Why I stand with Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning

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.

The New Yorker‘s John Cassidy takes aim at the equivocation of liberals like Josh Marshall and says that there comes a time to choose sides and that this is one of them.

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.


  1. slc1 says

    If Prof. Singham thinks that there is some chance that Obama or any other president would be foolish enough to order a kidnapping or drone strike while Snowden remains on Russian soil, he is seriously deranged. Either would be considered an act of war and the last thing any US president would want to do would be to start a war with Russia.

  2. Chiroptera says

    I really doubt that US pressure alone is enough to explain the European governments’ refusal to grant Snowden asyum or the incident with the Bolivian president. What we are seeing is US pressure coupled with the European governments’ own disrespect for developing nations’ sovereignty and their own lack of interest in protecting whistle blowers.

    While the efforts the US government are reprehesible, we should also be disturbed by the obvious common interests that the Western governments feel that they share in this case.

  3. nrdo8000 says

    In principle, I agree that future whistleblowers need to be protected, but I have doubts that Manning qualifies. While Snowden exposed particular programs that could honesty be construed as unconstitutional to a neutral observer, Manning is alleged to have broadly dumped private communications. If you think about it, the moral justification for the notion that a government may keep secrets is that exposure may “get people killed” (agents, informants etc.)

    Against Snowden, that charge is merely hypothetical: at worst, he impeded the government’s ability to target future enemies. In Manning’s case, however, the government may indeed be able to prove that he dumped documents without regard for the safety of people mentioned within them. In that case I would agree that he deserves punishment (though the death penalty would be excessive)

  4. cotton says

    I agree with mrdo8000. Manning simply didn’t care about anything. His massive dump of diplomatic cables embarrassed us and called into question our ability to keep secrets. An example was the frank assessments of leaders (like Merkel) by diplomats to their superiors. This insults those people, makes us look stupid, and would probably cause future negotiations that required absolute secrecy to be entered warily by countries afraid of our inability to plug leaks.

    Far more importantly, he appears to have endangered the lives of agents and informants. From what I can tell, he was pissed about the bullying in the military so he went off the deep end by screwing the US as hard as he could, damn the consequences.

    Snowden is different. I don’t know if I agree with his moves or not, but I can understand them and he didn’t directly put into jeopardy people’s lives. On the other hand, I don’t want to set a precedent that any 29 year old who gets a wild hare up his ass gets to determine US intelligence policy. I would also take a second to say that calling a drone strike on Edward Snowden something being “seriously considered” is silly. That’s hyperbolic to say the least.

  5. Mano Singham says

    There is no evidence that Manning’s revelations “endangered the lives of agents and informants”. This is the story that the government always puts out when these leaks occur. Your speculations about Manning’s motivations lack any foundation.

    Why is a drone strike on Snowden a silly idea when the US government has used drones to kill so many others?

    I also find it interesting that so many people point to Snowden’s age as if that were relevant. Why would you think that a 29 year old person is not mature enough to think things through? Is there some age qualification for being a whistleblower?

  6. slc1 says

    “A drone strike on Snowden while is is in Russia is an insane idea. Russia is not Pakistan or Yemen.

  7. Chiroptera says

    Why would you think that a 29 year old person is not mature enough to think things through?

    And why is this even relevant when the discussion should be about the information he provided and whether or not they show that government officials are either in violation of law or in violation of the Constitution or implementing policies that are a danger to democratic government?

  8. Rob Grigjanis says

    Serious derangement right back at you if you think they haven’t considered it.

  9. Mano Singham says

    I did not say that they would try it in Russia. They will have contingency plans to try it when they think they can get away with it.

  10. Rob Grigjanis says

    Far more importantly, he appears to have endangered the lives of agents and informants.

    That ‘appears’ is doing a lot of work. Does your concern for justice cover the murders committed in the 2007 Apache attack in Baghdad? Have the killers been identified and brought to justice?

  11. trucreep says

    You’re working under the assumption that he would do this without any input or consent from the Russians – not so.

    I may have agreed with you somewhat a month or two ago, but I don’t think anything is outside the realm of possibility anymore. Not after what we know now. That’s why they will do anything they can to try and stop this.

  12. ema says

    [H]e didn’t directly put into jeopardy people’s lives.

    How did he not do that? He’s someone who, according to him, had access to… the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all around the world, the locations of every station we have, what their missions are and so forth. and who willingly exposed himself to Chinese and Russian intelligence services debriefings.

  13. cotton says

    According to Wikileaks they took great care to edit out harmful information. The New York Times in their original article further redacted information that could be used to identify undercover agents and informants and endanger troops. That means Manning, a damned US soldier, didn’t. He dumped everything to a website run by a virulently anti-war and anti-US Swede. Assange, as much as I don’t like him personally, did attempt to redact harmful information that our own oath-swearing soldier didn’t. If Manning walks free (and he won’t) that tells every single private in the entire military that they can dump w/e info they want as long as they have a really principled reason for doing so.

    By mentioning age I’m referring to the fact that young people are, generally speaking, new to organizations. He was not some veteran who, after serving 25 years, saw something truly out of place and worthy of whistle blowing. Both of these instances are people who showed up and decided they knew better than everyone else. Maybe you think they are right, but realistically how can a country operate if we allow every new person who joins the intelligence services free reign to disclose whatever they want?

    As far as the drone strike, not gonna happen. Politically simply impossible. Yes, the US has killed an American citizen: Anwar al-Awlaki. He had participated in attacks designed to kill Americans. He hated the US. He recruited terrorists and actively plotted against my country and its people. Snowden is not this guy. He’s a thorn in the side of the Obama administration but he will not be targeted for drone strikes.

  14. Mano Singham says

    For the record, four Americans were killed in drone attacks, not one, one of whom was a 16-year old boy. Also there is no evidence that Awlaki had “participated in attacks designed to kill Americans”. What we do know is that he was an undoubtedly incendiary speaker who opposed what the US was doing in the Middle East and was preaching to people to fight back.

    Snowden’s leaks are being described as hugely damaging to the US and he is being called by the establishment a ‘traitor’ who committed ‘treason’ and ‘put people’s lives at risk’. Why do you think that that may not merit the same treatment that was given to Awlaki?

  15. Rob Grigjanis says

    He dumped everything to a website run by a virulently anti-war and anti-US Swede.

    Love the ‘virulently anti-war’. Not quite ‘violently pacifist’, but close. And Assange is Australian, not Swedish.

  16. Chiroptera says

    Well, when you remember that the US government is making it hard to distinguish between “anti-US” and “pro-democracy,” then the confusion of the anti-whistle blowers is kind of understandable.

  17. cotton says

    I don’t think he will be subject to drone strikes b/c he isn’t telling anyone to “fight back” in the “kill Americans” sense of fight back. I also mistakenly called Assange a Swede. I forgot he was merely avoiding extradition to Sweden to face rape charges.

    None of this addresses what Manning did, btw. I agree, Snowden is more a borderline case. I am not sure how I feel about any of the Snowden stuff, tbh. I can see how the NSA program is invasive, I can also see how it isn’t. A big list of phone numbers, who called who, for how long, and where to can clearly be used to statistically find points of possible criminal / terrorist activity. Admittedly it is a bit big brotherly. In any case, Snowden disclosed information about a specific secret program.

    Manning is the one I truly have no sympathy for. He is not a whistleblower. He didn’t release info about some secret govt. program like Snowden did. He released diplomatic cables that embarrassed the US for no reason. He released confidential information by the bucketload b/c he was mad at his comrades. He said as much: ” I’m in the desert, with a bunch of hyper-masculine trigger happy ignorant rednecks as neighbors … and the only safe place I seem to have is this satellite internet connection.”

    Its easy to justify Manning’s leak of the Apache helicopter gunning down civilians. I get that, I really do. Releasing everything, though, is not something a soldier with security clearance access gets to do.

  18. Rob Grigjanis says

    Releasing everything, though, is not something a soldier with security clearance access gets to do.

    It may be something that a thoroughly disgusted human being may feel compelled to do. I get that, I really do.

  19. cotton says

    Well that’t too bad. It’s too much to ask of a military to allow that to happen. Chaos would reign. When a person joins the military, they no longer get to to things like that. If they are disgusted by their comrades they have to deal with it or leave the military. By the way, who is shocked that the military has a lot of trigger happy rednecks? What did he expect, a corps of ACLU lawyers and progressive academics?

    Sorry, that simply won’t do. No military can operate if it is ok for pissed privates to dump chunks of classified info. He’s pissed at his job. Join the club. What you’re advocating would lead to chaos.

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