Edward Snowden: Hero or Traitor?

An interview with the famous whistleblower


President Donald Trump should pardon Edward Snowden.


I know, it's embarrassing—Assange, Manning, Snowden… Who did what?

I got them confused before I researched this topic. National security isn't my beat. I finally educated myself this month because I got a chance to interview Snowden, the CIA/NSA employee who told the world that our government spied on us but lied to Congress about it.

Now Snowden hides from American authorities.

We talked via Zoom.

Fourteen years ago, when Snowden worked for the CIA, and then the NSA, he signed agreements saying he would not talk about what he did. I confronted him about breaking his promise.

"What changed me," he answers, "was the realization that what our government actually does was very different than the public representation of it."

The NSA's mass surveillance program was meant to find foreign terrorists. When congressmen asked NSA officials if, without warrants, they collected data on Americans, they lied and said, "No."

"There was a breathtaking sweep of intentional knowing public deception," says Snowden. "We're capturing everything that your family is doing online."

I asked Snowden if his co-workers had qualms.

"In private, some said, 'This is crazy. I'm not sure this is legal, but you know what happens to people who talk about this.'"

What does happen?

Nothing terrible, said President Barack Obama, who claimed Snowden could have revealed the government's lawbreaking legally. "There were other avenues available," he told reporters.

"What he said was incorrect," Snowden tells me.

Government officials protect themselves by discrediting those who reveal inconvenient truths. Previous whistleblowers lost their jobs. Some were shocked to be subjects of dawn raids by federal police with guns drawn.

I understand why Snowden feared "proper" channels.

Instead, he took documents to journalists. The world learned the truth.

American officials said Snowden's leaks put lives at risk. But in the eight years since then, they've never given any clear examples.

"They constantly tell us, 'This is for your safety (and) to investigate terrorists,'" says Snowden. "Barack Obama's own investigations found that it didn't stop a single terrorist attack."

At the time, the NSA did claim that mass surveillance stopped terrorism.

Richard Ledgett, former deputy director of the NSA, said NSA programs contributed to stopping 54 terrorist attacks.

"That makes me feel safer when I hear that," I say to Snowden.

"We want to believe it's true," Snowden responds, "but it's not. The government itself no longer makes these claims that it stopped 54 plots."

In fact, the government no longer claims it stopped any attacks.

All of this made me realize—Snowden got screwed.

"Aren't you pissed off?" I ask. Former Director of National Intelligence "James Clapper lied to Congress and he wasn't fired! Now he works for CNN. [Former NSA director] Keith Alexander wasn't fired. Now he's on Amazon's board! They made out; you're in exile."

"If you're one of these 'made men,'" answers Snowden, "You face a very different flavor of justice."

Snowden went to Hong Kong to give reporters the data that showed the NSA had lied. He asked 27 countries to grant him asylum, without success. He tried to fly to Ecuador. When his plane stopped for a layover in Moscow, U.S. officials revoked his passport. He's been stuck in Moscow for seven years now.

If he returns to America, then Snowden will almost certainly be jailed.

"I can be very much at peace with the choices that I've made," he says. It was the right thing to do, and it has made things better. Some of these programs have been halted."

In 2013, Donald Trump was asked about Snowden. He said, "This guy is a bad guy and there is still a thing called execution!" But this year, President Trump said he'd "look at" giving Snowden a pardon.

"I think it's clearer and clearer that what I did was the right thing to do," Snowden tells me. "History has a way of exonerating the truth."

Sometimes, anyway.

Snowden did a good thing. He deserves a pardon.

Julian Assange deserves one, too.


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  1. Snowden is a hero and should be pardoned.

    1. I’m not sure he’s a hero, but I am fine with pardoning him.

      1. “Hero” is one of those words without a good definition. A soldier or firefighter who carries someone to safety is a hero to most people, even acknowledging enemy soldiers as heroes. Football players get called heroes, and most people would disagree in the bigger picture.

        Snowden qualifies as a hero because he took steps he knew would isolate him at best and stood a good chance of ending up dead or in maximum security prison. Unfortunately, his revelations haven’t really resulted in much change, and maybe that disqualifies him from being a hero. After all, a solder or firefighter carries a dead person to safety, the action may be thought of as heroic, but is he still a hero?

        1. .. carries a dead person to safety,..
          Too late to be a hero at that point. The dead are in no need of safety.

          1. They do if you are battling necrophiliacs.

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    3. Weird you should think so, as every court case into government spying on us was turned away due to lack of standing or other reasons. Based on Reason’s current stances, this means people believing the IC would spy on people were just embarrassing themselves.

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    9. Snowden is a liar and you are a gullible fool. Literally everything Snowden is quoted as saying here is a bald-faced lie.

      Snowden only gives interviews to journalists that are already sympathetic to him. Stossel is complicit in the pro-Snowden propaganda. His “tough questions” are pure theater since they contain no obvious follow-ups.

  2. “History has a way of exonerating the truth.”

    Only when the truth is divulged.

    Think of how many ordinary people defied kings, or just how many serfs got screwed over by their noble landlords. Their truth was buried the day they died. We don’t have to guess this; there are plenty of records which don’t stand up to scrutiny, or have impossible odds (quadrillion to one!) of the nobility always being right. But knowing there were misdeeds and lies doesn’t reveal the truth.

  3. Hero to libertarians, traitor to the surveillance state.

    1. I would call Mr. Snowden a genuine American patriot. Hopefully, he will receive a full pardon.

      1. Snowden definitely broke federal law and his agreement to not disclose classified info. He should be punished for that. Exile and fear of assassination should be timed served.

        The Deep State and John Roberts (Chief Justice in charge of FISA court) violated the Constitution and they should be impeached if still holding office and prosecuted.

        1. Let’s say you read in the file of the President committing treason against the United States in very demonstrable terms of specific evidence that anyone can reasonably verify.

          Button your lip, Mugsy!!

          Then consider that they know that you know that they know. You have already cornered yourself.

          Enter the American right to conscience …

  4. He should have pardoned him from day one then hired him.

    1. The first 100 days for Trump’s second term as President are going to be punishing for Democrats. I hope Trump does pardon Snowden and then hire him.

  5. Well he did take up citizenship in SovComRus so. No.

    If he’d landed in some Stan or other disgusting piece of shit we’d get him out.

    But Moscow Jesus you stupid geek.

    1. He was on his way to Ecuador from Hong Kong by the herculean efforts of an activist attorney, but his passport was revoked while he was in flight and the first place he landed was Russia you dumbfuck. He would have had more time to plan for his escape except that Greenwald and Poitras fucked around for a week and very nearly queered the entire leak.

      1. Would add that the US screwed the pooch by revoking his passport when it did. If they had waited a couple of hours he would have been out of Moscow and they could have picked him up in Ecuador.

      2. “and the first place he landed was Russia”

        Where he stayed.

        By choice.

        You fucking paint-eating gimp.

        1. Of course staying in Russia was a choice. Compared to life in a max security hellhole in the US, it wasn’t much of a choice, but it was indeed a choice.

          You are correct in everything except the truth.

          Fuck off, slaver.

          1. You don’t actually know what you’re talking about. You never read the details of the Snowden leaks, as is obvious from your commentary. You merely think what you were told to think.

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  8. He exposed the US Government committing a crime against the American People. He deserves a pardon and a statue in our Nation’s Capitol for standing up for our freedoms. Clapper and Brennan should be prosecuted.

  9. Sooner or later we’re all going to face the same decision Snowden faced – at what point are you willing to become a traitor to your government in order to save your country? At what point are you going to be willing to stand up and say “Give me liberty or give me death” – and mean it? When it’s too late?

    Right now, there are thousands, tens of thousands, of small businesses being bankrupted by the coronavirus mandates. Many of these people are losing everything they’ve ever worked for their entire lives. We know for a fact that the science behind this shit is at best questionable – and yet we’re not small businessmen so we bitch about how terrible this is and then we go about our day. At some point, there’s going to be enough people with nothing left to lose that they’re going to start taking matters into their own hands. When the government sees the trouble coming and decides a strategic retreat is in order and eases up on the torture, will you simply decide that since the government blinked, everything they did before can now be forgiven? You know that’s how the ratchet effect works, two steps forward, one step back, two steps forward, one step back. They’re boiling frogs, you don’t do all this horrible shit in one fell swoop, you do it one step at a time. At what point are you going to see this long train of abuses and usurpations pursuing invariably the same object, evincing a design to reduce us under absolute despotism, and take it to its natural conclusion?

    1. So Jerryskids….What is the natural conclusion? Be specific.

      I agree that it is a rare quality to have a person stand up for our liberty, and make a true sacrifice for it, ala Snowden. In my state, The People’s Republic of NJ, take a look at the Atilis gym in Bellmawr, NJ. That guy is doing the same thing, much smaller scale. He is acting against the ‘unjust-ness’ of the state. My point is: although rare, those individuals are out there. We need people to tell their story. And of the stories of others around this wonderful country doing the same thing.

      I was encouraged by the Roman Catholic Diocese v Cuomo SCOTUS decision. That laid down one marker: The government may not suppress religious free exercise rights absent strict scrutiny. That was important. The principle will be extended to further enumerated individual rights.

    2. IMO more people confront the inverse ethical problem: at what point do they violate their own morals in order to “go along”? They want to succeed, to be a good team player, or just not rock the boat. And then, at some point, they recognize some serious nasty shit. Do they compromise themselves? Do they rationalize or ignore it?

      I suspect more people are cognizant of this moral challenge, than anything based in Liberty.

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  11. Ed please understand that while you may have done some good you are never going home. Ever. Well unless you wish to face trial and likely incarceration. Ha right sure.

    Reason Koch has a weird fetish for liars criminals and addicts.

  12. Even if Snowden got a pardon he wouldn’t be safe in this country. Someone would kill him.

    1. No they wouldn’t; he would commit “suicide”

    2. People like DOL would love to get him in the sights of his Apache helicopter.

  13. The problem is we cannot choose which we laws we want to follow and those we disagree with.

    He willingly and with intent broke federal laws. Period. End of story.

    And he’s not a hero.

    Hero’s know and willingly accept the potential consequences of their actions.

    He, on the other hand, is hiding from the potential US consequences and is also complaining about his current consequences.

    Doesn’t sound like a hero to me.

    1. The problem is we cannot choose which we laws we want to follow and those we disagree with.

      Sure we can.

      No society can exist unless the laws are respected to a certain degree. The safest way to make laws respected is to make them respectable. When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law. These two evils are of equal consequence, and it would be difficult for a person to choose between them.

      -Bastiat, The Law

      I chose to keep my moral sense. So did Snowden.

    2. Which constitutionally valid laws did he break? If a “law” is unconstitutional, it is nullified the instant it is passed.

      The feds are the ones who were breaking the law. All he did was expose it.

    3. So Harriet Tubman was a traitor.
      Frederick Douglas was a traitor.
      Thomas Jefferson was a traitor.

      When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

      That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

      Lots and lots of traitors there.

      And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

      You, sir, are a traitor to the very origin of this country.

      1. And most people in Germany in the 1930s were patriots!

    4. He didn’t break federal laws
      He exposed federal breaking of laws

      1. He broke federal law AND exposed government officials breaking federal laws and the Constitution.

        1. You can’t break a broken law. Those laws were unconstitutional, thus not capable of being broken.

        2. Federal law says its illegal to expose our illegal spying

          Ya, not seeing it

    5. I believe the preceding respondents covered your total lack of depth in making the matter of people not being able to choose “which we [aic] laws we want to follow” nonsense. Germany had laws regarding persons of certain religions at one time, would you have followed those? The United States had a thing called the “fugitive slave law” once upon a time; would you have followed that and turned in any persons escaping slavery? Thoreau wrote a premise on the subject of civil disobedience on that very subject; you should read it.

      1. One of the hallmarks of MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is that civil disobedience requires accepting the consequences (ie, going to Birmingham jail) of breaking unjust laws. Apedad may be trying to pretend that those consequences require Snowden to hie himself hence to the equivalent Birmingham jail, as cover for his disgust that anyone would break a law to expose worse wrong-doings in the broken law itself.

        Dictator sycophants hate law breakers, regardless of how broken the laws are, because they envision themselves someday crafting those broken laws.

        1. Read my Bastiat quote. Heck, read The Law if you haven’t already.

          Dictator sycophants, cops, prosecutors and other chose to lose their moral sense.

          1. When I first read me some Bastiat, I wondered where credit was due for its clarity — Bastiat or the translator. 1800s writing is not reknowned today for its simple sentences. But Bastiat is, and it seems to be independent of translator.

    6. That is a stupid statement, Of course we should break laws if they are immoral. If you lived in the time of the Dredd Scott decision, would you be complicit in returning a run away slave to bondage? If so, you are a shit, and a slaver, literally. If not, you can see the flaw in your argument. Laws are important, but following them blindly makes you a fool.

    7. There’s plenty of laws that are in place today or have been enforced in the US or other countries that are BS.

      If you love laws so much for the sake of laws, go tell that to people who get put to death for marijuana possession in Hong Kong or homosexuals who are beaten in theocratic states.

      You’re argument is devoid of any moral reasoning and if you love the government and its laws so much then why don’t you go tell all of our citizens in prison for minor drug charges that they deserve to be abused by senseless government overreach and abuse of our civil liberties.

  14. “What he said was incorrect,” Snowden tells me.

    No, Obama simply lied.

    1. But those tweets doh.

  15. Assange, Manning, Snowden

    Assange should be pardoned.
    Snowden should be pardoned.
    Manning was pardoned, but was the least deserving of the three.

    1. Manning was not pardoned. His sentence was commuted to time served and he was released from prison.

  16. Edward Snowden, Your true story may never be known. I want you to know that many Americans consider you a Patriot for exposing how our bureaucrats and politicians are violating the Constitution and federal law.

    We recognize service to America to protect it from enemies foreign and domestic even if what you did was not fully known. There are thousands of brave men who died defending American and never got military medals or tokens on the wall at Langley.

    Best of Luck!

  17. “Plausible deniability” means something of newspeak about an option to “look the other way,” like, “Go ahead and break the law and we won’t tell so long as you do not tell us anything specific about your lawless methods & acts.” Is that Congress’s relationship to the NSA?

    Such a pity for lawbreakers that anyone could discover a lawbreaker with effective blanket immunity from prosecution, or that only people who believe that laws should apply equally, if at all, could hope to oppose Snowden’s conviction.

    Or could the NSA get a blanket warrant to spy under the Commerce Clause in any communication that crosses state borders in any detectable way? The commerce clause excuses some number of federal behaviors and seems to be the basis for regulating the national income tax for any company that does business outside state borders of its own jurisdiction.

    If there were easy answers, then the case would probably be done and over by now.

  18. Snowden is a patriot in the vain of Patrick Henry.

  19. A hero would have released the documents and then stayed in the US to fight the good fight. Hiding out in Russia is the opposite of what a hero would have done.

    1. Um, he’s no longer within the assurances of American government and technically at large for any “Extraordinary Rendition”. How much there were to see depends on perspective, but perhaps his choice of actions blare at the splintered intelligence community worldwide and make certain they’re were an angle in-play?

      I mean, reading it like a movie, perhaps the facts go to show that there were only so much to consider and so little time to get to the pertinent point.

  20. Traitor. He broke the law and damaged our ability to combat terrorism.

    Admittedly the government surveillance programs may not have been strictly legal themselves, but when you’re at war with savages who don’t respect any rules, you can’t exactly play by them either. Not if you want to prevail.

  21. Warmonger-in-Chief Obama’s regime tortured and imprisoned Chelsea Manning for exposing war crimes from the Bush Era. There’s another one Trump should get around to pardoning.

    NOT pardoning Assange, Manning, and Snowden are things that Trump should be harshly criticized for. Yet if he did pardon them, there would be howls of protest from the BigMedia, Deep Statists, the RNC neo-cons, and DNC progressives.

  22. Snowden – Hero
    Benedict Arnold – traitor
    Obama – traitor
    Fireman – hero
    Clapper – traitor
    Kyle Rittehouse – hero
    Biden – traitor
    Bush – traitor
    Manning – Other
    Comey – traitor
    Wade McClusky – hero

    ” Hero (heroine in its feminine form) is a real person or a main fictional character who, in the face of danger, combats adversity through feats of ingenuity, courage or strength…”

    “Treason – the crime of attacking a state authority to which one owes allegiance.[1] This typically includes acts such as participating in a war against one’s native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state. A person who commits treason is known in law as a traitor…”

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