Everyone keeps debating whether Edward Snowden is a patriot or a traitor. But his recent revelations, describing in tantalizing detail the spying on 70 million French phone calls or hacking the phones of Mexican presidents -- remove all doubt on one thing: Snowden has got to shut up.
Since his bombshell revelations first hit in June, the country--and the pundits -- have not really known what to make of Edward Snowden. Is he a whistleblower or a traitor? In a rare moment of bipartisanship, those in D.C. seem to agree on the latter. (If only Snowden were immigration reform...) The pundits are torn -- some even with themselves. The liberal blogosphere has all but accepted his divinity. Public opinion has remained pendulous.
This really isn't hard. All intelligence officers, like all uniformed personnel, federal employees, presidents, etc., must take an oath to protect the U.S. Constitution from enemies both foreign and domestic. Once upon a time Snowden could have been a whistleblower, patriot, hero. Alas, now he is a traitor -- if nothing else, against himself and the American interests which he claims to be defending.
From the beginning Snowden's story was incoherent. A kid in his twenties -- not a career or seasoned employee -- is offered access to seemingly infinite amounts of classified material and somehow absconds with such unnoticed to foreign soil on a whim.
(Incidentally, this is the real story: how the outsourcing of our intelligence community led to such a galactic failure in the national security of the most powerful nation in history that a character more akin to the IT Crowd than James Bond was capable -- undetected and unscathed -- of torpedoing the most ambitious spy program ever conceived.)
But the explanation is no less baffling than the plot. Fed up with what he considered injustice, he decided to take it to the people to spark a national dialogue about privacy. That might have been OK if we hadn't already played this game before. We played it in 2005 when it was leaked that Bush had circumvented FISA, breaking federal law countless times by warrantlessly wiretapping Americans. After reassuring the nation that such surveillance only hit foreign correspondence and was neither recorded nor used for any purpose other than combatting terrorism, in 2006 and 2008 we learned that both claims were false. Snowden's justification is hollow, as America already knew about these programs, and its response has repeatedly been a collective "Meh.""
But this is all beside the point. Any defense of Snowden ended when he kept talking. And, as if hell-bent on crushing all hope of redemption, he keeps providing details.
Only a cartoonishly childlike understanding of diplomacy could conclude that detailing our spying on our allies doesn't hurt our national security. To defend Snowden on the grounds he has avoided disclosing information concerning terrorism, as some have, is as myopic a view of national security as thinking that avoiding U.S. casualties by using drones to kill terrorists already willing to die for their beliefs -- adjacent innocents be damned -- is the best way to combat terrorism. Snowden handed the Guardian and Der Spiegel exquisite details. How does it further a conversation regarding privacy to reveal that the U.S. intercepted 85,489 texts from Peña Nieto's office, or that it illegally tracked financial transactions and bugged European Union offices? Now what happens if the U.S. wants to renegotiate trade with Mexico, or needs EU nations' help making environmental policy in the UN? Snowden just made everything incredibly more difficult.
Of course allies spy on each other, just as couples fight. Adults try not to fight publicly so that people don't get the wrong idea, let alone broadcast it to billions. Whether the outrage of world leaders is genuine or Renault-esque, in the face of such public embarrassment they must save face. This usually means some form of action against our government. Explain again how this helps the interests of the United States, or that precious dialogue which Snowden hopes to facilitate.
The continued disclosure of details belies Snowden's oft-repeated claim that this is all for the greater good. If we already knew that we were data-mining inconceivable amounts of information, not just on Americans but on everyone everywhere, the revelation of exactly on whom and by what means we spied offers delicious tidbits without providing any useful insights. Hearing how many of Calderon's emails the NSA hacked is not news, but porn -- and at this point anyone who still compares Snowden to Franklin might as well assert that TMZ wields the same gravitas as The Economist or Foreign Policy. The important question has never been whether Snowden is a selfless patriot or a narcissistic nihilist. It is how we convince him to stop.