• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

Edward Snowden Is Not The Story, And You Don’t Have To Like Him

Edward-Snowden

Ever since he revealed his identity to the world, and most especially since his nation  hopping trip around the world began with an escape on a passenger jet from Hong Kong early yesterday, Edward Snowden has been the focus of national, and indeed world, attention. Members of Congress and many political pundits on both sides of the aisle have, incorrectly, called him a traitor. Given that he’s gone from Hong Kong to Moscow and, according to reports, has plans to head through Cuba and Venezuela on the way to his apparent destination of Ecuador, many observers have outright accused him of colluding with America’s adversaries even though there’s no actual evidence to support this assertion. As I noted yesterday,  there’s something odd about Snowden’s choice of destinations, although that confusion tends to fall away once you think seriously about where in the world one could go and still be relatively assured that the government isn’t going to come to the door and take you away for eventual extradition to the United States. While some have argued that Snowden should do the “honorable” or “courageous” thing and turn himself in for trial in the United States. Perhaps that’s the case, although one can certainly understand someone’s desire not to become a Defendant in the Federal criminal justice system while already facing, based on the pending charges, a maximum of thirty years in a Federal Prison if convicted.

At the same time, though, it’s important to remember that Edward Snowden isn’t really the issue, what he made public and the debate that it is starting to ignite over the limitations of the “War On Terror” National Security State is the issue. And, as  Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith explains, we really don’t need to like Snowden at all, or care about what his motives are:

There is now a heated debate over the moral status of Edward Snowden — who fled Hong Kong for Moscow en route, reportedly, to Ecuador Sunday — and over whether his decision to flee almost certain conviction and imprisonment in the United States means that his actions can’t be considered “civil disobedience.” These seem like good questions for a philosophy class. They are terrible, boring, ones for reporters, and have more to do with the confusing new news environment than with the actual news.

Snowden is what used to be known as a source. And reporters don’t, and shouldn’t, spend too much time thinking about the moral status of their sources. Sources sometimes act from the best of motives — a belief that readers should know something is amiss, or a simple desire to see a good story told. They also often act from motives far more straightforwardly venal than anything than has been suggested of Snowden: They want to screw someone who is in their way professionally; they want to score an ideological point by revealing a personal misdeed; they are acting on an old grudge, and serving revenge cold; they are collecting chits with the press to be cashed in later.

When these sources are anonymous or — in the case of earlier NSA sources — gray men whose stories haven’t captured the public imagination, nobody much cares. The Nixon Administration’s campaign to smear reporters’ Vietnam source, Daniel Ellsberg, is remembered only for having happened. When you learn decades later that the most famous anonymous source in American history — Deep Throat — was an unappealing figure fighting a bureaucratic civil war, that’s a mildly interesting footnote. The criminality he unearthed was interesting; Mark Felt wasn’t really. Who cares?

What Smith writes here is generally true of any news story where a reporter is relying about a source or source(s) to pass along information a story. That story could be about a behind the scenes look at the success or failure of a major piece of legislation, the inner workings of a Presidential Administration or government agency, or it could reveal something far more serious like corruption, criminality, or, as in this case, the true scope and extent of the powers that we have voluntarily handed to the Executive Branch in the name of the so-called “War on Terror.” In none of these cases is the source really ever the relevant part of the story. Yes, there are situations where a source may be motivated by personal ambitions or vendettas, or by their own political idealism, to reveal something they are not authorized to reveal. That, however, isn’t nearly all that important in the end.

As Smith points out, though, we’re now in an era where the source seems to have become more important than the story and reporters seem to be ignoring the informational forest for the trivial trees:

[T]he new media ecosystem has moved sources to the foreground. They make their cases directly on Twitter or in web videos; in Snowden’s case, he also chose to protect himself by going and staying public in a way that would never before have been fully possible. “Big news will now carve its own route to the ocean, and no one feels the need to work with the traditional power players to make it happen,”David Carr wrote recently. The fact that the public must now meet our sources, with their complex motives and personalities, is part of that deal.

Snowden’s flight is a great, classic international story. It is, as Glenn Greenwald tweeted today, a kind of global White Bronco moment. His roots in web culture; his ideology; his decision-making; these are all great stories. He’s a much more interesting figure than Mark Felt because, at least, he’s a new figure, not a familiar one.

But Snowden’s personal story is interesting only because the new details he revealed are so much more interesting. We know substantially more about domestic surveillance than we did, thanks largely to stories and documents printed by The Guardian. They would have been just as revelatory without Snowden’s name on them. The shakeout has produced more revelatory reporting, notably this new McClatchy piece on the way in which President Obama’s obsession with leaks has manifested itself in the bureaucracy with a new “Insider Threat Program.”

Snowden’s flight and its surrounding geopolitics are a good story; what he made public is a better one.

This is absolutely correct. Over the past several weeks, I’ve seen much speculation and innuendo about Snowden and his motives,  including the suggestion that he’s really some kind of spy for foreign governments (and if he was, why we he have made his identity public?). The fact that he dropped out of High School has somehow become a relevant topic, even though the people who bring it up usually leave out that after he dropped out he went on to earn his GED before he would’ve gotten a diploma. The fact that he didn’t go to college is also mentioned, although one had to admit that someone who was able to get a job as a Systems Administrator at a young age obviously has a level of intelligence that indicates that college may have been a total bore for him. Finally, now that he’s engaging the press and the United States Government of an international game of “Where’s Waldo?.” he’s having nefarious motives attributed to his actions even though there’s no actual evidence to support those assertions.

In the end, though, as Smith pointed out, none of that matters. Snowden’s back story is irrelevant to the importance of the information he made public, and you don’t really need to care about his motives to engage in the debate over liberty versus security that these revelations ought to be creating. None of that requires that we agree with what Snowden has done, are troubled by his actions since making the information public, or even that we like him personally based on the limited things we know about him.  He’s not really relevant any more than the identity of the leaker of the Pentagon Papers was or the fact that Mark Felt was “Deep Throat,” and that part of his motivation for leaking was due to inter-agency battles in the Nixon Administration. They’re not the story.

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. fred says:

    You must be kidding? Why don’t you join him on his jaunts to China, Russia, etc? Anyone who gives our national security secrets to countries like China, Russia and Cuba is a threat to all of us and our country and IS THE STORY. You are kidding right?

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 38

  2. Caj says:

    He’s not the story! Are you joking? Just who was it that gave out all the information about the US? Maybe that was Santa Claus!! This coward is the story and those who support him as a so called hero need their heads examined as well! He’s no hero. He’s a traitor and an embarrassment to the country.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 35

  3. Jenos Idanian says:

    Is there any compelling argument as to why the Obama administration can’t simply kill Snowden?

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 35

  4. Mikey says:

    Finally, now that he’s engaging the press and the United States Government of an international game of “Where’s Waldo?.” he’s having nefarious motives attributed to his actions even though there’s no actual evidence to support those assertions.

    His ACTIONS are the evidence. A person acting from noble intent does not run to China, he stands in his own nation and takes the consequences. After releasing the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg said “I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.” That is a man of noble intent and of courage. He didn’t take the Pentagon Papers to China and Russia.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 16 Thumb down 18

  5. JKB says:

    The only interesting thing about Snowden is he is supposedly a disillusioned Obama acolyte. This is worry for the Obama administration who have to fear believers starting to question their demi-god.

    The media are obsessing over Snowden in the same manner cults obsess over those that leave. If someone leaves and doesn’t burst into flames, then others might get the idea of making a break.

    @fred:

    Except there is no evidence of him giving “secrets to countries like China, Russia and Cuba”. In fact, I just read about a bunch of reporters trapped on 12 hour flight to Cuba with no Snowden.

    What he did do was reveal to a news entity that a program discussed about 6 or 7 years back was in fact also collecting and archiving meta-data on all US persons, not just those who were legitimate subjects of intelligence gathering. The only new part there is that they are spying on all people without cause and, oh, that the program has been confirmed by administration officials.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 19

  6. Tony W says:

    I find myself agreeing with Sarah Palin for, perhaps, the first time in my life. Doug is right. Snowden is not the story, and I may disagree with his methods but I am happy about the conversation his information has driven.

    We need to be having a rational debate about the tension between danger and safety. As a nation, we need to identify and agree on a reasonable level of safety that properly balances civil liberties and privacy against the endangerment engendered by those who would do us harm. We cannot simply remove our shoes at the airport, shopping malls and local Starbucks in an effort to put a perfect safety bubble around ourselves.

    By failing to openly admit that no solution is perfect, we fail to restrict and contain those who would leverage our insecurities for their own nefarious ends. This, by the way, is similar to the “debate” we are having around health care, abortion, gun control and a host of other issues. There are no simple answers, and by acting solely with ideological objectives we fail to do the right thing for America.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 26 Thumb down 2

  7. JKB says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    If Obama had Snowden murdered, then the focus of the story would return to the program and off the distraction.

    Although, murdering former members is a time honored way that cuts enforce discipline and keep desertions down.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 21

  8. legion says:

    As Smith points out, though, we’re now in an era where the source seems to have become more important than the story and reporters seem to be ignoring the informational forest for the trivial trees:

    This is mainly due to the fact that probably 95% of working “journalists” today have neither the intellectual nor the emotional capability to understand, let alone analyze & discuss, the actual impact of Snowden’s actions. So they focus on him instead.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 0

  9. Robert C says:

    Fred, you must be kidding….you think China, Russia, and Cuba (Cuba….?) really learned any great National Security secrets…China and Russia do this all the time to their citizens.

    The story is that we were told, under oath, by Govt officials that the NSA wasn’t collecting data on Americans, and we were lied to. That is the story.

    Further, Snowdrn fled because he knows he’d likely be tortured if still in the US. Tortured! That this is is now part of the US lexicon is a great victory for OBL.

    Cuba?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 3

  10. JKB says:

    @Mikey:

    Snowden is young. He was not raised in a time of men of honor. His examples are the draft dodgers of the Woodstock generation who did not burn their draft card in an American street so that they could stand the charges in honor in an American court but rather snuck across the border to avoid accountability. Who did not return to face accountability for their actions even after the war but instead sought amnesty for their refusal to fight, in a war they disagreed with or the government policies that would send them.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 28

  11. legion says:

    @fred:
    @Caj:
    Exactly what information did he leak? What is it’s impact on US national security or ongoing intelligence-gathering operations?

    How can focusing on Snowden’s history & personality answer any of the above questions?

    @Jenos Idanian: Lots, Jenos. Lots. For one thing, so far all he appears to have done is embarrassed the hell out of the NSA. Second, even if he can be shown to be putting US lives at risk, we don’t actually have squads of hit men who can show up in a foreign country in black helicopters and randomly murder people with impunity. That’s just your Hollywood-driven paranoia talking. And it’s not like he;’s hiding out in a cave in Afghanistan or someplace – he’s staying in cities in relatively modern countries – throwing a drone strike at the 14th floor of the Moscow Hilton is one of the dumber things even you’ve ever suggested.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 17 Thumb down 4

  12. Jr says:

    Further, Snowdrn fled because he knows he’d likely be tortured if still in the US. Tortured! That this is is now part of the US lexicon is a great victory for OBL

    American’s stupidity never cease to amaze me……

    You really think a judge is going to sign off sending him to Gitmo?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 7 Thumb down 14

  13. Jenos Idanian says:

    @legion: I wasn’t advocating for Snowden’s death, just wondering what distinguished his case from Anwar Al-Awlaki. Apart from Al-Awlaki never being charged with a crime, just blown up (along with his 16-year-old son, also an American citizen) on Obama’s orders.

    For one, I doubt we could get a drone through to Moscow as easily as we do in Africa…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 12

  14. Sam Malone says:

    @ JKB…

    “…This is worry for the Obama administration who have to fear believers starting to question their demi-god…”

    Projecting your cult-mentality on others is not an intellectually honest pursuit. Better you seek professional help in dealing with your abundant issues.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 3

  15. Sam Malone says:

    “…I wasn’t advocating for Snowden’s death, just wondering what distinguished his case from Anwar Al-Awlaki…”

    The fact that you even have to ask the question raises questions about your own intellectual capacity.
    You clearly have not heeded previous suggestions to look up and try to understand the Dunning Kruger Effect.
    The first step is admitting you have a problem.
    Conituing to post ridiculous rants on weblogs is not helping you.
    Seek the help you need.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 3

  16. Sam Malone says:

    “…By failing to openly admit that no solution is perfect, we fail to restrict and contain those who would leverage our insecurities for their own nefarious ends. This, by the way, is similar to the “debate” we are having around health care, abortion, gun control and a host of other issues. There are no simple answers, and by acting solely with ideological objectives we fail to do the right thing for America…”

    x10

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  17. Rafer Janders says:

    @Jr:

    You really think a judge is going to sign off sending him to Gitmo?

    Guantanamo isn’t really where Americans torture prisoners, Guantanamo is where Americans send prisoners after they’ve tortured them for a few years. The torture itself usually takes place in some CIA black site overseas, or in a military brig, a la Padilla.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  18. Jr says:

    @Rafer Janders: True, Gitmo is a poor example, but anway Padilla was aiding terrorists, Snowden is a whistleblower(well…..not really). Do people really think they are going to torture this guy……and before people bring up Manning, he was tried by the military which is a whole different issue.

    Honestly, it is such a boogeyman argument.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 8

  19. JKB says:

    @Jr: You really think a judge is going to sign off sending him to Gitmo?

    Judges don’t sign off on sending people to Gitmo, that’s the whole point of the place.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  20. Rafer Janders says:

    @Jr:

    All your attempts to distinguish Snowden’s case from Padilla’s, Mannings, or the thousands of other prisoners we’ve tortured fail completely. If the government wants to torture him, they can come up with a rationale fairly easily.

    I think Edward Snowden would be a fool to assume he would not be tortured. At this point in time, I think everyone who is at risk of capture by Americans in similar circumstances has to assume that Americans torture their prisoners. This is the image we’ve created for the world.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 1

  21. JKB says:

    @Sam Malone: “cult-mentality on others”

    You mean like this?

    “The behavior of the assembled press corps was telling. Everyone, myself included, swooned. Swooned! Head over heels. One or two might have even lost their minds,” Hastings writes, as each reporter had a chance to speak personally with the president. “We were all, on some level, deeply obsessed with Obama, crushing hard, still a little love there. This was nerd heaven, a politico’s paradise, the subject himself moving among us — shaking our hands, slapping our shoulders!”

    “The fear was that the White House would collectively punish all of us by revoking the already limited access or, worse, Obama might never come down and hang out with us again,” Hastings writes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 7

  22. Rafer Janders says:

    @Mikey:

    A person acting from noble intent does not run to China, he stands in his own nation and takes the consequences.

    Then why do we laud dissidents from China, North Korea, etc. etc. who flee imprisonment in their own countries and come to the West? When the blind Chinese lawyer Chen Guangchen flew to the US last year, we all hailed him as a hero; no one suggested that he would have been better off staying and fighting in China, because all that would have gotten him would have been years of silence as he was cut off in a cell. Instead, we all recognized that he could only make his case if he was free and out of prison.

    Is Chen Guangchen not a hero? Did he not have noble intent?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 1

  23. michael reynolds says:

    I wrote this on 6/10:

    What’s kinda funny is that this case probably knocked the Rosen and AP cases out permanently. And took everyone’s eye off the IRS case as well. Because now, kids, we have a traitor and a chase scene and exotic locales and a big bunch of crazy, and that’s more interesting than the boring stuff we were following. Snowden and Greenwald have drawn the eye of the camera, and they’re both deeply unlikable, and that’s not how you write the story if you want people to follow the IRS plot line.

    And lots of folks said no, no, he’s not at all unlikable. Uh huh. And as I predicted he has taken all the air out of the scandal room, (though Issa sure helped.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

  24. Argon says:

    @JKB:

    Snowden is young. He was not raised in a time of men of honor. His examples are the draft dodgers of the Woodstock generation who did not burn their draft card in an American street so that they could stand the charges in honor in an American court but rather snuck across the border to avoid accountability.

    ROTFL. Snowden was raised in the time of Gulf Wars I & II. You know, back when there was no draft and people were signing up and supporting the armed forces, particularly after 9/11. Of course, one could also say that he probably started following politics around the same time we started waterboarding prisoners.

    Personally I don’t give a hoot about Snowden’s motives. I agree that it’s just a dog and pony show that distracts from far more important issues about the management and Constitutionality of government surveillance.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 2

  25. gVOR08 says:

    Doug’s right. The story isn’t about Snowden. Which won’t keep the story from being about Snowden, as many of the comments above demonstrate. False dichotomies. Is Snowden a hero or a villain. The answer is – yes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  26. michael reynolds says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Check the story again. Chen faced a lot and only left the country under pressure to do so. Chen stood up to a totalitarian state. Snowden ran from a democracy.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 14 Thumb down 6

  27. Mikey says:

    @Rafer Janders: Do you seriously think America would treat Snowden as China would have treated Chen Guangchen?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  28. Jr says:

    @michael reynolds: Didn’t you know Michael. The US has not become a totalitarian state to some on here.

    Honestly, the US has it’s problems……but to compare it justice’s system to some of these other police states is insulting to people who have actually suffered under those regimes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  29. Jr says:

    @Rafer Janders: Take off the tinfoil hat. The man is running because he doesn’t have much of a legal defense, not because he is fearful of torture.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 7

  30. michael reynolds says:

    @JKB:

    Hey, genius, we ended the draft in 1973. Snowden is 29. Do the math.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 3

  31. legion says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    I think Edward Snowden would be a fool to assume he would not be tortured.

    Not that I’m disagreeing, but I think it’s important to note the difference between torturing someone with at least the veneer of trying to get information out of them (a la KSM) and simply torturing a prisoner for the sheer sadistic entertainment value (Bradley Manning).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  32. Rafer Janders says:

    @Mikey:

    Do you seriously think America would treat Snowden as China would have treated Chen Guangchen?

    Is the real question do I seriously think America would torture a prisoner? That it would subject a prisoner to prolonged solitary confinement, beatings, etc.? Then yes, I do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  33. michael reynolds says:

    One rather interesting aspect of this story is what it says about the power of speculative fiction. It is painfully obvious that George Orwell laid the basis of the eternally vague paranoia of so many of my friends on the left. Minus Orwell the heat behind this story would drop 20 degrees.

    As a guy who writes speculative fiction (albeit, not Orwell) I find it kind of sweet.

    On the other hand, it’s troubling that people don’t compare the fiction to the reality and take a moment to see just how off-base Orwell was. (No knock on him, speculative fiction is never spot-on.) We never got his Big Brother. The USSR staggered along for seven decades before dying of stupidity and alcohol poisoning. It didn’t even have to be pushed, it just. . . fell.

    Meanwhile the real threats we face in the real world have nothing to do with huge mega-states and everything to do with handfuls of fanatics.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 13 Thumb down 10

  34. Rafer Janders says:

    @legion:

    but I think it’s important to note the difference between torturing someone with at least the veneer of trying to get information out of them (a la KSM) and simply torturing a prisoner for the sheer sadistic entertainment value (Bradley Manning).

    I don’t think it’s important to distinguish that at all. As O’Brien explains to Winston Smith in “1984″: “the purpose of torture is torture.” Torture is never really done to get information, it is instead always really done for the purpose of inflicting pain, of punishment, of allowing the torture to dominate the tortured. The Americans who tortured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed enjoyed it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 3

  35. Rafer Janders says:

    @Jr:

    It’s not an either/or scenario. He can be running for a variety of reasons, some independent of each other and some complementary.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  36. Woody says:

    Americans seem to have an overwhelming need to construct a moral image for all public figures that must be purely black-hat or white.

    Institutions have learned well that the most efficient way to discredit unwanted attention is to call into question the moral character of a whistleblower.

    In this case, I’d add that Snowden has a good logic to avoid US security forces – if his moral character is sufficiently smeared, his incarceration treatment will have much greater latitude. And our courtier press (David Gregory, for example) will fully support what they are told by authorities.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 2

  37. JKB says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Hey, genius, the separation in time would mean that it is unlikely Snowden was exposed to men of honor (caveat: I’ve no information on his family) and gained no useful schooling of men of principle in history but rather was influenced by such paragons of virtue as Bill Clinton, etc., who are not known for standing up and taking responsibility.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 13

  38. Mikey says:

    @Rafer Janders: I don’t think there’s any chance that would happen to Snowden. Especially not now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  39. Rafer Janders says:

    @JKB:

    Hey, genius, the separation in time would mean that it is unlikely Snowden was exposed to men of honor (caveat: I’ve no information on his family) and gained no useful schooling of men of principle in history

    But Snowden grew up in a time of Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan! Of Oliver North and John Poindexter! Of Caspar Weinberger, George H.W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld! And you say he was never exposed to men of honor???

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 2

  40. Rafer Janders says:

    @Mikey:

    Oh well, as long as you don’t think so. I’m sure that’s guarantee enough for him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 4

  41. Rafer Janders says:

    @Mikey:

    I don’t think there’s any chance that would happen to Snowden. Especially not now.

    Let’s say it did happen to him anyway. What’s his legal recourse? What could his friends, family and lawyers do to stop it? What could anyone do to stop it via the US courts?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  42. legion says:

    @Rafer Janders: Oh that’s a fact all right – again, no disagreement with either you or George. But the media does pretend there’s a difference, or that there’s a kind of “legitimate” torture that it’s somehow morally acceptable for the US to commit. It’s all sadism; it’s just a question of what the torturer uses to justify his acts (to himself and to the public).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  43. legion says:

    @Rafer Janders: Exactly! As opposed to JKB, who, one assumes, learned honor from the likes of Richard Nixon, Lt Calley and the Ohio National Guard…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  44. Mikey says:

    @Rafer Janders: Ha ha. Of course not. I was just relaying my opinion on the likelihood of that happening, not trying to convince Snowden to come back.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  45. Mikey says:

    @Rafer Janders: Admittedly, I’m not sure what his recourse would be. Certainly I would support a fair and public trial, and I think the probability of that would be very high. But of course there’s no guarantee, even in America.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  46. stonetools says:

    Snowden’s back story is irrelevant to the importance of the information he made public, and you don’t really need to care about his motives to engage in the debate over liberty versus security that these revelations ought to be creating

    The problem is that when you look at what Snowden actually disclosed, the information he made public wasn’t that important at all-which is that NSA data mines phone logs. Well, we knew that. The other STARTLING! revelations turned out to be false ( analysts can’t order wiretaps of the President; the NSA can’t routinely read our emails and listen to our phone calls).
    When you look at what Snowden actually wants-the dismantling of the electronic surveillance system altogether- most of his supporters don’t seem to agree with him.
    So what’s left? What’s left is his personal background (Do you know he had a model girlfriend? Nerds of the world, take hope!) and the Where in the World is Edward Snowden game.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

  47. rudderpedals says:

    as Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith explains, we really don’t need to like Snowden at all, or care about what his motives are:

    But reporting isn’t a zero sum game. No one is forcing Ben Smith to report on Snowden’s motives to the exclusion of the “real” questions. Pluck the mote from your eye, Ben.

    It takes a certain patronizing arrogance to rule an entire field of related questions out of order.
    - How did this guy sneak so much out of a secure system? Out of order
    - Isn’t it true that an individual cannot seek a security clearance without a sponsor? Out of order
    - What else is on the laptop and memory sticks? Ooo
    - Did the filmmaker and Snowden plan this out before he took the job at BAH? Ooo

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  48. Andre Kenji says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    I think Edward Snowden would be a fool to assume he would not be tortured

    That´s more complicated. Under the law of most countries even the SuperMAX prison system is torture. What they did with Bradley Manning surely is torture.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  49. stonetools says:

    @rudderpedals:

    All excellent questions, which the press is busy ignoring. He did have a cute girlfriend though-who pole dances!

    How did this guy sneak so much out of a secure system? Out of order

    This to me is maybe the biggest question , in terms of national security. Apparently, NSA stands for Never Secure Anything.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  50. Stan says:

    I agree that Snowden’s fate isn’t the main thing in the story. Government surveillance of the type he exposed comes under the social contract — the idea that we surrender some of our liberties to the State in return for the protection of our lives and our property. The US security community may be wicked but it’s not stupid. It feels that surveillance helps to uncover potential terrorist attacks and that it deters them by making would be terrorists waste time and effort to evade detection. The cost is that the government knows who I send emails to and has the right to read them if it can convince a judge that breeching my privacy is appropriate.

    I think the price is worth paying. Others disagree, either because they value their privacy more than their security or because they think the US government is so awful that anything that harms it or causes it embarrassment is justified. They have the right to feel as they do. But I think they should acknowledge, if only to themselves, that ending the various NSA surveillance programs comes with costs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

  51. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    Is there any compelling argument as to why the Obama administration can’t simply kill Snowden?

    I don’t normally agree with you, but when I do I prefer sarcasm.

    You’re right: second term president, lame-duck status, drone technology proponent, and can give explanatory speech using modern teleprompter technology too.

    Stay upbeat and cheerful my friend.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  52. rachel says:

    @gVOR08: Not necessarily. The answer could be, “He’s a stupid schmuck who got a whole bunch of people–himself included–into a shitload of trouble.” A false trichotomy, if you will.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  53. JKB says:

    @Rafer Janders: But Snowden grew up in a time of Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan!

    Snowden was barely 8 years old by the time Bill Clinton was president. And I’d hardly say Newt Gingrich is a paragon of virtue.

    But he was 14 by the time the President of the United States denounced a young woman foolish enough to engage in one-sided (Clinton’s claim) oral sex with him in the Oval Office.

    And let’s not forget the complete media and Progressive attack on any honorable act during the Bush years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 9

  54. michael reynolds says:

    @JKB:

    So. . . you start off claiming that Snowden must have been formed by events that occurred before he was born, and now you’ve shifted to asserting that a presidential blowjob when Snowden was 14 was somehow the reason he’s turned treacherous. Right.

    Even for you this is dumb.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 3

  55. al-Ameda says:

    @JKB:

    This is worry for the Obama administration who have to fear believers starting to question their demi-god.

    But you guys are the ones who refer to Obama as a messiah.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  56. ernieyeball says:

    …or the government policies that would send them.

    We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.
    –Lyndon Johnson, Oct. 1964

    Lyndon Johnson assumed the United States Presidency on Nov. 22, 1963 the day President John Kennedy was assassinated.
    That same year 122 American Soldiers were killed in the Vietnam War.
    In 1964, 216 American Soldiers were killed.
    In 1965, 1928 American Soldiers were killed.
    In 1966, 6350 American Solders were killed.
    In 1967, 11,363 American Solders were killed.
    In 1968, the last full year of Lyndon Johnson’s Presidency,
    16,899 American Soldiers were killed. 1400 a month.

    Registration for Selective Service was mandatory for American males (read cannon fodder) at age 18 or you went to prison.
    When you got out you could still be drafted.
    American males could not register to vote until they were 21 before the ratification of the 26th Amendment in 1971.
    This means of course that American men could not vote the bastards out of office that would shanghai their sorry asses to the jungle to get their heads blown off by the locals…and a free trip home in a body bag.
    F*ck government policy. F*ck the Draft.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  57. Rafer Janders says:

    @JKB:

    Snowden was barely 8 years old by the time Bill Clinton was president.

    Snowden was born in 1983. Bill Clinton became president in 1993. 1993 minus 1983 is, let’s say, carry the 7, shift a few decimal places, assign a value for x, plug in the differential equation, divide again by pi, and I get, oh….let’s round up and call it an even 10.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  58. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Even for you this is dumb.

    Sadly no. Not it’s not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  59. Rafer Janders says:

    @JKB:

    one-sided (Clinton’s claim) oral sex

    I believe President Clinton because, to be frank, I have repeatedly tried and failed to engage in two-sided oral sex. It can’t be done, my friend. It. Can’t. Be. Done.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  60. Mikey says:

    @Rafer Janders: You forgot the modulo.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  61. ernieyeball says:

    @Rafer Janders: It can’t be done, my friend. It. Can’t. Be. Done.

    I have heard tell that politicians can talk out of both sides of their mouths so why can’t they…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  62. Gustopher says:

    If Snowden did the “honorable” thing and returned to the US to be locked up in solitary confinement and put on an unneeded suicide watch until he went insane, then we would all quickly move onto the next scandal du jour, and never speak of the government surveillance again.

    And the people who complain that he should “face justice” and that he has no character are mostly the people who are eager to move on to Obama’s offensive solstice celebrations or whatever.

    So, run, Snowden, run. Spare us from a discussion of whether Obama’s flag pin is too small or too ostentatious, or just too uppity.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  63. rudderpedals says:

    @stonetools: Exactly. Just how does this compartmentalizing work when any schmuck with root can slurp up compartments en masse?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  64. Andre Kenji says:

    I was 13 years old when Bill Clinton was elected, and 17 when Monica Lewinsky became a household name. So, that´s means that…? Or the fact that Bush Sr. defeated Michael Dukakis with the Willie Horton ads when I was seven means that I´m a potential racist or something like that?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  65. michael reynolds says:

    By the way, the idea that any story isn’t somehow about the characters in that story is silly. It’s always about the characters. Duh. That’s why I could confidently predict that this story would suck all the air out of the room. It had a compelling central character.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  66. michael reynolds says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    It’s okay, you had no choice. We are all formed by the sex acts of our presidents. Or by pre-natal draft dodging. Or whatever else fits JKB’s narrative needs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  67. al-Ameda says:

    @michael reynolds:

    It’s okay, you had no choice. We are all formed by the sex acts of our presidents. Or by pre-natal draft dodging. Or whatever else fits JKB’s narrative needs.

    Hear, hear. I, for one, was very positively influenced by stories of the “sexual activities” of John F. Kennedy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  68. Tony W says:

    @JKB:

    “The fear was that the White House would collectively punish all of us by revoking the already limited access or, worse, Obama might never come down and hang out with us again,” Hastings writes.

    So the allegation is that Mr. Obama behaves exactly like every president since since Teddy Roosevelt essentially? Yawn….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  69. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    @JKB: “He was not raised in a time of men of honor. ”

    You are free to stow this bit of rank elitism at any time of your choosing. I find little honor in any of your commentary, Sir.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  70. JohnMcC says:

    @JKB: His father, Lonnie Snowden, was a career Coast Guard officer. His mother was (maybe still is) a clerk in federal courts.

    So possibly young Edward was in fact exposed fairly intimately to ‘men of honor’.

    And possibly we learn yet again the depth and wisdom of our friend Mr JKB.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  71. SovereignMary says:


    What is far more important is protecting the U.S. Constitution and its 4th Amendment – this nation’s ONLY Supreme Rule of Law.
    Through the help of Glenn Greenwald – Edward Snowden has courageously blown the whistle on the NSA’s blatant violations, usurpation’s and its actions of unlawfully superseding the U.S. Constitution to the detriment of all Americans unalienable rights and protections.
    Why is it that the establishment and entrenched political hacks all too often turn a blind-eye to the federal, bloodless bureaucracies shredding their duty to honor and uphold this nation’s ONLY Supreme Rule of Law?
    Trust the federal bureaucracies, trust the Legislators, the Courts, the Executive office – the D.C.’vers? Not on your life!
    Obama originally displayed his disdain for this nation’s written Supreme Rule of Law when he called the U.S. Constitution a “Charter of Negative Liberties.”
    http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Journalism/2013/06/24/As-Obamas-Poll-Numbers-Drop-Media-Turn-Against-Glenn-Greenwald

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  72. Spartacus says:

    @Stan:

    I think the price is worth paying. Others disagree, either because they value their privacy more than their security or because they think the US government is so awful that anything that harms it or causes it embarrassment is justified.

    There are other reasons for disagreement.

    You’re assuming that the diminution in privacy produces a corresponding increase in security. I think that assumption is both reasonable and intuitive, but it should be validated.

    Many of those who examined this have concluded that the vast amounts of data that are being collected are sometimes an actual hindrance to our security. Others who have examined it have concluded that the some of the terrorists plots we’ve interrupted or could have interrupted required information that was in our possession without the use of the surveillance tactics that were recently disclosed. Without effective oversight, there’s no way to determine whether all of this surveillance increases security or whether the costs of such security increases are worth it. After all, the govt could certainly achieve a greater decrease in American deaths than these efforts produce if it simply devoted some of this money toward highway safety, fully funding universal preschool or increasing its smoking cessation efforts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  73. al-Ameda says:

    @SovereignMary:

    Through the help of Glenn Greenwald – Edward Snowden has courageously blown the whistle on the NSA’s blatant violations, usurpation’s and its actions of unlawfully superseding the U.S. Constitution to the detriment of all Americans unalienable rights and protections.

    Drama Queen Alert. You do know of course, that we, the people, have been aware of these NSA data mining activities since they were made public in 2006? Yes, it was even reported in the USA Today back then. The public patiently waited 7 years – until 2013 – to be sufficiently shocked by these disclosures.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  74. ernieyeball says:

    …pre-natal draft dodging.

    Wasn’t that part of Arnold’s Terminator film?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  75. Stan says:

    @Spartacus: The problem is that there’s no way of conducting a controlled experiment. If we abolished the National Security Agency, it might turn out that there’s no practical effect or it might turn out that potential Tsarnaevs who could have been caught get away with their bombing. I lack your certainty that surveillance programs carried out by the US government are necessarily ineffectual.

    To me, the price that’s paid by having the government collect metadata from my email provider is negligible. Back in the early 80′s when I first opened an email account I was told never to email anything remotely private — no passwords to Swiss bank accounts, no data from top secret research programs, no billet-doux to students in my classes. As far as I can see, Snowden’s revelations simply tell me that if a judge agrees the government has the same access to my email as one of the IT guys at my university. So I’m not that concerned about government snooping. Getting blown up while visiting Times Square seems more serious to me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  76. Spartacus says:

    @Stan:

    I lack your certainty that surveillance programs carried out by the US government are necessarily ineffectual.

    To be clear, I’m not arguing that all surveillance is ineffectual, the NSA should be abolished or that a controlled experiment is required to justify the surveillance.

    I’m arguing that effective Congressional oversight would require the NSA (and, more importantly, the Inspector General) to (1) determine whether “all the dots are being connected” – that is, why weren’t the underwear bomber and the Times Square bomber caught even though they were already under surveillance? (2) not permit sharing of the data even if it contains evidence of a crime that is not related to national security, (3) determine the reliability of the algorithms the NSA uses to establish terrorist activity, (4) determine if there are less sweeping and less invasive ways of getting info that does reliably establish terrorist activity, and (5) be much more transparent.

    So I’m not that concerned about government snooping. Getting blown up while visiting Times Square seems more serious to me.

    Okay, you may not be concerned because you may not be doing anything illegal. But do you think that Glenn Greenwald should be as unconcerned as you are right now since he, too, has not done anything illegal? Do you think that all of the sources that Greenwald has been working with for new stories on govt overreach are just as willing to talk to him about both classified and non-classified info today as they were before all of this? And if they’re not as willing to talk to him, why are you not concerned about the adverse effect all of this will have on investigative journalism?

    Most of the discussion has been about govt surveillance, but the larger problem is govt secrecy. Why on earth does Obama feel it useful to publicly scold President of China about China’s spying on America if both China and America already know they are spying on each other? He’s doing it only to shape public opinion. Well, I think there’s something terribly wrong about the govt deceiving or misleading the public in order to manipulate the public into believing something it wouldn’t otherwise believe if it had the facts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  77. stonetools says:

    @Spartacus:

    First of all, you should understand that Snowden and Greenwald appear to be arguing that the system of electronic surveillance should be dismantled altogether, because such a system by its very existence poses a danger to democracy. Just so you know.

    I’m arguing that effective Congressional oversight would require the NSA (and, more importantly, the Inspector General) to (1) determine whether “all the dots are being connected” – that is, why weren’t the underwear bomber and the Times Square bomber caught even though they were already under surveillance? (2) not permit sharing of the data even if it contains evidence of a crime that is not related to national security, (3) determine the reliability of the algorithms the NSA uses to establish terrorist activity, (4) determine if there are less sweeping and less invasive ways of getting info that does reliably establish terrorist activity, and (5) be much more transparent.

    A lot of what you ask for is already being done. There is already Congressional and judicial oversight and there has been Congressional debate back in 2011 when the Patriot Act was renewed. You may not like the result, but debate there has been, and then the people’s representatives voted. Some of what you want is impossible, IMO. Do you really want public discussion of the algorithms the NSA uses? With some of this stuff, you are never going to have the transparency you want. Some of the tweaks you want may be possible. But we’re talking tweaks here. There is no constituency for sweeping reform, and frankly if it turns out that Snowden disclosed sensitive stuff to Russia and China, I don’t even see limited reform happening.

    Why on earth does Obama feel it useful to publicly scold President of China about China’s spying on America if both China and America already know they are spying on each other? He’s doing it only to shape public opinion.

    IMO, Obama is doing this in service of promoting the ideal that governments shouldn’t be spying on each other. Now everyone knows that they do, but hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue. Also too, of late, there has been an upsurge in Chinese industrial espionage:

    In November, 14 U.S. intelligence agencies issued a report describing a far-reaching industrial espionage campaign by Chinese spy agencies. This campaign has been in the works for years and targets a swath of industries: biotechnology, telecommunications, and nanotechnology, as well as clean energy.

    Obama’s statement was an attempt to get China to back off, but Snowden’s disclosures screwed up that effort. Thanks, Snowden. Way to sabotage US business activity in China.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  78. Spartacus says:

    @stonetools:

    There is already Congressional and judicial oversight and there has been Congressional debate back in 2011 when the Patriot Act was renewed.

    I think the fact that the head of the NSA lied to his Congressional overseers with complete impunity is proof that there is no effective oversight. I think the fact that the head of the Senate Homeland Security Committee had no clue how extensive NSA surveillance is is further proof of this. And, I don’t think Wyden, Udall et al would be working on a bill to bring more transparency would be occurring if weren’t for the Snowden disclosures. All of these things demonstrate that a whole lot more can be done to increase transparency and accountability and to reign in surveillance.

    Obama’s statement was an attempt to get China to back off . . .

    If Obama doesn’t know that countries don’t stop spying merely because they’ve been asked not to, then he is grossly unqualified to be President. He and Jinping know that China and the U.S. have been spying on each other and will continue to do so. U.S. complaints about Chinese spying are solely to shape public opinion – not to change Chinese conduct. Very few people will be sympathetic to the U.S. berating China about spying when there’s public proof of the U.S. doing the same.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  79. Spartacus says:

    @stonetools:

    First of all, you should understand that Snowden and Greenwald appear to be arguing that the system of electronic surveillance should be dismantled altogether, because such a system by its very existence poses a danger to democracy.

    I completely agree that govt surveillance of its citizens poses a danger to democracy. I’ve argued this from the time the Snowden disclosures were first made. It’s impossible for this kind of surveillance not to have an adverse impact on free speech and the press. For me, the issue is whether we can substantially curtail the surveillance, dramatically increase transparency/accountability, validate whether the surveillance actually increases security, and decrease hypocrisy in U.S. foreign policy – a main driver of animosity toward the U.S., which has the result of decreasing our security.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  80. William Wilgus says:

    @Jenos Idanian: “Is there any compelling argument as to why the Obama administration can’t simply kill Snowden?”

    Yes.

    Is there any compelling argument as to why anyone can’t simply kill you?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  81. William Wilgus says:

    @Jr: You really think a judge is going to sign off sending him to Gitmo?

    Do you really think they’d go to a judge? How many of those who are and were at Gitmo got there as a result of a judge’s okay? I’d bet the answer to that is NONE.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  82. William Wilgus says:

    @Jenos Idanian: “Apart from Al-Awlaki never being charged with a crime . . . ”

    On the contrary:

    “The Yemeni government began trying him in absentia in November 2010, for plotting to kill foreigners and being a member of al-Qaeda. A Yemeni judge ordered that he be captured “dead or alive.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anwar_al-Awlaki

    Would you have us believe that he was just a nice, mis-understood man? He was a known terrorist and member of Al-Qaeda. This is the second time I found you mis-representing facts. I’m beginning to believe that you purposely attempt to distort things.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  83. William Wilgus says:

    @rudderpedals: “How did this guy sneak so much out of a secure system?”

    It’s simple. He didn’t sneak anything OUT of the system. He was IN it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  84. William Wilgus says:

    @JKB: There weren’t any honorable acts during the Bush years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0