Some sanity from the New Yorker's John Cassidy on #Snowden
It is easy to understand, though not to approve of, why Administration officials, who have been embarrassed by Snowden’s revelations, would seek to question his motives and exaggerate the damage he has done to national security. Feinstein, too, has been placed in a tricky spot. Tasked with overseeing the spooks and their spying operations, she appears to have done little more than nod.
More unnerving is the way in which various members of the media have failed to challenge the official line. Nobody should be surprised to see the New York Post running the headline: “ROGUES’ GALLERY: SNOWDEN JOINS LONG LIST OF NOTORIOUS, GUTLESS TRAITORS FLEEING TO RUSSIA.” But where are Snowden’s defenders? As of Monday, the editorial pages of the Times and the Washington Post, the two most influential papers in the country, hadn’t even addressed the Obama Administration’s decision to charge Snowden with two counts of violating the Espionage Act and one count of theft.
If convicted on all three counts, the former N.S.A. contract-systems administrator could face thirty years in jail. On the Sunday-morning talk shows I watched, there weren’t many voices saying that would be an excessive punishment for someone who has performed an invaluable public service. And the person who did aggressively defend Snowden’s actions, Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian blogger who was one of the reporters to break the story, found himself under attack. After suggesting that Greenwald had “aided and abetted” Snowden, David Gregory, the host of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” asked, “Why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?”
After being criticized on Twitter, Gregory said that he wasn’t taking a position on Snowden’s actions—he was merely asking a question. I’m all for journalists asking awkward questions, too. But why aren’t more of them being directed at Hayden and Feinstein and Obama, who are clearly intent on attacking the messenger?
To get a different perspective on Snowden and his disclosures, here’s a portion of an interview that ABC—the Australian Broadcasting Company, not the Disney subsidiary—did today with Thomas Drake, another former N.S.A. employee, who, in 2010, was charged with espionage for revealing details about an electronic-eavesdropping project called Trailblazer, a precursor to Operation Prism, one of the programs that Snowden documented. (The felony cases against Drake, as my colleague Jane Mayer has written, eventually collapsed, and he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.)INTERVIEWER: Not everybody thinks Edward Snowden did the right thing. I presume you do…
DRAKE: I consider Edward Snowden as a whistle-blower. I know some have called him a hero, some have called him a traitor. I focus on what he disclosed. I don’t focus on him as a person. He had a belief that what he was exposed to—U.S. actions in secret—were violating human rights and privacy on a very, very large scale, far beyond anything that had been admitted to date by the government. In the public interest, he made that available.
INTERVIEWER: What do you say to the argument, advanced by those with the opposite viewpoint to you, especially in the U.S. Congress and the White House, that Edward Snowden is a traitor who made a narcissistic decision that he personally had a right to decide what public information should be in the public domain?
DRAKE: That’s a government meme, a government cover—that’s a government story. The government is desperate to not deal with the actual exposures, the content of the disclosures. Because they do reveal a vast, systemic, institutionalized, industrial-scale Leviathan surveillance state that has clearly gone far beyond the original mandate to deal with terrorism—far beyond.
As far as I’m concerned, that about covers it. I wish Snowden had followed Drake’s example and remained on U.S. soil to fight the charges against him. But I can’t condemn him for seeking refuge in a country that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the United States. If he’d stayed here, he would almost certainly be in custody, with every prospect of staying in a cell until 2043 or later. The Obama Administration doesn’t want him to come home and contribute to the national-security-versus-liberty debate that the President says is necessary. It wants to lock him up for a long time.
And for what? For telling would-be jihadis that we are monitoring their Gmail and Facebook accounts? For informing the Chinese that we eavesdrop on many of their important institutions, including their prestigious research universities? For confirming that the Brits eavesdrop on virtually anybody they feel like? Come on. Are there many people out there who didn’t already know these things?
However, what we did not know was the institutional arrangements that enabled and enable the surveillance. That, I think, is what terrifies "The Government" because in some distant future individuals might be held accountable or worse, thrown off the gravy train (or at least moved from Business Class to Coach).