One of the biggest debates over the last year was whether Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who ignited a storm of controversy when he revealed a huge number of covert measures by the NSA, was a traitor or a hero. Today, the latter camp got a big boost after it was announced that Snowden had officially been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
While Nobel Peace Prize nominations are typically kept secret for 50 years, those who submit nominations can make them public themselves sometimes. Thousands of different people, including academics, elected officials, and former recipients can make nominations for whomever “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses” over the preceding year.
Snowden was nominated by Norway’s Socialist Left Party politicians Baard Vegar Solhjell, a former environment minister, and Snorre Valen, a member of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, where Valen announced the whistleblower’s nomination earlier today.
The deadline for submitting names to the Norwegian Nobel Committee is Feb. 1, though the prize is not awarded until December. Snowden was nominated last year by Stefan Svallfors, a professor at Umeå University, Sweden, though he missed the deadline for the 2013 prize. The final decision will be made by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, a 5-member committee appointed by the Parliament of Norway.
We reached out to Valen today to find out a little more about his decision to nominate Snowden.
Business Insider: When did you have the idea to nominate Snowden?
Snorre Valen: I decided to nominate Snowden last year, when the full scope of the PRISM-scandal kicked in. Just how much of our daily lives that could be subject to monitoring, for no legal reason. That was a wake-up call for many, I think.
I want to point out that I am all for a strong, democratic state, with a firm defence policy, and I absolutely support the need for good and effective intelligence services to protect us. But … I think that in the wake of the “war on terror,” spy agencies have been given too much power to define all for themselves what is acceptable and not. It didn’t just translate to meaningless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it also led to massive surveillance that affects millions and millions of people. We have to draw a line. Snowden has enabled us to do that.
BI: You mention in your letter nominating Snowden that he “may have damaged the security interests of several nations in the short term.” What leads you to say that?
SV: Simply the fact that revealing the practices of a given intelligence service may damage the immediate interests of a given country. And it has given more authoritarian regimes, like China and Russia, an opportunity to gloat, which is very unfortunate. But that doesn’t erase the fact that in the long term, all free democracies are much better off with firm rules that the intelligence agencies have to abide to. It creates trust in our governments, it increases the public acceptance for the legitimacy and need for security measures, and it enables us to engage the authoritarian practices of other countries with much more credibility.
BI: In your opinion, why has the “public debate and changes in policy” that followed Snowden’s leaks been more important than the security risks?
SV: First, because it has enabled the whole world to both educate itself in what our governments are actually able to do and what to do about it, and second, because it has brought about actual changes from the Obama administration and others that can increase our trust in institutions like NSA and their counterparts. So even though there is outrage in Germany over the surveillance of Merkel, and in Brazil over the surveillance of Rousseff, but at least we now know how it happened, why it happened, and we have established the fact that doing so has a cost. How people will actually react to your actions must now be a part of the risk assessment. That is a good thing. I believe in the American political principle of checks and balances, and now the public has been given an opportunity to balance out the desire of intelligence agencies to go beyond their ethical and moral mandates.
BI: Obviously in the U.S. the Snowden story has dominated the news agenda for months. How big was the story in Norway? Do you think Norwegians may have seen it differently than Americans?
SV: It was huge. In fact, I think the reactions, and the different viewpoints are pretty much the same here in Norway as in the US.
BI: What message do you think that giving Snowden the Nobel Peace Prize would send to the world?
SV: It would be a powerful message! It would also be a natural consequence of the fact that we hold liberal democracies to a high standard, and that violating the right to privacy, freedom of expression and the rule of law will not be accepted.
BI: Do you think he has a good chance of winning?
SV: I honestly don’t know. He is a dark horse for sure, but an important and strong candidate. The committee is entirely independent, and their meetings are secret. So none of us will know until October, I guess.
BI: Three years ago, you nominated WikiLeaks for the prize. Do you think that Snowden is more or less deserving than Julian Assange’s organisation?
SV: More deserving, I think. It is important for me to point out that I nominated WikiLeaks, and not Assange in person.
BI: A few years before that, Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. Did you agree with that at the time, and has your opinion changed since the NSA leaks?
SV: I was a bit underwhelmed by that prize. If anything, it is his terrible drone attacks that makes him a very, very strange peace prize laureate. Every democratic administration since Carter has recieved the prize in one way or another, and it seems to me like the Nobel Committee awards the peace prize for not being a Republican. I don’t think the award to Obama helped neither Obama, world peace, or any of us. It certainly wasn’t a brave prize. It is so easy to give the prize to big organisations and powerful leaders. But do we have the guts to give the prize to someone who dares to cross ourselves?
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