Simple Approaches, Complicated Issues

There is a very robust debate going on between people who defend the behavior of Edward Snowden and (especially) Glenn Greenwald, and those (most recently, Michael Kinsley) who see Greenwald, Snowden et al as dangerously naive.

Martin Longman weighs in on the debate at Political Animal: 

Too often, it seems to me, Greenwald and his strong supporters behave as if the government deserves to be damaged and that our national security ought to suffer, even though all Americans are put at risk as a result. The risk to Americans is not something that can just be shrugged off as if it were indisputable that the country has gained a net-benefit from every single disclosure of classified information.

The reason that Greenwald is getting the better of the argument isn’t because his principles are clearly superior, but because the government lacks credibility. The overall effect of the disclosures has been beneficial, at least so far, because nothing catastrophic has resulted and we now have greater knowledge about what our government has been doing, which is already leading to reforms.

But none of this relieves journalistic enterprises of the responsibility to weigh the risks and benefits of disclosing classified information, nor does it completely vindicate either Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden, who both leaked far more information than was necessary to make their points.

There are no heroes here. Not among the government snoops who vastly exceeded what should be permissible in a free and democratic society, and not among the scolds who took it upon themselves to release massive amounts of classified information.

We need credible and effective systemic oversight mechanisms. Otherwise, we are left to depend upon the judgement of self-righteous whistleblowers and their enablers who see the world only as black and white, and who have never considered whether even virtuous  ends justify their chosen means.


  1. The distinction not being made often enough is the difference between disclosure of domestic abuses and disclosure of programs conducted abroad. One may be a legitimate disclosure, but not the other. There would have been a difference had Daniel Ellsburg disclosed not only information about the Gulf of Tonkin incident but also about U2 overflights of China. That is analogous to what Snowden did. And to read Greenwald it becomes obvious that he is pleased, not just with disclosures that force discourse on domestic issues, but also those that harm America and its allies. He said being called a traitor was a badge of honor rather than explaining why what he did was for the good of the country.

  2. If only we would have had a Greenwald or a Snowden to blow the whistle on the Gulf of Tonkin Incident in 1964 we probably would not have had 58,000 Americans killed in Vietnam and maybe 750,000 Asians killed. Robert J. Hanyok, a historian for the U.S. National Security has said that intelligence information was presented to the Johnson administration “in such a manner as to preclude responsible decision makers in the Johnson administration from having the complete and objective narrative of events.” Instead, “only information that supported the claim that the communists had attacked the two destroyers was given to Johnson administration officials.

    As a Vietnam Combat Veteran I can attest to the destruction we visited on South Vietnam, by the end of my tour I was in the Anti-War Camp.

    There was also Operation Northwoods a false flag operation designed at the highest levels during the Kennedy Presidency. The operation in essence was for the US to stage attacks that could be blamed on Castro and justify an invasion of Cuba. Kennedy rejected the Plan.

    We have all drumbeats for the Second Gulf War., yellow cake, WMD’s, mushroom clouds, etc. that was provided by our Government to justify a War.

    You quote Martin Longman – “The reason that Greenwald is getting the better of the argument isn’t because his principles are clearly superior, but because the government lacks credibility.”

    Twisted logic by Mr. Longman the Government lacks credibility because it has lied.

    Greenwald, Snowden, Assange, and Manning may not be heroes but I have far more admiration for them, than I do for our Government Leadership. I no longer trust our Government to tell the truth.

  3. “Greenwald, Snowden, Assange, and Manning may not be heroes but I have far more admiration for them, than I do for our Government Leadership. I no longer trust our Government to tell the truth.”


  4. It’s not that we don’t/shouldn’t trust the government, it’s what we should and should not trust the government to do. I trust them to cash my tax payments and credit my account, and to send out Social Security and other sorts of payments, to try to be fair about it and keep good records. When it comes to politicians’ promises, forget it. Then when it comes to the government reporting what actually happened during a war or some critical period, the government has never had a great track record for that.

    How about “remember the Maine”, when it was the Maine’s boiler that blew up, but facts and events were re-stated and re-staged to get public support. That’s been done since the Revolutionary War, when the reasons to oppose British rule were 60/40, and life wasn’t that bad for most, and farmers don’t lay down their plows for 60/40. Thomas Paine and the boys fixed that so it would be 100% and the farmers put down their plows and went to war. Spin has been spinning for many years, and I’m just talking about the U.S.A.

  5. Didn’t the modern age of lack of faith in government start with the words of Ronald Reagan, “Government is the problem; not the solution.” It’s so easy to be uninformed and cynical.

  6. Having observed Greenwald for a while even before this entire affair, he used to be a lawyer and constitutional rights litigator. I get the impression that he is willing to call out the US when it doesn’t live up to its own professed standards (unlawful spying, extrajudicial killing of suspected terrorists–including American citizens) and do so in harsh terms. Is he a hero? Perhaps not, but he might be the voice of our nation’s conscience that we need to hear from time to time.

  7. What ALG said. Anyone who exposes the secrets of our Nazi state is a hero in my opinion regardless of their motives. Americans are oblivious to the great harm to humanity committed by our country in the name of promoting freedom. It has nothing to do with freedom and everything to do with increasing profits for the military/industrial complex and seizing control of other nations’ natural resources for the benefit of the multi-national corporate interests that control our country. We are every bit as evil as Nazi Germany if people would only open up their eyes and see the millions of people our country has slaughtered over the past several decades in our illegal wars. Over 1 million lives lost in each of the wars in Korea and Vietnam. Over a half million killed in the Iraq War and more than 20,000 lives were lost in Afghanistan. Radiation contamination will claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of more Iraqis because of the depleted uranium we used in the bombs and ammunition used in that war. Tens of thousands of Syrians have died because we are funding al Qaeda terrorists to overthrow the Assad government so we can build a pipeline through the country. Our government has covertly overthrown so many countries in the third world that it’s impossible to keep count, typically resulting in the slaughter and imprisonment of many innocent people. Our government has performed many secretive, sick and twisted experiments on our own people from Tuskegee syphilis experiments, infecting large populations with malaria, the CIA’s MK-Ultra psychological warfare and LSD experiments to intentional radiation exposure of large populations that surpass Josef Mengele’s crimes against humanity. If there were any justice in this world, our leaders would be hauled before an international court, tried for their crimes against humanity and appropriately punished. National security is just short-hand for a Nazi state. More power to the whistle blowers. We need many more of them to counter the evil forces that have seized control of our country and made our Constitution meaningless. I’m still amazed that this blog’s author still can’t muster the backbone to criticize Obama for his Kill List policy of systematically ordering the assassination of U.S. citizens without any form of due process and with a total disregard for how many innocent civilians he kills while carrying out those illegal assassinations.

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