I imagine over the next year, every time there’s a new disclosure about the Snowden documents or something about Snowden himself, there will continue to be arguments over whether Eric Snowden Is a Good or Bad Person (one of the latest sparks is the suggestion that Snowden be pardoned). We should remember that the source for Watergate (the original ‘-Gate’), Deep Throat, had less than noble intentions (he was angling for a directorship). That doesn’t delegitimize his revelations or excuse Nixon’s actions. As Jack Shafer put it, “I doubt that Woodward and Bernstein’s copy would have been remarkably different had they appreciated the degree to which Felt’s leaks were self-promoting.”
What I don’t get in all of this is the subtext (or subtexts) for the passionate feelings about Snowden (and, by extension Glenn Greenwald, though Lauren Poitras seems to get a pass in all of this).
Consider creationism: on the creationist side, ‘creation science’ notwithstanding, it has never been about assessing evidence. It’s another front in the conservative culture wars. I comprehend the motivations (even as I vehemently disagree with them). But I can’t figure out what’s motivating the animus towards Snowden, especially from those parts that lean left. People are making anti-Snowden arguments, but most of them don’t seem to withstand scrutiny. For example, Fred Kaplan in Slate argues that Snowden shouldn’t have released information about foreign surveillance, only domestic surveillance. I’m not sure how that’s supposed to work, given that these programs are supposed to be foreign surveillance programs. Sean Wilentz doesn’t seem to care much for Snowden’s politics, though I don’t see how that’s relevant. There’s a lot of that kind of argument going around.
There seem to be hidden assumptions that aren’t being aired which drive these arguments.
Here’s my list of hypotheses:
1) A belief that this is somehow helping Russia, either directly (information transfer) or indirectly (weakening our counter-intelligence apparatus).
2) Some people like genuflecting before authority. On the left and right wings, this is probably less of an issue, but ‘centrists’ and Washington pundits could be afflicted with this.
3) Greenwald–and thus by extension Snowden–is a jerk. No argument on the jerkiness here, but how does this justify the NSA programs and keeping their extent and illegalities secret? It’s like many of the pundits after Sept. 11th 2001 who came to the conclusion that rethinking terrorism also required rethinking economic and social policy.
6) Who cares if they spy on non-violent weirdos (e.g., Occupy, Code Pink)?
That’s what I could come up with anyway.