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An Open Letter to the Next Edward Snowden

In the national security state, whistleblowers may be some of the last vanguards of the old democratic system.

| Tue Sep. 17, 2013 9:57 AM PDT

You are, in that sense, the perfect double agent. Until you, in essence, become a spy for the American people, for the old democratic system in which government was the people's property and those we elect were supposed to let us know what they were doing in our name, you aren't just masquerading as one of them, you are.

I have no way of knowing what will first strike you as wrong. I just know that something will. It might be very specific and close at hand—something amiss you see in the program you're working on, some outrageous expenditure of money or set of lies about what an agency or outfit is doing, or some act or set of acts that you, in growing up, had been taught were un-American. The possibilities are legion. After all, the national security system that they've built and engorged with taxpayer dollars, using fear and the excuse of American "safety," has dispatched armies, and special ops outfits, and drones all over the world to commit mayhem and increase global instability, to kill civilians, wipe out wedding parties, kidnap and torture the innocent, assassinate by robot, and so on.

Or maybe it all just sneaks up on you, the wrongness of it. Maybe, even if you're too young to remember the totalitarian states of the previous century, something about the urge of our national security managers to create total systems of control, trump the law, and do as they please in the name of their need for knowledge will simply get under your skin. You'll know that this isn't the way it was supposed to be.

At some point, it will just creep you out, and even though until that moment you didn't know it, you'll be ready. They won't be able to avoid you. They won't be able to eliminate you. They won't even be able to find you.  You are, after all, part of their landscape, like the grass on the hillside or the steps to a house.

Even now, they are undoubtedly giving you tips on how to blowback on them. As the latest articles about the National Security Agency tell us, they have begun excusing their sins by claiming that the system they have created is now beyond even their understanding or control, so what hope do they have of understanding or controlling you? They have out-built even themselves.

Manning and Snowden were the first harbingers of the new world of whistleblowing. Snowden learned from Manning and other whistleblowers who preceded him and were persecuted by the state. You will learn from all of them. Each of them was a small tornado-like version of the blowback machine they are still in the process of creating. Each changed how the world looks America and how many of us look at ourselves. Each put in place some small part of the foundation for a world in which such a blowback machine would not be the creation of choice for those with the money and power to build monuments to themselves. Each was a raging embarrassment, a dent in the amour-propre of the national security state. Each was an insult to its ability to control much of anything, including itself. 

Those running the government and many of those who write about you in the mainstream will revile you. You will be denounced as a traitor, a defector, a criminal, and your acts called treasonous, even if you're one of the last hopes of the American republic.  Right now, those like you are sure to be prosecuted, jailed, or chased implacably across the planet. But this won't last forever. Someday, your country will recognize what you did—first of all for yourself, for your own sense of what's decent and right in this world, and then for us—as the acts of an upright and even heroic American.

In the meantime, just remember: the national security state is a giant blowback machine and you, whoever you are, will be part of the answer, the remedy, to it.

Sincerely,

Tom Engelhardt
TomDispatch.com

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture (recently published in a Kindle edition), runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

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