Sunday, June 09, 2013

Snowden and Ellsberg: historical parallels?

Charlie Pierce in Facebook comments of 06/09/2013 on a posting by Dave Zirin dislikes comparison of NSA PRISM program leaker Edward Snowden: "Defecting to China? Leaping into the arms of the butchers of Tianamen [sic] Square. Sorry, Dave. Ellsberg stuck around. Manning stuck around. They took their lumps. I have very little sympathy, and even no respect. ... my point in all of this is that Ellsberg and Manning are different than this guy because they were willing -- and, in Ellsberg's case, eager -- to go to trial. The comparison is inapt."

In my previous post, I quoted Snowden's comments about how he fears he could be vulnerable in Hong Kong. Which does make you wonder why he arranged to be there when he went public with being the leaker. This comment he makes in the Guardian article is also odd: "On May 20, he boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he has remained ever since. He chose the city because 'they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent', and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government." (Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras, Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations The Guardian 06/09/2013) But China isn't exactly known for its rollicking press freedom.

It also strikes me that this will make it easy for Snowden's critics to suggest/insinuate/accuse that he's acting on China's behalf against the US or something along those lines. I don't see any reason to assume that myself.

I'm not ready to see Snowden as a hero at this point, though I do think of Daniel Ellsberg that way. And while I would guess that Ellsberg will praise Snowden's leak, I would be cautious about comparing the two events directly.

But times are different now than 1970. The Obama Administration's legal policy against leakers is far more drastic than that of the Nixon Administration. And where the American corporate media in 1970 could reasonably be expected to take a sympathetic interest in the revelations, today it would be safer to expect hostility. Ellberg could also have a reasonable expectation that at least some prominent political leaders would take a somewhat sympathetic attitude toward his revelations. In this case, the attitudes the leaker could expect are more like this: Sen. Feinstein wants Glenn Greenwald prosecuted (Eric Loomis LG&M 06/09/2013), Greenwald being one of the journalists who broke the story.

As far as the historical comparison goes, the Pentagon Papers were a retroactive study of policies of primarily the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations on the Vietnam War. Snowden revealed an ongoing domestic espionage program, and I'm glad he did. But there is a more obvious logic in arguing that the PRISM leak compromised a current national security operation, though I haven't seen any evidence that makes me think it did. There was always an odd element to the Nixon Administration's extreme response to the Ellsberg/Pentagon Papers case, because anything embarrassing in the report applied mainly to previous Democratic Administrations.

This is a report from The Real News on last week's domestic espionage revelations, Obama Defends "Big Brother" Powers 06/07/2013:

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