After the blown whistle

Well, at least we won’t need another big, bad Department of Justice investigation for this leak. Eric Holder can call off the dogs — the man behind the National Security Agency (NSA) leak has stepped forward himself and saved us all that money.

Edward Snowden, 29-year-old former CIA technician, now an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, has openly acknowledged that he is reporter Glenn Greenwald’s source, the man who told The Guardian about the massive collection of phone records and Internet communications by the NSA, all in the name of what we used to call “the war on terror.”

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Snowden knows he will be prosecuted for his actions. But he, naively perhaps, decided to reveal his identify because he believes he did nothing wrong. He says he carefully calculated which documents to leak and which not to, releasing only those that were “legitimately in the public interest” and would put no lives in danger. “There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over,” he said in a video statement, “because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.” 

And Snowden left no doubts on why he did what he did: “I can’t in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom, and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”

So now that we know who the whistle-blower is, the only remaining question is: What should happen to him? That, of course, should depend, at least in part, on the impact of his actions. Did he, in fact, put any lives at risk? Did he jeopardize our national security? Or did he simply inform the American people about something we should have known about all along? Is Edward Snowden, in other words, the next Daniel Ellsberg or the next Benedict Arnold? 

It’s hard to make the case that our national security is threatened by what’s been reported in The Guardian and The Washington Post. After all, leaders of both parties in Congress admit they’ve known about the massive data collection for years and support it. The president defends it. And the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has approved it. Everybody, it seems, knew the government was snooping on our phone calls and emails — except you and me. And why not? That’s the more important question. We all recognize the need to sacrifice some of our privacy to keep us safe. We know about and accept surveillance cameras on city streets, for example. Why didn’t we know the government was also keeping a record of every phone call we make and every email we send?

Snowden summed it up best: “This is the truth. This is what’s happening. You should decide whether we need to be doing this.” I have decided. We don’t need to be doing this. But if we are, we Americans deserve to know about it.

As for Snowden, don’t put him in prison. Erect a statue to him on the National Mall as an American patriot.

Press is host of “The Full-Court Press” on Current TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.