The 1998 action-thriller movie Enemy of the State that tried to scare the public
about the scope of US government electronic surveillance and infringement of
civilian privacy had no idea how much broader government power in that area
actually is than even the movie presented.
In the movie, rogue US
intelligence operatives try everything they can to kill the whistle-blower on
the murder of a US senator.
Edward Snowden, the self-admitted leaker of
all of the recent revelations about the US’s mining of telephone and Internet
data of its citizens and beyond, will most likely be jailed and not killed, but
he can already add his name to a special list of persons who have become an
“enemy of the state.”
His disclosure that the US collects data from the
Verizon telephone giant on every call and all kinds of Internet data from Google
and other major Internet service providers has reignited the debate about
balancing security and privacy rights that most recently exploded in Israel
around the Anat Kamm case.
Kamm copied more than 2,000 documents when she
was assistant to the bureau chief of former Central Command head Maj.-Gen. Yair
Naveh between 2005 and 2007.
The stolen documents contained top-secret
information concerning General Staff orders, personnel numbers in the Central
Command, intelligence information, information on IDF doctrine and data
pertaining to sensitive military exercises, weaponry and military platforms,
including deployment plans to respond to a major West Bank
Upon receiving the files from Kamm, Haaretz journalist Uri
Blau went on to publish several articles, including one accusing the IDF of
defying a Supreme Court ruling against killing wanted Palestinian terrorists who
could have been captured alive. The story, approved by the military censor,
suggested the IDF had unilaterally loosened its rules of engagement and marked
terrorists for assassination.
What are the differences and similarities
between Snowden and Kamm? Is one more noble or less sinister? Kamm was in her
early 20s, a low level desk-worker and typical draftee out of high school who
released an immense volume of files, most of which she did not check for
collateral damage from disclosure. She acted ideologically, but in a general way
of trying to expose IDF secret actions she thought were illegal and immoral, but
not aimed at a specific action or program.
Effectively, Blau really chose
what would be made public and what would not.
Kamm initially wanted to
escape detection and did not reveal herself until arrested and officially
interrogated for the crime.
Snowden, older by an important margin and at
age 29 was a seasoned ex-CIA computer operative, disclosed the existence of two
specific massive programs, but was very careful about what information and
documents he disclosed.
He was ideological, appearing less
anti-government than Kamm, in that he appears to believe that the US
intelligence community is more “misguided” than “immoral” as Kamm might accuse
parts of the Israeli military of being.
Snowden outed himself before
being investigated, almost unheard of in similar cases.
was presented by the government as potentially directly endangering soldiers’
lives whereas Snowden’s leak at most endangers the effectiveness of some US
electronic-spying tools, however crucial those tools might be.
seem that Kamm, while ideological, was in over her head, and almost
spontaneously wrecked her life (or at least the several years she is serving in
prison), whereas Snowden carefully (he may get extradited, but is currently safe
in Hong Kong) and over time meticulously planned his leak.
On the other
hand, Kamm and Blau could try to claim the moral high ground, since they accused
the IDF of violating orders of the High Court.
Snowden, in contrast, has
accused the US of at most violating what he believes is the public’s sense of
what their freedoms should be, though the programs are fully authorized and
supervised by the US Congress and specialized US courts.
leaker of the US Pentagon Papers, has called Snowden’s leak even more
But again Ellsberg, like Kamm, accused a government of lying
to the public about the US war in Vietnam or violating the law.
course, another major narrative is that all government employed whistleblowers
are traitors, no matter their motivations.
This debate is likely to go
unresolved now as in the past, but if Snowden is any indication, whistle-blowers
in the modern age are a phenomenon that is here to stay.