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Sunday's blogointernet was full of Edward Snowden's reported departure from Hong Kong. He is said to have arrived in Moscow without anyone actually seeing him--or admitting to it. Now he is not on a plane to Havana. Hmmmm. Where is he?

Wherever, Snowden may actually be, here is the nub of the story so far: "The unwillingness of the Hong Kong authorities to detain Mr. Snowden, and Ecuador’s public declaration that it was considering his asylum request, underscored just how little sympathy the United States is finding from several countries over the unveiling of its surveillance efforts." NYTimes

Missing Tim Russert: I gave up on Meet the Press after a few months of David Gregory, so I missed this yesterday: Per David Carr: "For the time being, it is us (the press) versus them (federal officials), which is part of the reason David Gregory ended up taking a lot of incoming fire for suggesting on...that Glenn Greenwald may have committed crimes, not journalism, when he published leaks by Mr. Snowden."

Gregory: “To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?”

Greenwald: "I think it’s pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies,' Mr. Greenwald responded. 'The assumption in your question, David, is completely without evidence — the idea that I’ve ‘aided and abetted’ him in any way.'”  And the Washington Post.

 

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Angela Merkel listened to the full explanation/exculpation from The Man himself. Unlike the U.S media, she was unimpressed. Could be other world leaders notice the nakedness of the explanation.

My initial reaction (1:45) was just snotty. Let me be substantive. Am I surprised by Snowdown's revelations? Not really. Am I angry about my government collecting dossiers? You bet, I am. Doesn't every flower shop and book store we have ever looked at on line (and all their competitors) have more information on us than the government has? Yes, but: I had hoped the government would protect us from that sort of abuse. Instead, it got under the covers with the abusers and is having a wonderful time. If the government didn't protect us, I thought the unbought and liberty-loving media might. But they are "explaining" that we should  learn to be happy with being spied on. It's good for us. Marketers can identify what we need to want with pinpoint accuracy. What harm coould there be in that?

Is all that snooping preventing terrorist attacks? I don't know. Dick Cheney  still insists, in the face of denials and, um, the evidence, that torture saved the country on his watch. A lot of arrests have been made of people who seem to have suggested to the FBI that they would like to terrorize something and proceeded (with FBI help) with their plots right up to the arrest. I haven't figured out what that was all about. It sounds more like aggravated mopery than terrorism.

And I read the Pentagon Papers. Having seen what the government didn't want anybody to see, I am unimpressed with the mere assertion that the government has something nobody should see.

Angela Merkel, as head of a government, has state secrets of her own. She listened to the former Constitutional Scholar on the subject of US spying, didn't buy a word of it and said she would try to  keep that sort of thing out of her country. She is not living in our 24-hour news bubble and must occasionally consort with people who don't have the latest Rasmussen poll, and she is saying the kinds of things I feel when I try to parse the former Constitutional Scholar's thin and tepid explanations.

If what we were getting really is so all hot, why did an outside private contractor's employee have acess to any of it? A lot less cost and effort could have kept Snowdon's eyes off the prize compared to the cost and effort that is being put into punishing him for tipping over the cookie jar. And now they say Attorney General Eric Holder is in charge of getting him back. I begin to think none of this is serious.

As to Angela Merkel and other foreign leaders, we should factor into their reactions the moral righteousness with which U.S. political leaders often address them. Okay Putin is a jerk, but who couldn't smile at his perfect enjoyment of the present moment. Or China's President XI Jinping having a gotcha moment after the uproar over Chinese hacking.

And curious that the media is generally treating this as a chase movie. So good question: How serious is this?

Interesting that WikiLeaks is involved.  What bothers me is that the government is focusing all the attention on Snowden, when I think the attention should be instead on what the government has been doing.

My "take" so far: I'm not convinced Snowden did anything ethically wrong.  I'm not convinced he necessarily revealed any information that, if revealed, could threaten our national security.  He may or may not have violated any federal law(s).  If he *did* break the law as determined by a jury, then perhaps --- depending on circumstances --- we need to look at the scope and wisdom of such existing law(s) vis-a-vis our cherished constitutional rights.  We likely can benefit from a national conversation on this subject, a conversation that appears not to have taken place to date.  "Trust me," says Uncle Sam.  As a retired federal employee and honorably discharged veteran, "I'm from Missouri".

The mention of David Gregory and his parrot-like suggestion that Greenwald "aided and abetted" in a crime made me think of a really awful post over at NCR by Michael Sean Winters: 

http://ncronline.org/blogs/distinctly-catholic/snowden-still-anybodys-hero

Beyond Winter's simplistic acceptance that everything Snowden released is properly held secret by our government, what in heaven's name did he mean when he wrote this?--

"A true martyr accepts the consequences of his actions."

Why even mention the word "martyr"?  How does it apply to Snowden?  Snowden is a self-proclaimed whistle-blower.  Sure, that can lead to persecution and death -- but why must Snowden accept these possible consequences?  Where is that written?

As a commenter to the post pointed out, Winters' statement,on its face,  makes false martyrs out of many revered saints of the Church.  I thought of some of the stories around St. Agnes, one of the virgin martyrs of the Church.  I remember from my childhood reading a story about her escaping rape by praying that she grow hair all over her body.   Clearly she would not quietly accept the consequences of her life choices.  I also thought of Issac Jogues.  He was tortured by the Mohawks, but eventually escaped (only to be later killed).  I  guess he is not a "true martyr" according to Winters because he did not immediately accept the consequences of his actions.

 

Perhaps my remark here reflects a generational perspective, but I'll give it a try. When Daniel Ellsberg gave the "Pentagon Papers" to the New York Times, he was turning over a history of the events in Vietnam as reported and analyzed by the people in charge of the war. The Times published it, and as far as I know...nothing happened to Ellsberg, except he lost his job (am I remembering this correctly?). He was a senior person in the Pentagon and a man who grasped the lies and false premises on which the war was waged.

Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, now being defended by Ellsberg, strike me as very different types than Ellsberg--though their motives might be the same as his (to tell the country what's going on). They are young and from what I can tell not very intellectually or emotionally sophisticated. I was struck by a Times story reporting that Snowden was shocked to find out that he might spend extended periods of time in jail without his computer. That seemed to be behind his decision to disapper from Hong Kong. Manning seems to have been caught up in an "identity" crisis that his leaking to Wiki promised to resolve. Both of them were low in the organization chain of command but had outsized access to information the government had every reason to believe was secure. In that sense the government was naive. But so too do both of these young men seem naive in a way that Ellsberg was not. None of these men should be considered traitors, but do Snowden and Manning deserve the sympathy they are getting from many quarters?

At last, a few thoughtful remarks.  Thank you.                                                                                         "....we should factor into their reactions the moral righteousness with which U.S. political leaders often address them."  You're likely correct, though it would be less self serving and more helpful if you took the time and effort to identify specific individuals.  Not all of our government's employees are asses.   On another score, why exactly should I believe Glenn Greenwald is more patriotic, more sincerely humane, more intelligent, more right than I am?  Has he no horse in this race whatever?   Lastly, bear in mind, our nation considered a fellow qualified to command a nuclear submarine not nearly substantial enough a person to lead us.  We did, however, consider a fellow remarkably talented at reciting a speech a great communicator and quite the leader.  We did that.  Did that not tell you just a wee bit about how we got where we are?   We are all the government.  We are not all the plutocracy doing its damndest to buy us.

Accirding to the Wikipedia page on Ellsberg, the government sued the NYT  for publishing the PP and stopped them for a while, Ellsberg gave the PP to many other papers, and eventually the NYT won the case before the Supreme Court under the first amendment.  Ellsberg did face charges under the Espionage Act, plus charges for theft and conspiracy = 115 years in prison.  He went to trial but eventually the case was dismissed in part because the government obtained evedence against him with illegal wiretaps and break-ins.

It is difficult to compare and whether someone is seditious or a traitor belongs, in large measure, to dominant political ideology. It was before my time but I suspect that Ellsberg's leak was treated with more sympathy because the left which dominates the media was sympathetic and the political culture was already, by then, war weary. In this case, it is a split decision, even among ideological divides, as to whether the underlying program is good or not.

It seems to me that there is more to meets the eye in the Snowden case. Apparently, he has more information but is not revealing it publicly yet. He is in fear of the US authorites and probably for good reason! Another secret military style tribunal; who knows what kind of treatment he will endure at the hands of them. But then again that is the risk he took.

But, in the end, I understand why he does not want to go to prison. Who does?

Many countries are supporting him. This is surely a bad sign for the USA. I hate to sound Machiavellian, and it does grate against the better angel of my nature, but it is better to be feared than loved. It appears that the US is no longer feared.

Might Be@6/24,10:29PM: Can't help but be impressed by your mimicking of the American self-righteous tone. Are you French? Which reminds me of Secretary of Self-Righteousness John Kerry!! Are you friends?

Glenn Greenwal has long been a thorn in the side of U.S. refusal to deal with the downside of being the indespensible nation... More sincere, human and intelligent than you? That's for your to decide since only you know who you are.

High dudgeon accounted for: We are NOT all the government...no matter for whom we voted! Cheers.

 

Snowden's revelation is that NSA is keeping times and places/numbers of everyones calls because the Tel.Cos destroy the records after 90 days because they no longer need them for billing purposes. The Tel Cos give the NSA the data on calls in digital form... Big deal>>

all the kids know emails are in some data bank forever... big deal...

So the Chinese and Russians just found out about this from Snowden?? .. not at all likely.. ..

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About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.