Snowden is both a civilian and a man who's succeeded in making himself a very public figure. When I read people very earnestly asserting that those two things aren't more than sufficient to ensure that he doesn't, e.g. "get the Bradley Manning treatment," or gets disappeared into Gitmo, or tortured in some secret prison, or assassinated by a drone, I can only roll my eyes. The idea is patently ridiculous, just as the idea that hoarding data is the same thing as active surveillance. It's a left wing version of the right wing tinfoil hattery that gets circulated among old white people in those crazy emails.
I don't expect he'll get a pass, and he's not going to end up in one of the "nice" prisons if he ever comes back and stands trial. But isn't the idea that we've degenerated into some kind of Orwellian police state where he is doomed to be vaporized kind of belied by the fact that here we all are talking about it on the Internet and yet, the Thought Police haven't come to take us to Room 101?
And it points up one of the most poisonous of the many toxic legacies of the Bush years. Bush and Cheney spent their entire eight years living down, and acting out, every left wing and foreign caricature, calumny and rumor about America. And an awful lot of people who became adults during that era have internalized the notion that those years are typical, that we are uniquely awful and everything in history that says otherwise is propaganda.
Here's another letter from TPM Reader JS. I'm a bit divided on his points about damage or no damage. It is the reflexive move of all governments in a situation like this to claim damage. And it's one they can make in a privileged position since they have virtually all the facts. That said, I think it's sloppy thinking to reflexively insist there can't be any damage at all. I don't take anyone's word for it - their interests are too much at stake. But I also don't buy that there's no way any of this has had a cost.
Critics of your Snowden coverage keep making statements about how Snowden has put no American in harm's way with his disclosures and that all he has done is disclose programs relating to surveillance of American phone and internet usage.
However, those critics have completely ignored statements from President Obama and senior intelligence committee members in Congress from both sides of the aisle that these programs have helped prevent specific terrorist attacks and saved American lives. Unless they believe that people like President Obama and Diane Feinstein are lying to them, perhaps they would be better to acknowledge that Snowden's revelations do increase the risk of future terrorist attacks against American, but that this is the price of freedom. That strategy is more convincing than pretending that there are no costs in terms of national security to America from Snowden's actions.
Second, your critics are ignoring all the more recent disclosures that Snowden has made relating to US surveillance activities in China, Russian, and Europe that have nothing at all to do with potential surveillance of Americans. Snowden releasing information about these classic spying activities (which I am sure China, Russia, and European countries all try to do themselves) shows that he is either purposely hurting America 1) because of some sort of reflexive disgust with American foreign policy 2) in order to drum up sympathy from foreign countries in order to increase his asylum chances 3) to simply stroke his ego and continue to receive media attention or 4) some combination of the foregoing. In any of these scenarios, Snowden is a contemptible figure who should go to jail for treason. Snowden's own recent press release lumping himself in with Manning confirms that his actions are not so much about surveillance of Americans but a deep disgust of American foreign policy generally.
In order for us to understand how to prevent harmful and potentially deadly national security breaches in the future, it is important to understand who Snowden is and what his motivations were.
And one more from TPM Reader RW ...
Unlike your other readers, I tend to agree with your personal stance on the Snowden situation. There is an easy reaction to consider him a hero and to assume, without review, that what is being done with Americans' phone records is unconstitutional. But this is not the world we live in. First, most disinterested legal scholars will tell you that saving the phone number to phone number data is both legal and constitutional based on the case of Smith v. Maryland from 1979. It is the definitive case on these issues and one of the first ones professors have you study in criminal law in law school.
These facts inform my opinions of Snowden. The fact is that Snowden is not a lawyer or constitutional scholar. His opinion on what is allowed under the Fourth Amendment is not correct. The question then has to be--does any regular Joe working with classified information have the right to reveal that information willy-nilly based upon what he or she thinks is the law? The answer to that question has to be no.