Traitors, Heroes, Liars, Whistleblowers, Criminals. And Narcissists All.   Leave a comment

Considering Daniel Ellsberg, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden: An Opinion.

August 2, 2013

Once again history, politics, and emotion are evident in our society. In circles large and small, in red states and blue, the hero/traitor debate centers around three individuals:  Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, and Daniel Ellsberg.

Mr. Ellsberg (1931-) is the person responsible for the June 1971 release of the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. Manning (1987-) is the Army Private who put WikiLeaks on the larger map by giving them 750,000 documents. And then there’s Mr. Snowden (1983-), who walked out of his technical analyst job at Booz Allen Hamilton with four laptops filled with secrets, struck up a close relationship with The Guardian newspaper and began disclosing classified information.

There is no shortage of opinions, from those offering support or condemnation of Snowden, Manning, and Ellsberg; each has been labeled hero or villain, patriot or traitor, whistleblower or thief. While more will become known about Manning and Snowden, Ellsberg was vetted long-ago, and there is enough information right now to draw distinctions.

Manning and Snowden are children of the internet age, comfortable with an online life that invests excessive time and information in social media, and believe that the internet is central to everything. They are two lackluster under-achievers. Neither was sufficiently curious or disciplined to advance much beyond a very basic education. Manning, at least, finished high school; Snowden reportedly did gain a GED. Ellsberg, on the other hand, is a child born on the tail-end of what Tom Brokaw dubbed The Greatest Generation. He was highly educated, curious, and accomplished. Ellsberg had no internet, no laptop, no flash drive, etc., to surreptitiously remove or extract copies of a most secret document.  In a manner of speaking, Ellsberg worked and learned the details by getting his hands dirty. His pathway to infamy was that document commonly referred to as “The Pentagon Papers”.

After years of working within the government (including an assignment in Vietnam,) and listening to the regular justification for the Vietnam War, Ellsberg read the “Pentagon Papers”, a 7,000-page document, and concluded that the government had essentially lied about the Vietnam War for more than a decade. He fully understood what he was releasing and what impact it would have on public perception of the war; and he did not publish anything he hadn’t read and understood.  He made vows of secrecy, pledges of fealty, and oaths to protect and support the U.S. Government, its departments, and ineffect, its secrets. While I can accept his self-designation as “whistleblower”, that label does not absolve one of duties and responsibilities, or guarantee that prosecution for violating applicable laws won’t follow.

Bradley Manning also took an oath when he enlisted in the United States Army. As part of that oath he swore that he would “. . . support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic . . . [and] bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and [he’d] obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over [him], according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. ‘So help me God’.”  Obviously Pfc. Manning changed his mind. So, while still a trusted member of the U.S. Army—oath intact—Manning sent 750,000 documents to WikiLeaks. Due to the amount of time required to read the documents and (presumably) Manning’s insufficient enthusiasm or intellectual curiosity, it is extremely unlikely that Manning read but a few pages. It follows then that not having read the documents, Manning didn’t know if anything or everything he gave to WikiLeaks could damage the government, private citizens, or federal employees. In a clear example of his gross naiveté, he trusted WikiLeaks to do the vetting. Naive at best and criminal at worst. Probably both. WikiLeaks did what was best for WikiLeaks. In the end, Manning took a plea agreement, effectively confirming his guilt. He is now in prison.

And then there is Snowden, the hapless, miserable character who spent the last few years not working diligently to fulfill his adult obligations, but instead focusing on self-centered, self-actuated, self-aggrandizement. Snowden devised a way to take a short-cut to personal fame, adoration, and fortune (book and movie deals to follow?). By design he took advantage of all of the ridiculous access granted by his employers (government and independent contractors) and voilà: from nobody to international man of mystery, darling of the far left, far right, and the media. His completely disingenuous revelation of his identity speaks volumes: “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong. . . .” If that is what he truly believes, then he should return to the United States, enter the criminal justice system and fight for his beliefs. (As the Trayvon Martin murder case showed, a publicity-seeking lawyer will volunteer to defend anyone.) Instead, Snowden has indicated his preference for a residence in Iceland, or Venezuela, or Ecuador, or China, or Hong Kong, or the transit lounge of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, or in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The latter is that bastion of free-thought, fair play, jury trials, and openness (NOT).

Ellsberg’s act four decades ago stands alone. He distinguished himself not by simply exposing the lies of the Vietnam War, but by knowing what he was releasing. Manning and Snowden both went for tonnage choosing to release as much as they could without thoroughly vetting just what it was that each was releasing. By creating drama through massive releases, it is almost certain that innocent people, legitimate projects, and years of painstaking efforts by many to protect the U.S. were exposed. Ellsberg continues to tour and rail against the government, Manning has changed sexual identity and entered prison, and Snowden, I can only hope, has a long, long life in Russia.

David Steffen

© 2013 David Steffen

This blog was simultaneously published in The Lighthouse Peddler.

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