On Secrecy, Now Is Not The Time

Does information want to be free? Maybe only half-free. Emily Dickinson wrote,

"Tell all the Truth but tell it slant--
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind--"

In a cryptic tweet, since deleted, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden alluded to a possible data dump before the election, writing, "Did you work with me? Have we talked since 2013? Please recontact me securely, or talk to @bartongellman. It's time. https://t.co/AKmgF5AIDJ." It could have been a call for people to come forward to help author Barton Gellman put together his biography of Snowden, but in the world of spooks and legerdemain, I took his call and its deletion as a beckoning for something more.

With all due respect to an individual who has positively impacted the debate around government surveillance and secrecy, if Snowden was thinking this, why? Coming off a week in which he argued for "curated" releases of information that the public has a right to know, his tweet smacked of schizophrenic decision-making. And I don't use that term lightly, as I have the condition myself.

In the ninety odd days before the election, a huge data dump of American secrets would strongly and negatively influence the election. This would be a tragedy as Hillary Clinton has been outpacing Donald Trump in the polls lately and staving off what would surely be a disastrous presidency with Trump.

Snowden has written positively of Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson. As much as I sympathize with his concerns over the state of our politics today (and as a person who voted for Stein in 2012), choosing anyone but Clinton in this election is illogical -- and dangerous. The New York Times recently dug into how much control a president has over the nuclear arsenal and it is scary how much one demagogue like Trump would wield over the world. They quoted an expert who said, "The president and only the president has the authority to order the use of nuclear weapons." So anything that would disrupt this positive trend of Clinton's campaign would be a grave danger to us all.

As much value as Snowden has given us through the release of information about abuses in government surveillance, there is a limit that I'm sure he knows one should not cross. Anton C. Zijderveld and Peter L. Berger write in their book In Praise of Doubt: "The type of doubt we're discussing here doesn't intentionally destroy this institutional certainty, if only because doubt is averse to radical rebellion and revolution. Nonetheless, at times it questions the taken-for-grantedness of various institutions, subjecting them to closer investigation. Within limits, this sort of doubt serves a useful social function."

They continue later:

"When doubt undermines the beneficent certitude of an institution, it causes fundamental unrest. This disquiet may admittedly be fruitful in bringing about a fundamental cultural change, and may even be a precondition for artistic or intellectual creativity. However, when anti-institutional doubt deeply penetrates the minds and moods of the population, it can degenerate into chaos and disorder or, as we saw before, end in cynicism and mindless relativism. Doubt needs sound rationality to keep it under control."

One hopes that Snowden and his friends take heed that in times like these, we don't need any more chaos.