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Lon Snowden's letter to President Obama
Dear Mr. President:
You are acutely aware that the history of liberty is a history of civil disobedience to
unjust laws or practices. As Edmund Burke sermonized, “All that is necessary for the
triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
"Civil disobedience is not the first, but the last option. Henry David Thoreau wrote
with profound restraint in Civil Disobedience: “If the injustice is part of the necessary
friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smoothcertainly
the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a
crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be
worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of
injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the
Thoreau’s moral philosophy found expression during the Nuremburg trials in which
“following orders” was rejected as a defense. Indeed, military law requires disobedience to
clearly illegal orders.
A dark chapter in America’s World War II history would not have been written if the
then United States Attorney General had resigned rather than participate in racist
concentration camps imprisoning 120,000 Japanese American citizens and resident aliens.
Civil disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Act and Jim Crow laws provoked the end of
slavery and the modern civil rights revolution.
We submit that Edward J. Snowden’s disclosures of dragnet surveillance of
Americans under § 215 of the Patriot Act, § 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
Amendments, or otherwise were sanctioned by Thoreau’s time-honored moral philosophy
and justifications for civil disobedience. Since 2005, Mr. Snowden had been employed by
the intelligence community. He found himself complicit in secret, indiscriminate spying on
millions of innocent citizens contrary to the spirit if not the letter of the First and Fourth
Amendments and the transparency indispensable to self-government. Members of
Congress entrusted with oversight remained silent or Delphic. Mr. Snowden confronted a
choice between civic duty and passivity. He may have recalled the injunction of Martin
Luther King, Jr.: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps
to perpetrate it." Mr. Snowden chose duty. Your administration vindictively responded
with a criminal complaint alleging violations of the Espionage Act.
From the commencement of your administration, your secrecy of the National
Security Agency’s Orwellian surveillance programs had frustrated a national conversation
over their legality, necessity, or morality."
to read Lon Snowden's letter to President Obama from July 26, 2013, click on