It has been pointed out to me by a very intelligent human that if Snowden had only exposed the domestic lawlessness of the US government he could indeed be considered a hero, but because he also exposed many details of how the US government gathers intelligence on foreign governments – which is surely legitimate – he did indeed hurt the national security concerns of the United States and can thus legitimately be considered a traitor.
This is a strong argument with considerable merit to it. However, let me offer a few counter-arguments.
1. The US government has destroyed the old firewall that used to exist between domestic spying (FBI, local police) and foreign intelligence gathering (CIA, NSA), therefore it is now impossible to expose illegal domestic spying (and other corruptions) without also giving away the techniques used to gather foreign intelligence (and yet another reason to have such a firewall in the first place).
2. By inserting backdoors into computer systems and deliberately weakening encryption standards, the NSA has made the United States more, not less, vulnerable. If the police demanded that everyone take the locks off their doors so that they could more easily inspect private residences, should we be surprised if burglaries and in-home assaults increased? Wouldn’t that make the average person less, rather than more, safe?
3. There must be over 100,000 analysts like Snowden in the various intelligence agencies. They would appear to have little effective oversight. Statistically there simply MUST be a significant number of foreign spies who have had access to this and informed their governments. I suspect that most of the ‘shock’ that foreign governments have expressed about this spying is faked: they must have known about it all along but don’t want to let on that they knew.
For example: how many of these analysts are ethnic Chinese? I am sure that the vast majority are loyal American citizens, but every single last one of them? Especially when so much of their equipment is made in China to being with? Is the NSA giving away the keys to its own kingdom?
4. A lack of accountability yields not only tyranny, but also incompetence. Back when the United States still believed in the rule of law, it fought and won wars. The old Soviet Union believed in that secret law and spying-on-everyone stuff, and it collapsed of bureaucratic stagnation. Now the United States is playing the secret government game, and all these faceless bureaucrats are running around thinking that they are living in a Tom Clancy novel and hatching endless idiotic plans with nobody looking over their shoulders and spending the country into bankruptcy and suddenly the United States can’t beat a handful of camel-jockeys armed with only light weapons that the 1942 Wehrmacht could have conquered in maybe three weeks.
So yes, Snowden probably should have at least TRIED to limit the exposure of the government’s foreign spying. Excellent point (future whistleblowers, if any, take note). In my book he’s still a hero, although perhaps with muddy feet. Nevertheless, even if Snowden was wrong to reveal information about the foreign intelligence gathering, you still need to act on the information that he gave you about the rot in your own government. Otherwise you will deserve what you will get. And you won't enjoy it. But at least Snowden gave you a choice.