In two posts I’ve bemoaned the fact that NSA leaker Edward Snowden was being compared to Pentagon Papers copier Daniel Ellsberg. I wondered why the self-proclaimed hero of transparency fled to Hong Kong and then Moscow rather than stay in the United States as Ellsberg did 40 year earlier. Today, Ellsberg writes a very persuasive op-ed in The Post where he argues that Snowden “made the right call” to flee the country.
“Many people compare Edward Snowden to me unfavorably for leaving the country and seeking asylum, rather than facing trial as I did. I don’t agree,” Ellsberg writes. “The country I stayed in was a different America, a long time ago.” Ellsberg added, “I hope Snowden’s revelations will spark a movement to rescue our democracy, but he could not be part of that movement had he stayed here. There is zero chance that he would be allowed out on bail if he returned now and close to no chance that, had he not left the country, he would have been granted bail. Instead, he would be in a prison cell like Bradley Manning, incommunicado.”
I have no rebuttal to Ellsberg here. The U.S. is a different country now. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 ensured that. So, too, did the enemy this nation now confronts. One not bound by borders or that has a titular head. With the new and expanded surveillance powers granted by Congress and then upheld and expanded further by secret rulings in secret courts, there are legitimate concerns and questions raised by Snowden and what he has revealed.
Still, whether treated like Bradley Manning or not, the movement Ellsberg says Snowden leads would be better served if Snowden were here on American soil rather than holed up at the Moscow airport. His punishment would be harsh, but what else should he expect after stealing and publicizing some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets?
Follow Jonathan Capehart on Twitter.