Time Magazine made a safe choice in naming Pope Francis "Person of the Year" for 2013, and I do not in any way diminish his significant contributions to global news this year.
It was Time's runner-up National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden whose enormous impact on world news should make him person of the year, and perhaps the decade. The New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan put it in her column "Snowden for Person of the Year:"
Some stories have legs: They just keep coming; they don’t fade away.Snowden's brave revelations are the reason for the global debate on mass surveillance. Without him, the press coverage Sullivan highlights would not exist, and the public would be in the dark about NSA's unhinged, invasive and wasteful surveillance apparatus.
Time is the second major media outlet to recognize Snowden's contributions. Foreign Policy magazine named him as one of 100 most influential global thinkers. (Foreign Policy has a fantastic infographic feature.) Like other honorees Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, the U.S. war on national security whistleblowers and journalists prevents them from traveling and Snowden cannot attend the Global Thinkers dinner tonight.
Time's story on Snowden has a select few worthwhile moments buried in a sensationalized portrait, such as acknowledging that
[a]t the time Snowden went public, the American people had not just been kept in the dark; they had actively been misled about the actions of their government."Misled" is the main stream media's gentle phrasing for the fact that intelligence officials lied to Congress, the courts, and the public about the fact the NSA was conducting UNtargeted, mass surveillance of entire populations, including domestically.
Unfortunately, Time falls victim to government officials self-serving assurances, which unlike Snowden's revelations, are supported by NO documentation. This whopper in particular is worth a fact-check:
Indeed, none of the Snowden disclosures published to date have revealed any ongoing programs that clearly violate current law, at least in a way that any court has so far identified. Parts of all three branches of government had been briefed and had given their approval.On the contrary, the prone-to-approve-surveillance Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) found at least one NSA domestic surveillance program unconstitutional. Meanwhile, the reason government officials continue to argue that no court has ruled the programs illegal - aside from the explanation that they are using self-interested talking points not based in fact - is that the Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has fought at every turn to prevent courts from reviewing NSA surveillance. In fact, the case where a Court would have evaluated phone records program Snowden disclosed (Clapper v. Amnesty International), was dismissed by the Supreme Court on standing grounds, with the Court relying in part on a theory promulgated by the Solicitor General that turned out to be completely false.
Time's claim that "parts of all three branches of government had been briefed" does not mean the programs are legal, not by a long shot. The supposed "briefings" to Congress are completely inadequate, sanitized and misleading versions of NSA activities. Or, as one Member of Congress put it:
I've learned far more about government spying on me and my fellow citizens from reading media reports than I have from "intelligence" briefings.The fact that the Executive branch thinks Executive branch activities are "legal" should come as no surprise and offers no comfort, especially considering that, since 9/11, both the Bush and Obama administrations have felt free to "re-interpret the law" to authorize anything they want to do from torture to assassination of Americans without due process to domestic surveillance. (Although, NSA and the White House have been duking it out in the press about whether Obama knew NSA was tapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel's personal cell phone.) Didn't we settle the "if the President does it, it's not illegal" argument in the 70s?
The part of the judicial branch is a secret court that hears only NSA's side of the argument and approves over 90% of the government's surveillance requests, albeit often after some hand-wringing, only for NSA to repeatedly ignore the court's parameters.
All of this is to say that without whistleblower Edward Snowden risking his life to tell us the truth, the press would have nothing to report about NSA spying other than what anonymous government officials told them, which, as we've repeatedly seen, are at best selective misrepresentations and at worst and most often, outright lies. At great personal risk, Snowden gave the press and the global public more information worthy of public discourse than any whistleblower in history, and that makes him a worthy Person of the Year.