Jumping the Shark on Edward Snowden


Some random thoughts on the latest Edward Snowden news:

Do I blame the Obama administration for charging him with a crime and seeking his extradition? Of course not. Snowden broke the law in spectacular fashion and then went as public as he possibly could about it. There’s no way that any government in any country in the world wouldn’t prosecute someone who did that. To leave him alone would be to tacitly give permission for any low-level intelligence worker to release anything they wanted anytime they wanted. No intelligence service can work like that.

Should Snowden have been charged with espionage? Of course not. Maybe unauthorized distribution of government property, or something along those lines. But based on what we know so far, he’s plainly not a spy and plainly not working in the service of a foreign power. He’s an American citizen who thinks the American surveillance state has gotten out of control.

Do I blame Snowden for leaving the country instead of sticking around to pay the price for his civil disobedience? Of course not. It’s one thing to accept jail time as the price of civil disobedience if the jail time in question can be measured in months in a low-security facility. It’s quite another when it can probably be measured as a life sentence in a federal Supermax facility. Snowden had every reason to fear the latter.

Should Glenn Greenwald be charged with a crime because he “aided and abetted” Snowden, as NBC’s David Gregory suggested on Sunday? Of course not. A friend emailed this morning to ruminate about the “weird goings-on with Gregory,” and here’s how I answered:

The whole thing is even weirder than it seems at first glance. Greenwald works for the Guardian! If a guy working for the Guardian isn’t a “real” reporter, who is? What’s more, the Post published some of the same stuff. But no one’s asking Bart Gellman if he’s a spy.

It’s just crazy. Lots of magazines, newspapers, and cable news channels (ahem) have specific points of view, and lots of them do crusading reporting. But no one ever says that this blackballs them from the journalist club. To hear Gregory tell it, I.F. Stone wasn’t a journalist either. It’s nuts.

I know, I know: Gregory was just “asking the question.” Whatever. I can guarantee you that he wouldn’t have asked Barton Gellman that question if he’d been a guest on the show.

Anyway, it’s not coincidence that my answer to all of these questions is the same. Of course not! I’m not a deep-dyed supporter of everything Snowden has done, and I have lingering questions about his motivations, his timing, his actual knowledge of NSA programs, and his judgment. That said, some of the stuff making the rounds of the chattering classes is just crazy. Settle down, folks.

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