The way we normally evaluate the action of others is by placing ourselves in his/her place and asking ourselves: what would I have done?
If I had been in Edward Snowden’s place, working with a government security clearance and had found documents that I honestly considered to be so harmful to the nation that had to be disclosed, I probably would have tried to do it through some government entities before going to the press. Which? If I did not trust the executive branch because the documents themselves connected this branch with the wrongdoing, I would direct my attention to bipartisan Congress committees, or the Supreme Court. I would have done some previous research on the preferred mechanisms of disclosure and/ or consulted with a good lawyer friend.
I would have carefully considered the nature of the information to be disclosed. If the information was classified, protected, confidential, then I would have known that I was going to have to break the law, in order to disclose it.
If I had been under a legal and ethical commitment not to reveal this information and had signed a document in this regard. If I had been entrusted to protect this information that I now wanted to disclose, then I would know that I would have to betray the trust that had been placed in me.
So, here I was, Edward Snowden, potentially a criminal and a traitor, since I had decided to disclose information that I should have protected, because I sincerely felt it to be harmful to the nation. And I stress the term “sincerely” because I assume Snowden’s sincerity of purpose as an essential ingredient of the act.
I would have disclosed the information to some of the government entities described above, not to the press and, more important, I would not have run. If I felt I was right, running away would devalue my gesture, would have made me look like a common criminal. I would have put up a fight, taken my case to the public.
Blowing the whistle can be an act of civic heroism. Running away after blowing the whistle is an act of moral cowardice. Now, in a remote corner of the planet I, Edward Snowden, have become a pawn in a pseudo geopolitical game played by rogue nations. They will use me to gain notoriety and for their own selfish interest. My gesture has taken second seat to this tainted game.