Traitor or Whistleblower? Attacks on Snowden Mount From Political and Media Figures

228px-Picture_of_Edward_SnowdenThe attacks on Edward Snowden have increased today. CNN’s Jeff Toobin who previously denounced Snowden as a “clown” has added that he is a “a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison”. In the meantime, Senator Dianne Feinstein and House Speaker John Boehner have denounced Snowden as a “traitor.” Other media organizations have barred their reporters from referring to him as a “whistleblower” in what has become a deluge of negative stereotyping of Snowden -even before we know the whole story. Indeed, the attacks began with folks like Toobin almost immediately after he came forward.

Once again, I am not saying that Snowden does not have to answer for any crimes, but the effort to portray him as a craven traitor is a bit too much too early in this story.

In Toobin’s case, it is worth noting that he has also belittled the objections to the massive surveillance program — the same position taken by Democrats and the White House. He has explained his view of those programs, which I disagree with but respect. However, for Toobin to call a man a “grandiose narcissist” is bizarre. As noted yesterday, this is a man who threw his life away to reveal what he believed to be an abusive surveillance program (as to many other citizens). This is one of the most narcissistic towns on Earth and its leading denizens in politics and the media often seem uncomfortable with people who are willing to throw away their lives on principle. It is the type of self-sacrifice that they would never consider in their own lives. We have many principled and honest people living in this town. However this is also  a town with an abnormally high number of  sycophants, self-promoters, adulterers and the rest. In other words, narcissists. It is not surprising that so many would find an individual like Snowden hard to understand or dangerous.

The labeling of Snowden as a traitor will only increase the likelihood that he will flee to another country. This individual and story is clearly more complex than dismissing him as a “clown” or “traitor.” He insists that he revealed this information protect the public and privacy. That is not the motivation of a traitor.

As for the refusal to call him a whistleblower, it seems part of the full court press to demonize Snowden or prevent favorable references to him. [It brings to mind the successful effort to convince media to call waterboarding “enhanced interrogation” in the media rather than “torture” as it has long been defined by courts] Snowden is a whistleblower in my mind. It is true that the Administration can argue that these programs were lawful to the Supreme Court’s precedent stripping pen registers of full constitutional protection in Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979). Many of us disagree with that ruling, but this is a new application of the precedent. While the government has long sought the information for individuals, the Administration is essentially issuing a national security letter against the entire population. Moreover, it does appear that violations have occurred in these programs.

Putting aside the legality issue, whistleblowers are defined more probably by public interest organizations. For example, The Government Accountability Project, a leading nonprofit handling whistleblowers, defines the term as “an employee who discloses information that s/he reasonably believes is evidence of illegality, gross waste or fraud, mismanagement, abuse of power, general wrongdoing, or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. Typically, whistleblowers speak out to parties that can influence and rectify the situation. These parties include the media, organizational managers, hotlines, or Congressional members/staff, to name a few.”

Snowden clearly fits that more common definition of whistleblower, even if the government contests the application of statutory protections. Many can legitimately question Snowden’s chosen means for objecting to this program. However, the hostile and dismissive treatment by the establishment reflects an obvious fear of the implications of this scandal. Even US Sen. Al Franken (D, Minn.) has tried to stamp out the outcry by insisting that he was aware of the program and “I can assure you, this is not about spying on the American people.” Democrats are scrambling to deal with the latest betrayal of civil liberties without their knowledge and consent. Franken knows that the issue is not how it has been used (though abuses are being reported) but its potential for abuse. It is a databank allowing transparency of every citizens calls and associations. Nevertheless, the establishment is joined together in mutual interest to deaden the reaction of citizens, as I discussed in a column this week.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)

The effort to discredit Snowden is an impressive effort and could well succeed. There is less discussion of the loss of privacy as the focus has shifted to the price of hotel rooms and annual salaries for Snowden. We are being told again, by people like Franken, to trust us and go back to sleep. Franken added “There are certain things that are appropriate for me to know that is not appropriate for the bad guys to know.” Of course, it was not just the bad guys who were not allowed to know. Citizens were also not supposed to know, but Snowden blew the plan. Now people are actually demanding answers and accountability – something secrecy was supposed to prevent.

Before we repeat the growing effort to label Snowden as a traitor, perhaps we should ask about the betrayal of our privacy and constitutional values by others pushing these labels.

159 thoughts on “Traitor or Whistleblower? Attacks on Snowden Mount From Political and Media Figures”

  1. “Perhaps the construction of such a [digital] panopticon is wise. But I doubt that the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would have been so eager to open their [files] for royal inspection.”

    — Antonin Scalia, Dissenting, Maryland v. King,

    “The Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The concept of the design is to allow a watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched.”

  2. MM: WTF are you talking about, moron? I think both Manning and Snowden are American heroes, I do not think either of them are traitorous in the least. I would say the same about Assange, were he an American citizen, but suffice to say, I do not think Assange is an enemy of the United States, but a hero to the world.

    I do not throw the word about with reckless abandon, I mentioned that, as the law says, a CITIZEN can be a traitor (meaning a civilian). I will also point out that “adhering to the enemy” or giving them “aid and comfort” are vague and ambiguous terms, and providing information of any kind to the enemy can fall under the rubric of “adherence” or “aid” or “comfort.”

    I do not think of Snowden as a traitor in any way, shape or form. Since you seem to be literate but comprehension-challenged, I will repeat what I said: I was in the military with a high security clearance; and I saw civilians with similarly high security clearances with access to sensitive documents that, although employed by civilian firms, were in a position to easily commit treason against our country.

    Read that until you understand you have made a moronic error.

  3. From Wikipedia:

    Oran’s Dictionary of the Law (1983) defines treason as “…[a]…citizen’s actions to help a foreign government overthrow, make war against, or seriously injure the [parent nation].” In many nations, it is also often considered treason to attempt or conspire to overthrow the government, even if no foreign country is aiding or involved by such an endeavor.

    From the US Constitution:

    SECTION 3. Clause 1. Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open court.

    Tony C.,

    I defy you to demonstrate where either Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden has “levied war” against any of the several United States or has attempted by himself to overthrow the national government. Nor can you show where either of these men has has “adhered” to any foreign enemy. Nor do I think that you have ever heard Manning or Snowden confess in open court (Bradley Manning doesn’t even get an open court proceeding in which to testify) to any act of treason. Nor do I think that you have ever heard two eyewitnesses to the same overt act testify in open court that Manning or Snowden have committed “treason.”

    You just throw the word around with reckless abandon, without seeming the least concerned with what it means.

    Come back and try again when you’ve gotten clear on the concept.

  4. Ralph Adamo:

    “But I like the metaphor, and I certainly think it applies to the human experience.”

    It is a good metaphor, and it does apply. People can get used to anything, if it happens incrementally. One of the reasons people who break their necks have such a hard time coming to terms with not walking and losing the use of their legs and/or arms. If they lose the use in tiny increments they get used to the diminished capacity and are much more accepting.

    The same with our freedoms, we have lost so many in the last 50 years that I am surprised so many people care about this. I hope, as Americans, we are “genetically” opposed to blatant tyranny.

  5. Wednesday, Jun 12, 2013 01:31 PM EST

    James Clapper must go

    His attempts to mislead the nation — and absurd claims afterward — should get him fired and prosecuted

    By David Sirota

    In the latter interview, Clapper again stood by his statement, and claimed “I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful, manner.”

    These talking points will no doubt metastasize into the idea that because he was asked about a classified program, Clapper had no choice but to lie, and that therefore outright lying is somehow the “least untruthful” – and therefore acceptable – thing to do in his situation. That’s right, apparently as if living in 1984, we are all supposed to believe that war is peace, freedom is slavery and, now, yes, lying is not untruthful.

    Beyond its Orwellian absurdity, the problem with that line of reasoning is that it is fundamentally false. We know Clapper didn’t have to lie because other people in a similar position managed to not commit perjury. As one example, at a Senate hearing in 2006, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was asked a similar question about mass surveillance, and answered by saying simply: “The programs and activities you ask about, to the extent that they exist, would be highly classified.”

    Clapper didn’t do this – instead, with a day’s notice of the question, he decided to lie to Congress. And, as the New York Times Andrew Rosenthal says, that’s a big deal.

    “Government officials employ various tactics to avoid actually saying anything at intelligence hearings, mostly by fogging up the room with references to national security and with vague generalities,” he writes. “Outright lying is another matter…You have to wonder about giving a position of vast responsibility to someone who can beat Mr. Gonzales in dishonesty.”

    You have to also wonder how a person like that can be allowed to stay in his job and avoid prosecution.

  6. Michael Murry: As a former soldier with a security clearance, I can tell you that private citizens are able to work on national security issues and be privy to very high level secrets, even if they are paid by civilian firms. Sometimes it is the only way to gain access to talent that is not going to ever join the military. One does not commit treason against the private firm, but against the country that trusted you with knowledge you were sworn to keep secret.

  7. Oath of Office

    I pledge allegiance to the corporation:
    A “person” as the judges have proclaimed,
    And place this “him” or “her” above my nation
    Whose Constitution “he” or “she” has maimed
    Pursuant to no legal obligation
    Except immunity — however named.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2013

  8. Yesterday Brooks, today Friedman. Another NY Times “bloviator.”

    Friedman wrote: “And, I’d add, not just bloviating. Imagine how many real restrictions to our beautiful open society we would tolerate if there were another attack on the scale of 9/11. Pardon me if I blow that whistle.”

    Ah, yes…. Just one, big “beautiful open society.”

    1. “Friedman wrote: “And, I’d add, not just bloviating. Imagine how many real restrictions to our beautiful open society we would tolerate if there were another attack on the scale of 9/11. Pardon me if I blow that whistle.”


      We must translate Tommyboy to put him into perspective: “I am a rich media whore, married to a billionaire’s daughter. My life is great and I could care less about the rest of you!”

  9. AP: Even in context, not necessarily. Did the WWII Allied soldiers that followed orders do the wrong thing? How about the Northern soldiers fighting our civil war, or the Revolutionary soldiers fighting for our independence?

    Even in the long run, just following orders is not wrong. It might save your life (just following doctor’s orders, just following a fireman’s orders in a burning building, just following a cop’s orders to remain where you are because it really is safer). It may save the lives of others.

    The truth is that often, the people giving the orders really do have our best interest at heart and really do have far more experience, and no time to explain why they are giving the orders they give.

    Applebaum suffers from selective vision; it is true that many disasters have been the result of just following orders (including the Holocaust), but it is ignorant to think all orders “just followed” have therefore resulted in catastrophe; the truth is probably the majority of order “just followed” have resulted in catastrophic prevention.

    I believe the military, police, and agencies do (on balance) protect us, and I do not think large organizations can function without orders; some things are too complex for everybody to know everything, and not everybody is capable of understanding the complexity, anyway.

    He is wrong, that is not the “key thing that really matters,” the key thing that really matters is the intelligence to know when and why one should just disobey orders (whether one has the bravery to do it or not), and when it is okay to just follow them.

  10. “Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) on Wednesday rejected the notion that Edward Snowden compromised the country’s security when he leaked details of top secret National Security Agency surveillance programs.

    Appearing on MSNBC, the Montana Democrat also said he disagreed with Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who argued that journalists who report on intelligence leaks should be punished. Tester said Snowden “probably shouldn’t have done what he did” but doubted that the disclosures undermined national security. In fact, Tester said he found the recent revelations — reported on by both The Guardian and The Washington Post — to be helpful.

    “The information that they wrote about was just the fact that NSA was doing broad sweeps of foreign and domestic phone records, metadata. First of all, Snowden probably shouldn’t have done what he did. But the fact of the matter is is I don’t see how that compromises the security of this country whatsoever,” Tester said. “And quite frankly, it helps people like me become aware of a situation that I wasn’t aware of before because I don’t sit on that Intelligence Committee.” ” Talking Points Memo

    1. “How can anyone commit “treason” against the management of a private, for-profit corporation like Booz Allen Hamilton?”

      Michael M.,

      Perhaps an equally good question would be how can the government trust any profit making organization with our national secrets.” Profit is of necessity only loyal to the bottom line.

  11. As we used to say back during my days of employment as a computer programmer at the now defunct Hughes Aircraft Company:

    “When a man makes a mistake, he makes a mistake.”.

    “When a machine makes a mistake … makes a mistake … makes a mistake … makes a mistake …”

  12. Tony C.,

    The full quote. Better to keep it in context, IMO.

    “An extremely moral person would have trouble just following orders,” he said. “In the long tail of history just following orders is wrong. That’s the key thing that really matters.”

  13. leejcaroll: Because that is where the big money is. What Woodward and Bernstein did cost a lot of money and was difficult and uncertain. There are only so many Pulitzers to go around. It is easier and more reliable to air a fluffy fashion interview with the First Lady, or just make stuff up about one side (opinion shows, talk shows, etc.) No Pulitzer, but lots of commercials sold.

  14. Maybe if we still had Woodward and Bernsteins this would have come to light a lot sooner. The media has become merely a lapdog for their owners particular political bent.

  15. AP: Applebaum says: “An extremely moral person would have trouble just following orders,” he said.

    But he is wrong. Extremely moral people do not have to be smart, and may be extremely moral simply because they follow orders (like those in the Bible, or spouted by authoritarian figures).

    As a self-confessed tech nerd myself, I think Timothy Lee’s thesis is far more correct. It takes attention to detail and a comprehensive understanding of complex systems in order to be a nerd, people that cannot see getting exercised over code that transposes a few trailing digits of Pi are not nerd material. (3.14159256? Are you out of your frikkin’ mind?!?!?)

    Within complex systems, it is the ability to intuit ramifications and interactions of changes to the system that makes one an expert. The true nerd develops a subconscious mental model of the system that lets them perform thought experiments with changes that, with reasonable accuracy, forecast the results of the changes. It is how they can stare at code or blueprints or circuit boards for hours, and then in a flash have an insight that corrects something, or improves something.

    We nerds trust these mental models of how things work, and we trust our ability to build coherent mental models based on our observations. That is WHY we disdain those that seem to be numbly unaware of how things work, and seem to be mindlessly accepting of self-proclaimed authority, whether they are wearing suits or not.

    That trust, however, also makes us nerds believe in our own predictions, after we have thought about it long enough to feel we have explored all the angles. That is when bravery kicks in, when the nerd concludes that they are in a position to make a difference, and that the difference will not be made if they do not act.

    Not all intelligent people will also have the bravery to act, but the intelligence precedes the bravery. People that are not intelligent enough to mentally model the big picture and see where it is headed are just not motivated to acts of bravery or self-sacrifice, they continue their unexamined routine, following orders, and blissfully assuming somebody “above their pay grade” has already decided that in the big picture those orders are necessary for the greater good.

    Such people have little confidence in their own reasoning or conclusions, and are forced to choose pre-packaged reasoning from an array of authority figures they trust more than themselves. Unfortunately that often turns out to be a personality contest or a sales contest (either the person is charismatically appealing or their ideas largely justify what one already wishes were true).

  16. I hope that those who are calling for Snowden’s head will ALSO be calling for the intelligence people who committed PERJURY in their testimony to Congress when they said that the NSA and other agencies are NOT doing what we now know they were in fact doing. If Snowden is guilty of anything, then the crooks who lied in sworn testimony need to be in the dock before he goes.

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