by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
Edward Snowden is vilified as a “traitor” by politicians of the American political duopoly, and hunted like Public Enemy Number One by the global imperial apparatus. However, for a large proportion of Earthlings, Snowden has made the singular contribution to humanity of the year 2013.
Freedom Rider: Edward Snowden: Person of the Year
by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
”Snowden is a living litmus test for people who claim to be progressives or supporters of our constitutional rights.”
There is not very much democracy left in America, a country which endlessly brags about how democratic it is. Every now and again we are pleasantly surprised when the people and their interests are served instead of the 1% and their factotums in government. Those moments are few and far between but when they take place it is always because an individual decides to take on the system directly. In 2013 Edward Snowden was the person who risked his freedom to tell every human being with access to modern communications that they were under United States government surveillance.
Snowden was a cog in the very big machine of government defense contractors. Most Americans were not aware that the state intelligence apparatus has been privatized just like education, incarceration and nearly every other sector of society. There are more than 4 million people like Snowden. They have various levels of security clearances and they all have access to some parts of what ought to be private information regarding our lives.
The power of the National Security Agency (NSA) has grown by leaps and bounds ever since the terror attacks which took place on September 11, 2001. The Bush administration wasted no time in dismantling civil liberties and expanding government power through the Patriot Act. Every step he took was supported by both Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress and voices of dissent were too few and far between. Barack Obama made certain to not only keep those powers but to expand them beyond anything that Bush and Dick Cheney had imagined.
Snowden showed that the government not only keeps records of everyone’s phone calls and emails but does so with the help of social media and with every major cell phone carrier. Verizon and Sprint and ATT turn over whatever the government wants. Yahoo and AOL and Gmail are similarly acquiescent. Only Luddites escape the digital dragnet.
”The Obama administration did everything in its power to silence Snowden.”
Not only were individuals targeted but foreign governments as well. Even countries that are America’s allies like Brazil, France and Germany were under the spies’ microscope. The NSA wasn’t content to just spy randomly either. German chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone calls were monitored by the American government. Needless to say this revelation proved problematic for the president. He and Merkel had a heated discussion in which she compared the NSA to the infamous Stasi apparatus in her East German homeland. That moment was surely awkward.
It isn’t surprising that the Obama administration did everything in its power to silence Snowden, including cancelling his passport and even forcing the Bolivian president’s plane to land in the belief that Snowden was on board. Apparently an American’s right to seek asylum doesn’t exist if the president doesn’t want it to.
The Obama administration has been on the defensive from the moment the first revelations were made and when the Russian government granted Snowden temporary asylum, their panic only increased. NSA director James Alexander lied when called to congressional hearings about the extent of surveillance of Americans. Led by Republican Justin Amash, Congress came close, 217 votes to 205, to defunding the NSA domestic surveillance programs. When Glenn Greenwald, one of the journalists responsible for breaking the Snowden story, was scheduled to speak via teleconference before a bi-partisan congressional committee, the president who usually snubs the House of Representatives suddenly decided to show up that very day and forced a cancellation.
”The government not only keeps records of everyone’s phone calls and emails but does so with the help of social media and with every major cell phone carrier.”
Black media pundits have happily joined the Obama administration attack against Snowden. Most famously, Melissa Harris-Perry and Joy Anne Reid showed a willingness to throw Snowden, Wikileaks and the first amendment all under a bus so that Obama might be protected. Snowden is a living litmus test for people who claim to be progressives or supporters of our constitutional rights. There is now a sharply drawn line in the sand and we have Snowden to thank for it.
In recent days federal judge Richard J. Leon dealt a bit of a setback to the Obama administration. In a 68-page decision the judge held that the National Security Agency (NSA) policy of keeping metadata on the phone records of every American was “likely” unconstitutional. The judge also stayed his own injunction and gave the government an opportunity to appeal but this decision is pivotal and vindicates Snowden completely.
Ironically it was a conservative activist, Larry Klayman, whose suit was heard by judge Leon. Klayman argues that Obama is not an American citizen among other fringe right wing theories. He has long been a gadfly to Democratic presidents but his standing on the political spectrum shouldn’t be an issue. If Melissa Harris-Perry, Joy Anne Reid and their MSNBC colleagues were as progressive as they claim, they would have brought a suit against the president. Of course that kind of activism and careers in corporate media don’t mix.
The ruling shows that the need for government damage control is never ending. Edward Snowden continues to be attacked by the corporate media and politicians. The CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes presented a pro-NSA puff piece which appeared coincidentally on the eve of Judge Leon’s ruling.
”Snowden has beaten the Bush/Obama administration at its own game.”
But outside of America Snowden is treated with all the respect he deserves. Legislators in the Brazilian government requested his help in determining the extent of spying in that country. In an open letter to the people of Brazil he explained that his inability to gain permanent asylum in any country makes it impossible for him to work freely as he would like.
Of course the corporate media twisted these simple and easily verified facts into a tale of treason. They falsely said that Snowden offered to spy for Brazil in exchange for being granted asylum. Brazil is among the many nations he asked for asylum but was denied because of pressure from the American government. Now he is being vilified because he again shows the extent of outrage around the world which is directed at the United States.
Edward Snowden succeeded where Chelsea Manning failed. Manning was caught and has succeeded only because the harsh treatment meted out against her shows the depravity of our government. Snowden has beaten the Bush/Obama administration at its own game and in so doing has given people another reason to be hopeful. That impact alone makes him the Person of the Year.
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.