In my previous post, I quoted Edward Snowden’s father who traveled to Moscow in support of his son, saying he is a whistleblower. In this post, I will share the words of Edward Snowden that reveal his motivation and thought process. On Oct 28, 2014, at one point in a four hour interview by Nation magazine editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel and Stephen F. Cohen, Snowden asked them, “Aren’t you familiar with Cincinnatus? That’s the first alias I used.” <www.thenation.com/article/186129/snowden-exile-exclusive-interview>
Although I live in Ohio in which Cincinnati is one of its three largest cities, I had no knowledge of the derivation of that name, but Edward Snowden did. Lucius Quinctius was called Cincinnatus — because of his curly hair. Cincinnatus was a Roman farmer, who gained fame as a model of Roman virtue. He was a farmer who, when called to serve his country, left his farm and family. Because of his fame in battle and in other ways serving his country, 460 BCE at a 80 years old, he was appointed as dictator. But he decided that the country was able to survive without him and so he left that high office after 16 days. One source likened George Washington’s reluctance to remain in office to Cincinnatus.
Snowden didn’t take the documents he copied to Russia, he explained “my whole model, from the beginning, was not to personally publish a single document. I provided these documents to journalists because I didn’t want my biases to decide what’s in the public interest and what is not.”
In that Nation interview, Snowden, as no longer needing to use the Cincinnatus alias, explained that he was not opposed to a system of surveillance that followed judicial review: The issue I brought forward most clearly was that of mass surveillance, not of surveillance in general. It’s OK if we wiretap Osama bin Laden. I want to know what he’s planning—obviously not him nowadays, but that kind of thing. I don’t care if it’s a pope or a bin Laden. As long as investigators must go to a judge—an independent judge, a real judge, not a secret judge—and make a showing that there’s probable cause to issue a warrant, then they can do that. And that’s how it should be done. The problem is when they monitor all of us, en masse, all of the time, without any specific justification for intercepting in the first place, without any specific judicial showing that there’s a probable cause for that infringement of our rights. . . one document I revealed was the classified inspector general’s report on a Bush surveillance operation, Stellar Wind, which basically showed that the authorities knew it was unlawful at the time. There was no statutory basis; it was happening basically on the president’s say-so and a secret authorization that no one was allowed to see. When the DOJ said, “We’re not gonna reauthorize this because it is not lawful,” Cheney—or one of Cheney’s advisers—went to Michael Hayden, director of the NSA, and said, “There is no lawful basis for this program. DOJ is not going to reauthorize it, and we don’t know what we’re going to do. Will you continue it anyway on the president’s say-so?” Hayden said yes, even though he knew it was unlawful and the DOJ was against it. Nobody has read this document because it’s like twenty-eight pages long, even though it’s incredibly important.
At another point in the interview, Snowden asserted his support for citizen nonviolent action: We are a representative democracy. But how did we get there? We got there through direct action. And that’s enshrined in our Constitution and in our values. We have the right of revolution. Revolution does not always have to be weapons and warfare; it’s also about revolutionary ideas. It’s about the principles that we hold to be representative of the kind of world we want to live in.
… If the government or the parties won’t address our needs, we will. It’s about direct action, even civil disobedience. But then the state says: “Well, in order for it to be legitimate civil disobedience, you have to follow these rules.” They put us in “free-speech zones”; they say you can only do it at this time, and in this way, and you can’t interrupt the functioning of the government. They limit the impact that civil disobedience can achieve. We have to remember that civil disobedience must be disobedience if it’s to be effective. If we simply follow the rules that a state imposes upon us when that state is acting contrary to the public interest, we’re not actually improving anything. We’re not changing anything.
I believe strongly that Occupy Wall Street had such limits because the local authorities were able to enforce, basically in our imaginations, an image of what proper civil disobedience is—one that is simply ineffective. All those people who went out missed work, didn’t get paid. Those were individuals who were already feeling the effects of inequality, so they didn’t have a lot to lose. And then the individuals who were louder, more disruptive and, in many ways, more effective at drawing attention to their concerns were immediately castigated by authorities. They were cordoned off, pepper-sprayed, thrown in jail.
… The New York Times and The Guardian came out and said, “Hey, clemency for Snowden.” But for me, the key—and I’ve said this from the beginning: it’s not about me. I don’t care if I get clemency. I don’t care what happens to me. I don’t care if I end up in jail or Guantánamo or whatever, kicked out of a plane with two gunshots in the face. I did what I did because I believe it is the right thing to do, and I will continue to do that. However, when it comes to political engagement, I’m not a politician—I’m an engineer. I read these polls because civil-liberties organizations tell me I need to be aware of public opinion. The only reason I do these interviews—I hate talking about myself, I hate doing this stuff—is because incredibly well-meaning people, whom I respect and trust, tell me that this will help bring about positive changes. It’s not going to cause a sea change, but it will benefit the public.
… .I’m not an anarchist. I’m not saying, “Burn it to the ground.” But I’m saying we need to be aware of it, and we need to be able to distinguish when political developments are occurring that are contrary to the public interest. And that cannot happen if we do not question the premises on which they’re founded.