Hot on the heels of Edward Snowden documentary “Citizenfour” winning a well-deserved Oscar, director Laura Poitras, journalist Glenn Greenwald and Snowden himself participated in an “ask me anything” chat on Reddit.
It’s a fascinating question and answer session, and I would recommend you read it.
But one question in particular stands out for Snowden’s response.
The NSA whistleblower, who now lives in Moscow, was asked if he would do anything differently in retrospect.
Mr. Snowden, if you had a chance to do things over again, would you do anything differently? If so, what?
Had I come forward a little sooner, these programs would have been a little less entrenched, and those abusing them would have felt a little less familiar with and accustomed to the exercise of those powers. This is something we see in almost every sector of government, not just in the national security space, but it’s very important:
Once you grant the government some new power or authority, it becomes exponentially more difficult to roll it back. Regardless of how little value a program or power has been shown to have (such as the Section 215 dragnet interception of call records in the United States, which the government’s own investigation found never stopped a single imminent terrorist attack despite a decade of operation), once it’s a sunk cost, once dollars and reputations have been invested in it, it’s hard to peel that back.
Don’t let it happen in your country.
Daniel Ellsberg, of course, was also a whistleblower. 45 years ago he exposed The Pentagon Papers which revealed that the US government was lying about the war in Vietnam, and the probability of victory.
Both Ellsberg and Snowden regret that they hadn’t spoken sooner about what they knew was happening.
But thank goodness they did something - because otherwise, maybe the Vietnam war would have lasted longer and maybe we would have had no clue about the extent of covert surveillance and illegal activity by intelligence agencies.
The final words go to Daniel Ellsberg:
Don’t do what i did.
Don’t wait until a new war has started, don’t wait until thousands more have died, before you tell the truth with documents that reveal lies or crimes or internal projections of costs and dangers.
You might save a war’s worth of lives.