Edward Snowden: Traitor or Patriot?

The society convened for the first debate this semester to discuss a recent and pressing issue, that of Resolved: Edward Snowden is a traitor, not a patriot. Keynoting for the affirmation was Ms. Amanda Wynter (COL’ 14) of Florida. Speaking for the negation was Vice President Patrick Spagnuolo (SFS ’14) of New York.

Ms. Wynter began her speech by outlining the requisites to patriotism: a hatred for one’s country when it is mediocre, but a love for one’s country that induces a desire to see it succeed. In taking the illegal and sensationalist route to expose the NSA’s controversial programs, Edward Snowden expressed no such intention to better the United States, instead himself resorting to undemocratic methods. In avoiding trial, exposing foreign intelligence, and taking refuge in Russia and China, not themselves beacons of free speech and liberty, Snowden revealed himself as a traitor to both America and its values. Mr. Spagnuolo opened with a Thomas Paine quote: “The duty of a patriot is to protect his country from its government.” Identifying a particularly hostile recent environment towards whistleblowers, Mr. Spagnuolo asserted that “Edward Snowden did not abandon the U.S.: the U.S. abandoned him.” Snowden bore witness to three million privacy violations, instances of the American government breaking its promise to its people, and rightly believed that the public has the right to make an informed decision on the integrity of the NSA’s surveillance programs. In a broken system that doesn’t uphold its promises, patriots need not be perfect or be martyrs to still be patriots.

Mr. Taylor Willis (SFS ’16) asserted that the American government is not the monolithic, omnipotent entity that the negation had painted it to be but rather collecting data on terrorists that, now exposed, can no longer do its job of protecting the United States’ national security. Mr. Agree Ahmed (SFS ’16) listed past policies intended to protect U.S. citizens that violated rights and liberties, including Japanese internment camps, the Alien and Sedition Acts, and the Patriot Act. Snowden, he said, showed a commitment to privacy that is too often forgotten along with other elementary values of our democracy. Mr. Michael Mouch (SFS ’15) pointed out that modern-day America values national security above any other rights or liberties, thus Snowden, in betraying national security, betrayed the United States as it stands today. Mr. Jacob Arber (SFS ’14) contested that the U.S. in fact values many more ephemeral things than national security, drawing a link between “Philodemic”, love for people, and the duties of a patriot: to act out of love for their country’s people. Where the NSA violated this love for its citizens, Snowden acted upon it.

Mr. Greg Miller (SFS ’14) listed the plethora of duties Snowden betrayed: duty to law, duty to oath, and moral duty, asserting that the whistleblower’s actions betrayed both his people and his government. Mr. Evan Monod (COL ’14) argued that, on the contrary, Snowden doled out to the American public a much-needed dose of reality: twelve years past the attacks and fear of September 11th, we can no longer continue to relinquish any and all rights in the name of national security. That decision must be the result of open and honest public dialogue. Ms. Emily Coccia (COL’ 15) argued that had Snowden wished to reform the United States, he should have taken legal routes and stood trial, rather than leaking excessive foreign intelligence not pertaining to the average American citizen. Mr. Warren Wilson (SFS ’15) responded by arguing that “justice does not come from the punishments of an unjust state.” Duty to humanity trumps duty to country, and in betraying the latter Snowden upheld the former.

Ms. Hannah Muldavin (COL ’15)  questioned why we would not do everything in our power to prevent terrorism, pointing out that fear of attacks is not without merit. Ms. Colleen Wood (SFS ’14) argued that a current prioritization of national security does not mean there can’t be a renewed focus on liberty, and in fact there should be. Snowden acted in his country’s best interest by inspiring that shift. Ms. Tia Baheri (SFS ’16) pointed out that although Edward Snowden’s actios were positive in that they brought PRISM and NSA surveillence to our attention, that does not make him a patriot, for patriotism involves self-sacrifice. Ms. Shalina Chatlani (SFS ’17) was the first to point out that our country was founded and made independent by patriots who fought to defend the very values Edward Snowden acted upon: creating a government that does not overreach into its citizens’ affairs. Mr. Patrick Eisen (SFS ’17) pointed out that PRISM collected metadata rather than specific details of phone calls, and encouraged the society to trust in Congress’ devotion to the U.S. in approving the NSA’s actions. Mr. Andrew Shaugnnessy (SFS ’16) cautioned against the casual use of the word “traitor,” emphasizing that traitorous action involves deliberate work against American interests, something Snowden did not pursue.

Ms. Julia Christensen (COL ’15) argued that Mr. Snowden’s leaks included far more data than the American public needed to know, thereby threatening national security, making him a traitor. Mr. Gavin Bade (SFS ’14) pointed out that historically, grassroots movements are consistently successful vehicles for change, arguing that constant government surveillance impedes these movements from ever taking hold. President Peter Prindiville (SFS ’14) argued that a patriot “believes in his or her country enough to take action within its context… One who believes his government’s structure is right.” In going outside of this structure and aiding the enemy by revealing PRISM’s foreign intelligence, Edward Snowden is a traitor. Ms. Heather Regen (SFS ’14) asserted that although Snowden is neither fully a patriot nor a traitor, the press’s decision to withhold potentially damaging information from the public eye meant that the effects of Snowden’s actions were more helpful than harmful.

Mr. Will Downes (COL ’11) countered that Snowden’s response to the NSA programs was disproportionate and he acted as a traitor in “taking it upon himself to solve everything in one sweeping motion.” Mr. Downes concluded by wishing everyone in the room, especially the newcomers, a wonderful four years ahead in the Philodemic and at Georgetown. Mr. Shom Mazumder (SFS ’15) asked the society to consider what, exactly, Snowden betrayed if he acted as a traitor. Mr. Mazumder concluded that although Snowden betrayed the state, “the state does not define America. Edward Snowden is a patriot for a community that transcends the state.” Ms. Abigail Grace (SFS ’16) argued that Snowden’s beady eyes revealed his true character as a traitor to the United States. Mr. Chris DiMisa (SFS ’15) warned that the United States government is just one slippery slope away from descending into an omnipotent and omniscient surveillance state, and the government ought to give the public the right to debate these programs. Mr. Stromeyer (SFS ’14) defended PRISM, pointing out that it is overseen by all three government branches and has prevented terrorist attacks. Snowden cannot be a patriot without supporting his government’s authority and best interests.

To conclude the debate and returning to the keynote speakers, Mr. Spagnuolo again emphasized our right as citizens to know the full extent of how, what, and why the aforementioned NSA programs oversee. If Edward Snowden feels like God, as was brought up by many an affirmation floor speech, it is because the U.S. government made him God by entrusting him and very few others with this wealth of information. Mr. Spagnuolo emphasized that had Snowden wanted to, he had it within his abilities to destroy the United States with all of the information he had access to: yet he did not. “Edward Snowden may have made some mistakes, but he gave us the chance to engage in conversation and have our voices heard, and for that, he is a patriot.” Ms. Wynter opened her closing speech by reminding the society that our government is there to protect us. Had the NSA not been overseeing as much metadata as it was, various terrorist attacks would have been carried out that were instead foiled. The government has a right to privacy, because we the public cannot handle all of the issues our government handles, and so in being somewhat oblivious we are protected. “A patriot has to love their country enough to see it change, not exploit it just to see the world burn.”

The society voted 40 – 43 to negate, with 11 abstentions, supporting Edward Snowden as a patriot. Huzzah to a wonderful start to the new year!


Madeleine M. Ringwald

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