Almost 24 hours have passed since Edward Snowden revealed his identity — plenty of time for everyone to decide whether he's a good guy or a contemptible monster. What we know of Snowden's background suggests he's an unusual person — he never graduated from high school, but used his programming skills to climb the ladder at the CIA and then the NSA. Such a fascinating biography gives a pundit a lot to work with. It makes him either an up-from-his-bootstraps meritocrat who knows government overreach when he sees it or an uncredentialed hack who had no business being where he was in the first place. Snowden has brought together a diverse crowd of supporters — Glenn Beck, Michael Moore, Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Assange, The New Yorker's John Cassidy have all called Snowden a hero. There is also a diverse crowd that disagrees.
"A Grandiose Narcissist Who Deserves to Be in Prison" — Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker
"For this, some, including my colleague John Cassidy, are hailing him as a hero and a whistle-blower. He is neither. He is, rather, a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison," The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin writes. Toobin mocks Snowden for saying "the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting," and objecting it. Hello! The NSA records things, Toobin says. Really, that is what he says: "What, one wonders, did Snowden think the N.S.A. did? Any marginally attentive citizen, much less N.S.A. employee or contractor, knows that the entire mission of the agency is to intercept electronic communications." And yet, Toobin says converting this common assumption into established fact is reprehensible.
And what of his decision to leak the documents? Doing so was, as he more or less acknowledges, a crime. Any government employee or contractor is warned repeatedly that the unauthorized disclosure of classified information is a crime. But Snowden, apparently, was answering to a higher calling.
Is that a stand against all national security leaks? The Journalistic Conventional Wisdom just a week ago — when the Justice Department's investigation into Fox News report James Rosen was the big leak news — was that national security leaks are absolutely vital to journalism and democracy. In fact, Toobin's colleague Steve Coll wrote a longer story in last week's magazine about that very thing. Toobin allows that some leaks are acceptable. In this case, however, he says Snowden should have taken his complaints to a member of Congress.
"A National Security Kim Kardashian" who might need the death penalty
On Fox and Friends on Monday, analyst Ralph Peters said, "Now you’ve got this 29-year-old high school dropout whistleblower making foreign policy for our country, our security policy. It’s sad, Brian. We’ve made treason cool. Betraying your country is kind of a fashion statement. He wants to be the national security Kim Kardashian. He cites Bradley Manning as a hero. I mean, we need to get very, very serious about treason. And oh by the way, for treason — as in the case of Bradley Manning or Edwards Snowden — you bring back the death penalty."
"Can intelligence operate effectively if every starry-eyed analyst feels entitled to be a self-appointed whistle-blower?" The Wall Street Journal's Gary Rosen tweets.
"Weak man" who didn't go to Congress
Andrew Sullivan posts a reader email that, like Toobin, suggests Snowden could have resolved this problem by going to Congress.
The DoD and classified programs have a variation of the Ethics Hotlines that most corporations have to support employees who have concerns about bad behavior. Snowden could have worked his concerns with this hotline. Barring that, he could have worked his concerns with the members of Congress briefed on the program. He could have even gone to a member of Congress who wasn’t briefed and gotten him or her involved.
Current members of Congress must be so proud to hear this, having been bashed for the last few sessions as the "Worst" and "Least Productive" Congresses ever. But some, like Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, might note that when they ask the secret court approving the collection of all phone call metadata to just make its legal rationale public, they were shot down. Sullivan's reader concludes:
Edward Snowden is not a hero. He was a weak man who took an oath to protect the nation’s secrets, found something he felt was contrary to our ideals, and decided to resolve the issue in an irresponsible manner by making the biggest, loudest bang he could. He failed the country he claims to want to save.
He must be hunted down
"I hope we follow Mr. Snowden to the ends of the earth to bring him to justice," South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham tweets. As The Guardian's Spencer Ackerman points out, that's the same construction he used to describe Osama bin Laden.
'Guilty of espionage, or even treason' -- and maybe a spy
"Edward Snowden should go to jail, as quickly and for as long as possible," John Yoo writes for The National Review. "Snowden might be guilty of espionage, or even treason... If he is a spy — it is amazing that someone with such little education and background was given such extensive security clearance — he may well continue running abroad." Yoo is the author of the Bush administration's torture memos.