June 25, 2013 at 12:23PM

Whistleblower, vigilante, or vendetta? When people such as Snowden and Manning go public with their information, people generally refer to them as “whistleblowers.” But is that what they really are? In general, a whistleblower is someone who observes illegal activity, and then reports it to authorities, the media, or an interested group. For a person to be a whistleblower, the activity they report needs to be secret, and illegal. In Manning’s case, with accusations of war crimes, one could argue that he felt he was reporting illegal activities. If so, then the Hague would seem to be the place to report them. Snowden claims to be exposing spying. But so far, what he has exposed seems to be stuff authorized by Congress.

It seems to be that in these cases, what is really happening is that Manning and Snowden, naive guys who took jobs in intelligence, realized at some point that they did not agree with the policies that their work was supporting. Frustrated that people in their chain of command, and possibly elsewhere, were not interested in their complaints, they decided to act on them on their own, in both cases, providing the information to media, to the public, and to foreign governments, and in both cases, in violation of oaths or promises they made. In Manning’s case, he seems to have shown little regard for any collateral damage his disclosures might have caused to innocent people.

It’s hard to accept at times that our elected officials, police, military, and others might be doing things which we consider wrong, or even evil. It’s understandable that people might feel obligated to engage in acts of civil disobedience to oppose them. It’s easy to think that we understand these things, and that we have a right to take the law into our own hands– and that when we violate the law, we are doing it for good reasons. Unfortunately, that’s also what the people committing war crimes often think. If Manning and Snowden had refused to cooperate, and tried to non-violently obstruct that which they perceived was wrong, I’d be behind them 100%. But thats not what they did. What they did is decide that they knew what was best, and that it was OK to violate their oaths and expose information they had been trusted to keep private. They decided that they were entitled to break laws, to impose their views on others. Are some of the things they exposed wrong. Sure? But is there any well-informed person should not already have KNOWN that the NSA was conducting such surveillance, and that the military was causing collateral damage? No. What they did was at best vigilantism, and at worst, a malicious act directed at those whose actions they disapprove. In respect of real whistleblowers everywhere, I suggest we stop misapplying the term to these guys.

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