Patriots or Traitors?

Posted on Aug 2, 2013 | 8 Comments

This has been the week of whistleblowers—or at least those who’ve held themselves out to be whistleblowers.

Bradley Manning, who leaked thousands of U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks, was found guilty of 20 offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including six violations of the Espionage Act. He was, however, exonerated on the charge of “aiding the enemy.” Meanwhile, former defense contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked secrets from the National Security Agency, was granted temporary asylum in Russia.

The actions of both men have sparked fierce disagreements: Are they patriots or traitors?


Image credit: Jared Rodriguez/truthout

“For every reporter, civil libertarian and human rights lawyer who praises Manning’s bravery there is someone else who harbors seething resentment at the gall he displayed in deciding, for himself, which secrets he would keep and which he wouldn’t,” Andrew Cohen wrote in The Atlantic.

Michael Kelleywriting in Business Insider, found a similar split regarding Snowden. “Snowden is a whistleblowing hero for providing evidence of what is widely considered as an unnecessary and unconstitutional mass surveillance of the American people,” Kelley observed, but he also “betrayed his country by leaking classified but not necessarily unlawful NSA methods that could be of great value to a foreign intelligence services.”

Anyone looking to harness the words of Peter Drucker in this debate will find no open-and-shut answer. Certainly, as we’ve discussed, Drucker took a dim view of whistleblowing, which he viewed, apart from extreme cases, as a violation of the ethics of “interdependence.” He also certainly understood the need for national defense.

But Drucker was concerned that, in the era of the “Megastate,” mindless patriotism could supplant true citizenship. “Patriotism, the willingness to die for one’s country, has been universal,” Drucker wrote in Post-Capitalist Society. But citizenship, by which Drucker meant “making a difference in one’s community, in one’s society, in one’s country,” was much more rare. “Without citizenship, there cannot be that responsible commitment which creates the citizen and which in the last analysis holds together the body politic,” Drucker warned. “Power is then the only thing that holds it together.”

Also, regardless of how Drucker would have felt about Manning’s and Snowden’s decisions to go public, he would at least have been sympathetic to their private doubts over the morality of what they were doing when they were working for the government. “Every institution has to be analyzed in terms of the beliefs and promises of the society which it serves,” Drucker wrote in Concept of the Corporation. “Does the institution strengthen the citizen’s allegiance to his society by furthering the realization of society’s ethical beliefs and promises?”

Finally, Drucker may well have seen the actions of Snowden and Manning—and society’s reaction—as quintessentially American, for better or worse. In almost all nations, citizens give allegiance unconditionally, whereas many Americans adjust their levels of allegiance in accordance with the degree to which they feel the nation is living up to its creed.

“This country has to take seriously any question relating to the relationship between American creed and American social performance,” Drucker wrote. “It must always ask whether its social institutions carry out the basic promises of American life or not.”

Do you think the actions of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden were laudable or deplorable?


  1. Ken S.
    August 2, 2013

    Traitors. They could have raised there concerns via official channels – inspectors general, members of congress, the courts – but instead chose to go extra-legal and greatly harm their country in the process.

    The chaos they reap by their actions is the same chaos they sowed.

    • Ilona
      August 2, 2013

      I wonder how such approach would have worked?…

  2. Angelica Kohlmann
    August 3, 2013

    Very good article analyzing the pros and cons. But – “In almost all nations, citizens give allegiance unconditionally” – is this statement fact based? How can one assert in one sentence that (almost) all other nations are devastatingly uncritical? Would Peter Drucker have underestimated all other people?

  3. Brendan
    August 3, 2013

    Responsible citizenship requires that we question the acts of governments in the quest for “National Security”. Had either person gone through the proper channels, would the actions of the intelligence agencies involved even made it to the public domain?

    These are neither heroes or villains but chose bring into the light the true working of governments. Thus opening the debate on the rights of citizens to privacy. Inevitably they serve to make Governments more responsible, more transparent and more accountable to the people they serve.

    Sadly globally there are very few mechanisms for the protection of whistleblowers in combating the mis-use of power, exposing corruption and other infringements on personal freedoms.

    Freedom is dangerous, but hegemony and the Orwellian state is even more so…

  4. rasih
    August 3, 2013

    Being a German, who had two great years in CA and who loves America, I am more and more concerned how the USA is on the path of getting paranoid with “security”.

    Yes, one has to protect his country and citizens.
    Yes, a government has to make sure that “law and order” is obeyed.

    But frankly, has all this activities which comes out now – Prism, NSA, Iraque, Afghanistan and and and… – brought the Americans more safety and freedom? Have all the billions of Dollars spend – or wasted – brought you more freedom and safety?

    I just read that the governement is closing all it’s embassys in Arab countrys this weekend. Americans are warned not to travel in certain areas. When I pass by the American embassy in Hamburg or Berlin, I see a fortress, where the American people working there have been protected from the “evil” outside the building – hello, in Germany, a partner and friend of the Americans!!!

    Benjamin Franklin once said “Those who give up freedom in order to gain security, will at the end loose both” A pity for the American people that the country is not run by wise politicans as Benjamin Franklin anymore.

    I don’t dare to critize America and it’s politics. I am just sadly watching how the US is going the wrong path and building brick by brick a higher wall between freedom, friends and partners. At the end, America might loose everything: it’s freedom, it’s security and it’s allies and friends in the world.

    So, coming back to whisteblowers: yes, whistleblowers who are showing to “we the people…” that things go wrong, are in my view brave people, who put the public good above their personal well-being. And history will show in some decades, that people like Manning and Snowdon have done their country a great favour.

  5. Mike Grayson
    August 3, 2013

    I worked for quite a long time with the intelligence community and I can tell you that things aren’t always as the appear. In the 1980′s and 90′s, if you worked on a Top Secret project, it was usually highly compartmentalized. You only had access to what you needed to know. In other words, you never had the big picture, especially if you are junior personnel. I doubt if things have changed that much. It is likely that Snowden and Manning had access to high classified information but jumped to conclusions about how it was being used and whether or not any laws were being violated.

    A case in point… I was in involved in a signal intelligence project that “appeared” to be violating U.S. law. It was deeply disturbing. The project was classified Top Secret and I had been briefed, in no uncertain terms, that discussion of the project would result in criminal prosecution. The problem was that I only saw my piece of the project. It wasn’t until 10 years later that I had access to the entire program and discovered that it was under close guidance by the Intelligence Committee and was for a specific purpose. What appeared to be a violation of U.S. law, wasn’t a violation at all.

    If I had acted without having all the facts and become a whistle-blower, I would have upset a project that was very important to our national security. I maintained the trust that was given to me, and in hindsight, I am very thankful that I did. But, make no mistake, at the time, when I thought our government was doing something wrong, it was very difficult. My superiors were right in keeping it compartmentalized.

    Snowden and Manning have some things in common. They are both very young and did not work in the intelligence community very long. They both also only had a small piece of the puzzle and jumped to conclusions that wrong doing was taking place. They both violated the trust that was bestowed upon them.

    If their actions have revealed any violation of U.S. law by any government officials, then those officials will be tried in criminal court. Manning has already been tried for his actions and found guilty on almost all charges levied against him. Snowden is sure to face criminal charges if he ever returns to the U.S.

    We, and the rest of the world, cannot make a judgement as to whether or not their actions were laudable or deplorable, because even though we know about the information, the programs using the information are still classified and we don’t have the big picture. There are checks and balances in place that should insure that the right thing is being done. Investigations are under way, and wrongdoers will be punished.

    My greater concern is with organizations such as the IRS and the FEC where there is ample evidence of violation of law for the purpose of gaining political power. And the monumental disaster of Obamacare, where we now find out that those who are administering it have no desire to be involved in it and those who supported it, such as unions, now realize that it will have dire consequences. The grab for political power and bowing to special interests is sickening, and I hope the American people wake up during the next two election cycles and do their homework before they vote.

    Drucker was right, there is a great danger in a government that is too big and powerful. When America was founded it was great because of its values, because it had very little power economically or militarily. We need to return to the values and shrink the imposition of government in our lives.

  6. Patricia Valencia
    August 5, 2013

    The isocratic curve is a road that we do not permit to elude nothing. I have clear is a species of truth, because for moments the truth neither exist.

  7. Maverick 18
    August 8, 2013

    Manning and Snowden are not heroes. They are not even whistle blowers as they did not expose wrong doing. They engaged in wrong doing themselves by violating laws and jeopardizing America and Americans. George Washington knew exactly how to deal with those of such ilk. He had them hung.


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