As an officer in the U.S. Army, I was deployed to combat for a part of every year between my graduation from West Point in 2003 and my arrival at Stanford for graduate school in 2013. I am, however, intentionally vague about my military service, because my heroes are quiet professionals who have taught me to err on the side of protecting information about our units, operations and tactics so that we can be more effective against our enemies and in the protection of our homeland.
My heroes would never deliberately disclose information that might threaten the security of our fellow service members and citizens. This is why, of the many prevalent narratives I have heard from classmates and professors at Stanford regarding the post-9/11 wars, the only one that really upsets me is the narrative that depicts whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Chelsea (formerly known as Bradley) Manning as heroes. To me, Snowden and Manning are not heroes, but rather criminals and traitors.
This is more than an issue of semantics. Labels and narratives are important, and the hero worship currently directed at Snowden and Manning will likely inspire future whistleblowers to reveal classified information to the detriment of our national security. It is therefore very important to properly acknowledge Snowden and Manning as the criminals and traitors that they are.
This is also an emotional issue for me, due to my personal national security experience, but I will present a logical argument for why Snowden and Manning should be remembered, first and foremost, as criminals and traitors for illegally disclosing classified information (information marked as classified because it is potentially threatening to national security if revealed to unauthorized persons).
Too many people dwell on why Snowden and Manning did what they did, without understanding the criminality and treachery inherent in what they did. So I will briefly outline the facts of each their cases, and I challenge readers to disprove their criminality and treason.
Edward Snowden was a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), who leaked thousands of documents regarding NSA surveillance programs to the media. Snowden has been charged with theft and unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to unauthorized persons, but he is currently living in asylum in Russia.
Bradley (now known as Chelsea) Manning was a U.S. Army intelligence analyst who was convicted of stealing and disclosing hundreds of thousands of files to Wikileaks, to include Iraq and Afghanistan war records and diplomatic cables. Manning is currently serving a 35-year sentence at a military prison in Kansas.
Snowden and Manning both admit to deliberately disclosing classified information in order to inform the public about sensitive government policies. Regardless of their intentions, their actions were in direct violation of Executive Order 13526, signed by President Obama in 2009, which establishes that individuals who have been cleared to possess classified information are responsible for protecting this information by preventing access to unauthorized persons. By this standard, Snowden and Manning each clearly deserve the label of criminal.
To explain why Snowden and Manning should also be known as traitors, I must convey the significance of classified information. In Executive Order 13526, President Obama explains, “Throughout our history, the national defense has required that certain information be maintained in confidence in order to protect our citizens, our homeland security and our interactions with foreign nations.”
His order goes on to specify, “Information shall not be considered for classification unless its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause identifiable or describable damage to national security.” By this standard, the revelation of classified information to unauthorized individuals has the potential to threaten national security. By willfully disclosing volumes of classified information, Snowden and Manning deliberately put national security at risk, which certainly makes them traitors.
Snowden and Manning both acknowledge that they broke the law, and they both acknowledge the potential danger they have caused to Americans. Snowden, however, remains defiant, arrogantly insisting that he is justified in his crimes. He recently told John Oliver in a personal interview, “I did this to give the American people a chance to decide for themselves the kind of government they want to have.”
Manning, on the other hand, was apologetic following her conviction, saying, “I am sorry that my actions hurt people. I’m sorry that I hurt the United States… In retrospect I should have worked more aggressively within the system… I had options and I should have used those options.” Manning realizes that there are more legal, less perfidious ways to raise awareness and inspire change.
To me, that is the moral of these stories. If an American disagrees with a national policy, then he or she should use the appropriate institutions to change that policy. Even if you believe that Snowden and Manning leaked classified information for the greater good, by exposing national security policies that should be reformed — which is a debate for another day — it is foolish to overlook the fact that their actions were criminal and traitorous in nature.
This is my logical argument, but I will admit that I am not unemotional in my criticism of Snowden and Manning. When I hear someone say that Snowden and Manning are heroes — which happens frequently at Stanford — I do get emotional. In fact, I get fighting mad.
To me, their treachery is personal. I have personally depended on classified information to accomplish combat operations in order to protect American citizens and interests. The disclosure of classified information to unauthorized individuals puts me, my family and my fellow service members at risk, in addition to threatening the security of the American homeland and its people.
To me, Snowden and Manning are criminals and traitors, not heroes.
The views expressed herein are the author’s alone and do not represent any official position of the Department of Defense.
David Webb ‘15
International Policy Studies Masters Candidate
Contact David Webb at webb5 ‘at’ stanford.edu