Solomon: The portrait of a leaker as a young man



Painted by Robert Shetterly for his Americans Who Tell The Truth Project.


A Portrait of the Leaker as a Young Man

By Norman Solomon 

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” and "Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters With America's Warfare State."

Why have Edward Snowden's actions resonated so powerfully for so many people?

The huge political impacts of the leaked NSA documents account for just part of the explanation. Snowden’s choice was ultimately personal. He decided to take big risks on behalf of big truths; he showed how easy and hazardous such a step can be. He blew the whistle not only on the NSA’s Big Brother surveillance but also on the fear, constantly in our midst, that routinely induces conformity.

Like Bradley Manning and other whistleblowers before him, Snowden has massively undermined the standard rationales for obedience to illegitimate authority. Few of us may be in a position to have such enormous impacts by opting for courage over fear and truth over secrecy—but we know that we could be doing more, taking more risks for good reasons—if only we were willing, if only fear of reprisals and other consequences didn’t clear the way for the bandwagon of the military-industrial-surveillance state.

Near the end of Franz Kafka’s The Trial, the man in a parable spends many years sitting outside an open door till, near death, after becoming too weak to possibly enter, he’s told by the doorkeeper: “Nobody else could have got in this way, as this entrance was meant only for you. Now I'll go and close it."

That’s what Martin Luther King Jr. was driving at when he said, in his first high-risk speech denouncing the Vietnam War: “In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity.”

Edward Snowden was not too late. He refused to allow opportunity to be lost. He walked through the entrance meant only for him.

When people say “I am Bradley Manning,” or “I am Edward Snowden,” it can be more than an expression of solidarity. It can also be a statement of aspiration—to take ideals for democracy more seriously and to act on them with more courage.

The artist Robert Shetterly has combined his compelling new portrait of Edward Snowden with words from Snowden that are at the heart of what’s at stake: “The public needs to know the kinds of things a government does in its name, or the ‘consent of the governed’ is meaningless. . . The consent of the governed is not consent if it is not informed.” Like the painting of Snowden, the quote conveys a deep mix of idealism, vulnerability and determination.

Edward Snowden has taken idealism seriously enough to risk the rest of his life, a choice that is to his eternal credit and to the world’s vast benefit. His decision to resist any and all cynicism is gripping and unsettling. It tells us, personally and politically, to raise our standards, lift our eyes and go higher into our better possibilities.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” and "Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters With America's Warfare State."
[This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.]

(Bruce B. Brugmann, who signs his emails and blogs B3, writes and edits the bruce blog on the Bay Guardian website at He is the editor at large and was editor and co-founder and co-publisher of the Bay Guardian, 1966-2012),  He can be reached at  b3


Snowden does not deserve praise and respect. Instead, he has earned the disdain and condemnation of this San Franciscan, for one. He has admitted to committing a crime, and has compromised the security of the Unites States. I for one, hope never to have the misfortune to misplace my trust in someone like Snowden. Let him rot in some miserable Moscow suburb under the thumb of Russian security. He has allowed himself been manipulated by Glenn Greenwald, Julian Assange, and now by the Russians. The SFBG should have the courage to call him out as a coward and a turncoat.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 21, 2013 @ 10:24 am

the news cycle, as more and more people are seeing thru the original representation of Snowden as a hero and are seeing instead that he was merely a troublemaker, an egotist and a felon.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 21, 2013 @ 10:46 am

from its own citizens does not on its face suggest "compromising the security" of the country. I may compromise the security of its government; which may be something completely different.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jul. 21, 2013 @ 2:47 pm
Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jul. 21, 2013 @ 8:55 pm

Some have failed to realize just how pervasive the Spying has become. Others have told the truth before. But Snowden is different; He has proof. Not just on one tiny piece, but on many.

Mark Klein revealed the existence of a secret room that collected all traffic at At&t and sent it to the NSA.

Another revealed the existance of Pinwale, a massive dadabase of foreign and *domestic* emails

Bill Binney, Thomas Drake, John Kirk Wiebe and Diane Roark revealed several unconstitutional programs. Trailblazer, Turbulence, and Stellar Wind. Pervasive domestic spying.

And then there are the mail covers.

The NSA is collecting everything. Illegally.

Let's list a few laws Total Information Awareness has broken.

Pen register Act -- 18 USC § 3121
Stored Communications Act-- 18 USC Chapter 121
Electronic Communications Privacy act -- 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510–2522

Oh, and the fourth amendment too

Posted by Guest on Jul. 22, 2013 @ 1:18 am

The upset that some people have about NSA collecting phone and emails, means they are very ignorant, there is no such thing as private information. Data mining company's like Source Point has a file on nearly every American individual that includes all your basic information SS number, banking, where you had worked,how much you earn, medical, criminal background if any, education, shopping habits they probably also have what you had for breakfast. The 4th amendment does not apply to 3rd parties re. collecting your information.
Other companies like Axiom.Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, the list goes on and on, they all collect data on individuals, for the purpose of selling to clients.

Posted by David Sloane on Jul. 22, 2013 @ 8:51 am

The 4th Amendment needs to be updated to apply to corporations as well.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 9:40 pm

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