Cliff May

If the attacks of 9/11 taught us anything, it’s that we must connect the dots. But before we can connect the dots, we must collect the dots. Those railing against the National Security Agency don’t seem to get that.

On the other hand, it’s difficult to fault anyone for being troubled by the government’s tendency to accrue power and erode freedoms. As the Canadian author George Jonas instructed me in an e-mail: “Fido guards the chicken coop but likes to taste chicken no less than the fox.”

This is an important debate, one that Edward Snowden has energized — among the reasons the New York Times on the left and Senator Rand Paul on the right think he deserves leniency. I’m not persuaded. Government employees and contractors take an oath to protect the secrets entrusted to them. If Snowden believed the NSA’s intelligence gathering crossed a line, he could have gone to the agency’s inspector general, to members of Congress, or to a serious and responsible journalist. Instead, he stole hundreds of thousands of secret documents and divulged many of them (evidently not all, at least not yet) knowing full well that America’s worst enemies would be among the recipients.

His disclosures reveal no practices not overseen by the executive branch, Congress, and the courts — and none that clearly violates the law. He did not emulate civil-rights activists by committing an act of civil disobedience and then accepting the judgment of a jury. Instead, he has sought refuge from oppressive regimes. For these and other reasons, Snowden does not deserve to be called a whistleblower. He is not a victim. And he is certainly no hero.

He does, however, fancy himself something of a philosopher. In a message broadcast on British television last month, the 30-year-old exile sorrowfully instructs the world that “a child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll [sic] never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves — an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. Privacy matters; privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.”

First, no one’s thoughts are being recorded and analyzed by the NSA. Second, many celebrities have much less privacy than you and I. Do you really think that makes it impossible for Kim Kardashian to determine who she is and who she wants to be?

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.