In a detailed interview with The Australian Financial Review, General Michael Hayden–former director of both the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)–made a rather interesting remark about Edward Snowden. He compared the former intelligence contractor’s supposed ideological reasons for whistle-blowing to Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s suspected ties to radical Islam.
The interviewer asks Hayden whether or not he considers Snowden a hero or a traitor. In response, Hayden remarks that “He’s certainly not a hero,” but subsequently adds “The word traitor has a very narrowly defined legal meaning that he may not in the end quite meet.” From a legal standpoint, it seems that Snowden is neither a hero nor a traitor. Some might dub these terminological exercises as semantics. Others, however, might accuse Hayden of evading the question.
Either way, Hayden opines about Snowden’s character:
I personally think Snowden is a very troubled, narcissistic young man who has done a very, very bad thing.
I don’t think Snowden spied for the money, and he probably did not spy for the power. He seems to have revealed this information because of his ideological embrace of transparency as a virtue.
He concludes with a comparison of Snowden’s recourse to transparency and its popular support to the probable ideological motivations of the Tsarnaev brothers, the accused Boston Marathon bombers:
It is a little like the Boston bombers. The issue is at what point does Islamic fundamentalism flip-over and become a genuine national security threat? Likewise, at what point does a cultural tendency towards transparency flip-over to become a deep threat inside your system? They are similar issues.
These questions are fine and dandy, but the elephant in the room’s still hanging out in the room: “It is a little like the Boston bombers.” Hayden’s point here is the analogical connection between the Tsarnaev brothers’ Islamic fundamentalism and Snowden’s professed attachment to transparency. Specifically, he opines that both can offer problematic tipping points that threaten national security.
It’s easy to latch on to extreme interpretations of Hayden’s comments and their implications. On the one hand, he’s right–beliefs aren’t inherently bad, but they can lead to highly detrimental actions. On the other hand, some might think Hayden’s comparison directly equates Snowden with the Tsarnaev brothers. Either way, this correlation begs the question. It begs several questions, in fact. Questions about how alike or different these two cases are in terms of the preceding, immediate and long-lasting effects they engender. Or where the line should be drawn between the freedom of belief (and acting on said belief) and enforcement against harmful ideologies.
A great deal of time will pass before we achieve a fuller knowledge of the events preceding, coinciding with and succeeding the Boston Marathon bombings and Snowden’s intelligence leaks. Even so, the oft-repeated idiom about apples and oranges comes to mind when Hayden places Snowden and the Tsarnaev brothers in the same sentence.