Courage our network

Lon Snowden on speaking truth to power

This weekend, an op-ed written by Edward Snowden’s father Lon appeared in the pages of Philadelphia magazine. Lon Snowden, a former chief warrant officer with the US Coast Guard, used the article to draw parallels between his son’s actions and those of the Media Eight, who brought COINTELPRO to the attention of the US public by breaking into an FBI field office in Pennsylvania in 1971.

The passage of time has proven the Media Eight to be great Americans — courageous humanists who placed civic duty above self-interest and personal safety, to take necessary action to warn their fellow citizens of the FBI’s disregard for both the law and the constitutional rights of many innocent Americans. The Media Eight exposed high crimes and abuses that senior government officials intended to cloak in secrecy — crimes and abuses now documented as indisputable historical fact thanks to the skill and courage of the Media Eight.

Snowden argues that, just like with his son, a “politically motivated justice system … [that] remains highly biased against citizens who expose government abuses that embarrass or implicate favored political elites” was not capable of recognising the civic virtue of the Media Eight at the time when their revelations were brought into the public domain.

Exposing themselves to that type of “due process” would have allowed the government to ruthlessly smear them, distract the public with propaganda, and sequester the truth-tellers to prison while providing a legion of parasitic media shills with talking points to distort or bury the truth. The same strategy is used to silence truth-tellers today, though the tactics are now far more sophisticated and insidious… My son now lives in exile, but considering the government’s reprehensible treatment of other truth-tellers, detainees and prisoners over the past decade, I’m genuinely thankful that he is on foreign soil.

Expanding on the influence of official narratives, Snowden explains that the very terms we use risk distorting our view of what inevitably become highly politicised situations. What is important is not whether people report from within an organisation or without it or whether formalised “whistleblower” procedures are followed (as Snowden argues, even those following such regulations tend to “pay a high price personally and professionally”) but on the function they serve and the import of the information brought to public attention.

The government conditions the media to use a deceptive lexicon to describe such citizens as whistle-blowers, criminals, leakers, traitors or rogues. They use such labels because describing them as what they are — truth-tellers — has paradoxical implications for a Justice Department attempting to persecute and prosecute them for daring to “speak truth to power.” “Truth-teller” is a context the government feared in 1971 and continues to fear today — especially when the truth-telling has been criminalized. In principled societies, integrity is valued, and liars are reviled.

Read the full article here.