I have never been without the conviction that a purposeful life is a satisfying one, but when one’s purpose causes the oppression of fellow citizens, then it is time to examine the value of the system that engendered the oppression of some people for the sake of another. The universal rights of human beings are unequivocal desires of fully realized human beings. The benefit of having an educated, courageous public should be obvious. Share this, please.
This letter represents an incredible voice of the people. Are we to be stripped of our liberties to save ourselves? In what way would the rest of the world enjoy a chance to engage a country that is no longer World Cop, but World Warden of a Panopticon surveillance program worse than 1984, worse than any novel or story? It’s here.
Holding anonymous, innocent people as suspects is a betrayal of trust between the government and its people. My government has no credibility. The illegal use of taxpayer money to make citizens fund its own incrimination of itself en mass has no precedent. If the government lets contractors and private corporations have access to personal private information, then it’s no longer a question of whether or not damage is occurring.
Ask yourself: who is our government paying to spy on us? Who is paying individuals in our government to use warrantless surveillance, and for whom?
Here’s the letter.
Bruce Fein & Associates, Inc.
722 12th Street, N.W., 4th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20005
July 26, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Re: Civil Disobedience, Edward J. Snowden, and the Constitution
Dear Mr. President:
You are acutely aware that the history of liberty is a history of civil disobedience to
unjust laws or practices. As Edmund Burke sermonized, “All that is necessary for the
triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
Civil disobedience is not the first, but the last option. Henry David Thoreau wrote
with profound restraint in Civil Disobedience: “If the injustice is part of the necessary
friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smoothcertainly
the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a
crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be
worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of
injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the
Thoreau’s moral philosophy found expression during the Nuremburg trials in which
“following orders” was rejected as a defense. Indeed, military law requires disobedience to
clearly illegal orders.
A dark chapter in America’s World War II history would not have been written if the
then United States Attorney General had resigned rather than participate in racist
concentration camps imprisoning 120,000 Japanese American citizens and resident aliens.
Civil disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Act and Jim Crow laws provoked the end of
slavery and the modern civil rights revolution.
We submit that Edward J. Snowden’s disclosures of dragnet surveillance of
Americans under § 215 of the Patriot Act, § 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
Amendments, or otherwise were sanctioned by Thoreau’s time-honored moral philosophy
and justifications for civil disobedience. Since 2005, Mr. Snowden had been employed by
the intelligence community. He found himself complicit in secret, indiscriminate spying on
millions of innocent citizens contrary to the spirit if not the letter of the First and Fourth
Amendments and the transparency indispensable to self-government. Members of
Congress entrusted with oversight remained silent or Delphic. Mr. Snowden confronted a
choice between civic duty and passivity. He may have recalled the injunction of Martin
Luther King, Jr.: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps
to perpetrate it.” Mr. Snowden chose duty. Your administration vindictively responded
with a criminal complaint alleging violations of the Espionage Act.
From the commencement of your administration, your secrecy of the National
Security Agency’s Orwellian surveillance programs had frustrated a national conversation
over their legality, necessity, or morality. That secrecy (combined with congressional
nonfeasance) provoked Edward’s disclosures, which sparked a national conversation which
you have belatedly and cynically embraced. Legislation has been introduced in both the
House of Representatives and Senate to curtail or terminate the NSA’s programs, and the
American people are being educated to the public policy choices at hand. A commanding
majority now voice concerns over the dragnet surveillance of Americans that Edward
exposed and you concealed. It seems mystifying to us that you are prosecuting Edward for
accomplishing what you have said urgently needed to be done!
The right to be left alone from government snooping–the most cherished right
among civilized people—is the cornerstone of liberty. Supreme Court Justice Robert
Jackson served as Chief Prosecutor at Nuremburg. He came to learn of the dynamics of the
Third Reich that crushed a free society, and which have lessons for the United States today.
Writing in Brinegar v. United States, Justice Jackson elaborated:
The Fourth Amendment states: “The right of the people to be secure in
their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and
seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon
probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing
the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
These, I protest, are not mere second-class rights but belong in the
catalog of indispensable freedoms. Among deprivations of rights, none is so
effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual and
putting terror in every heart. Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the
first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary
government. And one need only briefly to have dwelt and worked among a
people possessed of many admirable qualities but deprived of these rights to
know that the human personality deteriorates and dignity and self-reliance
disappear where homes, persons and possessions are subject at any hour to
unheralded search and seizure by the police.
We thus find your administration’s zeal to punish Mr. Snowden’s discharge of civic
duty to protect democratic processes and to safeguard liberty to be unconscionable and
We are also appalled at your administration’s scorn for due process, the rule of law,
fairness, and the presumption of innocence as regards Edward.
On June 27, 2013, Mr. Fein wrote a letter to the Attorney General stating that
Edward’s father was substantially convinced that he would return to the United States to
confront the charges that have been lodged against him if three cornerstones of due process
were guaranteed. The letter was not an ultimatum, but an invitation to discuss fair trial
imperatives. The Attorney General has sneered at the overture with studied silence.
We thus suspect your administration wishes to avoid a trial because of
constitutional doubts about application of the Espionage Act in these circumstances, and
obligations to disclose to the public potentially embarrassing classified information under
the Classified Information Procedures Act.
Your decision to force down a civilian airliner carrying Bolivian President Eva
Morales in hopes of kidnapping Edward also does not inspire confidence that you are
committed to providing him a fair trial. Neither does your refusal to remind the American
people and prominent Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate like House
Speaker John Boehner, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann,
and Senator Dianne Feinstein that Edward enjoys a presumption of innocence. He should
not be convicted before trial. Yet Speaker Boehner has denounced Edward as a “traitor.”
Ms. Pelosi has pontificated that Edward “did violate the law in terms of releasing those
documents.” Ms. Bachmann has pronounced that, “This was not the act of a patriot; this
was an act of a traitor.” And Ms. Feinstein has decreed that Edward was guilty of “treason,”
which is defined in Article III of the Constitution as “levying war” against the United
States, “or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.”
You have let those quadruple affronts to due process pass unrebuked, while you
have disparaged Edward as a “hacker” to cast aspersion on his motivations and talents.
Have you forgotten the Supreme Court’s gospel in Berger v. United States that the interests
of the government “in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice
shall be done?”
We also find reprehensible your administration’s Espionage Act prosecution of
Edward for disclosures indistinguishable from those which routinely find their way into the
public domain via your high level appointees for partisan political advantage. Classified
details of your predator drone protocols, for instance, were shared with the New York Times
with impunity to bolster your national security credentials. Justice Jackson observed in
Railway Express Agency, Inc. v. New York: “The framers of the Constitution knew, and we
should not forget today, that there is no more effective practical guaranty against arbitrary
and unreasonable government than to require that the principles of law which officials
would impose upon a minority must be imposed generally.”
In light of the circumstances amplified above, we urge you to order the Attorney
General to move to dismiss the outstanding criminal complaint against Edward, and to
support legislation to remedy the NSA surveillance abuses he revealed. Such presidential
directives would mark your finest constitutional and moral hour.
Counsel for Lon Snowden