Members of Congress are shocked, shocked this week. No this Claude Rains moment was not over the hundreds of billions spent on unpopular wars or the creeping economy or the evisceration of civil liberties in America. No, that stuff is just fine. What had members struggling in front of reporters to avoid being sick in the halls of Congress was Edward Snowden. Yes, it is the latest classified hearing and the latest unclassified outrage to convince Americans that it is Snowden that they must fear despite polls saying that Americans fear their own government as much or more than terrorism. Thus, House Armed Services Committee members left the meeting and called again for Snowden to be captured and thrown in prison for life, if not executed. I previously wrote a column that a strong argument could be made for a presidential pardon, but the renewed effort to turn public opinion likely reflects a growing international view of Snowden as a whistleblower.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the Armed Service panel’s Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee and also a member of the House Intelligence Committee said that he and his colleagues “left the briefing disturbed and angered” over the scope of damage done by Snowden (which went beyond the NSA program). That may indeed be true and the damage is a legitimate concern. However, the members have shown little concern over those NSA programs and continue to advance “reforms” that do little to address the attack on privacy and civil liberties. They also have done little to address the lack of any real avenue for whistleblowers like Snowden. The congressional oversight committees have long been viewed as little more than rubber stamps for the intelligence committee and no sane whistleblower would put his case and future in the hands of these committees.
Thornberry declared that Snowden is a spy since his “actions were espionage, plain and simple.” While the Obama Administration and congressional allies tried to paint Snowden as a spy earlier on, no one has bought that allegation. There is currently no evidence that he acted to assist, or acted at the behest of, a foreign government.
Nevertheless, Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) read a statement that “Ed Snowden isn’t a whistleblower; he’s a traitor.” McKeon demanded that Snowden be “brought to justice.” Of course, the ultimate punishment for the crimes described by Thornberry and McKeon would be death.
There is a clear effort to ride out the concerns over civil liberties, preserve the NSA programs, and change the public persona of Snowden. Part of that effort is to redirect attention away from the unpopular NSA programs and focus on other security losses. I happen to agree with the concerns over the damage but I also cannot ignore the abuse that Snowden brought to light. It would be more convincing is these members showed the same disgust and voices the same demands for action over the loss of civil liberties as they do over the loss of intelligence.