Speed Reads

Snowden!

It doesn't matter how much Edward Snowden complained to the NSA before leaking its secrets

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NSA leaker Edward Snowden and the Obama administration are having a public spat over how much Snowden protested agency surveillance to his NSA bosses before going rogue and leaking government secrets to a handful of reporters. At issue is whether Snowden is a "whistleblower" or, I guess, a traitor.

In his NBC News interview, Snowden insisted that he had "raised the complaints not just officially in writing through email to these offices and these individuals but to my supervisors, to my colleagues, in more than one office." In reply, the NSA released, through Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) office, the one email it says it has from Snowden expressing any concern: an April 2013 exchange with the NSA Office of General Counsel in which Snowden asked only if executive orders can supersede federal laws. (No.)

Snowden responded to The Washington Post, insisting that the email is a "clearly tailored and incomplete leak today for a political advantage." He suggested the NSA "ask my former colleagues, management, and the senior leadership team about whether I, at any time, raised concerns about the NSA's improper and at times unconstitutional surveillance activities." But if Snowden has copies of any such correspondence, he didn't offer to produce them.

In the end, it doesn't really matter how much he protested. What matters is what he did afterward. Is Snowden a whistleblower? Yes, when it comes to domestic eavesdropping, he almost certainly is — the NSA's own modifications since Snowden's leaks all but confirm that the agency was over-reaching.

But Snowden also leaked classified and truly damaging information about how the NSA collects intelligence overseas — which is its job. That's not whistle-blowing, unless you believe that the Kremlin and China deserve to know how America plays the spy game, without any corresponding leaks from their side. If Snowden's a whistleblower, he's also been a wrecking ball to America's foreign policy, both clandestine and in the diplomatic realm. Call that what you will.