On July 28, TFAS hosted a powerhouse debate about former NSA contractor Edward Snowden: with one side applauding Snowden as a patriot, and the other side calling him traitor with a capital T.
Robert Turner, associate director of the University of Virginia Center for National Security Law, claimed that Snowden is a traitor, while Bruce Fein, chairman of the American Freedom Agenda and civil liberties attorney claimed that Snowden is a patriot who invoked democracy to function.
They presented opposing views to questions such as: Was the collection of telephonic metadata by the NSA legal? Have there been negative outcomes for society or the security community since the documents leaked? Have there been any positive reforms? What is the constitutional interpretation of the Fourth Amendment as it applies to this issue?
Student Leeanna Matarazzo (IEIA 14) said she doesn’t believe the issue is black and white, but that she and her fellow TFAS students became more informed to better formulate their own opinions after hearing remarks from Turner and Fein.
“I think this is a really powerful topic, specifically for students interested in working in the intelligence community like myself,” Matarazzo said. “It’s a moral dilemma that needs to be considered, and there were definitely a lot of emotions involved in the debate. I have emotional ties to the topic as a native New Yorker.”
Student Ryan Sun (IEIA 14) said he came in with the persuasion that Snowden is more of a patriot, but Turner made very compelling arguments for why that may not be true. Sun was also impressed with the professional experience and knowledge of both Fein and Turner.
“These men have great expertise because they’ve had so much experience on the front lines of foreign policy and intelligence,” Sun said. “We really benefitted from hearing their insight because they have experienced these issues in real life, not just from an academic perspective.”
Turner said that NSA collection programs are constitutional and have been approved by the courts. He maintained that the government collects data to match against databases, similar to law enforcements’ database of fingerprints used in criminal investigations, or license plate numbers collected by the Department of Motor Vehicles. The government, he said, searches or collects data to prevent another Sept. 11, and that the tragedy may never have happened if the security community hadn’t been constrained by policies promoting transparency.
Fein said that Snowden’s revelation about the NSA’s collection of telephonic metadata enabled litigation and thus invoked democracy to function. Fein classifies Snowden as a patriot because he “saved his country from the government.” Fein advocated that the general public should know more about what the government is doing so that they can make more informed decisions when exercising the right to vote.
Both Turner and Fein agreed on two points: that the NSA has been collecting telephonic metadata, and that the fourth amendment is the standard to evaluate the NSA’s actions.
TFAS alumnus John Sweda (ICPES 97) attended the event and said that while he is still conflicted about whether Snowden is a patriot or traitor, he is much more informed.
“Events like this help students realize there are two sides to every issue. There is no one way to view things, and students can see that other people view the world in a different way than they do,” Sweda said. “Some people have different opinions and we have to be able to work with that the best we can as Americans.”