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In defence of Manning and Snowden

Whistleblowers are extremely important to the world, no matter how complex the situation.


The trial of Private Chelsea (formerly known as Bradley) Manning has generated much debate on whistleblowers and whether their actions are fundamentally right or wrong. Sentencing Manning to 35 years of imprisonment has attracted criticism for either being too harsh or too lenient. Her imprisonment has set a precedent for what other whistleblowers who leak American secrets, such as Edward Snowden, currently residing in Russia, could face.

There is a stark divide as to how the public sees Manning and other whistleblowers. Some argue that it was illegal for Manning and Snowden to leak the secrets they were privy to, and so they are automatically traitors to the US. Others argue that the public has a right to know the information leaked. Snowden’s revelations that the NSA was collecting infor­mation from the internet data and phone records of millions of people, including many foreign officials, sent shockwaves around the world. Many were outraged that they had no idea of the extent of American federal agencies’ insight into their lives. Indeed, the revelations have gener­ated a whole other debate on whether true privacy really exists any more.

Many are quick to label whistleblowers as either heroes or villains. However, the truth is far more complex. Both Manning and Snowden say they acted out of a concern for their country when leaking the classified documents. Manning’s mental state at the time she sent classified files to Wikileaks was said to be “fragile”. Watching the now infamous video of the US army helicopter opening fire on unarmed civilians perhaps triggered her to release this and other classified information, to raise public awareness of what the American army actually does in wars. Although Snowden was in a stable mental state, he was horrified by the “destruction” of people’s privacy by the NSA and wanted people to know that their liberty was being compromised.

Critics of Manning and Snowden argue that leaking such sensitive information to the general public threatens American security. There is a reason certain information is classified. Releasing this information means that everyone, including enemies of the US, has access to it.

It is hard to draw the line between what the public has a right to know, and what should be kept secret because releasing the information could potentially damage the nation. However, the information released by both Manning and Snowden arguably does not compromise national security. The leaks are more an embarassment to America than anything else. The worst they do is compromise delicate diplomatic missions and anger the public. Snowden’s revelations were an eye-opener to a public that did not know just how much their privacy was being invaded. Indeed, most of the information released simply humiliates the US by showing its wrongdoings to the world.

Whistleblowers can act as a check on big organisations and governments, by exposing what they are doing wrong. Many risk everything they have to expose the wrongdoings of these organisations. Snowden was living comfortably in Hawaii on a six-figure salary before he decided to leak US secrets – a life he will never be able to go back to. Whistleblowers who exposed massive failings within the NHS were fired from their jobs and could never work within the NHS again. However, in sacrificing their job security and comfortable lives, they expose vital issues to do with the organisation they are exposing.

The actions of Manning and Snowden may have compromised America’s diplomatic relations with other countries, but the leaks haven’t really compromised national security – they have simply shone a light on how the US government carries out its diplomatic and military dealings abroad, and the pervasiveness of its security services in ordinary people’s lives. Since the US army and the NSA are run by the government, which is elected by the public, the public have a right to know this information. Indeed, a lot of the information leaked exposed how little the general public knows about the operations of the US army abroad, and the power of US surveillance.

Although whistleblowers may cause embarrassment and may cause problems with international relations, they are extremely important to the world. The information they reveal is illuminating and people have a right to know it.

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