Writing in today’s Washington Post, Daniel Ellsberg comes to the defense of Edward Snowden. His op-ed has evidently come as a shock to many people. For days, scores of commentators in print, TV, and radio have argued that when Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, he acted differently than young Snowden. After all, they point out, Ellsberg stayed in the United States, faced the music and a major trial, and did not go into exile.
This is only partially correct. Unlike Snowden, Ellsberg at first did not make it known publicly that he was the man responsible for giving The New York Times the Pentagon Papers. By doing so, he was escaping the eventual indictment he faced for violating the Espionage Act, for the act of theft and conspiracy in releasing them. (His trial was eventually dismissed in 1973, when the court was presented evidence of governmental misconduct, including illegal wiretapping.)
Ellsberg, most people forget, was outed by the late journalist Sidney Zion, who breached the trust of the journalist fraternity by calling a friend’s radio talk show and informing the listening audience that Ellsberg was the one who had given the papers to the Times.
As for Ellsberg, he says he did the same as Snowden — going underground with his wife for two weeks, in order, he writes, “to elude surveillance while I was arranging – with the crucial help of others still unknown to the FBI — to distribute the Pentagon Papers sequentially to 17 other newspapers.” He defied an arrest order for three days, therefore making him, supposedly, “like Snowden, a ‘fugitive from justice.’”
There is, however, a vast difference between defying an arrest order for three days before surrendering to the court in Boston, having given out the last copies of the Pentagon Papers the day before, and what Snowden did. Snowden is not surrendering and returning to the United States; instead, he is seeking asylum in either Nicaragua or Venezuela, both countries having offered to take him in on his terms. By seeking sanctuary in leftist authoritarian regimes that have scant regard for press freedom or civil liberties, Snowden has made it quite clear that his motives are anything but libertarian.
Secondly, Ellsberg argues that in Nixon’s time, when he and the Left daily castigated the country as near fascist, the country was freer than it is today. Forgetting their hatred and disdain for the Nixon administration, Ellsberg writes that after he was indicted, he was freed on bond and was “free to speak to the media and at rallies and public lectures.” Considering himself part of a “movement against an ongoing war,” he stresses that he did not want to leave the country, and that such a step never crossed his mind.
According to Ellsberg, Snowden did not have the choice he had in the ’70s. Now, he argues, had Snowden stayed in the United States, he would be denied bail and held in prison incommunicado, like Bradley Manning. (Manning, of course, is in a military prison and is subject to different rules than Snowden would be.)
Ellsberg then writes “Snowden believes that he has done nothing wrong.” That statement simply is mind-boggling. Since when is one’s private view of actions taken a defense against an indictment for committing a crime? Recall that Alger Hiss claimed innocence despite proof of his guilt, and that Ethel and Julius Rosenberg did the same, and their defenders today rationalize their acts — since guilt by now has been proven and the damage they did established — as being understandable since they did it for good motives!
Moreover, Snowden did not come across the data accidentally after going to work as a Booz Allen contractor, but has said he purposefully took the job in order to gain access to secrets and then to leak them. He did not come across documents that then made him reconsider his earlier point of view. His goal from day one was to interfere with the effort of our intelligence apparatus to protect our national security. As Ellsberg writes, in his case, his authorized access to top-secret documents “taught me that Congress and the American people had been lied to by successive presidents and dragged into a hopelessly stalemated war that was illegitimate from the start.”
One can argue, as I would, with Ellsberg’s assessment of the nature of the war in Vietnam. But he is correct when he writes that it was only after his work at the Rand Corporation and for the Pentagon that he changed his point of view and became disillusioned with U.S. foreign policy and how it was carried out. Ellsberg did not take his job in order to gain access and leak secrets.
Finally, Ellsberg ends by going way beyond moral equivalence between the United States and the old totalitarian Soviet Union. He repeats the canard that our nation has become “the United Stasi of America,” referring to the hated secret police of the old East Germany — the so-called German Democratic Republic — whose powers way exceeded that of Hitler’s Gestapo.
Therefore, to Ellsberg, any nation Snowden goes to is worse than the two regimes that have offered him sanctuary, and he advises him not to return to the United States. After all, to Ellsberg, who freely speaks out as he wishes, we are living in the equivalent of a totalitarian system as bad as Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. So if that is true, living in Chavezista Venezuela or Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua means living in relative freedom. Viewing Snowden as a protector of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution, he warns that Snowden even faces assassination from U.S. Special Forces
Daniel Ellsberg’s defense of Edward Snowden reveals more about Ellsberg’s frame of mind than it is a compelling defense of Snowden’s treachery. Daniel Ellsberg reveals himself to be a man who has moved from acting out of conscience — as he did decades ago — to becoming just another far leftist conspiracy monger who believes our nation to be close to totalitarianism and run by monsters. He has no faith in the people and its institutions, which have served us well since our Founding. He believes that those who seek to keep our nation safe are our enemies, and that our real enemies are our friends.
Like Edward Snowden, Daniel Ellsberg is no hero, and the advice he gives should be ignored.