Edward Snowden

Snowden's Leaks Were Important Enough for Pulitzers, But WaPo Editorial Board Wants Him Prosecuted Anyway

Newspaper demands less government transparency.

|

Snowden
Justin Lane/EPA/Newscom

The Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize in 2014 in the public service category along with The Guardian. The two newspapers shared awards for their coverage and analysis of the leaks of data by Edward Snowden showing that the National Security Agency (NSA) was essentially snooping on millions upon millions of American citizens by collecting and storing mass amounts of our online and phone data.

These revelations directly contributed to at least one major reform that attempted to restrain the surveillance authorities of the NSA to make sure mass data collection is targeted toward particular search efforts and not just happening in bulk. Though there were efforts by privacy activists to force reform prior to Snowden's leaks, it's likely also true that the USA Freedom Act would never have been crafted or passed without him.

The Washington Post's public service reporting helped make that happen. Its editorial board remains unimpressed. In response to a big new push to try to convince President Barack Obama to pardon Snowden, the Post's editorial board published a weekend editorial saying "Nope." They're essentially taking the same position as Hillary Clinton. They want him to come home and throw himself on the mercy of the American federal court system:

Ideally, Mr. Snowden would come home and hash out all of this before a jury of his peers. That would certainly be in the best tradition of civil disobedience, whose practitioners have always been willing to go to jail for their beliefs. He says this is unacceptable because U.S. secrecy-protection statutes specifically prohibit him from claiming his higher purpose and positive impact as a defense — which is true, though it's not clear how the law could allow that without creating a huge loophole for leakers. (Mr. Snowden hurt his own credibility as an avatar of freedom by accepting asylum from Russia's Vladi­mir Putin, who's not known for pardoning those who blow the whistle on him.)

The second-best solution might be a bargain in which Mr. Snowden accepts a measure of criminal responsibility for his excesses and the U.S. government offers a measure of leniency in recognition of his contributions. Neither party seems interested in that for now. An outright pardon, meanwhile, would strike the wrong balance.

So, even though the board understands that Snowden wouldn't be able to defend himself properly from prosecution, he should just accept that and come home anyway. "Neither party seems interested in [negotiations] for now" is quite the understatement. The Obama administration has an unprecedented reputation for throwing the book at leakers. It's remarkable to still see the "Why did he flee to Russia?" argument in 2016 given how clearly obvious—which this commentary itself notes—that there is no indication of leniency from this administration.

This is the same Department of Justice that threatened a reporter with possible prosecution for refusing to testify and reveal a source of a leak. Eventually then-Attorney General Eric Holder relented. The feds were able to convict the leaker without James Risen's information. One wonders what Holder's level of mercy might have been had they been unable to secure a conviction without Risen's testimony.

And this is the same Department of Justice whose prosecutor threw the book mercilessly at Aaron Swartz for the crime of downloading tons of studies from computers at MIT in an effort to browbeat him into accepting a plea bargain. Instead he committed suicide.

This administration's idea of mercy is telling people like Snowden to accept what they're offered or they're going to get punished even harder. As I noted last week with the push to pardon Snowden, Obama and this Department of Justice seems interested only in correcting the prosecutorial injustices of previous administrations, not its own.

As for Snowden's cultural cachet, we may be seeing its decline. Snowden did not blow anybody away in the theaters this weekend, coming in fourth in box office returns. It brought in about $8 million, far less than Sully, which won for a second week in a row. Despite getting decidedly mixed reviews (due to the way Oliver Stone decided to approach the movie), Cinemascore, a movie viewer polling firm, noted it received the best grades of the movies released this week from people who went to the theaters to watch. That suggests to me that people with already strong views in support of Snowden were likely the ones who went out to see the movie.

The Post editorial also notes the House Intelligence Committee report released last week, timed with the release of Snowden, designed to try to knock down any suggestion of the whistleblower as a hero, as evidence that he shouldn't be pardoned. Awkward situation for the editorial board: Barton Gellman, the journalist who won the Pulitzer for covering Snowden's leaks for the Post, completely dismantled the House's report and many of its misleading claims (read here).

A newspaper's editorial board is largely disconnected from its journalists, so it doesn't necessarily follow that they'd drawn the same conclusions. But given that the candidates for both the Democrats and the Republicans have a history of non-support for free speech, freedom of the press, and for transparency, it should be unnerving for a major newspaper to suggest essentially that a whistleblower throw himself on the mercy of the federal government and hope for the best.

Peter Suderman wrote about the movie Snowden and director Stone for Vox here. Below, watch ReasonTV on the push to pardon Snowden:

NEXT: Police Union Asks Members to Stop Working Dolphins Games Until All Players Stand for Anthem

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Hillary will just give Alaska back to the Russians to knock him off. She might even throw in half of Canada. Game over.

  2. But we need martyrs.

  3. Ideally, Mr. Snowden would come home and hash out all of this before a jury of his peers.

    That would be ideal. Unfortunately the reality is that if he did return to the US he would be dragged before a military tribunal and black-bagged to a secret prison to spend the rest of his life in solitary.

    1. If they didn’t black bag this guy, they’re not gonna do it for Snowden. He’d be tried in court, mostly behind closed doors per usual Espionage Act prosecutions, then they’d lock him up in supermax for the rest of his life and throw away the key.

    2. The editorial board thinks that this is ideal because it would allow for the most press coverage of the deal.

      Snowden getting fucked over is just acceptable collateral damage.

  4. They’re essentially taking the same position as Hillary Clinton.

    Well, that’s about all the explanation I need. It’s not surprising that a Clinton loyalist would be hostile to someone who blows the whistle on dirty deeds done dirt expensive.

  5. They’re essentially taking the same position as Hillary Clinton.

    I’m not sure they are. Hillary’s position is that nobody should be prosecuted under the Espionage Act unless they had the specific intent of helping a foreign country. I don’t know that anyone can prove that against Snowden. Under the Hillary standard, he’s done nothing prosecutable.

    1. I suspect the Hillary Standard will shift a bit if she becomes POTUS. Then anyone who has the temerity to embarrass Herself will be drawn and quartered.

    1. I’m withholding judgement until I hear his views on gays and/or abortion rights.

    2. Workplace violence.

    3. “No Indication of a Broader Cell”

      but

      On Sunday night, FBI agents in Brooklyn stopped “a vehicle of interest” in the investigation of the Chelsea explosion, according to FBI spokeswoman Kelly Langmesser.

      You really can’t make this stuff up.

  6. As much as I admire Snowden and his contributions to this country, he leaked secrets he was under obligation to protect. He breached contract, and essentially committed treason. The government can’t pardon him without opening a pandora’s box.

    1. So Hillary is going to be prosecuted. That’s nice to know.

      1. Right. As if the rule of law is actually a thing we still do in this day and age. FYTW has been the de facto standard for our government for all of my life, certainly.

    2. How so? The President can pardon anyone he wants for any reason he wants (save impeachment), and the pardon is an extraordinary tool. It would not establish any legal precedent. And there’s still the Manning case as a deterrent to anyone who would just leak willy-nilly.

      1. I agree that Presidential pardon is the best option. Agree to extradite him, try him, and then if convicted, the president pardons him.

        There are a few problems with this option though:

        – Will Putin allow him to go?
        – Would Snowden trust our govt? I wouldn’t.
        – What if, as RC Dean notes below, it turns out there’s credible evidence that he was acting for a foreign client?

        1. Or, just issue the pardon up front. Why go through the waste of a trial for no purpose?

          Personally, I’d work out an immunity deal with him, in exchange for testimony.

    3. Revealing gross violations of the rights of American citizens and flagrant disregard for the Constitution cannot be treason.

    4. essentially committed treason

      hurr durr

  7. he leaked secrets he was under obligation to protect

    Slow down, there, hoss. He revealed massive violations of the Bill of Rights. I think that negates any contractual obligation that he might have had. No contract is breached if someone refuses to break the law to perform the contractual obligations.

    Treason? The usual oaths in this country are to “protect and defend the Constitution”. If there’s treason around, then I’m not sure its Snowden.

    Note: this all assumes that the completely unproven accusations he was acting as a foreign agent at the time are baseless.

    1. this all assumes that the completely unproven accusations he was acting as a foreign agent at the time are baseless

      Of course he was a Russian plant. Just like Trump is. Anyone who defies Barry or Hillary or the military powers that be can only be a treasonous foreign sleeper agent.

      1. Yeah, isn’t it weird how all of a sudden it’s the Cold War again and the Russkies are behind everything the administration and/or any Clinton dislikes?

        1. Turns out that reset button worked!

          Just not the way they thought, I suppose.

  8. RE: Snowden’s Leaks Were Important Enough for Pulitzers, But WaPo Editorial Board Wants Him Prosecuted Anyway
    Newspaper demands less government transparency.

    First, Snowden should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. He exposed a wonderful scam The State was employing by spying on the little people without that damned due process. How can a totalitarian state continue to enjoy its notoriety if it doesn’t watch and listen to the untermenschen’s every word? How can The State out doubters and counter-revolutionaries if The State doesn’t monitor everyone? How The State develop an efficient informant system without constant surveillance? Snowden didn’t take these questions in mind when he went public about The State’s wise and concerned watching and listening to all of us.
    Secondly, transparency in government is a totally preposterous idea. Since when do our socialist slavers oppressing need to be transparent, much less accountable, to the hoi poiloi? Did Stalin, Hitler, Mao or Hitler employ transparency? Of course not, and one only has to look at the results they achieved to understand why transparency is an ugly and foolish idea.

    1. So, the question is, is Snowden a Kulak or a Wrecker?

      1. Hyperion,

        Good question.
        At the moment, as he lives in Moscow, he must be a kulak as Putin has insisted.
        He is also a wrecker for exposing Dear Leaders (Bush and Obama) benevolent spying concepts on all us little people. One can only imagine the hurt feelings in the White House dascha, the NSA, DIA, CIA, et all once he exposed them and what they were doing.
        I’m sure many a tear was shed by the apparatchiks working for The State.

      2. Hyperion,

        Good question.
        At the moment, as he lives in Moscow, he must be a kulak as Putin has insisted.
        He is also a wrecker for exposing Dear Leaders (Bush and Obama) benevolent spying concepts on all us little people. One can only imagine the hurt feelings in the White House dascha, the NSA, DIA, CIA, et all once he exposed them and what they were doing.
        I’m sure many a tear was shed by the apparatchiks working for The State.

  9. The second-best solution might be a bargain in which Mr. Snowden accepts a measure of criminal responsibility for his excesses…

    His excesses.

    1. No plea bargain can protect Snowden from the myriad “unfortunate accidents” that may tragically befall a man who has humiliated as many powerful and petty people that Snowden has.

      1. “a man who has humiliated as many powerful and petty people that Snowden has.”

        Has anyone suffered on account of Snowden’s actions?

  10. For fun, go through that article and replace “Mr. Snowden” with “Mrs. Clinton”. Some of its doesn’t work (Hillary never claimed a higher purpose than her own convenience), but much of it does. Hilarity ensues:

    The second-best solution might be a bargain in which Mrs. Clinton accepts a measure of criminal responsibility for her excesses and the U.S. government offers a measure of leniency in recognition of her contributions. Neither party seems interested in that for now. An outright pardon, meanwhile, would strike the wrong balance.

  11. The purpose of focusing on Snowden’s character and keeping this whole “He’s a traitor/he’s a hero” debate going is to distract from the substance of his leaks.

    The government is secretly systematically spying on the entire population, in defiance of the Constitution and court orders, and has no intention of stopping. That’s all we should be talking about.

    1. “That’s all we should be talking about.”

      It’s far more important to whine about what the Washington Post chooses to publish.

  12. I thought it was understood that the Washington Post is no more a legitimate newspaper than Vox or the Daily Caller? This is a paper that literally reprints Democratic Party press releases verbatim. If Bush were still president the paper would be demanding that Snowden be pardoned, but Snowden and Wikileaks have hurt a Democratic administration (that’s a big no-no for the Washington Post).

    Pravda on the Potomac

    1. If Shackford can’t whine about the Washington Post, he might have to do some real reporting.

      “If Bush were still president…”

      He’s not. And if he were, the Washington Post wouldn’t be obliged to treat this matter in the same way. It’s called a free press.

  13. Ideally, Mr. Snowden would come home and hash out all of this before a jury of his peers. That would certainly be in the best tradition of civil disobedience, whose practitioners have always been willing to go to jail for their beliefs. He says this is unacceptable because U.S. secrecy-protection statutes specifically prohibit him from claiming his higher purpose and positive impact as a defense ? which is true, though it’s not clear how the law could allow that without creating a huge loophole for leakers.

    So, let me see if I understand this: he wouldn’t be allowed to properly defend himself in a trial, yet he should come back and accept 30 years in prison anyway because otherwise he’s not a “real” civil disobedience practitioner? So, is Gandhi had fled India or Nelson Mandela had fled South Africa they would also be fair game for criticism for not being willing to get thrown in a cage? WTF?!

    This administration’s idea of mercy is telling people like Snowden to accept what they’re offered or they’re going to get punished even harder.

    “Rise to your knees, kiss the royal emblem on my cloak, and you will feel no more”

    1. “because otherwise he’s not a “real” civil disobedience practitioner”

      You got it. It’s not civil disobedience unless the actor is willing to face whatever punishment is meted out.

      Mandela wasn’t practicing civil disobedience. He was head of a terrorist organization.

  14. I am making $89/hour working from home. I never thought that it was legitimate but my best friend is earning $10 thousand a month by working online, that was really surprising for me, she recommended me to try it. just try it out on the following website.

    ??? http://www.NetNote70.com

  15. Washington Post? Well, they’re no Washington Post.

    1. And they don’t hold a candle to the Washington Post.

  16. The second-best solution might be a bargain in which Mr. Snowden accepts a measure of criminal responsibility for his excesses

    And what were those again?

  17. I thought the owner of WaPo donated to Reason. Guess he doesn’t have principles, he just wants to cover every contingency.

  18. This is pretty rich. Snowden has information and gives it to the press and tells them, “You decide what’s important to publish”. So WaPo and the NYT decide what to publish and win a Pulitzer. And now WaPo comes back with a “Snowden bad boy for publishing treasonous info” editorial? Where were their morals when they were patting themselves on the back for their outstanding reporting? If it was so clearly treasonous then they should face the music for bringing it to light. What a pile of jackasses.

  19. The solution to this conundrum is simple. That was then. This is now.

    Then, Bush was president and clearly up to evil. Snowden and the Post were right and good and just to stop him.

    This is now. Obama is president. A president who is not only continuing many of the things revealed by Snowden, but expanding on them. The post has rightly rethought their positions in light of the new leadership. Therefore Snowden is evil and must be stopped.

    Why is this so hard to understand? We have always been at war with Eurasia….

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.