MULLEN: Obama says Snowden no patriot. How would Ben Franklin’s leak be treated today?

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TAMPA, August 9, 2013 — President Obama declared Friday that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is not a patriot. Snowden has secured asylum in Russia after leaking widespread collection of phone, e-mail and web browsing data of millions of Americans by the NSA.

Obama now claims that he had already instructed the intelligence community to “make public as much information about these programs as possible.” He says that those who do the spying to protect America and its allies are the patriots.


SEE ALSO: MULLEN: NSA spying illegal, even under the unconstitutional Patriot Act


“They’re patriots. And I believe that those who have lawfully raised their voices on behalf of civil liberties are also patriots who love our country,” the president said.

But not Edward Snowden.

It is true that Edward Snowden likely broke the law in revealing “classified” information. But how would the Founding Father’s view it?

I will not travel to Moscow to meet with Putin ... (Illustration by Walt Handelsman of Newsday)

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I will not travel to Moscow to meet with Putin … (Illustration ... more >

Thomas Jefferson once famously said, “The law is often but the tyrant’s will.”

In 1773, Benjamin Franklin leaked confidential information by releasing letters written by then Lt. Governor of Massachusetts Thomas Hutchinson and his secretary Andrew Oliver to Thomas Whatley, an assistant to the British prime minister.

The letters contained opinions on how the British government should respond to colonial unrest over the Townsend Acts and other unpopular policies. Hutchinson suggested that it was impossible for the colonists to enjoy the same rights as subjects living in England and that “an abridgement of what are called English liberties” might be necessary.


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The content of the letters was damaging to the British government.  Franklin was dismissed as colonial Postmaster General and endured an hour-long censure from British Solicitor General Alexander Wedderburn.

Like Snowden, Franklin was called a traitor for informing the people about the actions of its government. As Franklin’s biographer H.W. Brands writes;

“For an hour he hurled invective at Franklin, branding him a liar, a thief, the instigator of the insurrection in Massachusetts, an outcast from the company of all honest men, an ingrate whose attack on Hutchinson betrayed nothing less than a desire to seize the governor’s office for himself. So slanderous was Wedderburn’s diatribe that no London paper would print it.”

Tyrants slandering patriots is nothing new. History decided that Franklin was a patriot. It was not so kind to the Hutchinsons and Wedderburns.

History will decide who the patriots were in the 21st century as well. It will not be concerned with health care programs or unemployment rates. More likely, it will be concerned with who attacked the fundamental principles of freedom and who risked everything to defend them.

Tom Mullen is the author of “A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.”

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