Experts wonder: Did Snowden commit treason?

posted at 8:41 am on June 13, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

That depends — on whether we use a rhetorical definition or a legal definition.  Politico polls legal experts, whose answers range from no to not yet:

Treason is a crime so old that it’s the only one specifically defined in the U.S. Constitution, but legal experts suggest it’s a charge that Snowden will most likely never face. And “traitor” seems to fit better in the world of Benedict Arnold and dueling pistols than in today’s sea of electronic surveillance and top secret security clearances.

Constitutionally, treason is defined as “whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere.”

That’s a tough sell in Snowden’s case, legal experts say.

“I do not believe it is treason,” said George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley. “There is nothing to suggest that his motivation was to assist our enemies or a foreign power.”

A more cautious response, at least legally speaking, comes from University of Virginia law professor John Harrison, who points out that we don’t know exactly what Snowden did or who he worked with yet:

“Unless the potential defendant is someone who engaged in hostilities, … the question is whether he adhered to the U.S.’s enemies and gave them aid and comfort, which, in turn, depends on who is an enemy,” Harrison said. If the enemy is considered to be a member of Al Qaeda, it opens up all sorts of other questions about the definition of enemy that are still murky in current law.

Harrison clarified, however, that treason isn’t an impossible charge for Snowden.

“If you think that one, Al Qaeda and similar groups are the enemy for purposes of treason; two, his actions assisted them in operations against the U.S.; and three, that was his intention,” Harrison said, “then the argument that it was treason is pretty good.”

A number of people, including John Boehner, called Snowden a “traitor” or have accused Snowden of acting treasonously.  That doesn’t necessarily signify a legal opinion, however.  That terminology gets used rhetorically and politically — far too often in the latter sense, unfortunately — as a general criticism of anything perceived to harm or weaken the country.  For those not inclined to see Snowden as a hero, the epithet fits pretty well, especially considering his flight to China, not exactly seen as a great American ally.

And Snowden’s latest assertion does weaken the US, at least politically, against China:

For months, China has tried to turn the tables on the U.S. to counter accusations that it hacks America’s computers and networks. Now, former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden may have handed Beijing a weapon in its cyber war of words with Washington. …

Snowden’s allegations follow comments last week from China’s Internet security chief, who told state media that Beijing has amassed huge amounts of data on U.S.-based hacking. The official held off on blaming the U.S. government, saying it would be irresponsible and that the better approach is to seek to co-operate in the fight against cyberattacks.

On Thursday, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chungying said China is a “major victim” of cyberattacks but did not lay blame.

The reaction was stronger online. Air Force Col. Dai Xu, known for the hawkish opinions he voices on his Sina Weibo microblog, wrote: “I have always said, the United States’ accusations about Chinese hacking attacks have always been a case of a thief crying for another thief to be caught.”

The Post cited Snowden as saying the NSA has been hacking into computers in Hong Kong and mainland China since 2009, citing documents he showed the paper, which it said it could not verify. It didn’t provide further details about the documents.

Was anyone surprised by an allegation that we hack and spy on China?  These are, after all, espionage agencies.  Both the CIA and the NSA have as their mission the collection of intelligence from foreign countries, and China again isn’t exactly a close ally of the US.  They are developing into a world power politically, militarily, and economically, and that could create huge risks for the US if we don’t remain aware of their capabilities … and the reverse is true for China as well.  The only person who claims to be shocked, shocked by the revelation is Snowden, which prompts the question: exactly what did he think the CIA and NSA did before taking a job in intelligence work?

Legally speaking, we don’t need to debate whether Snowden is a traitor, because the laws he broke already would put him in prison for decades.  Rhetorically speaking, I’d say he’s neither hero or traitor until we get more evidence than we have at the moment.

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Swine of the world, with deep apologies to the clean pigs.

Schadenfreude on June 13, 2013 at 1:58 PM

I’m so tired of the wimps in this country ceding rights. It is these same wimps who want troops committed to deal with the problem but not too harshly so they hamper them with a ton of rules of engagement. These same wimps won’t make the argument that probable cause may have to include some profiling because they can’t take the politically correct heat, so we get watered down rights for all.

I want off this rollercoaster of insanity. Snowden has done more to uphold the constitution than most congressmen. He may not be a saint for this or some unknown action, but this specfic exposure was absolutely needed. Our government is too powerful and does not respect the limited power that should bind them.

Chubbs65 on June 13, 2013 at 2:37 PM

There is obviously a concerted effort on the Right to mitigate this story by focusing, Alinsky-style, on Snowden.

It’s mostly beside the point to engage in tinfoil hat speculations on Snowden’s motives when everything he has alleged has been confirmed as true by another NSA whistleblower- William Binney. Binney’s credentials and character are impeccable, and he went exactly the route in making his revelations known as Snowden’s critics assert he should have; with the result that no one’s heard of Binney and his actions had no impact.

http://dailycaller.com/2013/06/10/what-do-they-know-about-you-an-interview-with-nsa-analyst-william-binney/5/

sartana on June 13, 2013 at 8:53 AM

in 2005 the original NSA whistle blower Russell D. Tice leaked info that the NSA and the DIA were engaged in unlawful and unconstitutional wiretaps on American citizens.

Tice claimed that spying on Americans involved a massive computer system known as ECHELON, which is able to search and filter millions of phone calls and e-mails in a matter of seconds.

Russell D. Tice also testified that while he worked for the NSA communications of journalists(and entire news organizations)were being recorded 24/7.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan refused to comment on the story on December 16, 2005 exclaiming “there’s a reason why we don’t get into discussing ongoing intelligence activities, because it could compromise our efforts to prevent attacks from happening.”

In reaction to Tice’s claims, Republicans demanded that he be tried as a traitor and right-wing talking heads like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, launched an offensive against his credibility. On his Fox News broadcast of January 11, 2006, O’Reilly said that Tice should be jailed for his whistleblowing activity.

He was called a traitor by the right and a hero by the left.

No one cares about US laws or the constitution anymore. Americans approve of morally repugnant policies that go against the principles that the Founding Fathers such as the approval of such unlawful activities as domestic spying, torture, unlawful renditions, indefinite detention with no charges or trial or the opportunity to see evidence against you, drones, assassinations and etc.

JustTheFacts on June 13, 2013 at 3:08 PM

Not only NO but Hell NO. Did the U.S. Government commit treason – Hell YES!

lhuffman34 on June 13, 2013 at 3:24 PM

Not only NO but Hell NO. Did the U.S. Government commit treason – Hell YES!

lhuffman34 on June 13, 2013 at 3:24 PM

I’m waiting for someone to claim “the government CAN’T commit treason!”

MadisonConservative on June 13, 2013 at 3:29 PM

Perhaps, Snowden is a recent Obama recruit who was instructed to pass on information to our enemies…

We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK,” Obama said.

This is one way to undermine the imperialist country that we are….

mcra99 on June 13, 2013 at 4:47 PM

The government can’t commit treason. However any number of government functionaries can.

I still haven’t see anybody argue that this domestic surveillance and retention of intelligence information on “US persons” is not an intentional violation of Executive Order 12333 (signed by Reagan) – which to my knowlege, has not been rescinded… Our JAG officers are still pitching Intelligence Oversite based on 12333 to this day. Violation of the EXORD had a stiff fine and a 10 year prison sentence. Further had an low level person in any number of intelligence disciplines done anything similar (and on a much smaller scale) they’d have been locked up in a nano-second.

Technically divulging classified information is a crime – however if the intelligence information is evidence of criminal activity at the highest levels of government and the intelligence agencies, it’s somewhat of a dilema as to who to report the crimality to – AND it is the legal, moral and ethical responsibility of every gov’t employee to report criminality – certainly, reporting it to the Inspector General (of the NSA) would have had zero results. It’s doubtful that reporting this information to a congressman or senator would have had any results either, judging by all the “traitor” squealing coming out of Washington…

John_G on June 13, 2013 at 5:12 PM

I’m waiting for someone to claim “the government CAN’T commit treason!”

MadisonConservative on June 13, 2013 at 3:29 PM

I’m sure they’ll be along shortly. There’s a whole slew of people who honestly believe that if the congress passes a law, it’s automatically constitutional.

Wendya on June 13, 2013 at 9:13 PM

It was a joke/snark on LIV. Pretty good one too. Relax.

kim roy on June 13, 2013 at 1:06 PM

Asking for clarification from someone who was being snarky & ridiculous is a sign I need to relax? lol

Do you think your portrayal of what I did says more about you, or me? :)

Anti-Control on June 13, 2013 at 9:24 PM

I just heard someone say it right:

Snowden is a hero to freedom loving americans, and a traitor to the political power structure

No one cares about US laws or the constitution anymore. Americans approve of morally repugnant policies that go against the principles that the Founding Fathers such as the approval of such unlawful activities as domestic spying, torture, unlawful renditions, indefinite detention with no charges or trial or the opportunity to see evidence against you, drones, assassinations and etc.

JustTheFacts on June 13, 2013 at 3:08 PM

More true than it used to be. the problem is, the press in general supports the new lawlessness. Those who do not support it are marginalized. Those who suspect the new lawlessness is wrong are confounded by the press – literally – they begin to doubt their own reality. The children are being taught the new lawlessness. The State is weeding out the promoters of the old system. The public entertainments are being created to redefine morality and justice.

Meanwhile, the FBI did not even check the local mosques for four days after the Boston bombing, even to have people look at photos of the suspects, because they were prohibited by the new lawlessness, but my cell phone calls are being triangulated and stored daily, and I will be even now on the suspect list if I register the name ‘Tea Party’

Rebellion against lawlessness shall be punished severely. Groups advocating the overthrow of the old law will be facilitated

entagor on June 14, 2013 at 12:41 AM

Snowden may turn out to be a traitor as well, but he is primarily an anarchist and a fool, which are not shining recommendations for his efforts, whatever they really are.

You cannot have freelancers meddling with serious national security.

As bad as the intelligence systems are worldwide, anarchy is worse.

The Snowden/Manning/Assange hacker mentality brings chaos.

(See: the joys of the Arab Spring for a recent demo.)

profitsbeard on June 14, 2013 at 2:49 AM

profitsbeard on June 14, 2013 at 2:49 AM

He certainly didn’t do what he did because he’s a patriot…

Anti-Control on June 14, 2013 at 6:30 AM

Perhaps, Snowden is a recent Obama recruit who was instructed to pass on information to our enemies…

“We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK,” Obama said.

This is one way to undermine the imperialist country that we are….

Glenn Greenwald Calls “Weakening of America” a “Very Good Thing”

http://www.aim.org/aim-column/glenn-greenwald-calls-weakening-of-america-a-very-good-thing/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+AccuracyInMedia+%28Accuracy+In+Media%29

mcra99 on June 14, 2013 at 10:36 PM

wow. That’s a real head scratcher.

TimBuk3 on June 16, 2013 at 11:42 PM

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