I've had a couple of days to reflect after arriving back from Moscow where my whistleblower colleagues Coleen Rowley, Jesselyn Radack, Tom Drake and I formally presented former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden with the annual Sam Adams Associates award for integrity in intelligence.
The thought that companioned me the entire time was the constant admonition of my Irish grandmother: "Show me your company, and I'll tell you who you are!" I cannot remember ever feeling so honored as I did by the company I kept over the past week.
That includes, of course, Snowden himself, WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison (and "remotely" Julian Assange) who, together with Russian civil rights lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, helped arrange the visit, and – last but not least – the 3,000 Internet transparency/privacy activists at OHM2013 near Amsterdam, whom Tom, Jesselyn, Coleen and I addressed in early August and who decided to crowd-source our travel. (See: "In the Whistleblower Chalet" by Silkie Carlo)
As representatives of Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, we were in Moscow last Wednesday not only to honor Snowden with the award for integrity, but also to remind him (and ourselves) that we all stand on the shoulders of patriots who have gone before and pointed the way.
Because of speaking commitments he could not break, Pentagon Papers truth-teller Dan Ellsberg, whom Henry Kissinger called "the most dangerous man in America" and who in 1971 was vilified as acidly as Ed Snowden is being vilified now, could be with us only in spirit. He did send along with us for Ed the video of the award-winning documentary that uses Kissinger's epithet as its title, together with Dan's book Secrets, in which he had inscribed a very thoughtful note.
Ellsberg's note thanked Snowden for his adroit – and already partially successful – attempt to thwart what Snowden has called "turnkey tyranny," that is the terrifying prospect of a surveillance-driven government tyranny ready to go with the simple turn of a key.
Two at our table – Ed Snowden and Tom Drake – enjoy with Dan the dubious distinction of having been charged with espionage under the draconian Espionage Act of 1917 that is so much favored by the administration of President Barack Obama and other zealous protectors of the national security state and its multitude of secrets.
Call me naïve, but I had no sense that I was cavorting with treasonous criminals. Rather, it seemed crystal clear that Ed Snowden is simply the current embodiment of people so castigated when they feel compelled to speak out, as Ed did, against gross violations of the Fourth Amendment.
Compelled? Well, yes, compelled. Those of us like Snowden, who took a solemn oath "to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic" recognize that our oath has no "expiration date."
During interviews, I found it easy to put the Snowden disclosures into perspective regarding the seriousness of the Bush and Obama administration crimes against the Fourth Amendment by simply reciting that key part of our now-fractured Bill of Rights; it's just one sentence:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper may be able to tell Congress with impunity (in his own words) "clearly erroneous" things, but neither he, nor his duplicitous sidekick NSA Director Keith Alexander, nor complicit Senators and Representatives, nor the President himself can easily bend the Fourth Amendment that far out of shape once people read the text.
And that, of course, explains why co-conspirators in Congress like House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein call the kettle black by branding Snowden a "traitor." And it is also why former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden and House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers indicate publicly, as they did two weeks ago, that they would like to see Snowden's name added to the infamous "Kill List" for the President's approval.
That list renders the Fifth Amendment "quaint and obsolete," the words used by George W. Bush's White House counsel Alberto Gonzales when troublesome legal restrictions might otherwise impinge on what the White House wished to do.
At our dinner with Ed Snowden, Coleen Rowley reminded him that his willingness to expose injustice fit in with a patriotic tradition modeled by Founders like Benjamin Franklin even before the American Revolution.
Coleen recounted how Benjamin Franklin got himself in deep trouble in 1773, when he acquired and released confidential letters from the British governor of Massachusetts to the Crown showing that the colonial authorities did not think the American colonists should enjoy the same rights as British citizens in England. Franklin was fired from his post as Postmaster General and called a traitor and every other name in the book – many of them the same epithets hurled at Snowden.
More poignant still was a reading from Albert Camus beautifully rendered aloud by Jesselyn Radack, who related some of Camus writings to Snowden's testimony (earlier read on his behalf by Jesselyn) to the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs on Sept. 30.
Snowden wrote: "The work of a generation is beginning here, with your hearings, and you have the full measure of my gratitude and support."
What follows is how Jesselyn Radack presented the quotes from Camus:
Edward Snowden, you are in good company. "The Wager of Our Generation" is how Albert Camus described what you have called "The Work of a Generation," when he spoke of a similar challenge in 1957, the year he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. And the similarity between Snowden and Camus does not end there. The official Nobel Prize citation praised Camus for "his clear-sighted earnestness illuminating the problems of the human conscience of our times."
In 1957, Camus expressed hope in "the quality of the new generation and its increased unwillingness to adopt slogans or ideologies and to return to more tangible values." He wrote: "We have nothing to lose except everything. So let's go ahead. This is the wager of our generation. If we are to fail, it is better, in any case, to have stood on the side of those who refuse to be dogs and are resolved to pay the price that must be paid so that man can be something more than a dog."
Camus rejected what he called the "the paltry privileges granted to those who adapt themselves to this world," adding that, "those individuals who refuse to give in will stand apart, and they must accept this. Personally, I have never wanted to stand apart. For there is a sort of solitude, which is certainly the harshest thing our era forces upon us. I feel its weight, believe me. But, nevertheless, I should not want to change eras, for I know and respect the greatness of this one. Moreover, I have always thought that the maximum danger implied the maximum hope."
In December 1957, the month he won the Nobel Prize, Camus strongly warned against inaction: "Remaining aloof has always been possible in history. When people did not approve, they could always keep silent or talk of something else. Today everything is changed and even silence has dangerous implications."
And concrete dangers – like "turnkey tyranny."
A key figure in the French Resistance, Camus in July 1943 published a "Letter to German Friend," which began as follows: "You said to me: 'The greatness of my country [Germany] is beyond price. Anything is good that contributes to its greatness. Those who, like us young Germans, are lucky enough to find a meaning in the destiny of our nation must sacrifice everything else.'
"'No,' I told you, 'I cannot believe that everything must be subordinate to a single end. There are means that cannot be excused. And I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice. I don't want for my country a greatness born of blood and falsehood. I want to keep it alive by keeping justice alive.' You retorted, 'Well, then you don't love your country.'"
Edward, that may have a familiar ring to you. But, of course, the truth is the very opposite. Let us take one more cue from Albert Camus, who emphasized that, "Truth needs witnesses."
We are honored, Edward, to be here at this time and place to be your witnesses. You have the full measure of our gratitude and support.
End of Jesselyn Radack's presentation.
People have been telling me how eloquent Ed Snowden was in responding to the award. And although DemocracyNow! hosted us for 40 minutes on Monday, we four did not have time to point to small, but significant, things like the fact Ed's remarks were totally ad lib; he did not know he would be asked to give remarks until I whispered it to him right after Tom Drake presented him with the traditional Sam Adams corner-brightener candlestick holder.
One of the things that impressed me most was Ed's emphasis on the "younger generation" he represents – typically those who have grown up with the Internet – who have (scarcely-fathomable-to-my-generation) technical expertise and equally remarkable dedication to keeping it free – AND have a conscience. My first personal exposure to the depth, breadth and importance of this critical mass of those often dismissed as "hackers" came at the OHM2013 conference outside of Amsterdam in early August.
The James Clappers and Keith Alexanders of this world simply CANNOT do what they see as their job of snooping on the lot of us on this planet without this incredibly talented and dedicated generation. They CANNOT; and so they are in deep kimchi. If only a small percentage of this young generation have the integrity and courage of an Ed Snowden, the prospect is dim that repressive measures in violation of citizens' rights previously taken for granted can succeed for very long without full disclosure.
That is the good news. And with each new Snowden-enabled disclosure of infringements on our liberties, it becomes more likely that an awakened public will create sustained pressure for restoration of our Constitutional rights, and for holding accountable those senior government officials who have crassly violated those rights, and continue to violate Ed Snowden's rights simply because he made it possible for us to know the truth.