Monday, July 8, 2013

Snowden's persecution complex

Like many of us, I have always considered Daniel Elllsberg to be a whistleblower in the true sense of the word. I am sorry that at this point in his life he is tainting that reputation by going all-out in his defense of Edward Snowden. Yesterday he published an editorial in the WaPo that feeds into Snowden's persecution complex with comparisons to his situation that falls short on facts.

Ellsberg reminds us that he had the courage to turn himself in after he leaked the Pentagon Papers. He was prepared to stand trial and pay the consequences because he knew that the information he had leaked was more important than his personal circumstances. It was the illegal actions of the Nixon administration in response to the leak that spared him that fate.

Speaking of Snowden's situation, Ellsberg says this:
There is zero chance that he would be allowed out on bail if he returned now and close to no chance that, had he not left the country, he would have been granted bail. Instead, he would be in a prison cell like Bradley Manning, incommunicado.
Snowden has certainly ensured that - given his flight from facing charges - if he ever returns to this country he will be considered a flight risk and likely won't be granted bail. But what if he had done what Ellsberg did from the beginning...turned himself in voluntarily?

Is Bradley Manning - a private in the U.S. Army - the right comparison? I don't think so. Military justice (whether we like it or not) is not the same as civil justice. If it was, the folks that are objecting to military tribunals for Guantanamo prisoners wouldn't have a case to make.

A better comparison is Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, who leaked classified information to Fox News Reporter James Rosen. Kim did not turn himself in but was arrested after an investigation of the leak. And yet he was granted bail and continues to work for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory awaiting trial next year.

The hyperbole of Snowden and his supporters who make these claims of persecution is simply astounding. In his letter to the Nicaraguan government requesting asylum, Snowden says this:
"Under the circumstances, it is unlikely that I would receive a fair trial or appropriate treatment before trial," in which, he added, he would "face the possibility of life in prison or death".
Death? Really? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Ellsberg himself says that he faced charges that could carry a possible 115 year sentence. Short of swallowing conspiracy theories about the government wanting to kill Snowden, I fail to see a distinction.

Many of the same people who are decrying the possibility of Snowden getting a fair trail in the U.S. are the same one's suggesting that we should try Gitmo detainees in civilian courts. President Obama and AG Holder have always maintained that our civilian courts are capable of doing just that. I would also suggest that they are capable of giving Snowden a fair trial.

My personal preference would be to see Snowden go to Nicaragua or Venezuela, live his life out there and STFU. That's exactly the same ultimate end I hoped for with Bush and Cheney. I've always believed that the power of punishment was in its ability to thwart the perpetrator's future crimes, not in its retributive potential. But perhaps that's a story for another day.

The real issue is that - unlike Ellsberg getting off because of a corrupt administration - it is highly unlikely that Snowden would be found innocent. He knows that. And so his only hope of avoiding jail is to play up this persecution complex to give cover for his asylum requests. In other words, he wanted to do the crime but not the time. Some hero, huh?


  1. I will always be grateful to Ellsberg for what he did 40+ years ago, and I don't run around calling people heroes, but what Ellsberg did was indeed heroic. However,that doesn't mean everything Ellsberg says should be taken as Gospel.

    But I lost a lot of respect for Ellsberg back in 1991, when he spoke at my college. Here's a short article about that speech:

    He said George Bush ("Big George", not W.) should be given the Nobel Peace Prize. There's not a lot of info out there about this (it was the "pre-internet" era), but here's a quote from the same time:

    "Daniel Ellsberg, spotted last weekend in Moscow where he is lobbying for nuclear disarmament, had this response to President Bush's anti-nuke proposals: "I think Bush deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. I don't know if I can vote for him but he deserves the prize."

    When a member of the crowd asked Ellsberg how he could say this, considering all the bad things Bush had done, Ellsberg compared Bush to the title character of 'Billy Budd' and refused to back down.

  2. The truly pathetic thing about Snowden is that he seems to have had the idea that he'd be "a hero," bringing about major changes in the intelligence community, and living large from book sales, movie rights, and personal appearances. Instead, reality. All he really did was "expose" a perfectly legal program which has been known about for quite a while, even discussed extensively. It also isn't what he tried to make it out to be. Whether it's constitutional, is a question for those same courts that he whines about.

    So now he's trying desperately to stay out of jail, on the run, and without a whole lot of people wanting him. Even if he does accept asylum somewhere, what will happen to him? He's going to be under constant surveillance by his "hosts," he'll never be allowed to work in computer technology in any position that might pay well, and he'll be under constant worry that a new government may decide that they should ship him back to the US. Oh, and the "fame" will be over by the end of the year.

    1. Also, with Snowden, as Bob Cesca aptly nailed it ... he's a Paulian. For him it's ALL about a black man spending 8 years in the White House and NOT as a domestic servant.

  3. Snowden was used by Greenwald. He may have thought he was doing a noble thing, but ultimately the only person who I can see benefiting from this is Greenwald. Just when you think the furor has slackened just a bit, up pops old Glenn with another newsbreaking statement. If I truly thought he would go to Venezuela or Nicaragua and STFU, I'd be for an online donation to get him on a plane. I don't understand why Glenn doesn't pony up the money. Oh right, then the drama would disappear until he found another patsy.

  4. Ellsberg is a member of the non-profit Greenwald set up for himself late last year, along with the WaPo reporter who broke the story simultaneously.

    They are using this to fundraise, as Greenwald and Hamsher did early in President Obama's administration.

  5. I'm perplexed that so much of the news and blogging coverage is about Snowden himself, not about the information he leaked and the issues having to do with surveillance, privacy, over-classification, classified legal opinions, lack of transparency, FISA court judges all selected by the Chief Justice, etc.

    1. And there lies that problem...

      If Snowden was a true whistleblower, more focus would be on the material leaked along with the issues surrounding that and not the person. Even those who support Snowden aren't really focusing on these issues.

      Snowden's conduct, along with Greenwald's, distract from the issues at hand. Snowden is not a whistleblower. He's a failed spy.

    2. Perhaps you'd be interested in perusing the last 10 articles I've written rather an assume a fixation on Snowden. I've written about a lot of topics - including privacy and foreign policy - along with several other topics.

      But folks are right - Snowden and Greenwald made themselves a big part of this story and it had a negative impact on what they claim their goals were. That's what tends to happen when feeding your ego takes priority over actually getting something done.

  6. Ellsberg is pretty much like Nader. They did important things decades ago, but lost credibility and perspective thereafter.