Donald Hank
Definition drift in the Ed Snowden case
By Donald Hank
July 4, 2013

Most Americans still associate the idea of illegal informants or spies with people like the Rosenbergs, who leaked nuclear secrets to the Soviets. Indeed, articles on famous spies before about 1970 show that most high profile cases were working for the Soviets.

Thus, before the 70s, a spy was generally thought of as a person who shared secrets, often military, with a perceived enemy who could be expected to use those secrets to harm America, and the expected or potential harm was usually of a military nature.

After the Espionage Act of 1971 was passed, the unofficial definition of "espionage" and "spy" started to shift subliminally in the minds of Americans, along with the unofficial definition of "enemy," in keeping with the granting of Most Favored Nation status to China. In the broadest terms, the shift could be described as being away from freedom and toward government tyranny.

Of the ten accused informants under this act, none were said to have spied for the Soviet Union, only one, Bradley Manning, allegedly leaked information that may have compromised the safety of American and allied military personnel and one, Jeffrey Sterling, allegedly leaked information about US planned sabotage of the Iranian nuclear program, which could have perhaps enabled the Iranians to develop a nuclear weapon somewhat earlier. These three could have arguably compromised our security.

The others, however, disclosed classified details, mostly to reporters, that in the Old America, We the people would have felt entitled to know.

Daniel Ellsberg, for example, was accused in 1971 of leaking documents detailing US participation in the Vietnam War. Can one envisage a free people not being privy to details on the participation of its nation in a war? Particularly if there may be something questionable about that participation?

NSA employee Thomas Drake was accused in 2010 of leaking details to the Baltimore Sun of what he deemed to be unlawful eavesdropping on the public by the Obama administration.

CIA asset John Kiriakou was accused in 2012 of leaking details of waterboarding torture to ABC News. Any harm to our security resulting from this leak would be minimal to imaginary.

As these examples show, the public is slowly being indoctrinated by the government to accept a new definition of "espionage," which has gradually gone essentially from "providing military information to an enemy" to "divulging information on government wrongdoing to the American public." To spell this out as plainly as possible: The newly defined "spy" provides the US public with information that the government believes they should not be privy to, not because this knowledge might harm Americans but because it might rightfully cause the public to see the government in a bad light and therefore wish to change that government. In the Old America, the desire to change a bad or tyrannical government was protected and espionage laws did not attempt to criminalize anyone for kindling that desire by leaking information relating to government wrongdoing.

Many Americans have accepted this new dangerously skewed unofficial definition, apparently without even noticing the change.

Even commentators generally seen as "conservative," like Barry Farber, for example, fail to see the paradigm change, ie, the shift in the definition of espionage, and conflate people like Snowden, a man acting illegally per his conscience, with past spies for the Soviet Union, most of whom worked for money and compromised the security of Americans in a quantifiable way.

Snowden gave up a $200,000/yr job to disclose to the public the unlawful activities of the current administration and there is no evidence of any remuneration.

One of the charges aimed at Ed Snowden by people thinking of themselves as "conservatives" is related to the perceived loss of US prestige. Thus, they claim that thanks to Snowden's disclosure of the vast extent of the Obama administration's spying, foreign countries may stop seeing the US as that shining city on the hill.

Many of these same conservatives complained in 2008 that the Germans in Berlin flocked to listen to Obama, regarding him as a savior without vetting his Marxist past.

Yet today, these same "conservatives" call Snowden a "traitor" because he is supposedly tarnishing our collective reputation as a nation, undermining the unwarranted trust they had in our government. They are conflating the scandal ridden Obama administration's reputation with that of the US itself.

In their estimation, then, telling the truth about a lawless administration is tantamount to treachery. The definition shift was a success

Yet, it is reasonable to expect that, as an indirect result of Snowden's disclosures, the US media, reluctant to criticize Obama heretofore, could be nudged by foreign news reporters and governments to do their job.

While embarrassing at first, eventually this pressure from foreign journalists and governments could force their US counterparts to get back on the job of being the Fourth Estate – instead of shilling for the first three. Already French President Hollande has expressed outrage over the NSA's snooping on phone calls and emails involving French citizens. Angela Merkel has called it 'unacceptable.'

While you might say that Snowden's leaks have strained foreign relations a bit, the fact remains that our home press, which had once generously ignored the administration's misdeeds, is now obliged to report these condemnatory statements of foreign leaders that besmirch the Democrat brand before midterm elections.

Call him a hero, call him a traitor, but Ed Snowden has shone light where the light was desperately needed.

© Donald Hank


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Donald Hank

Until July of 2009, Don Hank was operating a technical translation agency out of his home in Wrightsville, PA. He is now retired and residing in Panama with his wife and daughter.

A former language teacher, he holds an undergraduate degree in French and German from Millersville State University (PA), a Master's degree in Russian language and literature from Kutztown State College (also in PA), has studied Chinese for 3 years in Taiwan at the Mandarin Training Center, and is self-taught in other languages, having logged a total of 8 years abroad in total immersion situations.

He is also the founder of Lancaster-York Non-Custodial Parents, a volunteer organization that provides Christian counseling for non-custodial parents.


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