A common criticism of gun rights that I hear these days is that, while it may once have been possible to go up against the government with a gun, that is no longer the case. But this has a lot more to do with how the United States handles national defense now than it does with individual gun rights. Originally, the US had a small army and was dependent on the unorganized militia, which included all able-bodied adult males, for defense. Now it has a large, permanent, professional army and hasn’t had to call up the unorganized militia since the Vietnam War.

That the US is no longer dependent on a large fraction of its citizenry for defense does remove a major check on its power. But it does not make guns useless against the government. You may not be able to defend yourself if the government decides it wants you out of action and you don’t have the advance warning Snowden had, but you can prevent the government from quietly disappearing you. You can make sure they have a mess on their hands. Mohamed Bouazizi showed how powerful a single death can be, and Cliven Bundy and his supporters demonstrated that sometimes the government will back off when its only alternative is a bloodbath.

So individual gun rights are indeed still effective at limiting government overreach even if they are not as effective as the government’s past dependency on the unorganized militia was. But I’m a pacifist. A pacifist who wants to be around for my kids. I can’t see myself ever turning to such an option unless I had nothing left to lose. However, there are other ways to deal with a much more capable opponent that don’t need to involve dying.

Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are the best examples of what I’m talking about. Both made incredible sacrifices, but each dealt massive blows to the government’s abuse of its power. While their impact on government policy may have been somewhat limited, their most important contribution was to let those of us who care about liberty know both what the government was capable of and what it was willing to do. Their leaks were no less important than the theft of the Death Star’s blueprints in Star Wars. They are important because they tell us not only what the government can do, but what they probably can’t do, and how they acquired their capabilities. For example, companies like Google and Facebook now know that it’s insufficient just to encrypt traffic when it leaves their network, because NSA and GCHQ are able and willing to tap into private fiber to snoop.

Unfortunately, there are a number of libertarians who, despite Snowden’s and Manning’s leaks, continue to insist on believing the government has almost magical capabilities. For these people, the “can’t” parts of the leaks are pointless, and the “can and do” parts just serve as confirmation of their existing beliefs in those magical capabilities. In my view, such people are useless to the liberty movement, because they typically consider nearly any action pointless, and they just hide out under rocks waiting for the men in black to show up and cart them off. What we really need is thoughtful, detailed analysis of what the government’s capabilities are likely to be. Bruce Schneier may not be much of a libertarian, but in general I have found his analysis to be among the most level-headed and plausible.

A capable adversary whose exact capabilities and MO are unknown to you is far more dangerous than one whose capabilities you understand, even a little. Cryptanalytic capabilities have always depended on the enemy’s not knowing that you have them. Once they know, they’ll just switch to a cipher they believe you haven’t broken. This is true of plain old sniffing as well, no math required. Once the enemy knows you’ve tapped their lines, they’ll start encrypting everything.

The government doesn’t yet have pools of brainwashed clones from which to recruit, regardless of what you think of the American citizenry. The NSA in particular has a tough problem: there are only so many people in the world smart enough to work there. It seems very unlikely to me that there aren’t other almost-Snowdens working for the NSA and their contractors. As the NSA develops new capabilities and techniques, we need to make sure the public find out about them. So if you’re in school and trying to decide what to do with your life, I urge you to consider working for the government, in particular the NSA if you’re in the US, GCHQ if you’re in the UK, or whatever part of the government could do with some sunshine. I am hard pressed to think of any opportunity for an individual to do more good for the cause of liberty than to become another Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning. Or any of the dozens or perhaps even hundreds of individuals who have leaked information about individual capabilities and techniques without getting caught.

Fighting a far more powerful adversary requires a completely different way of thinking than dealing with one who has similar capabilities to yours. Governments need people to pay their taxes and come work for them. Spy agencies rely on others’ not knowing their capabilities. And democratic governments need to get reelected. All of these are weaknesses that friends of liberty can exploit to help force governments to protect rights instead of trampling on them.