Snowden Awarded Truth-Telling Prize, But Not Everyone’s Behind It



When Edward Snowden released top secret NSA documents to the pubic, he set off a scandal over surveillance and privacy issues that’s still being contended with today. At the time, some criticized him for being un-American, disloyal, or for putting American security at risk. Richard Ledgett, deputy director of the NSA, even spoke on the matter in response to Snowden at a TED talk in March, stating that “he put people’s lives at risk.” Others have said the equivalent of “give that man a medal!”

Well, regardless of how you feel about his politics, Snowden did indeed receive a medal at the end of last month — 0r more accurately an award, specifically the Ridenhour prize for Truth-Telling. It was given to him alongside Laura Poitras, the journalist who aided him in the release of the documents and coverage of the NSA surveillance issue. The ceremony, held in Washington D.C., acknowledged the controversial nature of their choice in candidates.

“I know a number of members of the extended right in our family are uncomfortable with our next award. But the Ridenhour prizes have always dealt with difficult issues and dealing with difficult issues is, frankly, difficult,” said one member of the committee in announcing the winners, going on to explain their decision to acknowledge the work of both Poitras and Snowden.

James Bamford also spoke at the ceremony, writer of The Puzzle Palace, which is “widely recognized as perhaps the most knowledgeable journalist to report on the NSA.” Bamford spoke of Laura Poitras’ “weapon,” namely her video camera, referring to her work as a documentary maker in the Middle East, and eventually hit on her work regarding the NSA. Poitras’ involvement was especially vital, as some say she is not given the credit she deserves for her involvement in the document’s release.

“I feel very confident that both Ron Ridenhour and history will celebrate the decision to award this to Edward Snowden,” said Poitras. “I have spent many years in war zones documenting and I have not experienced the kinds of fear and intimidation that I have done in reporting on the NSA and so it’s wonderful to be here,” she said, going on to speak on the responsibilities of citizens going forward. This fear and intimidation is one that Snowden also faces, presently in Russia where he has been given shelter by the government there. In releasing the information that he did, Snowden was cognoscente of the fact that whistle blowing laws would not protect him as a contractor rather than an employee.

“I realized that … the most likely outcome of returning this information to public hands would be that I would spend the rest of my life in prison. I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do,” said Snowden, who video conferences in — as did Poitras. “Although I am honored to be in the company of so many distinguished Ridenhour awardees,” said Snowden. “This prize is not just for me, this prize is for a cohort, a cohort of so many people, whistle-blowers who came before me … and the other intelligence officers throughout the intelligence community who remembered that the first principle of any American intelligence official is not an oath to secrecy but a duty to the public.”

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