I pleaded last month for an end to the breathless comparisons between Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg. News that the present-day intelligence leaker has asked Russia for asylum should put those comparisons to rest. Sure, Snowden made the same request of other nations. But flirting with Moscow is a credibility killer.
I'm all for whistleblowers revealing what government is doing, especially if the activity stretches the bounds of legality or is flat-out illegal. What we know of the information that Snowden has released has been known for a while. But what has stuck in my craw from the outset was Snowden fleeing the country.
First Snowden hightailed it to Hong Kong (read: China). Then he bolted for Moscow. For a man trying to win public opinion against what he called the vast and illegal overreach of the National Security Agency, heading to Russia wasn't a great PR move.
Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, aren't exactly this nation's best friend. Heck, they barely rise to the level of "frenemy." In his comments about Snowden on Monday, Putin said: "If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: He has to stop his work aimed at damaging our U.S. partners, no matter how strange this sounds coming from me." But when it came to President Obama's entreaties that Snowden be extradited, Putin said, "Russia never extradites anyone anywhere and is not going to extradite anyone." Great.
The man-without-a-country international thicket Snowden is in was totally avoided by Ellsberg. More than four decades ago, Ellsberg photocopied all 7,000 pages of the Pentagon Papers, which he described as "a continuous record of governmental deception and fatally unwise decision-making, cloaked by secrecy, under four presidents." Unlike Snowden, Ellsberg went to senior members of Congress with his concerns about the secret policy toward Vietnam. He went to the press when it looked like Congress would do nothing. For two weeks after news outlets began publishing excerpts, Ellsberg and his wife hid out in Cambridge, Mass. But the man who wanted the American people to know what their government was doing in their name turned himself in at the federal courthouse in Boston.
All this is detailed in a 2009 PBS documentary called "The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers." The key phrase being "in America."
Would that Snowden had the courage of his convictions to stay in the United States to be held accountable for his actions rather than flee to nations that would love to have the sensitive information he has stolen (and to embarrass the United States in the process).