Last month, I pleaded for an end to the breathless comparisons between Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg. News that the present-day intelligence leaker has asked the Russians for asylum should put it to rest. Sure, Snowden made the same request of other nations. But flirting with Moscow is a credibility killer.
I’m all for whistleblowers revealing what government is doing, especially if it stretches the bounds of legality or if it’s flat-out illegal. What we know of what Snowden has released of interest to the American public has been known for a while. But what has stuck in my craw from the outset was Snowden fleeing the country.
Snowden earned side eyes from me with his decision to hightail it to Hong Kong (read, China). Then he bolted for Moscow. For a man trying to win public opinion against what he called the vast and illegal overreach of the National Security Agency, heading to Russia wasn’t exactly a smart P.R. move. That nation and Russian President Vladimir Putin aren’t exactly this nation’s best friend. Heck, they barely rise to the level of “frenemy.”
Just in his comments today, Putin said of Snowden, “If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: He has to stop his work aimed at damaging our U.S. partners, no matter how strange this sounds coming from me.” But when it came to President Obama’s entreaties that Snowden be extradited, Putin said, “Russia never extradites anyone anywhere and is not going to extradite anyone.” Great.
The man-without-a-country international thicket in which Snowden finds himself was totally avoided by Ellsberg. Ellsberg photocopied all 7,000 pages of the Pentagon Papers, which he described as “a continuous record of governmental deception and fatally unwise decision-making, cloaked by secrecy, under four presidents.” Unlike Snowden, Ellsberg went to senior members of Congress with his concerns. He went to the press when it looked like Congress would do nothing. For two weeks, Ellsberg and his wife hid out in Cambridge. But the man who wanted the American people to know what their government was doing in their name turned himself in at the federal courthouse in Boston.
All this is detailed in a 2010 PBS documentary called “The Most Dangerous Man in America.” The key phrase being “in America.” Would that Snowden had the courage of his convictions to stay in the United States to be held accountable for his actions rather than flee to nations that would love to have the sensitive information he has (and to embarrass the United States in the process).
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