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Edward Snowden and the Gentlemen's Trash Talk

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At the end of Fareed Zakaria's program GPS last weekend , there was a short, ugly blurb against Edward Snowden. Zakaria led it off, referring to Snowden: "This guy is not working for another government. It's a kind of vague, nihilistic anarchism. I mean I presume the message here is he doesn't want the governments to do any espionage?"

Not that Snowden ever said that. His protest is against the U.S. Government vaccuuming up data on practically everyone, whether they are terrorists or tinkers, foreigners or Floridians. In that sense, his act has none of the destructive urge of nihilism; quite the opposite. Protest, especially the daring kind that he has performed, is a matter of hope for a better future.

But all three of Zakaria's guests -- Zbigniew Brzezinski, Richard Haass of the President's Council on Foreign Relations, and Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, all regulars on the show -- did their best to discredit Snowden.

Brzezinski quite rightly brought up the example of Daniel Ellsberg, dean of American whistleblowers. "He may have been misguided, but he certainly was patriotic. What did [Snowden] do? He goes to China and then he goes to Russia. Both countries that would like to replace us on top of the global totem pole." Snowden's locations puzzle Brzezinski: "So, what are his motives? Who's he trying to appeal to?... Maybe he's psychologically mixed up."

I have the feeling that if Snowden had been in the middle of Times Square when the revelations came out, Brzezinski would have felt no better about him.

For Snowden's motives could hardly be clearer: "But over time that awareness of wrongdoing sort of builds up and you feel compelled to talk about. And the more you talk about the more you're ignored. The more you're told its not a problem until eventually you realize that these things need to be determined by the public and not by somebody who was simply hired by the government."

That doesn't sound to me like man who's "psychologically mixed up"; sounds to me like an articulate man who gives a far more concise response to a question than Brzezinski.

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Both Haass and Stephens specifically told their listeners that "this guy is not a whistleblower." Well, "this guy" -- what a lovely dismissive term, like Bill Clinton's "that woman, Monica Lewinsky" -- forced DNI James Clapper to admit that he had lied to Congress. And it's not like Clapper told Congress that he hadn't done anything dirty with an intern or hadn't slipped a few shady favors to campaign contributors. The well-known lie he told was about a top-of-the-line, get-your-money-back vital issue. If Snowden's deed isn't whistleblowing, what is?

Both men took their turns vilifying Snowden. First Haass: "People will be vulnerable because of the way that he has tipped off groups and individuals who want to do us severe harm....his legacy will be truly destructive." That's nonsense. It's hard to believe that any "groups and individuals who want to do us severe harm" don't take into account that American intelligence is monitoring electronic communication all over the world. America's enemies have long ago resorted to other methods of communications or simply encrypt their messages. If there is any news to them, it is that the NSA is monitoring its own citizens to the extent Snowden has revealed.

Then Stephens got in his licks: "This is not a guy who is willing to pay the price for the civil disobedience he thought he was committing." This echoed Brzezinski: "[Ellsberg] did it in the United States and was prepared to face the music."

Except that Ellsberg fully supports Snowden's decision to stay abroad. Back in Ellsberg's day, the status of the whistleblower was respected. Nowadays, the whistleblower needs to seek political asylum -- from the United States, who would have ever thought that in Ellsberg's time? He needs the asylum because the alternative is justice of the type supplied to Bradley Manning: late, terrifying, and hopeless. And as Ellsberg points out, once the feds put the cuffs on him, Snowden will be stifled and at their mercy.

Anger, as British philosopher Malcolm Muggerridge once observed, is usually just a damaged ego. And the damage that Brzezinski, Haass, Stephens and, yes, Zakaria are suffering is obvious: no-name outsiders are knocking holes in the walls of their elitist castle. As Stephens put it, "How is it that after the Bradley Manning incident, you can still have a 29-year-old contractor, not even working for the government itself, essentially walking into the sanctum sanctorum of our American intelligence establishment and putting so much information on a zip drive?"

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Which reminds me of that laughable congressional hearing in "Inside Job" where Senator Carl Levin nails David Viniar, Executive Vice President and CFO of Goldman Sachs:

SEN. CARL LEVIN: When you heard that your employees, in these e-mails, said, god, what a shitty deal; god, what a piece of crap; do you feel anything?

DAVID VINIAR: I, I think that's very unfortunate to have on e-mail.

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I was born in Detroit in 1959, though I lived my formative years in Stillwater, Minnesota, a town just south of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon, or at least one of the villages he based it on. I graduated from Stillwater High in 1977 and from the (more...)

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Fareed Zakaria, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Richard Haas,... by Philip Kraske on Tuesday, Jul 9, 2013 at 11:11:17 AM
Every time someone speaks out against insult or in... by Philip Zack on Tuesday, Jul 9, 2013 at 2:42:23 PM
is a vile rag that is headed the way of the dinos.... by Daniel Geery on Tuesday, Jul 9, 2013 at 5:06:06 PM
I have to agree with the "panel."Snowden went into... by Doc McCoy on Tuesday, Jul 9, 2013 at 9:27:17 PM
Disregarding Snowden's motive and character, I'm g... by Hubert Steed on Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 10:15:17 AM
The world would be a better place if Socrates had ... by Jim Arnold on Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 11:44:21 AM
Snowden learned this stuff on the job, he did not ... by Richard Pietrasz on Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 at 10:38:32 PM