No matter what you might think of the surveillance debate happening in DC this week, there’s no honest way to deny that the debate would be very different (and likely wouldn’t be happening at all) if Ed Snowden had leaked a bunch of documents to reporters almost exactly two years ago. Even those in the Senate who are the NSA’s strongest supporters will now grudgingly admit that:
“Because of Edward Snowden, there’s a perception — which is not true — but there’s a perception that we’re invading people’s privacy,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), explained last month. “This would presumably take care of that,” he added, referring to the USA Freedom Act, which he voted against in 2014 but now supports as a better alternative to a complete lapse of the Patriot Act.
“It’s why we’re here,” Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chair of the Senate foreign relations committee and a fierce NSA defender, said of the Snowden disclosures. “People began creating a myth around it. That did occur. The public discourse around it created a myth about what this program is and what it isn’t.”
Of course, both Nelson and Corker are wrong themselves in arguing that there’s a “myth” or that perceptions are off. Yes, there are some who have an exaggerated picture of what’s happening, but plenty who are fully aware of the details have found the program to be illegal, unconstitutional or both.
And that, at the very least, has to raise a question: how could it be illegal to blow the whistle on a program that has been found to be illegal or unconstitutional?
But, according to the White House, it still thinks Snowden belongs in jail for basically the rest of his life:
“The fact is that Mr. Snowden committed very serious crimes,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday. “The U.S. government and the Department of Justice believe that he should face them.”
“We believe Mr. Snowden should return to the United States, where he will face due process and have the opportunity … to make that case in a court of law,” Earnest said.
“Very serious crimes”? That would be exposing a program that two separate courts, two separate White House review boards and countless others have noted to be illegal and/or unconstitutional? How do you figure? And, the whole “due process” claim is a load of crap from Earnest. As he well knows, under the Espionage Act (which is what Snowden has been charged under), he would not be allowed to explain the whistleblowing reasons for leaking the information. That’s not due process and it’s not allowing him to make his case.
The more the White House sticks with this wholly unbelievable line about “very serious crimes” at the very same time that Congress is debating reforms to surveillance programs only because of Snowden’s actions, the more and more ridiculous the administration looks. I get that there must be some sort of ridiculous “political calculation” being made here about “looking strong” and “not encouraging” more leaks or something — but all it really does is make the administration look foolish and unwilling to be honest.
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