Here is the link to the Slate article.
This whole situation with Snowden contains elements of the classic debate in ethics: is some action good (or bad) because of its “results” or because of the “means” or “motivation” involved in the action.
Snowden says his “motivations” were noble … but there is a lot of his behavior and past (a history of cheating and lying) that should cause many to doubt he is telling the truth. (I spent a little time last night on Google looking up various press stories that have tried to gain background on his schooling, family, junior college, brief stint in the Army etc. Nothing but failure and fabrication.)
But Snowden’s “means” were clearly dishonest and ignoble: cheating on qualifying tests to get his job and then lying to friends and colleagues to get their passwords so that he could gain access to classified material that he was not supposed to have access to.
But many think he is a hero because the “result” is that he revealed how extensive is the NSA capability and that they were keeping records on the communications of Americans that MIGHT BE illegal overreach. In a sense, “the end justifies the means” for many Americans (though this has always been a dubious perspective.)
Importantly, nobody has yet claimed that the NSA was doing anything illegal (neither involving Americans nor foreigners) … though there is now doubt that maybe the “legal program” it was administering was maybe itself unconstitutional. (My guess is, push comes to shove, it will be judged “constitutional” … though there will likely be generally stricter controls on the programs.)
My personal thought is that this guy will not spend his life in exile under the protection of one or another of the world’s autocrats (like, where he is now.) He does not seem to have the smarts and character to hold out with the conviction that he is a hero in exile.
My guess is that he will come back to the US (within 5 years!?), be prosecuted after a highly public and long trial, and then jailed … reveling in the celebrity he has manufactured around himself … but locked up as an otherwise creepy nobody.
Incidentally, that CIA official who said that he would be willing to “discuss” clemency made it clear in the 60 Minute Show that he would do so because he thought it vital to find out what information he had given to foreign governments and how to obtain and to secure other information he may have so that it would not fall into the wrong hands. It was not because he thought Snowden was some kind of hero whose actions deserved clemency … but “a means to an end” of securing information that was vital to US security interests.
Here we are again: is it “means” or “ends” that justify an action?