It is obvious that the US government is taking extraordinary measures in trying to capture Edward Snowden, from revoking his passport, using massive pressure and threats of retribution to those countries that might seek to give him asylum, to the incredible step of forcing the Bolivian president’s plane to land in Austria. President Obama might say publicly that he is not going to go out of his way to get Snowden back to the US but it is clear that he is throwing all the massive power that he has at his disposal in pursuit of this goal. He has not (as least as yet) tried to kidnap Snowden or kill him with a Nave Seal operation or a drone strike but you can bet that it is among the possibilities that are being considered.
Why go to all this trouble? After all, all the revelations that Edward Snowden can and will make are already out or in the pipeline and there is no stopping it. The Guardian newspaper, Glenn Greenwald, and the other reporters who are in possession of this material are committed to publishing them and the government knows it and they cannot stop it. Greenwald has promised more major revelations soon.
The point of course is not to capture and punish Snowden for what he did. That is just a small part of it. The main goal is to deter the next potential whistleblower, to frighten any other person who might be even considering doing something similar.
This is why I have little patience with people who nitpick about what Snowden did and seem to agonize as to his motives, whether his actions might be illegal, whether he should have told his superiors first, whether his revelations might benefit other countries, and so on. They do the same thing with Bradley Manning’s revelations. This is an example of what I like to call the ‘liberal disease’, acting as if the massive acts of illegality and the horrendous violations of civil liberties by governments are somehow worthy of being treated with the same level of concern as possible violations of law by the people who had to do them in order to expose these wrongdoings.
I don’t care about any of that. We are well beyond the point where those are significant concerns. What we are engaged in is a global struggle against authoritarian governments who want complete information on all of us in order to keep us under control. What Snowden and Manning revealed about an out-of-control government that uses its power in secret to subvert the constitution is such an important public service that anything else pales in comparison. When people like them take enormous personal risks to do what they think is right and in the public interest, the least that those of us who have so little at risk can do is give them our wholehearted support. The government must not be allowed to vindictively punish them in order to deter future whistleblowers.
Having spent almost eighteen years at The New Yorker, I’m arguably just as much a part of the media establishment as David Gregory and his guests. In this case, though, I’m with Snowden—not only for the reasons that Drake enumerated but also because of an old-fashioned and maybe naïve inkling that journalists are meant to stick up for the underdog and irritate the powerful. On its side, the Obama Administration has the courts, the intelligence services, Congress, the diplomatic service, much of the media, and most of the American public. Snowden’s got Greenwald, a woman from Wikileaks, and a dodgy travel document from Ecuador. Which side are you on?
We should all stand in solidarity with Snowden and Manning so that others contemplating doing similar things know that they are not alone.