Those who dislike what Edward Snowden did but approve of what Daniel Ellsberg did have struggled to find ways to distinguish the actions of the two in ways that support of that goal. But Ellsberg keeps pulling the rug out from under them, repeatedly praising Snowden’s actions and saying that they follow in the same whistleblowing tradition as him.
One argument made is that Ellsberg stayed in the US to face the consequences but Snowden fled the country. In a new op-ed, Ellsberg says that Snowden was perfectly justified in fleeing the country because things are much worse now and the kinds of legal protections he could count on have all but disappeared and that the US has become Stasi-like in its surveillance practices.
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. The country I stayed in was a different America, a long time ago.
My purpose (quite like Snowden’s in flying to Hong Kong) was to elude surveillance while I was arranging — with the crucial help of a number of others, still unknown to the FBI — to distribute the Pentagon Papers sequentially to 17 other newspapers, in the face of two more injunctions. The last three days of that period was in defiance of an arrest order: I was, like Snowden now, a “fugitive from justice.”
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.
Nothing worthwhile would be served, in my opinion, by Snowden voluntarily surrendering to U.S. authorities given the current state of the law.
I hope that he finds a haven, as safe as possible from kidnapping or assassination by U.S. Special Operations forces, preferably where he can speak freely.
There may be a simpler reason for seeking to elevate Ellsberg and bring down Snowden, such as that the conventional wisdom has become that Richard Nixon and the Vietnam war were bad and so releasing embarrassing details about both, as Ellsberg did, was a good thing. But Barack Obama’s supporters are uncomfortable with him being exposed in a similar way because it seems to put Obama in the same class as the much-reviled Nixon. So Ellsberg’s ringing endorsement of Snowden’s actions and drawing parallels between the two situations is bound to cause discomfort to Obama’s supporters.