Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning-Heroes or Naive Citizens?


by Agranee Kapoor , NALSAR 2018

The names of Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning have been all over the news for the past few months. The reason behind this that they have triggered a debate that has compelled us to rethink the position of personal rights over state rights or vice versa. These two individuals have been perceived in two starkly different ways by different sets of people. The first set of people believes these men to be heroes and the other set sees them as naïve individuals who didn’t entirely understand the impact that leaking such information would have (“You can’t handle the truth!”).

Bradley Manning & Edward Snowden

Who are these individuals and how did they obtain access to such classified information?

Who is Chelsea Manning?

Bradley Manning (now known as Chelsea Manning) was a U.S. army soldier. He had access to highly classified information and while he on duty in Iraq he downloaded the Afghanistan and Iran war logs. The war logs consist of more than 92,000 records of action of the US military in Afghanistan between January 2004 and December 2009. He contacted WikiLeaks and they published the information from the war logs in early 2010. However, Adrian Lamo, a threat analyst and former hacker, reported his activities to the US defence department which led to his arrest in late May of 2010. He was moved to a solitary cell in the United States after which information regarding war crimes, civilians deaths, instances of death were reported by WikiLeaks. The inhuman treatment of Manning in the prison resulted in a furore and protest by international organisations (UNO, Amnesty International and various whistle-blowers). On August 22, 2013, the day after his sentencing by a martial court, Manning’s attorney announced that she is a female, and asked that she be referred to by her new name (Chelsea) and feminine pronouns.

Who is Edward Snowden?

Edward Snowden, a former Central Intelligence Agency technical worker and a former NSA contractor, was the source of one of the biggest information leaks in US history. Materials provided by Mr Snowden to the media allege the US has conducted widespread and illegal surveillance of its citizens and other nations. He leaked reports which stated that the National Security Agency (NSA) was keeping track of the phone records of several customers of a company called Verizon and this was legitimised by a court order that allowed the Government access to such information. The NSA was also said to have had access to information (emails, chats and search histories) from various websites like Google and Facebook under an undisclosed surveillance program known as the PRISM?

What is PRISM?

PRISM is a government code name for a data-collection effort known officially by the SIGAD US-984XN. The Prism program collects stored Internet communications based on demands made to Internet companies under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 to turn over any data that match court-approved search terms. PRISM began in 2007 in the wake of the passage of the Protect America Act under the Bush Administration. The program is operated under the supervision of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court, or FISC) pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

What is “classified information”?

The criteria for deeming something “classified” is met when an “unauthorized disclosure of the information could reasonably be expected to result in damage to national security.” The person classifying the information, referred to as a “classification authority,” must also describe how the information could be damaging before making that distinction. The classifying authority is usually the President, Secretary of Defence and other such officials who have access to such data.

What is the difference between these two men?

Manning was part of the US army and hence, she was tried by a court martial and was dealt with in a harsh manner. Snowden continues to remain in asylum and has not faced trial.

What were the repercussions of their acts?

Manning spent 3 years in prison without a hearing. In 2013 she confessed to having leaked military information. A court martial held which absolved her of charges of aiding the enemy however held her guilty on charges of espionage.
Edward Snowden travelled from Hong Kong to Moscow and attempted to seek asylum in Russia. However he was warned that if he was to remain in Russia he must stop leaking any more secrets at which he withdrew his asylum request and sent requests to 20 other countries. Nicaragua and Venezuela offered him asylum however he was unable to leave Russia and therefore could not travel to Latin America. He is now staying is Russia where the President, Vladimir Putin has granted him temporary refugee status for a period of one year. This has led to an adverse impact on the political relations between Russia and the United States.

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  1. Thank you, Agranee. 🙂
    Under “What is the difference..” I think you’ve unknowingly referred to Manning as “she” and “he” in the same sentence.
    But, apart from that, it’s really well-written. Thanks, again. 🙂

    • Well technically its not in the same sentence is it? and then there could be a pun intended by the author considering the fact that there is an ongoing gender dispute 😛 While Manning refers to herself as she, the members of the army continue to see Manning as a male.

  2. Thanks a ton Agranee!
    Great research and effort put in there. Its a shame how the roads of civilization are gradually making us enslave ourselves.
    I would have loved to read more about your views on the issue though and also about the legal implications that such an activity would have had in India.

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