“Is Edward Snowden a #Traitor or a # Patriot?”


The question is remarkable mainly for its permanence. Nearly a year after Snowden leaked classified NSA documents to journalists regarding a multitude of top-secret surveillance programs before taking spectacular flight for foreign pastures, there remains a startling lack of consensus on his legacy.


Brian William’s wide-ranging interview with the man himself, which aired Wednesday on NBC, offered a handful of interesting insights but little in the way of game-changing revelations (although Glenn Greenwald has something he thinks you ought to know, when he wants you to know it). Brian Williams allegedly had free reign to ask any question he liked, but lost a bit of that cutting journalistic edge sometime around the third query on whether or not Snowden was homesick. Snowden himself, offered his best chance yet to defend his actions on a global platform, came across as touchingly sincere and remarkably articulate, if a tad too enamored with his own talking points.


In the absence of anything truly definitive, your correspondent has decided to list Snowden’s most intriguing claims from last night’s interview packaged together with neat personal verdicts. Whether or not this makes for great/informative/worth-while reading is for you to decide.


He is not in cahoots with the Russian government. Snowden allegedly destroyed all sensitive material before he boarded his flight from Hong Kong to Moscow. Comparing the folly of carrying state secrets through Russia to Tweety Bird and Sylvester The Cat, Snowden maintains he is not a Russian spy and has not even met Putin personally.

Verdict: Unlikely, although Snowden gets some props for his dated-yet-applicable-and-somewhat-endearing pop culture reference. Have you seen Putin? The man treats international law and common decency like his own personal buffet. Snowden salvaged some credibility on this one late in the game when he roundly criticized Putin’s crackdown on civil liberties, but it is hard to believe the absurdist faux-nationalistic invader of Crimea and architect of the Syrian crisis kept his paws entirely off Snowden’s ruffled yellow feathers.


He was trained as a spy. Snowden objected to White House caricatures of him as a low-level analyst. Claiming he was trained as a spy in “the traditional sense of the word,” Snowden rattled off a series of intriguing job descriptions while remaining appropriately mysterious and vague on the details a la John Le Carre’s indomitable George Smiley. The gist of it? He has lived in other countries under false identities and apparently knows his stuff.

Verdict: Why not? Snowden clearly wants to establish his bona fides here, as if stealing millions of government documents and successfully eluding the fingers of American power didn’t already do that. The U.S. government has a vested interest in discrediting Snowden, although telling the world their secrets were cracked wide open by a low-level analyst is a bewildering PR move. Who cares if Snowden lacks the jawline and drinking prowess of a James Bond? This one is credible.


He is a patriot. Snowden sees himself as something of a martyr for his country, the one moral man willing to shout down governmental abuses of power from the rooftops and suffer the consequences. Claiming that sometimes “what is right is not the same as what is legal”, Snowden stridently proclaimed his sincere belief that he acted in the best interests of the country he loves.

Verdict: Debatable. This question is a tricky one. On the one hand, Snowden’s revelations seem to have wrought significant changes in government transparency and started a worthwhile dialogue regarding just how many liberties America is willing to sacrifice in the name of safety and security. On the other hand, Snowden’s actions set him above the law, an inherently problematic position. Does the civil disobedience of one man better encapsulate the essence of “patriotism” than the laws of the United States?


Government surveillance in the 21st century is terrifying. Brian Williams quizzed Snowden on whether or not the NSA could hack into his phone. The answer? Yes, and a whole lot more than that. Snowden conjured an Orwellian horror-reality where governments have the power to manipulate personal electronic devices, track patterns of behavior and even watch you as you type. He then claimed that all of these “unregulated, uncontrolled and dangerous” capabilities were very specifically targeted. Thanks for that.

 Verdict: No comment. Your correspondent is busy throwing all his electronic possessions in the river, and will shortly set off for the Falkland Islands in a rowboat. You are welcome to join him.


What are your thoughts on Snowden and his actions? Start the discussion in the comments below or connect with me on Twitter @aa_murph