Whistle-blowing vital in a democracy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 June, 2013, 12:31am

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.