WASHINGTON — Congress has left the District for the Passover and Easter break, with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) heading to Afghanistan and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) heading to President Obama’s home base of Chicago to promote school choice.
But today’s announcement of the 2014 Pulitzer Prizes stoked an old debate about whether a former NSA contractor who leaked details about the surveillance programs — among other leaks — is a traitor or a whistleblower. Today, he was the muse of award winners.
“Awarding the Pulitzer to Snowden enablers is a disgrace,” tweeted Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.).
The Guardian and the Washington Post shared the Public Service Pulitzer for the “revelation of widespread secret surveillance by the National Security Agency, marked by authoritative and insightful reports that helped the public understand how the disclosures fit into the larger framework of national security” and “helping through aggressive reporting to spark a debate about the relationship between the government and the public over issues of security and privacy.”
The heads of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), have solidly put Snowden in the traitor category, but remained mum about the win.
Even Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a privacy advocate who tore into the White House after the revelations, reserved his felicitations for his hometown paper.
“Congratulations to @Oregonian’s editorial staff for their Pulitzer win!” Wyden tweeted. The paper won for editorial writing.
Other winners included the Boston Globe in the Breaking News Reporting Category “for its exhaustive and empathetic coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings and the ensuing manhunt that enveloped the city, using photography and a range of digital tools to capture the full impact of the tragedy,” Chris Hamby of the The Center for Public Integrity in Washington for Investigative Reporting on benefits denied to coal miners, and Eli Saslow of the Washington Post, who won the Explanatory Reporting prize for “his unsettling and nuanced reporting on the prevalence of food stamps in post-recession America, forcing readers to grapple with issues of poverty and dependency.”
Jason Szep and Andrew R.C. Marshall of Reuters won the International Reporting prize “for their courageous reports on the violent persecution of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar that, in efforts to flee the country, often falls victim to predatory human-trafficking networks.” Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press won the Commentary prize, and the top editorial cartoonist was Kevin Siers of The Charlotte Observer.
The Breaking News Photography prize went to the stunning images captured by The New York Times‘ Tyler Hicks at the Westgate mall in Kenya as the bloody Al-Shabaab siege unfolded in September. Goran Tomasevic of Reuters, who was also shooting photos at the mall, was a finalist for his work on the ground in Syria.
Former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor Edward Snowden, though, praised the recipients of his leaks at the Guardian and Washington Post — including Glenn Greenwald, who has since left the Guardian to start an independent media site — as forging a better future for all.
“Today’s decision is a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government,” Snowden said in a statement. “We owe it to the efforts of the brave reporters and their colleagues who kept working in the face of extraordinary intimidation, including the forced destruction of journalistic materials, the inappropriate use of terrorism laws, and so many other means of pressure to get them to stop what the world now recognizes was work of vital public importance.”
“This decision reminds us that what no individual conscience can change, a free press can. My efforts would have been meaningless without the dedication, passion, and skill of these newspapers, and they have my gratitude and respect for their extraordinary service to our society. Their work has given us a better future and a more accountable democracy.”
The award comes just a few weeks after Rogers said that Snowden, who has been assured by Moscow that he doesn’t need to leave when his asylum year is up, is now believed to be working for his Russian hosts.
“I see all the intelligence and all the evidence from everything from his activities leading up to this event to very suspicious activity during the event,” the Intelligence chairman told NBC on March 23, adding that in considering if Snowden is engaging in espionage “when you talk to the folks who are doing the investigation, they cannot rule it out.”
“No counter-intelligence official in the United States does not believe that Mr. Snowden, the NSA contractor, is not under the influence of Russian intelligence services. We believe he is. I certainly believe he is today,” Rogers continued. “So now we all agree that he’s under the influence of Russian intelligence services today for the investigators, they need to figure out, when did that influence start and was he interested in cooperating earlier than the timeline would suggest. So you’re talking to a guy who stole information who is now in the arms of intelligence services saying, well, gosh, whatever you guys say is absurd. Only I can define the truth. That’s ridiculous on its face.”
“I do believe there’s more to this story. He is under the influence of Russian intelligence officials today. He’s actually supporting in an odd way this very activity of brazen brutality in expansionism of Russia. He needs to understand that. And I think Americans need to understand that. We need to put it in proper context.”
But the impact of Snowden’s revelations still reverberates across the Hill, and promises to emerge on the 2016 campaign trail, as well.
Lawmakers continue to pursue Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, asking Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate his false testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last year.
Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Ted Poe (R-Texas), Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), and Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) asked Holder to open a probe in December, and Sensenbrenner noted to Holder this month that he hadn’t even responded to the request.
“On March 12, 2013, Senator Ron Wyden asked Director Clapper, ‘Does the N.S.A. collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?’ Director Clapper answered ‘No, Sir.’ Wyden pressed, ‘It does not?’ Clapper replied, ‘There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly,’” Sensenbrenner wrote.
“Now declassified documents reveal that Director Clapper’s testimony was false, and further, that he knew it was false when it was offered. Congress is currently considering proposals regarding intelligence reform. In considering these proposals, we need assurances that we can adequately conduct oversight following new legislation. Congressional oversight, however, depends on truthful testimony. Intelligence officials cannot be permitted to lie with impunity.”
Paul is making the misdeeds of NSA surveillance a cornerstone of appearances, particularly with young people, that could pave his way for a presidential run.
The senator fired up crowds from CPAC to UC Berkeley last month. “I look into the eyes of senators and I think I see real fear,” he told the Berkeley crowd. “I think I perceive fear of an intelligence community drunk with power, unrepentant and uninclined to relinquish power.”
Over the weekend, he told reporters in early primary state New Hampshire that “we can’t have an intelligence community that can do whatever the hell they want.”
“I’ve not heard a peep from her about protecting privacy or civil liberties,” Paul added of potential 2016 Democratic contender Hillary Clinton. “Will she finally see that the American people are upset about this? Maybe, but she’ll be coming quite late to the scene and she’ll be part of an administration that had total disregard for the Fourth Amendment.”