Ed Snowden
In response to an investigation into abuse of NSO Group's Pegasus malware, American whistleblower Edward Snowden called for a global spyware trade ban. (Photo: screenshot/The Guardian/YouTube)

What Snowden Taught Us About American freedom

Earlier this month, as Americans celebrated our Independence Day holiday, the true scope of American independence became visible.

Earlier this month, as Americans celebrated our Independence Day holiday, the true scope of American independence became visible. The revelations of Edward Snowden, and the elite reaction to those revelations show that Americans are not a truly free and independent people, our major media are not free or independent, and neither are the supposedly sovereign nations of Europe free or independent states.

The American people fully recognize the threat that the U.S. security state poses to American liberty; according to a national Quinnipiac Poll released this week, 55% of Americans consider Edward Snowden a whistleblower, not a traitor.

Yet who will protect this whistleblower, deemed a traitor by Pennsylvania Avenue, and a hero by most Americans?

Not the mainstream media of the United States, which has shamefully defended the security state and used character-assassination to shift attention away from the NSA scandal. The self-proclaimed progressive network, MSNBC, has described Snowden as a "punk" and a "coward." Considering their coverage of this scandal, it is now clear that the word "coward" better describes MSNBC and the rest of the media elite in this country. As media critic Jeff Cohen has asked, would U.S. media act any less independently if it were state controlled?

Nor will the heads of state of Europe protect the whistleblower, who shout objections to the news that they themselves were victims of U.S. spy operations, even while denying asylum to the person who made public this news. While we applaud the actions of the Venezuelan government in offering asylum to Snowden, we find the posture of Europe disturbing, and agree with former German federal minister Jurgen Trittin that his nation, with its harsh history of state surveillance, should today be "among the first to offer [Snowden] refuge."

Instead, the current government in Berlin has toed the White House line and the governments of Austria, France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal conspired with the U.S. State Department to hijack the plane of the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales in an illegal and fruitless search for the whistleblower. If any country had attempted to do this to a plane carrying Obama, Hollande, or Rajoy it would have been treated as an act of war.

This is a pivotal moment in world history. The true founding father of American independence, Tom Paine, could easily have been speaking to this moment when he wrote:

"Lovers of humankind, time has found us once again. Take heed, for freedom is hunted around the globe and bat-eyed men and women regard her like a stranger. Shed the coils of evil people. Resist the ones who would enslave us and those who would make the crooked seem straight. Take heed, for freedom has been given a warning to depart."

On July 3rd, our shadow Attorney General and Secretary of Defense issued a joint statement to the effect that:

"Since 9/11, the federal government has increasingly used the excuse of 'national security' to justify violations of human rights and civil rights, to spy on allied foreign governments, and to increase spending on intelligence gathering, weapons and war. We now know that the National Security Agency has even been spying on millions of American citizens -- monitoring our phone calls, e-mail, and even directing the U.S. Postal Service to monitor our letter mail."

Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower who famously leaked the Pentagon Papers to expose the truth about the Vietnam War, agrees. He writes that:

"Snowden's whistleblowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an 'executive coup' against the US constitution. Since 9/11, there has been, at first secretly but increasingly openly, a revocation of the bill of rights... In particular, the fourth and fifth amendments of the U.S. constitution, which safeguard citizens from unwarranted intrusion by the government into their private lives, have been virtually suspended."

Nor has Congress reacted in outrage the latest disclosure of misdeeds. Instead Congress has joined the call for prosecution of the whistleblowers. Those who leak information that bolsters the administration are treated differently. When John Brennan, Obama's counterterrorism adviser leaked administration-defending information about a terrorist attack, instead of being prosecuted for leaking classified intelligence, he was promoted to director of the CIA.

In contrast, during the 1975 Congressional hearings on NSA, Senator Frank Church stated that:

"I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return."

James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, lied to the US Senate when he said "no, sir" in response to Democratic Senator Ron Wyden: "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?"

Other National Security officials have also repeatedly misled Congress about the extent of spying but none have been prosecuted - unlike Reagan administration officials who were convicted for lying about the Iran-Contra gate scandal.

We have witnessed the Obama's administration relentless attack on those who seek to expose the truth of what our government is doing, from its assault on the Associated Press and other news outlets, its abuse of the 1917 Espionage Act, its repression of Occupy Wall Street and the radical environmental movement, its prosecution and mistreatment of Bradley Manning for his disclosures, to its continuing worldwide pursuit of Wiki leaks director Julian Assange. Obama has succeeded in implementing the lesson's of Orwell's Big Brother.

Today we remember others who struggled against illegitimate power before, and triumphed, and we look to Tom Paine again for guidance:

"Liberty is hunted round the globe, but let it not be so for we are called to sing a song of universal love for all humankind. Come join us, that this land may be reborn once again; that this earth might be reborn to be a bright beacon. Sing to freedom that we may know the full measure of our days."

Who will protect Edward Snowden? Who must protect the liberties of Americans, the Americas, Europe, and the world? We must.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.