Greenwald Threatens US: Snowden Better Stay Safe Or He’ll Do More Damage Than Anyone In History


Glenn Greenwald Image @ NiemanLab

Is Greenwald making threats or just passing on warnings from the man without a country? Either way, the conversation has been all but lost to the drama. Image @ NiemanLab

Whistleblower: a person who informs on another or makes public disclosure of corruption or wrongdoing; puts a stop to something.


The news cycle since Friday has been squarely placed on the explosive story of George Zimmerman and the many-tentacles of the “not guilty” heard ’round the world. In the days that followed, media of every sort has been rage-soaked in issues of race, guns, laws, and Florida juries and, for a time, little attention has been paid to, what has been up until now, the story of the year: Edward Snowden. But lest you think that James Bondian narrative has drifted to the back pages of global fascination, think again. Glenn Greenwald, he of The Guardian who broke the story and appears to be riding it to worldwide fame, has stepped up, once again, to become the story; in this case, to issue ominous warnings should things go south for Snowden.

Greenwald spoke to reporter Alberto Armendariz at the Argentinean newspaper, La Nacion, and in statements that sounded much like dialogue from a bad mob movie, he portended great doom if anything should happen to the current man-without-a-country. From the La Nacion translation:

Beyond the revelations about the spying system performance in general, what extra information has Snowden?

Snowden has enough information to cause more damage to the U.S. government in a minute alone than anyone else has ever had in the history of the United States. But that’s not his goal. His objective is to expose software that people around the world use without knowing that they are exposing themselves without consciously agreeing to surrender their rights to privacy. He has a huge number of documents that would be very harmful to the U.S. government if they were made public.”

Are you afraid that someone will try to kill him?

“It’s a possibility, although he’s of much value to everyone at this point. He has already distributed thousands of documents and made sure that several people around the world have the entire file. If something were to happen, those documents would be made public. This is his insurance policy. The U.S. government should be on its knees every day praying that nothing happens to Snowden, because if something happens, all information will be revealed and that would be their worst nightmare.” [Emphasis added]

Let’s talk about all that for a moment. I’m struck by both the hyperbole and the implicit threat of two of those lines:

First: “Snowden has enough information to cause more damage to the U.S. government in a minute alone than anyone else has ever had in the history of the United States.

My first reaction is, really? My second is, yeah… that did just sound like a threat. Third, if it’s not “his goal,” why are we talking about it?

Second: “The U.S. government should be on its knees every day praying that nothing happens to Snowden, because if something happens, all information will be revealed and that would be their worst nightmare.”

OK, here’s where we really get into bad mob dialogue. Wrap a Jersey accent around the line and you’ve got Paulie Walnuts.

But, as a whistleblower, isn’t that the idea? To reveal all the information? I’m curious why Snowden isn’t just blowing the damn whistle with the intent, as the definition of ‘whistleblower’ suggests, to “put a stop to something.” Given the extremity of his opinion on the matter, you’d think he would. At the moment, however, he seems less concerned with putting a stop to anything and more with playing out Acts 1, 2 and 3 in the grand spy drama.

But let’s go on:

One presumes Greenwald is in Argentina scouting that country as a potential safe haven for his charge. But, even there, he seems to feel some threat and the La Nacion article appears to imply as much. It makes mention of a computer that was stolen from Greenwald’s home after a conversation in which he spoke to his partner about sending information; I referenced another piece to get some background on that:

“When I was in Hong Kong, I spoke to my partner in Rio via Skype and told him I would send an electronic encrypted copy of the documents,” Greenwald said. “I did not end up doing it. Two days later his laptop was stolen from our house and nothing else was taken. Nothing like that has happened before. I am not saying it’s connected to this, but obviously the possibility exists.”

When asked if Greenwald believed his computer was being monitored by the U.S. government. “I would be shocked if the U.S. government was not trying to access the information on my computer. I carry my computers and data with me everywhere I go.” [Source]

The drama of this international intrigue is such that La Nacion acknowledges, in cloak and danger vernacular, the potential of Greenwald being followed:

Three men wait in the lobby of the hotel Royal Tulip with credentials of a congress of osteoporosis, of which the custodian has no idea. Are they really doctors or are they following Greenwald? Appearances are deceptive.

But beyond threats, paranoia and hyperbole, the current questions are what are Edward Snowden’s intentions at this point (beyond finding a place to live that isn’t the United States) and where does he see this saga going from here? It’s a dicey topic in liberal circles; there’s a significant contingent that sees him as a true hero, a truth-revealer; a noble character, while others believe he’s gone off the rails in an anti-U.S. tirade disguised as whistleblowing. In fact, write an even moderately critical article about the guy at your own risk (see comments under Have We All Been Fooled By Edward Snowden? or Snowden’s a Hero, Obama’s a Villain: The Banality of Black and White Thinking).

But even polls are all over the place, from a recent Quinnipiac University poll (see Majority Of American Voters See Snowden As Whistleblower Who Has Opened Eyes On Anti-Terrorism Efforts) which has the ‘hero” number at 55 percent, with 34 percent disapproving, while other polls show a distinctly opposite view: a CNN/ORC International poll put the ‘hero’ number at 44 percent, with 52 percent at “disapprove.” Clearly, as a National Journal article suggests, Americans Are Totally Confused: How They Feel About Edward Snowden.

But part of that confusion has been engendered by Snowden himself. While portraying himself as a ‘whistleblower’ who doesn’t want to hurt the U.S. but is looking to “reveal criminality,” he’s spent his time in two countries historically at odds with the U.S., leaking sensitive information to papers such as the South China Morning Post in an act that could only be intended to create international tension. Some, both liberals and conservatives, see this sort of thing less as whistleblowing and more as hostility… amongst other things.

Video screenshot @ Reuters

Video screenshot @ Reuters

In fact, while some in the ‘hero’ contingent insist upon comparing him favorably with Pentagon papers whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg, those with knowledge of history find the link to be disingenuous. From Jonathan Capehart at The Washington Post:

Enough with the breathless comparisons. Edward Snowden is no Daniel Ellsberg. I know the latter has heaped praise on the former. But the high-mindedness of our present-day national-security leaker is nowhere near the gutsiness of the man who changed the course of the Vietnam War by releasing the Pentagon Papers more than 40 years ago. And what sparked my ire was Snowden’s interview with the South China Morning Post.

“People who think I made a mistake in picking Hong Kong as a location misunderstand my intentions. I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality,” Snowden told the Hong Kong newspaper. “I have had many opportunities to flee HK, but I would rather stay and fight the United States government in the courts, because I have faith in Hong Kong’s rule of law.” He added, “My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate.”

Right there in that quote are two reasons why I have a hard time slapping the “hero” label on Snowden. First, the former national-security consultant with only a GED leaked classified documents that he says “reveal criminality.” An inflammatory charge that has yet to be proved. After all, David Ignatius points out today that what Snowden has revealed thus far is legal. And while we have begun a debate about the appropriateness of what the government does in the name of keeping us safe, much of what we’re talking about at the moment has been reported, as The Post’s Walter Pincus noted Tuesday.

Then there’s the issue of Hong Kong. If Snowden has the courage of his convictions why won’t he face the consequences of his actions here on U.S. soil in U.S. courts? Fine, he apparently has no faith in the rule of law in the United States or its courts. But why not ask the American people to decide his fate? He was fighting for us, so I thought. And this is where the comparison to Ellsberg rankles. […]

Armed with an intimate knowledge of what was happening in the Vietnam War, Ellsberg faced a crisis of conscience about the actions of his country. Before going to the press, he tried to enlist the help of Congress. And when it came time to be held accountable for his actions, Ellsberg didn’t leave his family or his country. He stayed right here to face the consequences of leaking top secret documents. Knowing this, Snowden’s preaching from the other side of the world is bit hard to take.

That argument has teeth, as does the fact that even Snowden’s representative presents such a hostile view of the United States and, ostensibly, the Obama administration, that it’s difficult to see this scenario strictly as a ‘crisis of conscience.’ When you stack all the facts together, including Greenwald’s warnings of above, it’s impossible not to see the workings of a political agenda fraught with some deep antipathy for the U.S. government and the Obama administration. Greenwald, rather than suggesting Snowden take the Ellsberg route and nobly surrender himself to stand up for his convictions and be present to, not only help “reveal criminality,” but take responsibility for the extraordinary impact he’s had on delicate, sensitive, and sometimes dangerous international relations, instead paints a dire picture of a totalitarian state out to get Snowden should they have the chance. From La Nacion:

– Is Snowden’s decision to stay in Russia while waiting to come to Latin America?

“Yes, the most important thing is not to end in U.S. custody, which proved an extremely vindictive government looking to punish those who reveal uncomfortable truths, and whose judicial system cannot be trusted when it comes to people accused of endangering the national security. The judges do everything they can to secure convictions in these cases. He would be immediately put in prison to cover the debate he helped generate, and end the rest of his days behind bars.” [Emphasis added.]

And yet he chooses to be in Russia. Because that’s not a ‘vindictive government’? Again, knowledge of history is strangely missing in this scenario… but I don’t believe I need to extrapolate on the human rights violations of Russia. Or China, for that matter.

While members of the ‘hero’ contingent believe strongly that what Snowden has brought to the forefront is a deeply necessary discussion about government overreach in the quest for national security, the problems lies in the ancillary ripples of his actions. Unlike Ellsberg, he made no attempt to engage Congress, to garner interest or shared outrage at what he felt were egregious wrongdoings. He, instead, made his first move a great, grand reveal through a British journalist, and from there absconded to two countries with two of the worst human rights records in history. And now the story is about him – and Greenwald. We’re not, in fact, talking about the NSA anymore.

The political debate will rage on, certainly as long as Snowden’s on the run, Greenwald’s making ominous predictions, and we in the media are covering it all. Whatever this “worst nightmare” is that’s being threatened, much like waiting for a meteor to hit the earth, we’re certain to find out, as the drama is far from over. But for those who see the progressive agenda as one that fights for personal freedoms, the expansion of civil rights; the protection of our citizens and immigrants, conducted in rational, reasonable collaboration – yes, even, sometimes, confrontation – with the law of the land and our government representatives, there is something sour in the way this story is unfolding. The conversation about national security vs. privacy rights is a very real one that does need to happen. But couching that conversation in implied threats and dramatic international intrigue, causing potentially irrevocable strain in U.S. relationships around the world, with the potential of damage to national security programs that actually do keep terrorism from our shores, is too high a price to pay.

It could have been done better. It could have been done like Daniel Ellsberg. Mr. Greenwald, while you’re speaking for Edwards Snowden, maybe you could speak to him… and make that suggestion. Facing the music might be the very best way to achieve his goal.