He became famous – or infamous – when he leaked a plethora of documents to several newspapers and journalists about the US federal government’s surveillance of its citizens.
It created controversy because the program targeted civilians like you and me (probably including you and me) and recorded phone calls, emails, and Internet history of millions of Americans. The searches were conducted without warrants and without probable cause.
After leaking the documents, he fled the country to avoid prosecution for leaking classified information. Meanwhile, the scandal split both parties, with sizable factions from each party coming out in both support and opposition to the NSA’s actions.
This summer, on June 23rd, I was sitting with my fellow summer missionaries in the International terminal at O’Hare killing time during my layover before getting on a flight to Russia when my eyes landed on a TV where CNN was broadcasting the breaking news: SNOWDEN IN MOSCOW AIRPORT.
What?! Edward Snowden, the nerdy bureaucrat turned expatriate whistle-blower, happened to be headed to Russia the same day as me? The coincidence was flattering.
But as I stood there, some real concerns came to mind, “What if Russia hands him over to the US?” “What if this sours already-tense relations with Russia and we have another cold war?” and more selfishly, “With all this drama, will they even let us into the country?”
For the first time since Katrina, a news story intersected with my life deeply and visibly, threatening to alter my direction by force.
Being in Russia in the weeks that followed gave me the unique opportunity to see how critical this story really is. I was in a very low-media zone while in Russia. I heard barely a whisper of “Justice for Trayvon” or revolution in Egypt, but I met plenty of Russians who wanted to talk about Snowden.
Being abroad during this saga taught me something that I do not think I would have grasped in the US. Our current predicament is NOT your run-of-the-mill scandal.
It is easy to get jaded and say, “I don’t care that the government spies on me or that the IRS audits based on politics or that the government does any of these other sketchy things. What difference does it make?”
But this one does make a difference to all of us, not just a news junkie like me.
While this scandal-a-month administration wants to sweep Snowden under the rug like so many other stories, this one will not go away. Why? Because the world is watching. Not America. Not the important voting blocs. The world.
Russians asked me persistently how Americans were reacting to the news that their government spied on them, not to mention the Russian government now being embroiled in a diplomatic quagmire.
US allies like Germany and Australia have all made statements showing absolute shock and revulsion at the NSA’s monitoring. (These countries do not even blink at normal scandals.)
Nations like China are pointing to this as an example of US hypocrisy on human rights, and they are correct to do so. By redefining how we relate to these countries, these events are literally changing the world.
Our government does things on public record all the time that would disgust the average American if they were well-publicized, but this one is different. It puts us at a crossroads.
Everyone has heard about this. Every major newspaper in America and the world has covered it relentlessly. Snowden’s face is everywhere. Laws that govern our country are changing as you read this in response to this event. We cannot plead ignorance on this one. So what will you do?
Anyone who knows me will know what path I would suggest. But that is just my opinion, and this is not about me. It is about all of us Americans. We will come to a decision as a society.
Don’t let that decision be apathy and ignorance. My suggestion would be, above all else, to know what is happening. Really, really know what is going on.
Do you know the scale of the NSA scandal? Do you know if what they did was legal or not? Do you know how your Congressmen voted on the legislation that made it possible? Do they support civil liberties? What about the “terrorism” exception to the fourth amendment?
During this critical tipping point in our path, we must know these things. That will mean going beyond the passive consumption of the sensational, sound-bit-driven TV news and their websites. (Their motivation is high ratings for advertisements, and they simply are not covering the most important facts of the issue.)
You will have to find real, hard facts from credible newspapers and watchdog organizations that will give you the full story. You will have to earn your status as an informed citizen.
Edward Snowden sacrificed his career, his future, his identity, and his homeland for us, so that we could to know what our government is doing. Do not waste that sacrifice. I ask you, I beg you — get informed.
– Alex Hendry, Contributing Writer