Edward Snowden: Traitor, Patriot Or Something In-Between?

Edward Snowden: Traitor, Patriot Or Something In-Between?
Like Us On Facebook
Like Us On Facebook

I remember the first time I ever visited the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.

Overnight, the campus had been transformed into a quasi-carnival ground. The halls were adorned with balloons and ribbons and festive music resounded throughout.

Temporary booths and display tables lined the compound’s hallowed halls, manned by Agency reps who gleefully passed out CIA-branded novelties to kids like me who only had the opportunity to visit their parent’s mysterious workplace on one occasion each year for “Family Day.”

Entranced by the euphoric atmosphere, I told myself that, one day, I would follow in my father’s footsteps and work for the Agency.

In college, I did just that. After submitting to a nearly year-long background check, I secured an internship with the CIA in the summer of 2007.

That summer, I entered headquarters for the first time not as a civilian, but rather as a public servant working at the world’s largest clandestine intelligence agency.

Balloons and ribbons no longer lined the walls to distract from their Alabama Marble finish. Instead, something else on the walls caught my eye as I walked through the main entrance lobby. Between two flags – one American and the other displaying the CIA seal – were 107 carved stars. Above them read the words:


Each time I passed the Memorial Wall, I would silently acknowledge what these fallen agents had given their lives to protect, hearkening the CIA ethos:

Service. We put Nation first, Agency before unit, and mission before self.  We take pride in being agile, responsive, and consequential.”

Integrity. We uphold the highest standards of lawful conduct.  We are truthful and forthright, and we provide information and analysis without institutional or political bias. We maintain the Nation’s trust through accountability and oversight.”

Excellence. We bring the best of who we are to everything we do. We are self aware, reflecting on our performance and learning from it. We strive to give our officers the tools, experiences, and leadership they need to excel.

Courage. We accomplish difficult, high-stakes, often dangerous tasks.  In executing mission, we carefully manage risk but we do not shy away from it. We value sacrifice and honor our fallen.

Teamwork. We stand by and behind one another. Collaboration, both internal and external, underpins our best outcomes. Diversity and inclusion are mission imperatives.

Stewardship. We preserve our ability to obtain secrets by protecting sources and methods from the moment we enter on duty until our last breath.”

I didn’t end up pursuing a career with the Agency, but that code stuck with me. It was my fervent belief that my father, myself and others who swore that oath to protect and serve our nation, putting country before self, were bound by that promise for life.

Enter Edward Snowden.

When I first learned that the now 30-year-old former CIA employee and government contractor leaked confidential documents exposing NSA programs that collect vast amounts of information on telephone calls, emails and other personal data on American citizens, I was reviled by the news.

I was angry that the government that I once served so egregiously flouted its constitutional boundaries. I was angry that Edward Snowden had violated his oath of stewardship. To be honest, I didn’t know who to be angrier with.

Clandestine operations are absolutely necessary to safeguarding our national interests, citizens and democratic ideals. As a society, we entrust our government with this task, collectively authorizing them to operate on our behalf, even in secret.

When the Patriot Act was passed in 2001, I felt that the government had broken that social contract. I felt the same way when we learned about secret detentions of suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay. And again when we learned that the NSA was secretly wiretapping American citizens.

None of these actions were acceptable, and as a society, we were well within our right to be outraged by them.

So, too, were we justified in our outrage when we learned that the NSA was collecting personal information on millions of Americans, needlessly.

When the government oversteps its mandate and unabashedly violates our personal liberties, society at-large suffers.

Millennials, who came of age in a post-9/11 world have seen these violations occur with troubling frequency. It has left us disenchanted. Now, Millennials are experiencing the highest levels distrust in all government institutions ever seen, according to a recent poll by Harvard’s Institute of Politics.

It’s a trust that our leaders need to take steps to rebuild. By blowing the whistle, Snowden illustrated that they still have a long way to go on that front.

But while our intelligence services violated its ethos, Snowden did as well.

In an interview with NBC’s Brian William’s that aired Wednesday night, Snowden described being tasked by federal government to “put systems to work for the United States,” having “done that at all levels from — from the bottom on the ground all the way to the top.”

He was entrusted to develop “sources and methods for keeping our information and people secure in the most hostile and dangerous environments around the world.”

By mass releasing so much sensitive data, Snowden betrayed that trust.

He provided our enemies who are intent on harming our fellow countrymen with information that both facilitates and empowers their cause. He imperiled his colleagues operating abroad, jeopardizing both their livelihoods and their lives. Because of his actions, those operatives faced a greater likelihood of having a star etched into the Alabama Marble at Langley in their honor.

Say what you will about whether or not the NSA needed to be exposed, but the way Snowden did it is the furthest thing from heroism.

Who the real villain is in this case? That, I can’t answer.

What I can say, however, is that our faith in our government institutions is slipping. We need that trust to serve as the foundation for our society, and neither Snowden’s nor the government’s actions did anything to help rebuild that dwindling trust.

For our country to grow stronger, to prosper and to spread the ideals of democracy across the world, we must be better. We must work to restore that faith in our collective selves. As President John F. Kennedy said while addressing the General Court of Massachusetts before swearing his oath of office:

“I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arbella three hundred and thirty-one years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier. ‘We must always consider’, he said, ‘that we shall be as a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us.’

Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us—and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill — constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities.”

Photo credit: Getty Images

Share Tweet
Like Us On Facebook
Like Us On Facebook

Aaron Kaufman

Originally from Washington, D.C., Aaron started his career working at the intersection of business, journalism and politics after graduating from Kent State University in 2010. Prior to joining Elite Daily, Aaron spent time at Bloomberg BNA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Turkey, Middle East and North Africa Department. Aaron has also worked in public relations at FleishmanHillard and Brodeur Partners' Washington offices. In his spare time, Aaron likes to travel and surf, though he wishes he had time to do both more often.

More In Politics

Politics Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Why Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen Wants Millennials To Vote

Across the country, as TV ads blare, signs dot the landscape, and ballots are mailed, the fight for the Millennial vote is heating up. Although it is incontrovertible that Millennials are, indeed, the future, what is often overlooked is that they are also part of our present. The 2014 Midterm Elections will have far-reaching repercussions. […]

Politics Luis Navia

Millennial Politics: If You Are Not At The Table, You Will Be On The Menu

Boring. Broken. Self-interested. These are adjectives that Millennials are currently using to describe Washington DC and, more specifically, Congress. I always wondered why the majority of my peers were so repelled by politics and why they only chose to vote, like the majority of Americans, for the president during the general election. A backstory for […]

Politics John Haltiwanger

Why The War In Afghanistan Is An Even Bigger Defeat Than Vietnam

After 13 years of fighting, the War in Afghanistan is finally winding down. American and British forces just withdrew from Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastion and handed over the military complex to Afghan forces. The event marked the end of British combat operations in Afghanistan, and the beginning of the end of US involvement in the country. In September, […]

Also On Elite


Spiritual Income: Why You Should Never Settle For Just A Paycheck

If you’re anything at all like me, the fear of one day having a mundane office job that doesn’t fuel your creative spirit or unique capabilities worries you to a point of no end. Rightfully so, you feel the need to receive a paycheck. The bills won’t pay themselves, after all. But, when did you […]


The Shower Scene From ‘Psycho’ Gets An Even Scarier Pumpkin Remake

“Psycho” is one of the most effective horror films of all time. It’s a classic and would be a perfect film to watch to get you in the mood for Halloween this year. But, if you don’t feel like watching the whole movie, you should probably check out this excellent stop-motion re-creation of the infamous […]


Standard Procedure? Police Smash Window During Routine Stop And Tase Man (Video)

Indiana police officers smashed a woman’s car window and Tased her boyfriend because he refused to get out of the vehicle during a traffic stop. According to Daily Mail, 47-year-old Lisa Mahone and her boyfriend Jamal Jones were driving with Mahone’s two kids in the back seat on September 24 when Mahone was stopped for […]


Scientists In Turkey Think They May Have Discovered Dracula’s Dungeon

Turkish archaeologists have discovered two dungeons where Prince Vlad Tepes III, who inspired character the Count Dracula, was said to be held captive. According to the Hurriyet Daily News, the prison cells were found in Tokat Castle in addition to food cubes, an open terrace and a secret tunnel. The Ottomans were said to have imprisoned […]

LOL Lists

What The Instrument You Quit In Middle School Says About You

There are few memories we can look back on from our middle school and high school years that bring us joy. Most of them are full of shame, regret and self-loathing. And a few are just f*cking embarrassing. While we all have our own collection of horrible, humiliating and sickening moments, there are a few, […]


Woman Wears Corset For 7 Years To Narrow Her Waist Down To 16 Inches

Kelly Lee Dekay laces herself into the silhouette of her dreams. The 27-year-old fetish model has been waist training with a steel corset for seven years, whittling her core down to a slight 16 inches. Dekay grew up a meek girl with a love for comic books. Years later, Jessica Rabbit of “Who Framed Roger […]