, and James Clapper, and General Keith Alexander, and their friends and enablers in the three branches of government as being on the same side as us. Snowden scored a coup for our side by revealing the other side's creepy surveillance schemes.

And let's be honest here. Comey did himself no favors when, in the same interview, he argued against a review panel's recommendations that the FBI's own use of secretive and intrusive national security letters be subject to some kind of oversight.

"What is broken for which we need that solution?" he asked.

Where to start…? Where to start…?

What would seem to be broken is the political class's sense of right and wrong, and their appreciation of individual liberty and privacy. And that's why so many of us cheer for Edward Snowden and hope for more like him.

Maybe there's somebody with access to FBI files who feels the same way.