Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden

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.


  1. machintelligence says

    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,

    When the shoe fits…

  2. jamessweet says

    I’m pretty sure that the people who are saying “Yay Ellsburg! Boo Snowden!” would have been saying “Boo Ellsburg!” at that time he made his revelations…

  3. says

    Exactly. Reminds me of the praise Republicans heap on Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, when you know they would have been (and sometimes were) first in line to condemn them during the civil rights movement.

  4. dantalion says


    Some aspects of the way we do things change. What we do doesn’t change much.

    Note that the pundits in 1971 whose job was to polish Nixon and Vietnam, said all the same things about Ellsberg at the time that are being said about Snowden now (by pundits with basically the same job as William F. Buckley) (actually they said he should be hung for treason, but it was the same tactic of trying to dishonor the individual to call attention away from the information they brought to light).

    We only universally recognize Ellsberg as a hero now because we have had the extra 40 years for the populace to realize the Vietnam War was a badly planned war in service of an unjust, idiotic cause, which led to the completely unnecessary deaths of a few million people (something which is now widely realized across the political spectrum). We now know that the government was lying to its citizens to keep them going along with something which we now know was a bad idea.

    In 1971, most of the populace had no idea how much their government had lied to them about what was going on in Vietnam. And when the information first came to light they would not have known right away. Shortly after the publication of the Pentagon Papers, it could be said that 100% of any public opinion that had been published in the mainstream american media was the opinions of professional opinion havers in the employ of Nixon’s bosses (I bring this up because this is exactly the phase we are in with Snowden now, though the number would be less than 100% now what with social media being less ignorable than the locally distributed xeroxed newsletters that would have been the only opposition then). At this stage in the Ellsberg case, the opinions of the populace would have been mostly in line with what opinions had been published, and any that weren’t could be safely ignored.

    When you actually read the Pentagon Papers, or spend an extra 40 years finding out new information which conflicts with what the government and media said at the time, it becomes very clear that what Ellsberg did was an immense public service. Once we think about it, those not paid to think otherwise will quickly realize that you can only have a democracy when the citizens are given accurate information about what they are voting for. Thus, the rightness of what Ellsberg did is so obvious it has become part of the conventional wisdom. Even to the degree that modern pundits can use Ellsberg as an example to discredit Snowden, even when it is transparently for the same PR purposes for which their colleagues from 1971 sought to discredit Ellsberg.

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