Yesterday, I got an email from the regional organizer for MoveOn, asking me to participate in their next organizing action. Their plan was to show a Brave New Foundation documentary, then ask people to sign a petition that alleges "the Obama administration has criminally prosecuted more whistle-blowers under the Espionage Act then all other past administrations combined". It goes on to decry "gross misspending (in the billions!)" (emphasis theirs) from DoJ investigating media outlets in an effort to plug leaks, and "systemic race and gender discrimination within the Department of Energy", of which I am not able to find one jot of information, save a solitary lawsuit by a straight white male. They claim to have a coalition of progressive organizations backing this effort demanding Congress reign in the President and pass laws that would "ban the criminalization of whistle-blowers". When I objected, the organizers proceeded to switch out the petition with a totally different one that did have coalition support, and failing that called me uncivilized.
I'm not sure if this is all public information, but hey, I'm a whistle-blower, right?
Except it doesn't work that way.
Whistle-blowers reveal unknown, illegal activity to the public. MoveOn does petitions. It's a thing they do. This is not anything that you, dear reader, do not already know. It's not even news that they appear to have picked up the Snowden hoopla and used it as a reason to rile themselves into full on attack-the-President mode. They've done this before. Now, we can debate the efficacy of MoveOn and their efforts. A friend of mine once told me that every election cycle she becomes aware that Phoenix has a MoveOn organizer and thinks to herself, "oh, you poor thing," but what is undebateably true is I have blown no whistle in regards to their actions. None of what I described above is new information. I just tried to put a spin on it and used a few choice quotes. Plus, while we could debate if MoveOn has sinned against the Left or not, there's also absolutely nothing illegal. At most I am a leaker, and even that is debatable.
So, too, with Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. This is not new information, and it is not an illegal activity. We knew in 2007 when actual whistle-blower Mark Klein informed us the NSA was making secret copies of the Internet. There were lawsuits and the media freaked out, Bush bullied Congress to amend FISA and legalize the program, there was a whole big debate in the Senate, but it passed and Bush signed it and was promptly sued. Fast-forward a bit and the renewal of the FISA Amendments was one of the few things the 112th Congress actually accomplished, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation is still fighting that lawsuit.
Now, Snowden is a young guy, perhaps he simply wasn't aware of having been beat to the punch on this by six years. He'd've been 23 doing, well, we really don't know what he was doing or how he got that clearance. But either way, perhaps he can plead ignorance and he really really didn't know that we had chosen collective amnesia on this one. If only some intrepid journalist had crossed his path! Perhaps he would not have fled to China and be in fear for his life. Oh, wait, that doesn't work that way either. Glenn Greenwald knew full well that this whole saga had already played out six years ago. He was there for it. That whole big debate was covered and live blogged by none other than Glenn Greenwald, check the by-line for yourself. It is not possible that Greenwald, who has been thumping this issue since the dawn of time, sat in the Senate gallery, hammering away on a laptop, reporting the law that legalized the nascent PRISM program, was not fully aware that Snowden was reporting legal and disclosed government surveillance. Nothing is illegal, nothing is not known. Therefore, much like me and my MoveOn bashing, no whistle has been blown.
On the other end of the spectrum are those who want Snowden hanged for treason. Snowden is not a traitor any more than he is a whistle-blower, not unless we are at war with China. Even then, part of the irony of Snowden's story is that he's decrying a surveillance state while sitting inside one of the most advanced and thorough surveillance states in the world. Let's not kid ourselves. If Snowden has anything worth having, China has it. It may not be willingly or knowingly, either. He does have an NSA laptop. It is well within the realm of possibility that he hooked up his laptop to the internet and the Chinese browsed it and took whatever they want. If China thought he was a high-value target, he'd've disappeared by now. If any government is capable of disappearing someone even in the midst of glaring media attention, it is China. But there he is, talking away from Hong Kong, and China does not seem to particularly care. The same applies to him seeking asylum in Russia. These are not nations with which we are engaged in a hot war. He very likely has nothing of significant value to offer them anyway. The legal definition of treason has not been met.
So, if Snowden is not a traitor, and he is not a whistle-blower, is there anything that correctly defines what Snowden has done? Yes, of course there is. Espionage. Per the Espionage Act (Pub.L. 65-24, 40 Stat. 217, enacted June 15, 1917), espionage criminalizes the conveyance of information with the intent to interfere with the operation or success of the armed forces of the United States. What was Edward Snowden's intent? Disrupt PRISM. It is not much of a stretch, if any stretch at all, for the Government to argue that information obtained from PRISM drives clandestine military operations. It is plausible - no, it is likely that the United States has found at least one if not more than one foreign agents it would classify as an enemy combatant. It's seven plus years of data. If they have not found at least one Al Qaeda operative, then we might want to re-evaluate who we are employing in these agencies.
Let's review. Glenn Greenwald has this ongoing crusade against the Government with regards to the surveillance state. Greenwald is not party to and has written no amicus for the case most likely to halt the program. The sum total of Greenwald's outrage when FISAA was reauthorized in 2012 is just an oped. He then engages in espionage with an employee of an NSA contractor, writes a story that amounts to journalistic malfeasance, and is spinning up fantastic theories about how Snowden should be afraid that Obama will kill him with a drone. He has not mentioned the EFF's lawsuits on the matter, and he has not called for a repeal of the FISA Amendments. For the record, no one in Congress has introduced a repeal bill, either (Rand Paul, I'm looking at you). There is a conversation and a dialogue in here that we absolutely need to have - namely, whether or not PRISM and the litany of associated programs violate the Fourth Amendment. But instead, here we are, discussing a 29 year old high school drop out. This is not helpful. This is a pair of Paulites taking a valid issue and turning it into a three-ring-circus and advancing not much more than themselves. Greenwald is certainly blowing something here, but it's not a whistle.