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July 20th / 21st, 2013

"Edward Snowden: Hero or Villain?"

Edward Snowden A few days ago Bradley Manning's legal defense team rested their case. Lest we forget, three years ago Manning, then an Army PFC, leaked sensitive government information to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who then posted the secrets for all to see. Thanks to Manning and Assange, we now know that President Obama poured money and troops into Afghanistan even after learning that Afghan President Karzai had skimmed a fortune from American developers, led a regime which was fueled by the narcotics industry, and was described by Obama's own diplomat as an unreliable paranoid wreck. This was information the American people should have been told before we sent $120 Billion dollars and 100,000 troops to Afghanistan, in what former US diplomat Peter Galbraith told CNN was an "immoral and unwinnable mission".

Coincidentally, PFC Manning was coming to the end of his legal journey last week, just as another whistle blower was beginning his trials and tribulations. Edward Snowden is the former Defense Department contract employee who leaked government documents to The Guardian newspaper which revealed, among other things, that the Obama administration has been and still is engaged in widespread, systematic surveillance of innocent American citizens. That includes having warrantless access to our phone records and internet activity.

Under a provision of the ill-conceived Patriot Act, the government has, for example, persuaded Verizon, AT&T, and BellSouth to hand over customer information, including the time, location, and duration of our phone calls. Meanwhile, the government's PRISM program collects and store massive amounts of private data from Facebook, Google, Skype, and other companies, including email content and search histories. The implication of this activity is frightening to say the least, because the government can access our private information from telephone records and social networks without cause, much less a court order.

4th Amendment rights advocates are understandably concerned. According to Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, Snowden told the Guardian, "I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded". Neither do I. Sure I want my government to be able to track down terrorists, listen to their phone calls, and monitor their internet usage. But in the good old days, law enforcement agencies did their job by first obtaining a warrant. Not so anymore.

To rub salt in our 4th Amendment wounds, not only is the government invading our privacy, but White House officials are doing so with arrogance and lack of remorse. During a Congressional hearing last month, National Intelligence Director Jack Clapper was asked why NSA needed to surveil every phone number in America. Said Clapper, "You have to start somewhere". This, by the way, is the same man who lied to Congress back in March, telling them that the NSA did not collect data on millions of Americans.

Unfortunately Clapper's behavior is endemic of Obama's approach to governance, which has come to resemble the tactics of Bush and Cheney more than the "hope and change" agenda he campaigned on. In his first term alone, Obama cut a private deal with Big Pharma to keep affordable meds from being imported. He sent troops to fight or police more countries than had his predecessor. He did nothing to fix our trade imbalances. He has failed to bring Wall Street crooks to justice or reform our banking system. He has lacked oversight of an out-of-control IRS, and now, with the help of NSA, he has morphed from Soulful Brother into 'Big Brother'.

For many liberals and Obama supporters, The Snowden revelations were the straw that broke the camel's back. Not surprisingly, anti Obama and anti NSA activists have taken to the streets to protest government abuses of power. Meanwhile, the ACLU has filed suit against NSA, and Freedom Watch USA has begun litigating against the government, as well as private companies like Face Book, Skype, and Google, who have released customer information.

The White House has tried to paint Mr. Snowden as a traitor and a spy, forcing him into exile in order to escape certain prison time. But increasingly, Americans aren't buying the government line. In a recent poll by Quinnipiac University, nearly 56% of people saw Snowden as a whistle blower rather than a traitor. And, that number would probably be higher except for the occasionally goofy things Snowden does, like seeking asylum in Russia after saying he doesn't want to live in a place that spies on its own citizens. Nevertheless we owe Snowden a debt of gratitude for exposing the hypocrisy of government. Ironically, the President owes Snowden something too. He campaigned on a platform of transparency, and now, thanks to Snowden, we can see right through Mr. Obama.