Snowden: Did He Commit Treason?

I wrote this Opinion and Order in a Judicial Decision Making class at Portland State. It is one of my favorite classes I’ve taken, mostly because the professor didn’t shove leftist/Marxist rhetoric masked as fact down our throats. This professor offered readings and lectures from all angles and trusted us, as the students, to decide for ourselves. It is sad that I am excited over something that should be standard when receiving an education. That is for another time. We were asked to write an Opinion as if we were the judge deciding whether Snowden should or should not be charged with treason.

United States of America v. Edward Snowden


               Edward Joseph Snowden is a former CIA employee and former contractor for the United States government. He copied and leaked classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013. His disclosures revealed multiple global surveillance programs, many run by the NSA. Snowden began gathering these documents in April of 2012. Snowden leaves for Hong Kong on May 20, 2013, from his then-present base in Hawaii working for Booz Allen Hamilton.  On May 24, 2013, in an e-mail from Snowden to Washington Post reporter, Barton Gellman, Snowden requests that the Washington Post publish information about PRISM, a surveillance program that gathers information from companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Google. The first report from The Guardian on June 5, 2013 reveals a FISA court order that allows the US government to collect telephone records of millions of Americans from wireless phone companies such as Verizon. Snowden is terminated from his position at Booz Allen Hamilton as a government contractor working for Dell on June 10, 2013. On June 14, 2013 Snowden is charged with Theft of Government Property, Unauthorized Communication of National Defense Information, and Willful Communication of Classified Communications Intelligence Information to an Unauthorized Person. On June 23, 2013 Snowden flies from Hong Kong to Moscow where he plans to continue onto Latin America. His passport is revoked by the US government on June 23, 2013. Snowden still resides in Russia under asylum through the present date.


               The question is whether Mr. Snowden committed treason in the process of acquiring documents in 2012 and 2013, and the subsequent events of releasing those documents to journalists. Under 18 U.S. Code § 2381, Treason is defined as “whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.” While it seems clear that Mr. Snowden misbehaved on a massive scale, it is the duty of this Court via this O&O to decide only whether treason was committed. The Court cannot rightly say that Mr. Snowden committed treason based on the written definition of treason stated previously. Though Mr. Snowden’s behavior is highly questionable, it is clear that he intended to provide the American public with information he believed to be essential; albeit classified information that was acquired wrongfully. It is not proper to conclude that Mr. Snowden committed treason, as Mr. Snowden did not provide known United States enemies with aid, comfort, nor information. He released the documents into the hands of journalists, with the goal of distributing that information to the people of the United States, whom the United States government works for. Providing information (despite its methods of attainment) to the American public is hardly treasonous in the defined terms of the crime. The American people are not enemies of the United States, but rather have the right and ability to check their government, as their government serves them, not the other way around. It seems clear that Mr. Snowden’s intentions were to provide the American people with the information he deemed important, thus not supporting the charge of treason.


              Edward Snowden has not committed the act of treason, as defined under 18 U.S. Code § 2381. Mr. Snowden proved questionable judgment throughout the process of gathering and releasing classified documents. Mr. Snowden intended for those documents to end up in front of the American people, not in the hands of enemies, and therefore the charge of treason cannot stand. Mr. Snowden at no point used the classified documents in his possession to financially or personally gain from any enemy of the United States, nor did he intend for enemies to be able to leverage said information against the U.S. government, even when granted many opportunities due to his overseas travel. The law of Treason does not apply to Mr. Snowden, and therefore this Court finds that Mr. Snowden did not commit treason.

One thought on “Snowden: Did He Commit Treason?

  1. “mostly because the professor didn’t shove leftist/Marxist rhetoric masked as fact down our throats”

    Shortell? Sounds like Shortell. He one of the decent ones I remember from my time at PDX. I’m sad that Garrison left for Clemson. His Const. Hist. sequence was the best.


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