Edward Snowden and the Meaning of the Espionage Act Post 9-11
June 25, 2013
R. Tamara de Silva
The point of demarcation between speech, whistleblowing and espionage has in some instances the aspects of a razor’s edge.
Edward Snowden’s criminal complaint under the Espionage Act was unsealed last Friday. The Espionage Act has only been used three times since it became law during WWI. In just five years, President Obama has used it eight additional times to prosecute whistleblowers under an elastic and theoretically boundless definition of what constitutes national security. Since 2009, the Espionage Act has been used against whistleblowers more than in all other Presidential administrations in the past 90 years combined.
Whether one thinks Edward Snowden is a traitor for exposing a clandestine wiretap dragnet of Americans and foreigners, or a patriot for exposing a truth that may not otherwise ever become known to his countrymen, is largely beside the point. Snowden’s case reveals a lot more as we approach another Independence Day about how one day has changed our system of government. The arguments advanced to suggest that the NSA’s powers are checked by two other branches of government, are largely specious. What Snowden’s case reveals is the extent to which Americans gave the Executive Branch a blank check after September 11, 2001 and what that actually means for every American hereafter.
In the Inferno,
when Dante begins his entrance into the gates of hell, guided by no one less than the great Virgil, he comes across a bleak warning, lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate or, “abandon all hope ye who enter here.” After 9-11, contrapasso to the United States Constitution,
as if capitulating to the admonishment that greeted Dante, Americans abandoned a measure of hope in America’s core values and founding principles. A bi-partisan Congress signed the Patriot Act-in the absence of any public outcry, and almost no media attention or intellectual grasp of what it would actually mean.