Who is above the Whistleblower?


By: Taylor Horn

“…But over time that awareness of wrongdoing sort of builds up and you feel compelled to talk about. And the more you talk about the more you’re ignored…” On June 6th of this year, two men sat in a hotel room in Hong Kong, and Edward Snowden offered this explanation for perpetrating some of the largest (and still growing) intelligence leaks in world history.

The next few months were a flurry of activity from the world of Edward Snowden, with his disappearance into Hong Kong and then into the Moscow Airport International Terminal. All the events coming out of this story leave us with cause to ask if any of the same kind of “awareness of wrongdoing” is again building up in Mr. Snowden’s mind. I’m not discussing the wrongdoing of leaking NSA security details – where you stand on that question has seemed to be a very murky value judgment. Something that is clearer, however, is that Mr. Snowden’s new allies have a record of wrongdoing far more expansive than the NSA or the broader US security establishment.

First on the list was Hong Kong, which Snowden recognized for its “spirited connection to free speech and the right of political dissent.” However, in matters of defense and foreign policy, Hong Kong is completely controlled by the central Chinese Communist Party, a regime which is famous for the Great Firewall, and which just earlier this month scrubbed eyewitness accounts en masse following a terrorist attack in Tiananmen Square. This was likely done in order to erroneously blame it on the Uighurs, an ethnic minority with separatist ambitions, most inhabiting northwestern China. While China was not willing to completely cross the US’s wishes in the Snowden case, it did capitalize on his situation for its own PR, while letting Snowden fly safely to Russia, his next ally.


Most recently, Russia’s stance on human rights has been revealed by its new law that criminalizes “the promotion of nontraditional sexual relationships to minors…” This law has been a pretext for large scale attacks on the Russian gay community, by both police and ordinary citizens. Time Magazine has also reported on the rampant racism and prejudice towards ethnic minorities in the Russian government. Abroad, the Russian regime continues to send non-chemical arms to a Syrian regime that has killed over one hundred thousand people. This is the same government that eventually offered Edward Snowden asylum, and where he remains to this day.

Snowden has reemerged recently following revelations about NSA spying in Western Europe, most notably on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal phone. Snowden’s November 3rd meeting with a German Green Party politician was followed by growing calls for Germany to offer him asylum. Germany certainly has a checkered history where mass domestic surveillance is concerned. But what about the present? Just after these meetings, Snowden’s own leaks revealed the existence of exactly the same kind of mass telecommunications spying and data collection behaviors within many European spy agencies, including Germany’s Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND). According to a British evaluation of these revelations, the BND had “huge technological potential and good access to the heart of the Internet.”

Why bring all this up? Snowden’s inability (in public appearances, at least) to see the extent to which his accusations apply at least as strongly to his allies (China, Russia, etc.) as his enemies (the United States) is troubling. It may be a good thing that someone with this kind of imbalanced moral compass has removed himself from a position of power in our intelligence forces.

Yet I understand the reasoning: with these leaks, Snowden has put himself in a terrifying position where he, in his own words, “could be rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me. Or any of the third-party partners. They work closely with a number of other nations. Or they could pay off the Triads. Any of their agents or assets…And that’s a fear I’ll live under for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be.” It is the natural step for him to seek the allies that offer the best chances of protection, allowing him to continue as an agent of change.

Any truth he brings is compromised greatly by his seat beside some figures as unconcerned as any about human rights and privacy.

Nothing in this piece is meant to pass judgments on Mr. Snowden’s actions. The lawfulness and morality of what he did vary greatly depending on one’s own general judgments about the principles of our country, that each new public expression of opinion adds nothing to constructive debate. But here is a message to Snowden that I think all can agree on: No parties have clean hands in today’s world of espionage, and you cannot lead a revolution by trading one malevolent overlord for another. The true way to express what is needed about this kind of regime is to exercise civil disobedience, break and expose the unjust laws, and accept the outcomes, unjust as they may be. Mr. Snowden talked in his initial interview as if he was ready for this eventuality, and I wonder if he in fact is.


Taylor Horn is a first-year MSPPM student concentrating on international and security policy. He is currently an analyst in a startup focused on water issues and infrastructure. Prior to this Taylor has worked in international mediation, on political campaigns, and in academic research. He received a bachelor’s degree from Bard College at Simon’s Rock double majoring in Political Science and Theater.





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