February 2, 2014

In his Jan. 30 op-ed, “The culture war over Snowden,” Peter Swire asked: “Is Edward Snowden a whistleblower or a traitor?” I see no reason why he cannot be both at the same time.

The U.S. Constitution says, “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” In the absence of a declared war, whether an act is treason depends on whether the recipients of such aid and comfort are “enemies.”

If we grant that in the absence of a declaration of war we have “enemies,” and these include the terrorists who make war against us, then Mr. Snowden’s actions gave them aid and comfort. At the same time, he did this country a service by informing us about what our government is doing, enabling us to have a debate and perhaps make a decision as a country about whether these actions are acceptable. The problem with the question is the “or.” He could be both.

Robert M. Hamer, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Peter Swire wrote of Silicon Valley’s view of Edward Snowden as a whistleblower that “a well-known slogan there is that ‘information wants to be free.’ ” He also noted the strenuous efforts of the same Silicon Valley — “techies, privacy groups and Internet companies” — to persuade the government to allow them to export “strong encryption” technology. If information wants to be free, what is the point of strong encryption?

Harry Kopp, Annapolis

Peter Swire wrote that Edward Snowden could have been a conscientious objector but that he “has thus far failed the test” by fleeing prosecution in the United States.

The point of conscientious objection is not to go to jail. Rather, it is to make the abusive aspects of an authority so evident to society that society won’t continue to acquiesce. Thus, for conscientious objection to work, the actions of the objectors and the response of the authority must be in the open and available for everyone to see.

This is why conscientious objection worked for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The marches from Selma to Montgomery could not be hidden. But it also is precisely why conscientious objection could not work for Mr. Snowden, even though he acted with the courage of a conscientious objector. The transgressions of the National Security Agency are not like the violence perpetrated against the marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. If Mr. Snowden had initially subjected himself the vagaries of the current Justice Department, we would have never learned the outrageous extent of the NSA abuses.

Anthony J. Macula, Arlington