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7/6/13

Edward Snowden is a whistleblower, not a spy – but do our leaders care? - by Spencer Ackerman

According to US legislators and journalists, the surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden actively aided America's enemies. They are just missing one essential element for the meme to take flight: evidence.

An op-ed by Representative Mike Pompeo (Republican, Kansas) proclaiming Snowden, who provided disclosed widespread surveillance on phone records and internet communications by the National Security Agency, "not a whistleblower" is indicative of the emerging narrative. Writing in the Wichita Eagle on 30 June Pompeo, a member of the House intelligence committee, wrote that Snowden "has provided intelligence to America's adversaries".

Pompeo correctly notes in his op-ed that "facts are important". Yet when asked for the evidence justifying the claim that Snowden gave intelligence to American adversaries, his spokesman, JP Freire, cited Snowden's leak of NSA documents. Those documents, however, were provided to the Guardian and the Washington Post, not al-Qaeda or North Korea.

It's true that information published in the press can be read by anyone, including people who mean America harm. But to conflate that with actively handing information to foreign adversaries is to foreclose on the crucial distinction between a whistleblower and a spy, and makes journalists the handmaidens of enemies of the state.

Once elected and appointed leaders casually conflate leaking and espionage, it is a matter of time before journalists take the cue. For insight into the "fear and isolation that NSA leaker Edward Snowden is living through", CNN turned to Christopher Boyce – who sold US secrets to the USSR before becoming a bank robber.

Perhaps Snowden lied. Perhaps he might change his mind. But all of that is far off in the realm of speculation. As things stand now, there is no evidence Snowden has aided any US adversary or intelligence service, wittingly or not.

In an email meant to discredit Snowden in the press, an anonymous "senior administration official" told reporters on 24 June that Snowden's ostensible idealism "is belied by the protectors he has potentially chosen: China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador". That's something to remember the next time Washington wants to talk about its commitment to human rights while cooperating with, say, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia and others who don't take human rights too seriously

Read more: Edward Snowden is a whistleblower, not a spy – but do our leaders care? | World news | guardian.co.uk

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