NYT claims Snowden “has done his country a great service.” No, really; they actually said that…

If you hear me retching, it’s not because I overindulged on New Year’s Eve. It’s because of this editorial in The New York Times:

Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community…

I’m just not even going to get into it, beyond to assert yet again that this creep has not “revealed” or “exposed” anything of value. We knew such programs existed, and basically what they did. If there are instances in which the NSA has exceeded or strayed from Congress’ intent, address them. (The NYT makes much of “thousands” of violations among the billions of communications about which it collects data. But folks, that’s not what Snowden and his fans are about. They hate the existence of the legal programs; not specific failures to follow the policies they oppose.) All he has done is stirred the emotions of unthoughtful people to the point that useful intelligence-gathering programs are politically endangered.

For more, just enter “Snowden” in the blog search field at right (in fact, I’ll do it for you; here are the search results), to see what I’ve said about him in the past. I particularly call your attention to his “Christmas message,” which as I said then “reveals his immaturity, paranoia, irrationality and utter lack of perspective,” the qualities that underlie the actions that the NYT celebrates.

This editorial is the sort of nonsense I expect from an intern working as a press aide in Rand Paul’s office, not from a once-great newspaper.

56 thoughts on “NYT claims Snowden “has done his country a great service.” No, really; they actually said that…

  1. Bill

    I completely agree with,Brad.There hasn’t been this much BS propaganda since the Cold War.This punk is a traitor,plain and simple.

  2. Karen Pearson

    I too, read the editorial; I agree that it’s wrong. I don’t agree with the person who wrote the editorial. Since Snowden dislikes our country so much, I’m all for letting him be the next “man without a country.” Or he can take his citizenship wherever he desires.

  3. Doug Ross

    We haven’t seen the most damaging evidence Snowden has of abuses of power. He’s saving that for protection against being killed.

    If he only exposed information that was already known, he’s not a traitor, he’s a reporter.

    Sorry, but I’d rather have too much information than have to rely on Joe Wilson to process it for me.

  4. Doug Ross

    Can you really say with no hesitation that nothing the NSA does to collect and analyze information will ever be used for any purpose except preventing terrorist attacks?

    1. Doug Ross

      One only needs to look at the history of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI to know what is possible… and that was before the availability of high tech methods.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      No, I can’t. Nor can I guarantee that none of us will be taken up into space by aliens. But it seems sufficiently unlikely that I would not stop using a valuable tool for catching terrorists out of worry over that eventuality.

      1. Doug Ross

        How about we make a little bet for 2014, Brad? I’ll bet you $100 (donated to your favorite charity) if someone is taken up to space by aliens this year and you can donate the same amount to my favorite charity if information from Snowden is revealed this year that shows the NSA routinely was doing more than just metadata analysis?

        E.T. can’t phone home because his line is tapped.

    3. Brad Warthen Post author

      Lest you think I’m blowing off your concern too casually with the aliens thing — I can’t guarantee that Americans won’t elect a Hitler someday, or that we won’t have a military coup. But every experience I’ve ever had, and everything I’ve ever learned about American politics, seems to militate against those things happening.

      And if those things DO happen, we’ll have way bigger problems than the government knowing to to whom we’re speaking on the phone…

      As to your comment about Joe Wilson…

      We live in a complex modern society. We live by delegating important functions to other people. This works in the marketplace as well as in politics. I don’t have to have access to everything about the way the farm and the cannery are run in order to trust a can of beans bought at the supermarket. It is impossible for every American to be fully informed and make every decision in an effective manner. The system of delegation that we call representative democracy has done a fine job of ensuring our liberal democracy for well over two centuries now. It is not necessary for me to approve of everyone who is elected to government. Were that necessary, Lindsey Graham would be the only member of our congressional delegation to still hold office. And I would not be a citizen of a republic; I would be a dictator.

      For society to function, we have to, to a great extent, trust other people to do their jobs. That includes the people we didn’t vote for. That’s why you saw me defend W. so much when Democrats didn’t want to give him a chance on anything, and why you’ll see me defend Obama today. I want them to be able to do their jobs effectively until we have the chance to choose someone else.

      And one thing I absolutely DON’T need is some 29-year-old misfit punk who was not elected by anyone reversing policy decisions of the Congress or the duly elected POTUS, just because of his own extremely mixed up worldview

      1. Doug Ross

        Snowden won’t be reversing any policies, will he? It will be our elected representatives who would do that based on the information they have at their disposal combined with the will of their constituents. Seems like a perfect;y good system to me.

        It would be wrong if Snowden was disseminating lies… but he’s not. We all have the right (and duty) to know what our government is doing. They work for us.

  5. Phillip

    Brad, can you really assert with a straight face that we would be having this wider national debate about the scope of the NSA programs without Snowden’s actions? Also, I’m having a hard time reconciling your insistence that Snowden “has not revealed or exposed anything of value” with this view of him as some kind of traitor. If we accept your view that everything he’s said was “basically” (that’s a big wiggly word, that) known, then A) what did he do that was so traitorous, and B) why WEREN’T we having that debate then, to the extent that this topic is being discussed now?

    1. Doug Ross

      @Phillip – exactly! The anti-Snowden folks want it both ways: he’s a dangerous traitor but he didn’t reveal anything important. Which is it?

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Because people who didn’t pay attention, and who don’t pay attention to much, have gotten all emotionally disturbed, causing the president and others to call for “reforms” that they know — having a better grasp of the situation than all the people twitching to Snowden’s irrationality — are unnecessary.

      And I use the word “basically,” because nothing that he reveals has been a surprise, given what I knew before. What he has “revealed” are particular details that neither I nor any other average voter out here needed to know — about specific subpoenas, names and other details. Thus my contention that he has revealed nothing of value, but in the aggregate has only caused harm.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Oh, and lest anyone think I’m sneering at those whose “emotions have been engaged” as my intellectual inferiors…

        I assure you, my own blood is boiling. My one concern about my own conclusions is that I know how strong emotion can impair even a Mentat‘s efficiency, and this situation really, really ticks me off.

        It is an utter outrage that this nobody who is incapable of forming a single full thought about the world in a manner that makes any sort of rational sense — again, I refer you to his “Christmas message,” which was his big opportunity to justify himself directly to the world, and which was utterly lacking in anything that a thinking person need respect — can take it upon himself to torpedo policies that are legal, and that have been chosen and are administered by duly elected, legitimate authorities.

        The lesson in all this is that, as wonderful as our interconnected world is in the information age, we are vulnerable to extremely destructive acts on the part of people who have no business having access to such information. (If you’ll recall, when he first emerged, intel people were scratching their heads wondering how he had access to such a breadth of information; but computers have turned “need to know” on its head. You don’t have to understand politics and policy in order to have a knack for getting into systems that you’re not supposed to get into.)

        I love the Web; I love Twitter; I love never having to wonder about these things for more than a few seconds makes my life richer than it once was. My relationships to these things might be fairly described as addiction. But Snowden reminds us of the downside of all these marvels.

        1. JesseS

          If you are angry about the peasants getting riled up over the Star Chamber and not paying attention to it from the beginning, why did you have so much faith in the Star Chamber to begin with?

          I wonder if your real problem is that Smiley and Prideaux failed to assassinate Snowden at the airport?

      2. Doug Ross

        Harm to whom? If the programs were so well known that Snowden’s revelations were not meaningful, then everything in aggregate was also known – especially by those who would be most interested in avoiding detection.

        It’s either a traitorous act that revealed secret information or it wasn’t.

          1. Doug Ross

            Not really. You keep saying “Snowden bad!” but not much else. You don’t like the fact that people are reacting to information that wasn’t generally known beforehand. Remember when Watergate was just a random break in? Eventually the news reaches a tipping point where people get engaged.

        1. Doug Ross

          You keep talking in circles, Brad. What policies have been torpedoed? And if they are being “torpedoed” why would that happen if they are legal and above board?

  6. Bryan Caskey

    So let me see if I have this correct: Snowden took an oath to keep classified information secret, then broke his oath and disseminated the classified information because his conscience compelled him, or basically because he felt like it.

    Now he’s angling for a plea bargain or clemency or something?

    I have a solution: Promise Snowden that he can have immunity or clemency or whatever. Then when he comes back, immediately arrest him and prosecute him. When he complains about the broken promise, the US Attorney can just say, “Yeah, we broke our promise. That’s kind of ironic, isn’t it?”

  7. Phillip

    It’s funny, how opposite we see this, Brad. To me, the whole surveillance structure and everything that emanated from the Patriot Act was based on emotional responses and fear. It seems that now we are just beginning to have a more thorough (and more rational) debate about these core issues.

    The constitutionality of these various practices (and I know different courts have recently taken contradictory positions) is a question that trumps any question of “likelihood of abuse,” so the “aliens” metaphor is irrelevant. As Doug has pointed out, and as we have seen in American history, various abuses or overreaches of power can occur (at many levels of government) in cases far short of any extreme question of dictatorship or the like.

  8. Mike F.

    I’m certainly glad to have the assurance that the NSA isn’t a massive agency that’s run amok as it hacked into the files of such noted terrorism suspects as the UN secretary-general and the German prime minister, and tens of millions of other people.

    It’s also great to know that none of this power could ever be misused.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’m glad I could reassure you. 🙂

      One of my first thoughts upon reading this was, “What if someone on my editorial board — say, Mike — had wanted to write this?” My next thought was, “We would have had one terrific argument.”

      But to get more to the point… As you can see above, I have not asserted at any point that “none of this power could ever be misused.” Anything could be misused. Our safeguards that prevent all sorts of power — say, this country’s nuclear arsenal — could theoretically fail.

      But I’ve seen no reason to believe that anything remotely like a tyrannical use of this power has occurred, or is likely to occur. That’s because the three-branch safeguards in place work. Just as we’ve had nukes for more than six decades without obliterating the planet.

      1. bud

        I have not asserted at any point that “none of this power could ever be misused.”

        Then we can end this discussion right now. If they CAN misuse their power then most assuredly someone, someday will. Isn’t that obvious? The ONLY reason we should even consider such an abusive power is if there is some legitimate, serious threat. It just ain’t there Brad. You have to be exceptionally paranoid to say this type of program is really needed.

  9. Brad Warthen Post author

    Allow me to pose a hypothetical…

    Let’s suppose that something good comes out of all the foofooraw that Snowden has generated. Let’s say this or that cog or gear within the system isn’t working right, and the folks in charge may not have gotten around to addressing it if there hadn’t been all this fuss, and they DO address it as a result of all this, and our intelligence-gathering system is made slightly better, rather than much worse.

    That’s not at all beyond the realm of possibility.

    But if that happens, it would not change what I think should happen to Snowden.

    For that matter, let’s just go all wild and crazy. Let’s say that everything that arises from Snowden’s betrayal of the trust so mistakenly invested in him is just wonderful. Let’s say that as a result of all this emotional navel-gazing we come up with an intelligence-gathering system that does all it should and offends no one (which is impossible, because so many people have a resistance to the government gathering any information, but just play along). Let’s say that. It’s crazy, but let’s say it.

    I would still say that Snowden must have the book thrown at him.

    If we are to be a nation of laws, if we are to remain a secure and strong nation of laws and not of men, then our society cannot afford to send the signal to every disaffected loner out there with access to sensitive information that if he acts illegally, he can overturn the collective judgment of the Congress, the president and the courts in order to suit his own rather dicey political notions.

    That would be extraordinarily dangerous, in a time when information is so accessible, yet so vulnerable.

    That’s what makes it so appalling that the NYT editorial board, which should consist of people who know how the world works, should wish to reward him for taking this upon himself.

    1. Doug Ross

      “If we are to be a nation of laws, ” then we shouldn’t allow our government to commit unlawful acts. We need a system of checks and balances — and sometimes those balances include the release of information by people like Snowden. If there’s nothing to hide, there shouldn’t be a big problem.

      If there is just a single instance of the NSA acting in a way that is unconstitutional, it is far worse than what Snowden did. Based on numerous past episodes of the government committing those types of acts, I remain skeptical that the programs are clean.

      Again, I reference J. Edgar Hoover, who maintained a list of thousands of Americans who were supposed threats to the U.S. and offered to round them all up without any due process.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Yeah, you keep using that example of Hoover using his power to abuse the rights of other people to satisfy personal agendas, and I don’t know why. Because I haven’t heard of any instances of anyone at the NSA having engaged in anything like that.

        You see, this does have checks and balances.

        As for your comparison that a single failure to abide by the rules would be “far worse than what Snowden did”… it boggles the mind. Snowden intentionally did what he did to this entire country, and its legitimate interests, and our entire system of governance, which holds that we ELECT people to make policy decisions. Yet you’re suggesting that if the NSA held onto a piece of information it should not have, because somebody screwed up, it’s worse than what he did intentionally. Really?

        Without our system of representative democracy and set of laws defending basic civil rights, we have NO civil rights. Our system protects them. Anyone who seeks unilaterally to undermine that system of decision-making has threatened everyone’s rights.

        1. Doug Ross

          Should Iran Contra been swept under the rug? How about Watergate? Agent Orange? There were factions within the government in each case that tried very hard to prevent information from getting out. There is new information coming out today about the approved use of torture during the Bush administration. Should the press stop digging into that?

          We (including you) don’t know what we don’t know.

  10. Karen Pearson

    Did I agree with the Patriot Act? No. I said so at the time. Do I think the NSA has gone a bit to far? Yes. That probability was a major reason for disagreeing with the Patriot Act to start with. However, for a person who has sworn an oath not to disseminate this information, to simply dump it on the world is not acceptable. I don’t know how much harm he may have done, but exposing the ways and extent to which the NSA was working to stop them gave the terrorists information in how to avoid discovery. I call that treason.

  11. Kathryn Fenner

    To be a whistleblower, you don’t have to reveal something devastating, just something illegal, or even likely illegal. If you require perfect information, precisely calibrated, you discourage the valuable services whistleblowers provide.
    Snowden’s persona is repulsive to me, but that may go with the territory of whistleblowing!

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Kathryn, let’s say that something Snowden has exposed actually violated the rules set up to govern this intel-gathering. Given billions of points of data, that’s possible, perhaps even likely.

      But you know that’s not what this is about. This is about whether such an intelligence-gathering program should exist at all. Snowden doesn’t think it should, and gives a lot of childish, insupportable reasons why he thinks so. Our duly elected and appointed authorities have decided otherwise. (I happen to believe they’re right, but even if I didn’t, the truth is that in a system of laws and not of men, they are the ones who decide, and our job is to decide who decides.) It’s not his business, or his right, to short-circuit that.

      1. Doug Ross

        I know this is a tangent but I’ll never understand your belief in a system of laws and not men except for those laws you don’t agree with. Laws are temporary… they are arbitrary… and they are often wrong. Some laws are downright stupid (blue laws, anti-sodomy laws, stop-and-frisk, etc.)

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I believe in our government of laws and not of men, and there is no “except for those laws you don’t agree with.”

          You’re the one who believes laws are arbitrary, and that there are good ones and bad ones. I’m not making that distinction. You are, and Snowden does.

          Well, apparently he does. Maybe he’s a stickler for following the law. If so, he has a bizarre way of demonstrating it, being on the lam all this time and doing everything he can to escape the consequences of his actions.

          1. Doug Ross

            So all laws are good? We should just accept them? I’m missing the difference between the laws you like and those you don’t (legal abortion, illegal immigration)…

            Snowden hasn’t created or repealed a single law. He has provided only raw information that allows others (the electorate) to determine if the way the NSA works is acceptable. If politicians bow to the pressure created by the information that was revealed, is that a bad thing?

  12. Doug Ross

    This was in the NY editorial –

    “More important, Mr. Snowden told The Washington Post earlier this month that he did report his misgivings to two superiors at the agency, showing them the volume of data collected by the N.S.A., and that they took no action. (The N.S.A. says there is no evidence of this.) That’s almost certainly because the agency and its leaders don’t consider these collection programs to be an abuse and would never have acted on Mr. Snowden’s concerns.”

    So if Snowden attempted to address his concerns through the chain of command and was rebuffed, what other course of action did he have if he felt there was illegal activity going on?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      He could have kept trying. Or, he could have decided that he wasn’t the repository of all wisdom, that maybe people senior to him understood the situation better than he did, and shut up about it (of course, he lacked the maturity for that). Or, he could have resigned.

      One course that was NOT allowable was for him to violate all the trust placed in him and create an international media circus in an attempt to overturn the collective judgments of the duly elected and appointed authorities in all branches of government who happened to disagree with him. That course was not only unethical and immoral, it was illegal. And it’s outrageous to suggest that he should not face the consequences for his utterly illegitimate actions.

      We have a situation here in which a sort of false legitimacy generated by the legions of disaffected people out there who resonate to a person who sees himself as the repository of wisdom and wants to lash out at established authority.

      As you know, I liked the way David Brooks described this segment of the population, which is Snowden’s natural constituency:

      Though thoughtful, morally engaged and deeply committed to his beliefs, he appears to be a product of one of the more unfortunate trends of the age: the atomization of society, the loosening of social bonds, the apparently growing share of young men in their 20s who are living technological existences in the fuzzy land between their childhood institutions and adult family commitments.

      If you live a life unshaped by the mediating institutions of civil society, perhaps it makes sense to see the world a certain way: Life is not embedded in a series of gently gradated authoritative structures: family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world. Instead, it’s just the solitary naked individual and the gigantic and menacing state…

      I’m reminded a bit of the kind of disaffected young man that is represented by Tyler Durden and the other members of “Fight Club.” But perhaps I digress…

      1. Doug Ross

        I’m sure the older white dudes in the 60’s felt the same way about hippies. With age often comes a fear of change and an attraction to attempting to provide unsolicited “wisdom” to everyone else.

        1. Doug Ross

          And again, you keep going back and forth over the relative damage Snowden has created. Has he created an artificial media circus or did he just reveal stuff the media already knew?

          If you want to blame anyone, blame the media. Snowden provided only the fuse for the fireworks that resulted. Your brethren at the Times and the Guardian felt it was worth blowing up. We’re not talking about a lone individual here – it’s the collective efforts of a large group of experienced, professional newsmen making a decision that the information was important to disseminate.

  13. Brad Warthen

    My own favorite Snowden “revelation” is the one in the WashPost today: “NSA seeks to build quantum computer” http://t.co/9tmrLdEJls


    Ever since I learned that computers were limited by only understanding ones and zeroes, I’ve been looking forward to the development of one of these bad boys…

    I can’t wait until Snowden tells us the NSA is getting flying cars and mastering time travel.

    Suddenly, this one selfless man has restored our faith in American engenuity. He’s just doing SO much for his country, bless him.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      My husband is an expert on quantum computation. This is very important. Whoever builds the first quantum computer wins, because current encryption will not withstand quantum decryption.

  14. Brad Warthen Post author

    Totally coincidentally, today I ran across a piece about America’s relationship with Winston Churchill in the WSJ from back in October, which contained this passage:

    It is tempting, always, to think what Churchill would have said of today’s isolationists who think and sound—particularly in America—so much like those of yesterday. “We shall see, ” he wrote after the war, “how the counsels of prudence and restraint may become the prime agents of mortal danger; how the middle course adopted from desires for safety and a quiet life may be found to lead direct to the bull’s-eye of disaster.”

    What would Churchill have said of the fantastic case of Edward Snowden, leaker of classified documents, embraced as a heroic figure both by the left and the right—but by none more than conservative television and radio stars unable to restrain their swooning over him, a hero on the lam they view as a selfless dissident struggling to save the nation from the evils of government secrecy. What might the prime minister have made of a journalistic specialty devoted entirely to the leaking of America’s classified documents, as practiced by that model of brooding self-righteousness Glenn Greenwald ?

    We can’t know what the prime minister would have said but we can safely guess. Churchill was nothing if not a militant on matters of national security. When he received a plea in 1941 for more support for the work of the Bletchley Park Government Code and Cipher School, charged with the task of breaking enemy codes, he immediately ordered that the request be granted. The code workers must have all the help they wanted, and this was a matter of “extreme priority,” he instructed his chief of staff…

    And for some reason that is unclear (perhaps it was the surge of empathy I felt over the opening anecdote in the WSJ piece, in which Harry Hopkins quotes from the Book of Ruth), it got me to thinking about something that has been there on the periphery of my consciousness since this sordid story first broke several months ago.

    As you know, I can’t possibly identify with either the Democrats or the Republicans, the contemporary “liberals” or “conservatives.” Occasionally, I’ll try. I’ll try thinking of one side or the other as “us” and the other side as “they,” but it just doesn’t work. As groups, they are all “they” to me.

    But this Snowden thing does draw a line that is meaningful to me. On one side stand Snowden and Greenwald and all those who admire them. I am clearly, squarely, unmistakably on the other side.

    If we had a two-party system based on that delineation, I would be a partisan. I would have a side I could refer to as “us,” and a “they” that I would clearly see as the opposition.

    I suppose the world would be a less lonely place. Partisans have comrades. On the other hand, I prize my independence…

    1. Doug Ross

      Your partisanship is dedicated to the government. More government, more laws, more oversight, more intrusion… more, more, more. If there’s something for the government to do, you’re for it. You’ll take what the Democrats want (single payer, higher energy taxes, amnesty for illegals) and what the Republicans want (larger military, more intrusive national security, blue laws, abortion laws).

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        No, that’s not the right way to describe it. Although I understand why it looks that way to you, from your perspective.

        But as for the government aspect of it… my allegiance runs back to Madison and Hamilton, and the thing that united them, even though they became hyperpartisans opposed to each other later. I think the thing they came up with, and the understanding of society and the values that informed it, are pretty great things.

        There is a hint of Toryism in my outlook. For instance, I would have backed Hamilton’s party, rather than those Jacobins behind Madison. But I would have seen it more as choosing Adams over Jefferson, as being more of an Anglophile than a Francophile…

        1. bud

          Sorry Brad, you’re in denial. Perhaps some good meds will help. It was clearly established many years ago, even before you began blogging, that your partisan bent is in favor of government solutions to all problems. An Iraqi dictator gets the dander of an American president, let the government solve the issue with a military strike. Sunday is not the sacred day of rest that it once was bring on the Blue Laws. Marijuana makes people act foolish, ban the evil weed. Medical costs are too expensive, pass a new set of laws. In example after example if given a choice Brad always chooses the government solution. And there is nothing wrong with that philosophy. I agree that the government has a role in many aspects of our state and nation. (Doug would probably disagree). But just embrace the socialist/communitarian world view and defend it without constantly denying the obvious. We will all respect you that much more.

  15. bud

    Here we have a pretty good cross section of political views that generally agree that the NSA data mining is wrong. (Brad being the exception). Now that’s bipartisan agreement that I can support.

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