Edward Snowden: National Security Agency leaker, political refugee, and now, Nobel Peace Prize nominee.
Yes, a pair of Norwegian politicians have nominated the former NSA contractor turned whistleblower for the prestigious award. In a joint statement released Wednesday, the two politicians, Baard Vegar Solhjell and Snorre Valen, wrote that Snowden deserves the award because his leaks have "contributed to a more stable and peaceful world order."
To be sure, a nomination isn't in itself too significant. There were a record 259 nominees last year, and thousands of people worldwide, including national lawmakers and many professors, can freely nominate someone for the award. Hence, controversial figures like Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Putin have been put up for consideration in the past.
Still, Snowden's nomination is notable given his prominent role in exposing America's controversial spying operations, which then set off an international conversation on the subject.
So could he really win the award?
Snowden did, after all, expose some legally dubious practices that would otherwise have remained under wraps. Though intelligence officials and the White House have defended the programs as legal, a federal judge ruled that at least one component — the collection of domestic phone metadata — was "likely unconstitutional."
Moreover, it's all but certain that, without Snowden, Obama never would have launched his review of the NSA. Though the reforms he's proposed are somewhat weak, and contain one huge loophole, the fact that he conducted a review is nonetheless a victory for critics of the government's massive spy ops.
In that light, Snowden is a "patriot," says the American Civil Liberties Union's executive director, Anthony D. Romero, because he "single-handedly reignited a global debate about the extent and nature of government surveillance and our most fundamental rights as individuals."
This is not the first time we've seen this argument.
Former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) made a similar claim last year to tout the candidacy of another infamous secret-leaker: Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning. While Obama, a Nobel Prize winner himself, was "starting and expanding unconstitutional wars overseas," Paul said, Manning "was shining light on the truth behind these wars."
"It's clear which individual has done more to promote peace," he added.
The big argument against Snowden's candidacy is the same criticism that's been leveled against him all along: His unilateral action shredded America's intelligence capabilities, endangering national security and people's lives.
"If any individual who objects to government policy can take it into their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy," Obama said earlier this month.
A recent Pentagon assessment determined, without offering specifics, that the leaks had harmed U.S. security. And in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, claimed that Snowden had done "profound damage" and a created a "perfect storm" that aided terrorists and endangered Americans.
"Terrorists and other allies have gone to school," he said.
Though they obviously don't have a say in the voting, six in 10 Americans hold that opinion as well, according to a recent survey.
The rejoinder from Snowden's supporters is that, given the intelligence community's propensity to overhype the effectiveness of its tools, it could be exaggerating the damage done by Snowden's leaks, too. Clapper did, after all, initially lie to Congress about the existence of the phone metadata program, something for which he later apologized.
Taking the middle road in that debate, the Norwegian duo argue that, even though Snowden may have done some harm, he has nonetheless "made a critical contribution to restoring [the] balance" between security and liberty.
"There is no doubt that the actions of Edward Snowden may have damaged the security interests of several nations in the short term. We do not necessarily condone or support all of his disclosures. We are, however, convinced that the public debate and changes in policy that have followed in the wake of Snowden's whistleblowing has contributed to a more stable and peaceful world order. His actions have in effect led to the reintroduction of trust and transparency as a leading principle in global security policies. Its value can't be overestimated." [Sv.no]
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Why torture doesn't work: A definitive guide
- Why the Sony hack changes everything
- Hey, bosses: Stop giving bonuses to your employees
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- You should be furious about Hollywood's gutless retreat on The Interview
- Capitalism isn't a cure-all for Cuba
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
Subscribe to the Week