Month: March 2022

Edward Snowden in Hindsight

I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.

Nathan Hale

On the day of Nathan Hale’s execution, a British officer wrote of Hale, “he behaved with great composure and resolution, saying he thought it the duty of every good Officer, to obey any orders given him by his Commander-in-Chief; and desired the Spectators to be at all times prepared to meet death in whatever shape it might appear.” Nearly ten years ago, I viewed Edward Snowden as a slightly nerdier, yet similar patriot to the greats. I wanted to believe he was serving his country, and was unfairly targeted by the state for standing up for those beliefs. Much of tech did too, which is why this is an important discussion to have. It’s affected how the tech community views and interacts with government in many ways, with all of the prejudices it brought into play. For all the pontificating since then about freedom that Snowden has done, his taking up permanent citizenship in Russia, and his silence since the beginning of the war with Ukraine (except, more recently, to criticize the US once more), today I rather see the pattern of a common deserter in Snowden, rather than the champion of free speech that some position him as. If Snowden is to set the narrative for how tech views and responds to government, then our occasional criticism of his own behavior should be fair game.

During his time in Russia, we have seen the whistleblower system work effectively here at home. The details of Trump’s Ukraine call, and the subsequent freezing of security aid seems rather relevant today. More impressively so, this same whistleblower system Snowden criticized worked against a sitting president having no capacity for restraint. The fruits of it were significant, and the process brought both public dissemination and a full press by congress to protect the whistleblower. Mr. X, whose identity is still somewhat contested, was a hero. He stood up to the bully, knowing better than most how lawless the tyrant was, and of the angry mob he commanded. What happened to X? Very little, certainly far less than the charges Snowden brought on himself or the freedoms he gave up by not using the right channels. Instead of following process, Snowden fled the country under the Obama administration, who was a teddy bear compared to Trump. Snowden rejected this government process, insisting the whistleblower system was corrupt, using it as justification to leak classified documents, shortly before departing the country. In 2020, he asked us to excuse him again while he applied for Russian citizenship “for the sake of his kids”. Yet even in being proved wrong by a true hero like X while the country lived under a tyrant, Snowden continues to hide from the consequences of this terrible miscalculation.

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First They Came

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
 Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
 Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
 Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Post-war Confessional, Rev. Martin Niemöller

Watching the world respond to Russia with quiet acquiescence has been nearly as horrifying as watching the events themselves unfold. Our lines in the sand have always been drawn exclusively around our country club. Instead of action, we offer compliance to a deranged man’s orders to stay, as if his obedient dog. Through our inaction, the world has professed that human life in Ukraine is not equal to human life elsewhere. The words “never again” were, in an instant, exchanged for a simple “meh”.

I am in disbelief. It has been sobering to watch the world refuse to stand up to evil, to instead allow the innocent to continue to be murdered, solely because they don’t serve American or European interests. Even American businesses – one by one leave, yet are too scared to use their remaining influence or capabilities to become a much needed megaphone inside Russia, still afraid to defy Russian law even though Russia has become lawless herself. The time for compliance is quite over. Bridges must be burned, and the leaders on them.

Will we really stand idly by while this country’s fresh embrace with democracy is snuffed out by a warmonger? How humiliated we should be to stand by and watch the innocent be helplessly murdered at the pleasure of such a tiny little man. America, the home of the brave, unwilling to hear the screams for help of those who don’t serve our interests. Where is this bravery we speak of? Has our own freedom been of any significance if we won’t rescue the oppressed? Instead, we choose to sacrifice their lives to preserve our own. Such bravery.

If we are not willing to take up the cause of the innocent, we’ve lost far more than we stand to risk by answering the call. Our identity as a people hinges on our willingness to sacrifice for those in need. God and history will judge us one day for these sins.

Our ancestors swore never again. We’ve let them down immeasurably. The brave courage of former generations puts us to shame. Freedom is no longer worth fighting for, unless it interferes with our own Twitter posts. We’ve become desensitized to oppression, and in the process become prisoners of a different kind.


Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah 1:16-17

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