Daniel Ellsberg on Edward Snowden: "There Has Not Been in American History a More Important Leak"

He's counting the Pentagon Papers.


Daniel Ellsberg, whose leak of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 transformed the debate about the Vietnam War, is effusive in his praise for the whistleblower behind last week's big NSA story:

Forty years ago this month.

In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden's release of NSA material—and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago. Snowden's whistleblowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an "executive coup" against the US constitution.

Since 9/11, there has been, at first secretly but increasingly openly, a revocation of the bill of rights for which this country fought over 200 years ago. In particular, the fourth and fifth amendments of the US constitution, which safeguard citizens from unwarranted intrusion by the government into their private lives, have been virtually suspended.

The government claims it has a court warrant under Fisa—but that unconstitutionally sweeping warrant is from a secret court, shielded from effective oversight, almost totally deferential to executive requests. As Russell Tice, a former National Security Agency analyst, put it: "It is a kangaroo court with a rubber stamp."

For the president then to say that there is judicial oversight is nonsense—as is the alleged oversight function of the intelligence committees in Congress….The fact that congressional leaders were "briefed" on this and went along with it, without any open debate, hearings, staff analysis, or any real chance for effective dissent, only shows how broken the system of checks and balances is in this country.

Read the rest here. Read Reason's 1973 interview with Ellsberg here. Read more of our NSA coverage here. And on the broader topic of leaks and power, read my 2010 piece "Our Leaky World."

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  1. I am really glad the masses are getting pissed about this, but I swear this just seems like 10 year old news to me. Hell everyone already knew about the special rooms at AT&Ts; california hub. And there have been mainstream articles about the giant NSA complex in Montana. Also former NSA types have already come out so why the outrage now…what the hell took people so long?

    1. Shut up! Kim Kardashian’s doing something.

      1. OMG her baby is going to be so cuuuuuute!!!

    2. People didn’t want to believe that THEIR government was capable of these things. These were the types of overreaches and abuses that happened in those backwards, corrupt countries. Not America!

      About 10 years ago, I worked for a large national cell carrier and people told me I was paranoid because when we’d go to a cell tower to do maintenance, sometimes we’d have to come back because there were federal agents there and we weren’t allowed to see what they were doing. I literally witnessed, first hand, them poking around the cellular infrastructure but was nonetheless told to “put away the tinfoil hat” because I had a good feeling that they did not have our best interests at heart.

      It’s a small respite to be able to tell those same people “I fucking told you”

      1. I remember a little over ten years back in college I overheard a student talking about how his father was installing switches to give government men instant access. Don’t remember if it was internet or telephone. Either way, the general rule was that all new equipment must contain something that the government can plug into whenever they want.


        1. Yeah, I wasn’t a tower tech, I just helped them from time to time, but the guy who explained to me why we couldn’t go into the tower said that new equipment showed up in all the towers one day and he couldn’t get an answer as to what it was, just to leave it alone.

          I think I’ll put my tinfoil hat back on now.

    3. Isn’t this the first time that hard Top Secret evidence has been brought to light on this topic? AFAICT, EVERYONE took the fear of getting Guantanamoed seriously. It took a lot (A LOT) of balls to do what Snowden did. He essentially committed his entire life to this.

      We should all be so brave.

      1. He essentially committed his entire life to this

        Listening to him on the radio this AM, this is exactly what struck me.

        I have big balls. But I’m pretty sure they’re not as big as Snowden’s. Not at all sure I’d be brave enough to do what he did in his position…glad I don’t have to fund out (so far).

        Respeck, Mr. Snowden.

    4. I’ve been seeing these kinds of stories for years. Always gave me a sick feeling.


    5. I think it’s a combination of things. Post 9/11, it didn’t surprise me or even concern me that much. (I did contract work for PacBell/SBC before and after that date, and my boss told me about the secret room years before the news came out.) I figured they were looking for terrorists, and most people were OK with that.

      But the mood of 9/11 has pretty much worn off, we still get periodic terror attacks that are the sort of thing massive surveillance should have detected (Benghazi, the Tsarnaev brothers, Major Hasan), and Obama promised to cut back on all this. Combined with the politicization of the IRS, the latest NSA revelations seem much more serious.

    6. what the hell took people so long?

      I think this is a case of people not wanting to believe that their governemnt was capable of doing this shit in the supposed “land of the free.” So even though there were reports of the “special rooms at AT&Ts; california hub” and the “giant NSA complex in Montana” and whispers and ennuendo from former NSA employees, there wasn’t incontrovertable proof until now.

      Most of the people who would talk about NSA data mining operations and government agents snooping through phone records were often regarded (with the help of the media of course) as kooks and nuts on the same level as Bigfoot hunters and Ancient Aliens believers. Even former NSA employees were pretty much looked at as probably disgruntled former employees with an axe to grind.

      But now we have the smoking gun, so people have to stop and say “Holy shit, this is for real? I thought that was all a bunch of tin-foil hat nut jobbery.” And needless to say people are rightly pissed off. Although they really should be pissed at themselves for not questioning the government more.

  2. If this is more important than the Pentagon Papers, let’s hope the current scandals start becoming the touchstones for political corruption instead of Watergate and the Vietnam War crap. As somebody born in 1972, I can’t wait for the baby boomers and their cultural references to leave the stage.

    If not first, at least I beat Fisty.

    1. Not a chance since that means calling St. Barack an authoritarian crook.

      1. I don’t know, I think there’s a good chance that St. Barack is permanently losing his halo, for all but the most deluded.

        1. If Truman and LBJ can be rehabilitated then so can Barack.

          1. They weren’t rehabilitated in my mind. They rank almost as low as Wilson and FDR.

            1. Why the Truman hate, specifically?

              1. Maybe the 250,000 Japanese civilians he incinerated with nuclear bombs?

              2. Truman’s approval rating when left office was around 28%.

              3. I’m pretty sure he had more than a little to do with the Korean War.

          2. Rehabilitation requires a fall, and then lots of time. Obama is just starting his fall.

    2. FoE is still dealing with the Pens loss to the Bruins on Friday. I think he’s in a fetal position in the corner.

      1. I’m still dealing with the Pens loss by cheering. That hasn’t stopped me from posting here.

    3. Yeah, but absent a libertarian revolution, you’ll be paying for folks to change our diapers, etc, for at least a decade after we’ve left the stage. And there are a lot of us and few of you.

      1. Once you all start getting dementia, we’re just going to abandon you. It’s not as if you’ll know what’s happening to you, anyway.

  3. ‘He can blow my whistle!’ NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden becomes overnight sex symbol as the internet brands him ‘geek hot’


    1. This is the most-important aspect of this story, and a grateful commentariat thanks you.


    2. Most of the comments about him being hot, are from guys. Just sayin…

      1. Whatever happened to Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, anyway?

        Maybe South Park did it in the same way Beavis and Butthead did in Kip Winger’s career?

        1. I’m pretty sure Winger did in his own career.

          1. Probably the same fo QEFTSG, I guess…

          2. I saw Winger live once, opening for somebody else. Kip Winger did in his own career.

            But still, go listen to the lyrics for “Seventeen” some time and amaze yourself at the idea of that being written and sung now.

            1. But still, go listen to the lyrics for “Seventeen” some time and amaze yourself at the idea of that being written and sung now.

              “Sir, we’ve got a warrant here for your computer and cellular phones. Is that a Gibson? We’ll be taking that as well to verify that the wood is legit.”

      2. Well having team sweetness on your side certainly helps with the culture war aspect of this.

        BTW let’s break down some recent news stories:
        1. Ricin mailer was an angry woman so not a pissed off white tea partier

        2. Santa Monica shooter was some Antonio Banderas lookin cat with a middle eastern name, again not an angry white tea partier

        3. Boston bombing suspects, Chechens and see above for what they were not

        4. NSA leaker…. Wait a minute he’s a hero as far as the masses are concerned, he’s white, ex-military, and donated to Ron Paul.

        It must suck trying to maintain the narrative right now.

        1. Don’t worry, they’ll find a way.

          1. I don’t know I just RTFA and there were only two bitchy comments that seemed like they came right from Obama staffer trolls. I’m cautiously optimistic because the MSM seems to be building the band wagon.

  4. A few thoughts, some I’ve said elsewhere.

    I actually don’t mind the NSA snooping on terrorists or potential terrorists. I just think they need a warrant for snooping on US citizens, and can’t simply vacuum up everything as a matter of course.

    I think the fact that they do vacuum up everything is partly because bureaucracies always want to expand their power, and because focusing on Muslims would be very politically incorrect.

    I really doubt that Obama is orchestrating these leaks to distract from Benghazi (the theory of Joseph Curl and others) or the immigration bill (Mickey Kaus’ theory), and if he is, it’s not working. The IRS and NSA scandals touch every American, and only yellow dog Democrats can defend the IRS action, and only they and “national defense above all” Republicans and conservatives will defend the NSA.

    These scandals have legs, will feed on each other, and cause other leakers to leak. The late night comics will turn on Obama. Even the Daily Show writers will struggle to cast this in any sort of positive way for Democrats. Faith in big government is taking heavy blows. The 2014 midterms will be dramatic, influenced by a common cause between libertarians and the civil liberties left, and the continued fallout from Obamacare.


      Sorry….I was…inspired.


    2. These scandals have legs, will feed on each other, and cause other leakers to leak.

      Not after his body washes up on the beach.

      1. Even if that happens. This is too big, and there are too many people involved.

    3. Faith in big government is taking heavy blows.

      From your lips to gods ear!

      Probably inappropriate in this instance but what the hell….CHRISTFAG!

    4. influenced by a common cause between libertarians and the civil liberties left

      This is something I was pondering last night, but not for too long. Because it’s a moot point.

      Why? Easy. Any display of outrage from the left is sort of like a 3 year old throwing a temper tantrum because he didn’t like what mom and dad just did with him. He’ll make a lot of noise, but in the end, what can he do? He’s completely dependent on the parents, they are his entire existence.

      You see where I’m going with this?

      1. …so she…is……a….WITTTTTTCH! BURN HER!!!

        Wait, no?

        1. Does she weigh the same as a duck?

      2. I see your point, but I think there’s more to it. This scandal shows a huge fissure in the standard, simplistic, left/right, Democrat/GOP categories. The left can’t call all Republicans “fascists” when Rand Paul etc. want to reign in the NSA. The left can’t worship Obama as the Lightworker after all this is revealed. The standard left solutions of “government needs more power and money” aren’t going to have the same appeal. Lots of people on the left (especially) are going to have to recalibrate their beliefs and rhetoric.

        1. Lots of people on the left (especially) are going to have to recalibrate their beliefs and rhetoric.

          They can’t. Because then they wouldn’t be on the left. Left needs huge powerful centralized authority with no limits on power.

          If they see the light and gave up on big government, they would be Libertarians, and that would be, you know, like being a Rethuglican, ewww!

          1. All leftists aren’t totalitarians. They wants their privacy when it comes to abortions and a few other things, and they know that what Obama’s IRS and NSA can do to Tea Party types, it can do to leftists under a Republican.

        2. The standard left solutions of “government needs more power and money” aren’t going to have the same appeal.

          What are you talking about? This only happened due to insufficient oversight. Nothing that can’t be fixed by giving more power and money to the government.

          1. See, this is my point. To the left, government is the solution to everything. So if things are not working, how do you fix it? That’s right, more government.

            1. Some will say that, but others won’t. That’s why I said the argument won’t have the same appeal. The IRS/NSA scandals won’t turn many leftists into libertarians, but will cause fissures on the left.

              1. but will cause fissures on the left.

                They’ll go back to groupthink soon enough.

        3. I think Rand wants to rein in the NSA. In fact, I think he doesn’t want the NSA to reign at all.

          1. Ya got me. My proofreading skills failed me there.

    5. “These scandals have legs, will feed on each other, and cause other leakers to leak.”

      This is the most important part of this. Snowden cracked the dam, and this should give other “leakers-in-waiting” the courage they need to come forward and reveal what they know.

      A trickle now, but the flood is coming.

      1. Well, Obama DID promise to have the most transparent administration in history. Looks like he may, just not by any doing of his own.

      2. And not just about the NSA. Some are claiming that the scandal storm was engineered by Obama to distract from Benghazi or the immigration bill, but the more whistleblowers there are who come forward about anything, the safer each one is, because the full force of the administration can’t come down on them all at the same time. More will come out about Benghazi and the IRS, and who knows what else.

        Plus, the MSM feels betrayed by their hero Obama, due to the AP and Rosen scandals, and they have been embarrassed by the foreign media and the right-wing internet news sites breaking and running with these scandals. They will now, finally, start to look hard at Obama. Better late than never.

    6. Faith in big government is taking heavy blows.

      No it isn’t.

      As always, this will be spun as the wrong people being charge, not that government is the biggest threat we have to freedom.

  5. And there have been mainstream articles about the giant NSA complex in Montana……

    Utah……or are they bilking the taxpayers twice?

    1. Montana, Utah – all them people look alike.

    2. bilking the taxpayers twice

      It’s kinda cute that you think it’s only twice.

    3. Ya it all kinda looks the same when I look in that general direction…oops

  6. “Since 9/11, there has been, at first secretly but increasingly openly, a revocation of the bill of rights for which this country fought over 200 years ago. In particular, the fourth and fifth amendments of the US constitution”

    It’s true that it’s been happening since 9/11, but I think terrorism is just an excuse.

    The government isn’t more into our private lives becasue of 9/11; they’re more into our private lives because technology has made such surveillance possible, on the one hand, and technology made our private lives more electronically accessible on the other.

    It’s an important myth to bust–the idea that Bush and Obama are all in our private business becasue of terrorism. Once the technology to put us under this kind of surveillance became possible, there was no way the government wasn’t going to try to use it against us.

    Terrorism is just an excuse. If it wasn’t for 9/11, they would have found another excuse.

    1. Millions of us could be working for the Chinese, just like this Snowden character.

      Time to shutdown the intertoobs and build a big fence to keep Chinese spies from getting out, for the children.

      1. Well, I don’t know about that. I’m not a Luddite.

        But I think we’re serving the interests of our overlords when we blame terrorism for what our overlords willingly choose to do.

        Everybody who got so scared of terrorism after 9/11 that they shouted down the opposition at the dinner table or supported what the president was doing out of fear?

        I blame those people for what’s happening to our civil rights more than I blame terrorism. How’s that?

        1. I don’t see where we disagree.

          There are polls out there that prove Americans are a lot more afraid of our own government than any terrorists. Anyone who isn’t is a damn fool.

          1. Anyone who isn’t is a damn fool.

            Or a liberal Democrat. Oh crap. I’m being redundant, aren’t I?

    2. What Ken said.

    3. All the PATRIOT Act did was extend tools that were already being used in the war on drug users, and allow them to be used on anyone.

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