A Philosopher's Blog


Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 12, 2013
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Information about the United States’ Prism program was leaked by Edward Snowden  to the Washington Post and the Guardian. Some people are casting Snowden as a traitor while others are lauding him as a hero. Some are presenting him as motivated by pure narcissism.

People have a tendency to present their actions in the most favorable light, so it is hardly surprising that Snowden claims that his  motivation was ethical in nature:

The N.S.A. has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your e-mails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your e-mails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.

I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.

If Snowden is being honest about his motivation, then a case can be made that he acted rightly. That is, he acted in accord with his moral conscience. While he might have been in error, it is unreasonable to fault a person who acts in this manner-at least if the person’s moral conscience is properly informed. While ignorance can be an excuse, willful ignorance or unwarranted ignorance do not provide a moral excuse.

In the case of Snowden, it would be unreasonable to claim that he was ignorant of the general business of the NSA. It is a matter of general knowledge that the NSA is in the business of gathering information domestically. It is also a matter of general knowledge that since 9/11 domestic spying has been a rather flexible sort of matter. As such, Snowden should have not been morally shocked that the NSA engaged in such activities.

It could be replied that while Snowden should have been aware of the general business of the NSA, he was initially unaware of the extent of Prism. This does have considerable  plausibility-the Prism program was (before the leak) top secret and hence Snowden would almost certainly not have known the details about it prior to his employment. As such, Snowden could plausible claim ignorance in this matter. It could also be replied that Snowden changed his mind over time.

Even if Snowden acted from a moral motivation, there is still the question of whether or not his actions were well considered. After all, a person could act from his conscience, but the actions could be poorly considered. In the case of Snowden and the NSA, Snowden elected to expose a program that he knew was legal and this certainly complicates matters. After all, it is one thing to leak information about illegal activities and quite another to leak information about legal activities.

The obvious reply to this is that what is legal is not the same as what is ethical (except for those who accept legalism). As such, the legal Prism program could be unethical. Assuming that a citizen should expose the moral misdeeds of the state, if the Prism program is immoral, then Snowden could have acted rightly in exposing the secrets.

Obviously enough, a rather important matter is whether or not Snowden had good grounds on which to believe that Prism is an immoral program. But this is a matter for another time.

Getting back to the main issue, the Guardian and the Post did not publish most of the information that Snowden leaked to them-they decided that it should not be made public. A case could be made that Snowden’s leak was somewhat irresponsible in that he leaked far more than was needed to expose misdeeds and this excessive leaking could thus be regarded as unethical. It could also be taken as evidence that he was not motivated by moral reasons but by some other factors. Then again, it could be argued that he just engaged in poor decision making in this regard.

It is also worth considering that Snowden apparently went straight to leaking rather than attempting to address his concerns through legal and proper channels. After all, there are mechanisms in place for such matters. However, it could be replied that Snowden believed that this was not a viable option. The Obama administration, despite is professed support for whistleblowers and transparency, has been rather non-transparent and has established a reputation as being rather harsh on whistleblowers. There is also the question of who Snowden could have gone to in order to address his concerns-as noted above, everything being done was legal and had the blessing of all the relevant authorities. So, if he believed that all the folks in the government were involved in this and accepted it as legal, he could hardly be expected to take his concerns to them.

It is also worth noting that Snowden fled the United States to Hong Kong. When asked about this, he said that “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent.” Given that Hong Kong is now controlled by China (which certainly does not have a commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent), this raises some concerns. It could be the case that Snowden really believes that Hong Kong is a bastion of free speech and will protect him from the United States or perhaps he is acting pragmatically and seeking protection from a power that can stand up to the United States. In any case, there is the obvious concern that China now has easy access to Snowden and the secrets he stole from the NSA. It is also worth considering that Snowden’s motivations were not ethical but practical, namely that he was motivated from gain. His future actions will help address this matter.

In general terms, Snowden does bring up the old issue of the conflict of the conscience of the individual with the orders of the state. Assuming, of course, that Snowden truly acted from his conscience. I do not, obviously enough, know the answer to this. However, I do believe that the Prism program is morally dubious (at best) and while it went through all the secret legal processes, I do think a good case can be made that the program violated constitutional rights. But, I will leave this issue to the constitutional lawyers.

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on June 12, 2013 at 9:01 am

    Concerning the NSA, I think we should be asking ourselves why William Binney isn’t all over the mainstream media. Binney was a career employee of the NSA (30+years) who blew the whistle on Stellar Wind immediately after 9/11. Stellar Wind is the program he designed for foreign communication data gathering that was turned upon all US citizens immediately after 9/11 in order to vacuum-up all our data. I suspect Binney isn’t all over the news because he’s an honest citizen, a career NSA employee, and because he names Bush, Cheney, Tenet, et al for this crime, and has been doing so for the past 12 years. I also suspect Snowden is a put up job designed to intimidate others from blowing the whistle and the journalists who work with them. Greenwald, by the way, is a classic case of someone working for the system while appearing to be working against it. Suffice it to say, and this should be obvious: the mainstream media only tells us what they want us to know. They’re not breaking any real investigative reporting. The NSA gathering all our data, which they can sift through any time, is old news, dating back to 2001, and is a case in point. Why this? Why now? And why all the Obama scandals? Why now? Because those in control of the media are driving Obama to go into Syria, Lebanon, and Iran and Obama is resisting. The scandals will continue until he obeys. Do you think it was a coincidence Gen. Petreaus was outed via his private emails right after Romney lost the election? And Gen. Allen too? And that the scandals have continued ever since? That we suddenly have daily sex scandals involving military leadership? The media push is on to drive to war, because many in the military hierarchy don’t wish to go, and neither does Obama. It’s the GOP Zionists, their financiers, and the Zionist media who are pushing for war, because their man Romney didn’t win. Why else would the mainstream media be bashing Obama administration? Think about it. The mainstream media isn’t owned, and the federal government isn’t influenced by, powerful groups of Muslims, but by powerful groups of Jews. This is a well known and well documented fact. Romney’s biggest supporter was Sheldon Adelson, the Jewish casino owner, as well as by Goldman Sachs, who dumped Obama after supporting him in 2008. Sheldon Adelson has also been financing the Arab Spring destabilization program, which the Occupy Movement supports. Think about that. As I’ve said before, what we’re witnessing is an internal power struggle between pro and anti Zionist factions within the federal government, and the pro Zionists are winning, mainly because they have the media control and the money to do it with. I’ve mentioned Col. Sabrosky, PhD before, posted his videos and papers concerning Israel and 9/11, and what people should be asking themselves is not “Is what he’s saying true?” but “Why is he saying it at all? With his resume and his standing in Washington, for him to be publicly saying the things he’s saying indicates a power struggle of the nature I described above, which should send a chill up people’s spines, as it does mine.

    “It is 100% certain that 9/11 was a Mossad operation. Period.” ~ Col. Alan Sabrosky PhD USMC (Ret.).

    A Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and a 1986 graduate of the U.S. Army War College, Dr. Sabrosky’s teaching and research appointments have included the United States Military Academy, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Middlebury College and Catholic University; while in government service, he held concurrent adjunct professorships at Georgetown University and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

    VIDEO – Col. Alan Sabrosky, PhD USMC (Ret.) – 100% certain Israeli Mossad did 9/11: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQk4jOcV8RA

    See here for quote [AUDIO]: http://youtu.be/qShoR5sXUJ0

    See also: VIDEO – WCBS WTC 7 9/11/2001 5:20 pm: http://youtu.be/9VHZf9uyIJk

    “And I have a final message here for those sworn elected and appointed officials of the US Government who have betrayed their oaths in order to serve Israel, for those around the government who have facilitated this effort, and for Israel itself. You all have been discovered. Your treason, treachery and crimes are known. You may not believe it yet, but your political and strategic Judgment Day is finally appearing on the horizon, as surely as it came for Nineveh and Tyre in ancient times, for the infamous Third Reich in 1945, and for the Soviet Union two decades ago. Beware. We are coming for you.” ~ Col. Alan Sobrosky PhD USMC (Ret.)

    Dr. Sabrosky’s Paper: http://www.scribd.com/doc/58318030/US-Military-Knows-Israel-Did-9-11-Alan-Sobrosky-USMC

    FOX NEWS SPECIAL REPORT: Israeli spies in America who knew about 9/11 before it happened: http://youtu.be/JWpWc_suPWo

    The Israel Lobby – http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n06/john-mearsheimer/the-israel-lobby

    VIDEO – Israel sowing discord in Middle East – http://youtu.be/WCdIBwODM18

    VIDEO – Steve Pieczenik – BENGHAZI ATTACK – What Really Happened – http://youtu.be/i7lDEzTibC4

    See: Fake Democracy Revolutions – CANVAS, USIP/ICNC, Washington, Egypt, and OWS – Plus: Israel did 9/11 – http://wp.me/pPnn7-vW

  2. ajmacdonaldjr said, on June 12, 2013 at 9:05 am

    The New York Times – August 22, 2012 – The National Security Agency’s Domestic Spying Program [i.e., Stellar Wind: September 2001 – Present]

    “It took me a few days to work up the nerve to phone William Binney. As someone already a “target” of the United States government, I found it difficult not to worry about the chain of unintended consequences I might unleash by calling Mr. Binney, a 32-year veteran of the National Security Agency turned whistle-blower. He picked up. I nervously explained I was a documentary filmmaker and wanted to speak to him. To my surprise he replied: “I’m tired of my government harassing me and violating the Constitution. Yes, I’ll talk to you.”

    “Two weeks later, driving past the headquarters of the N.S.A. in Maryland, outside Washington, Mr. Binney described details about Stellar Wind, the N.S.A.’s top-secret domestic spying program begun after 9/11, which was so controversial that it nearly caused top Justice Department officials to resign in protest, in 2004.

    Source: The Program – http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/23/opinion/the-national-security-agencys-domestic-spying-program.html?_r=0

    NSA Whistleblower: Everyone in US under virtual surveillance, all info stored, no matter the post – http://youtu.be/TuET0kpHoyM

    See: NSA domestic spying = old news – http://wp.me/pPnn7-2m6

  3. Ron Mortimer said, on June 12, 2013 at 10:42 am


    Good comment. I have never believed the 911 story since day one when the “magic passports” were found and it’s all been downhill since then lol

    The way things have turned out, the results are the same whether 911 was performed as per the official story or it was simply an inside job in order to strip the people of their rights in a phoney “war on terror”.

    We in Australia now have secret arrests, secret trials, etc all as part of this scam. Same as the UK and probably Canada.

    I hope Col Sobrosky is correct and that the traitor’s days are numbered.Bring on the treason trials. I have a few nominations of some aussie politicians who are just begging for the high jump.

    cheers Ron from Oz

  4. WTP said, on June 12, 2013 at 10:58 am

    “It is 100% certain that 9/11 was a Mossad operation. Period.” ~ Col. Alan Sabrosky PhD USMC (Ret.).

    Says it all, right there.

    • ajmacdonaldjr said, on June 12, 2013 at 11:44 am

      Conspiracy is a crime, and so is treason…

      The US government has armed, funded, and trained radical Sunni Islamic jihadists since 1979.

      Read up on Operation Cyclone.

      Operation Cyclone was the code name for the United States Central Intelligence Agency program to arm and finance the Afghan mujahideen prior to and during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, 1979 to 1989. The program leaned heavily towards supporting militant Islamic groups that were favored by neighboring Pakistan, rather than other, less ideological Afghan resistance groups that had also been fighting the Marxist-oriented Democratic Republic of Afghanistan regime since before the Soviet intervention. Operation Cyclone was one of the longest and most expensive covert CIA operations ever undertaken;[1] funding began with $20–30 million per year in 1980 and rose to $630 million per year in 1987.[2] Funding continued after 1989 as the Mujahideen battled the forces of Mohammad Najibullah’s PDPA during the Civil war in Afghanistan (1989–1992)

      See: Operation Cyclone – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Cyclone

      VIDEO – CIA Operation CYCLONE, NWO, Afghanistan, Bush Senior, CIA Drug trafficking (1989) – http://youtu.be/O5Lnnn9smmg

      See: John McCain, Lindsey Graham, John Kerry, and Barack Obama fund, arm, and train al Qaeda and its associates in Syria – http://wp.me/pPnn7-2kD

      The heavy hand of totalitarianism, which we’re now experiencing, didn’t originate with B. Obama, nor with G.W. Bush, but with R. Reagan and G.H.W. Bush…

      VIDEO – Alternative Views: A SIGNATURE—AND FASCISM! (1989) – It’s morning again in Gulags NDAA America: Building a path for Bush-Obama era USA – http://youtu.be/r59IXxOTxVQ

      See: 9/11, Iran-Contra, and Treason – http://wp.me/pPnn7-1rg

      NSA domestic spying = old news – http://wp.me/pPnn7-2m6

      Washington, D.C. – An August, 1996, series in the San Jose Mercury News by reporter Gary Webb linked the origins of crack cocaine in California to the contras, a guerrilla force backed by the Reagan administration that attacked Nicaragua’s Sandinista government during the 1980s. Webb’s series, “The Dark Alliance,” has been the subject of intense media debate, and has focused attention on a foreign policy drug scandal that leaves many questions unanswered.

      This electronic briefing book is compiled from declassified documents obtained by the National Security Archive, including the notebooks kept by NSC aide and Iran-contra figure Oliver North, electronic mail messages written by high-ranking Reagan administration officials, memos detailing the contra war effort, and FBI and DEA reports. The documents demonstrate official knowledge of drug operations, and collaboration with and protection of known drug traffickers. Court and hearing transcripts are also included.

      See: GWU – The Contras, Cocaine, and Covert Operations – http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB2/nsaebb2.htm

      In his new exposé of the National Security Agency entitled Body of Secrets, author James Bamford highlights a set of proposals on Cuba by the Joint Chiefs of Staff codenamed OPERATION NORTHWOODS. This document, titled “Justification for U.S. Military Intervention in Cuba” was provided by the JCS to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on March 13, 1962, as the key component of Northwoods. Written in response to a request from the Chief of the Cuba Project, Col. Edward Lansdale, the Top Secret memorandum describes U.S. plans to covertly engineer various pretexts that would justify a U.S. invasion of Cuba. These proposals – part of a secret anti-Castro program known as Operation Mongoose – included staging the assassinations of Cubans living in the United States, developing a fake “Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington,” including “sink[ing] a boatload of Cuban refugees (real or simulated),” faking a Cuban airforce attack on a civilian jetliner, and concocting a “Remember the Maine” incident by blowing up a U.S. ship in Cuban waters and then blaming the incident on Cuban sabotage. Bamford himself writes that Operation Northwoods “may be the most corrupt plan ever created by the U.S. government.”

      See: GWU – Operation Northwoods – http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/20010430/

  5. T. J. Babson said, on June 12, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    The government is out of control.

    • WTP said, on June 12, 2013 at 8:55 pm

      As a result of many, many years of our educational system, especially higher education, being out of control. Who votes for these people? An uneducated electorate that chooses to buy into information that feeds their collective egos, comforts them with this-explains-everything ideologies, and reinforces their predjudices. So that said, where to start to reform?

    • WTP said, on June 13, 2013 at 12:33 pm

      And to my point:

      A Brief History of Media Bias

      Once reporters started coming out of colleges and universities, however, they were shaped by the leftist perspective of those institutions. These perspectives, once marginal in American public discourse, became increasingly prominent in the press and television news shows. Now the old progressive view that the press should not just report facts, but mold public opinion to achieve certain political ends, served an ideology fundamentally adverse to the free-market, liberal-democratic foundations of the American Republic.


  6. T. J. Babson said, on June 12, 2013 at 7:50 pm

  7. ajmacdonaldjr said, on June 12, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    Watch this video, Binney is telling the whole, ugly truth…

    VIDEO – June 12, 2013 NSA whistleblower William Binney: NSA ‘bamboozling’ lawmakers for access to Americans’ private data – agency veteran – http://youtu.be/mSiRItlAEcY

    See: April 12, 2006 – AT&T engineer Mark Klein: NSA built secret rooms in our facilities – http://arstechnica.com/uncategorized/2006/04/6585-2/

  8. T. J. Babson said, on June 12, 2013 at 11:28 pm

    I can disagree with Greenwald, but at least I can respect him:

    One person who isn’t surprised about the lack of Democrats and liberals in the media challenging the Obama administration, however, is the man who has broken multiple stories based off leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden — Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald.

    Greenwald told Business Insider late Tuesday night that he thinks some left-leaning members of the media — such as Time magazine’s Joe Klein and The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin — have shifted stances on surveillance and civil liberties for “principle-free, hackish, and opportunistic” reasons.

    “I’m not surprised,” Greenwald said in an email. “I’ve been amazed and disappointed for a long time at how the most slavishly partisan media Democrats who pretended to care so much about these issues when doing so helped undermine George Bush are now the loudest apologists and cheerleaders for these very same policies.

    “If they started a club called Liberal Pundits to Defend the National Security State, no auditorium in the country would be large enough to accommodate them.

    “To call them principle-free, hackish, and opportunistic is to be overly generous.”

    Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/glenn-greenwald-nsa-scandal-media-spying-surveillance-leak-2013-6#ixzz2W3z3Z2Bh

    Democrats at work!

    • T. J. Babson said, on June 12, 2013 at 11:30 pm

      This is worth repeating:

      “I’ve been amazed and disappointed for a long time at how the most slavishly partisan media Democrats who pretended to care so much about these issues when doing so helped undermine George Bush are now the loudest apologists and cheerleaders for these very same policies.”

  9. T. J. Babson said, on June 12, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    I remember when Clinton was under fire he bombed an aspirin factory in Sudan.


    Is it time for Obama to start a military adventure?

    • T. J. Babson said, on June 14, 2013 at 8:10 am

      And so it happens:

      The Obama administration has concluded that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government used chemical weapons against the rebels seeking to overthrow him and, in a major policy shift, President Obama has decided to supply military support to the rebels, the White House announced Thursday.

      “The president has made a decision about providing more support to the opposition that will involve providing direct support to the [Supreme Military Council]. That includes military support,” Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes told reporters.


  10. T. J. Babson said, on June 13, 2013 at 8:15 am

    Biden, 2006:

  11. ajmacdonaldjr said, on June 13, 2013 at 9:23 am

    This is a good article that’s well worth reading – Manufactured Hero Edward Snowden: Language is a Tricky Thing Mr. Snyder – http://willyloman.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/manufactured-hero-edward-snowden-language-is-a-tricky-thing-mr-snyder/

  12. ajmacdonaldjr said, on June 14, 2013 at 9:10 am

    01/19/2012 – Facebook And It’s Connections To The C.I.A. And D.A.R.P.A. by Brian S Staveley – http://www.therealnewsonline.com/2/post/2012/01/facebook-and-its-connections-to-the-cia-and-darpa.html

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