Eh, I suppose I could find myself coming around to what the New York Times editorial suggests the United States should do to Edward Snowden. That is, offer the Russia-residing national security leaker, “a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.” Snowden should be held accountable in some way for stealing government secrets. What I don’t think I could stand is a public life of advocacy.
My views on Snowden are pretty clear. They were mostly negative views that were reinforced when I read his interview with The Post’s Barton Gellman published just before Christmas. No need for me to go into detail about what I thought because my colleague Ruth Marcus did it masterfully in the opening paragraphs of her Tuesday column.
Time has not deflated Edward Snowden’s messianic sense of self-importance. Nor has living in an actual police state given the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower any greater appreciation of the actual freedoms that Americans enjoy.
Insufferable is the first adjective evoked by Snowden’s recent interview with Barton Gellman in The Post, but it has numerous cousins: smug, self-righteous, egotistical, disingenuous, megalomaniacal, overwrought.
“Let them say what they want,” Snowden said of his critics during the Moscow interview with Gellman. “It’s not about me.” A side-eye-worthy statement as it came near the end of a story that was one long aria of Snowden self-importance.
It’s not about him, but “I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA,” he said.
It’s not about him, but “That whole question — who elected you? — inverts the model,” he said. “They elected me. The overseers.”
And it’s not about him, but he said, “somebody has to be the first” since no one else felt as compelled as he to steal government secrets and violate an oath of secrecy to shed light on the activities of the National Security Agency.
With all the political enemies arrayed on Capitol Hill against President Obama, why didn’t Snowden take his ample concerns to Republican lawmakers? Lord knows, they are always casting about (unsuccessfully) for the latest “-gate” they believe will bring down the Obama administration.
Despite my dim view of the man and his actions, there is no denying that what Snowden revealed demands attention. That’s why one thing he told Gellman had me nodding my head.
“I don’t care whether you’re the pope or Osama bin Laden,” he said. “As long as there’s an individualized, articulable, probable cause for targeting these people as legitimate foreign intelligence, that’s fine. I don’t think it’s imposing a ridiculous burden by asking for probable cause. Because, you have to understand, when you have access to the tools the NSA does, probable cause falls out of trees.”
On Dec. 18, the president’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies issued its report on the government’s surveillance activities and offered recommendations on how to limit its vast scope and capabilities. At his year-end press conference two days later, Obama said, he would make a “pretty definitive statement” on it all upon his return from vacation this month.
No doubt, there is nothing the president could propose that would go far enough for most folks in curbing the excesses of the NSA. But, to borrow a phrase from Snowden, “somebody has to be the first” to try.
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