Saturday, January 25, 2014

Profile of a Whistleblower

Originally, I was going to write this blog about something completely different. When I was doing preliminary research on the topic (South Sea Company,) I realized I had opened up a can worms I did not want to tackle on a beautiful Saturday in Hermosa Beach. So screw that. But as I was reading the news this morning at the local coffee watering hole, the new topic came to me.

I studied accounting in college, and as any post-Enron business student knows, business ethics are hit very hard in every class, even in CIS courses, but accounting especially. We learned about some of the great business whistleblowers, and about what moral courage is (eliminating the disconnect between awareness of fraud, and taking action against fraud.)  There is extreme pressure to be a whistleblower, but there is also extreme pressure to not be a whistleblower. Even with whistleblower protection laws, I have heard stories of people not being able to work in the industry they blew the whistle on ever again because who wants to hire a potential liability?

So when I was reading these articles about data collection and the NSA, I started thinking about why Edward Snowden was the only one who blew the whistle? Like, don’t a bunch of other fools work at the NSA too? Don’t they care about the same types of liberties you and I do? Or are they some elite class of people who live a life of sinister grandiose, that the devil in my head sometimes wants me to believe? This interest led me to want to write a short biography of Snowden, to see if we can mine some data about what qualities he possessed that made him speak up, when certainly some of his other colleagues could have as well. So here goes:  

Edward Snowden was born in North Carolina on June 21, 1983 to what I imagine are some wonderful, loving parents. Blah blah blah. I’m not here to tell you what you can easily find on Wikipedia, I’d rather spend our time analyzing Snowden’s specific actions and his thoughts.
Ed’s father described him in a post-leak interview as "a sensitive, caring young man", and "a deep thinker." Of course his dad would say that about him you say, but let me take you to an example from Snowden himself, that I believe really exemplifies the “sensitive, caring young man” part.

When asked by Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for The Guardian during the Hong Kong interview, "Have you given thought to what it is that the US government's response to your conduct is in terms of what they might say about you, how they might try to depict you, what they might try to do to you?" Snowden replied with this gem of pure selflessness and compassion:

"…But if you realize that that's the world you helped create and it's gonna get worse with the next generation and the next generation who extend the capabilities of this sort of architecture of oppression, you realize that you might be willing to accept any risk and it doesn't matter what the outcome is so long as the public gets to make their own decisions about how that's applied."

That blew my socks off watching him say that in the interview. Like, goodbye friends and family, goodbye USA, goodbye six figure salary, and goodbye normal life as you knew it. He could have sold the information to any agency in the world, anonymously and would have been rewarded handsomely. Instead, he did what he believed was most democratic and gave US the option to decide how we felt about it, at the expense of HIS life. Not only did he choose to leak the information openly because he felt he had nothing to hide, he also wanted to protect his co-workers from a witch hunt and accept full responsibility from the get-go.  What a stud.

In conclusion, it appears Snowden was able to do what he did because he possessed a supreme combination of “having a heart” and having the focus to become exceptional at computer science. Pretty basic isn’t it? Maybe he was born with it, or was it the Maybelline?

"You can't come forward against the world's most powerful intelligence agencies and be completely free from risk because they're such powerful adversaries. No one can meaningfully oppose them. If they want to get you, they'll get you in time. But at the same time you have to make a determination about what it is that's important to you. And if living unfreely but comfortably is something you're willing to accept, and I think it many of us are it's the human nature; you can get up everyday, go to work, you can collect your large paycheck for relatively little work against the public interest, and go to sleep at night after watching your shows."
-Edward Snowden, 2013


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