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  • Aug 23, 2014
  • Updated: 3:08pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 June, 2013, 12:31am

Whistle-blowing vital in a democracy

Only dictatorships and authoritarian governments can truly prevent leaks and punish leakers. Democracies must accept them as part of their political machinations. A free press would be impossible if there were no whistle-blowers.

Leaking is also a weapon of choice in bureaucratic infighting. You need the merry-go-round of leakers and reporters to make a democracy work. When a democracy cracks down on such people, it is in danger of losing its democratic character.

So why is there a virtual consensus among the ruling and chattering classes in the US in their condemnation of Edward Snowden? When spymaster Keith Alexander, the National Security Agency director, testified before Congress this week, the politicians almost commiserated with him. Star columnists David Brooks and Tom Friedman of The New York Times condemned Snowden for betraying the US and undermining its security. I leave out the right-wing lunacy of Fox News and The Wall Street Journal editorial pages. To be fair, a Times editorial defended Snowden.

The US is, domestically, a national security state and on the international stage the world's sole hegemonic power. Those who believe in democracy must necessarily defend Snowden, even if what he did makes them uncomfortable. It's those who pose as democracy's defenders while at heart working within the assumptions and nexus of national security and neo-imperialist power who must defend the state's prerogatives to crack down and destroy whistle-blowers. In this respect, a national security state resembles an authoritarian government, only one with superior technology and manipulation of public opinion.

In a bizarre column, Brooks denounced Snowden for being an independent-minded individualist. Is this America we are talking about - you know, land of the free, home of the brave? His sin was being the "ultimate unmediated man", which is Brooks' pretentious way of saying Snowden never graduated from high school or went to college, has no respect for authorities, and doesn't honour his family, community and professional ties. Well, individualists - and computer geeks like Snowden - tend to be like that.


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This article is now closed to comments

In USA and UK
self-styled open, fair, liberal, democratic countries
that celebrate the individual and free-thinking
why are there only so very very very few whistle-blowers
despite rampant immoral abuses
such as Libor, Gimo, drones, hackings, WMD, ....?
Caractacus: I get a good laugh from your name calling. Unlike you, a dyed-in-the-wool hate-Chinese racist, which anyone could have gathered from your previous comments, my extensive family originated in Hong Kong two generations ago now consists of white folks, Jews, Chinese with all kinds of citizenships, including US, Switzerland, Australian, Canadian, UK, China, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong inhabiting over 4 continents.
I call it as I see it -- a spade a spade. You can wallow in your dark hate passions with your favorite expat writers' fantasies about China, a country which has garnered 87% approval rating from its people. Is that why you hate yellow people and Chinese culture so much in the first place?
My white friends in North America, brothers and sisters of my extended family, have no problem accepting my "anti-democracy" comments.
We celebrate the cultural differences between white and yellow folks while tolerating merits and deficiencies of governments arisen from culture and history.
I will leave the deranged, constantly seething hatred to your fellow scumbags, who are either blatantly or covertly racist.
Like a good little CCP stooge, whymak makes his usual irrational, rabid attacks on the USA, UK, Israel, etc. and characterises stories about Chinese repression in Tibet as "manufactured". What supporting evidence does he have that the USA and UK are allergic to stories about Mossad? And what does it have to do with the Snowden affair? People like Edward Snowden will always tend to pop up and speak out in democracies whereas in tyrannies and dictatorships they would be silenced and eliminated without due process, while the information would never see the light of day. In principle a little whistle blowing is a good thing because when truth outs it tends to make abusers of power a little more careful about their conduct. Probably every country on earth has official secrets legislation and there are often perfectly good reasons for such secrecy. Official secrets are not usually about covering up government misconduct. Unfortunately for Snowden, he signed an official secrets undertaking, breach of which is a criminal offence and he knew it. Because he will be prosecuted for breach of this undertaking does not mean the USA stifles free speech or that it is "bad".
Don't get me wrong, I think extraordinary rendition "legalised" in the wake of 9/11 amid popular hysteria, was appalling because of the abuses which occurred, but this is not even in the same league.
Whistle blowing vital for democracy? You must be joking, Mr. Lo.
Were Snowden an Israeli, he would have been assassinated by Mossad the day after the Guardian expose, instead of being allowed to sing in Hong Kong like a nightingale. If not liquidated outright, he would have been drugged and smuggled back on El Al Airlines to Jerusalem some days ago. Let's face it, except for mass killings with hi-tech drones, CIA covert operations leave much to be desired. The fact that its agents can't shanghai an unarmed man out of this open city speaks volumes.
Vital for democracy? Nonsense! Seldom are newspapers in the democratic West sufficiently decent or moral, or courageous enough to publish Israeli assassinations or kidnappings in the front page, let alone featuring them in prime time news or TV magazine format documentaries.
If whistle blowing is so important to democracy, how come the US and the UK are so allergic to stories about Mossad?
On the other hand, the media just love to manufacture stories about China. During Tibet riots, CNN and Western wire services circulated ostensibly riot scenes there with old clips from Nepal and Thailand bloody demonstrations.
Democracy and Chinese meritocracy are now perceived to be two competing modes of governance. What is good for Democracy is not by encouraging domestic rat finks, but by demonizing China.
Two wrongs don’t make a right? Long days ahead for both the US government and Snowden camps to come to a common ground. Both camps must go back to the fundamentals to clear what circumstance had contributed to the events. At the end it should be the voice of US people be spoken and heard. Perhaps democracy in America needs to be rejuvenated and reinforced.
the sun also rises
Alex,you have produced another brilliant article on the Snowden Gate Incident. Salute ! Sure, a real democratic country should allow so-called whistle-blowers or data leakers who expose the misdeeds or irregularities or ciminiality as described by the now-hiding Mr.Edward Snowden who placed his trust on we Hongkongers who are pursuing a geniune democracy.So saving Snowden is equal to saving freedom of expression which every geniune democracy embraces !
Genuine democracies like Hong Kong and the other part of ONE country? - ahh....two systems - I tend to forget.


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