Ahead of an exclusive interview with National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to air tonight at 10pm ET on NBC, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared on two morning network news programs Kerry jingoistically scolded Snowden for being in Russia and declared that he needed to “man up” and return to the United States, especially if he thinks he is a “patriot.”
“Let him come back and make his case. The fact is that, you know, he should if he cares so much about America and he believes in America he should trust in the American system of justice,” Kerry declared on “The Today Show” on NBC.
On CBS’ “This Morning,” Kerry stated, “The bottom line is this is a man who has betrayed his country, who is sitting in Russia, an authoritarian country, where he has taken refuge. You know, he should man up and come back to the United States. If he has a complaint about what’s the matter with American surveillance, come back here and in our system of justice and make his case.”
Kerry continued, “But instead he is just sitting there taking pot shots at his country, violating his oath that he took when he took the job he took and betraying, I think, the fundamental agreement that he entered into when he became an employee.”
It was as if Kerry was trying to do his best impression of Representative Peter King, who has had problem making himself look like an utter buffoon when commenting on Snowden.
Why wouldn’t Snowden want to “trust the American justice system”? What is this perverted idea that one is more patriotic if they allow themselves to be prosecuted by the US justice system?
First off, Savannah Guthrie asked on “The Today Show,” what he had to say to the fact that Snowden was stranded in Russia because the State Department revoked his passport. Kerry said it was “pretty dumb” to suggest that the State Department was responsible.
It was not “pretty dumb” to PBS FRONTLINE. In the second part of “The United States of Secrets,” Greenwald said Snowden “could no longer get a ticket and leave Russia because his passport had been revoked by the US government.” The producers could not apparently find anything to disprove this claim about what happened.
Kerry also said, “Let me just say this. If Mr. Snowden wants to come back to the United States today, we’ll have him on a flight today.” (Yes, in an orange jumpsuit.)
“We’d be delighted for him to come back,” Kerry added. “And he should come back—And that’s what a patriot would do. A patriot would not run away and look for refuge in Russia or Cuba or some other country. A patriot would stand up in the United States and make his case to the American people. But he’s refused to do that, to this date at least.”
A “patriot,” if Kerry would like to be introduced to one, is Thomas Drake. He did not flee America but remained in the country and even tried to address his concerns through what officials like Kerry like to call “proper channels.” He believed Stellar Wind or “The Program,” which gathered the phone calls and Internet communications of millions of Americans, was illegal. He also became concerned about an NSA program called Trailblazer, which became a private contractor boondoggle that would not protect Americans’ privacy.
William Binney, Ed Loomis and Kirk Wiebe, along with Drake, all had profound concerns and eventually Drake could not tolerate the inaction anymore. He communicated with Siobhan Gorman at the Baltimore Sun.
Subsequently, Binney, Loomis, Wiebe and a House Intelligence Committee staffer who they had been working with, Diane Roark, had their homes raided by FBI agents. The government suspected they were sources for a story on NSA warrantless wiretapping in the New York Times by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau. And, later, Drake became a target and was charged with violating the Espionage Act. He faced the prospect of serving multiple decades in prison if convicted until the government’s case collapsed. (For more, watch FRONTLINE’s “United States of Secrets“ which tells the story in full detail.)
This is what happened to federal government employees who wanted to complain about “what’s the matter with American surveillance.” They did not leak any documents. They did not pass any classified information to journalists. They merely tried to get their superiors to care about engaging in illegal surveillance of Americans but their superiors didn’t want to be bothered by them.
Moreover, Snowden is charged with violating the Espionage Act. The Justice Department prosecutes this as if it is a strict liability crime, which means a federal government employee or contractor who releases “national defense information” is guilty regardless of why they released the information.
The courts have mostly accepted this as constitutional. In fact, in a recent national security leak case involving former State Department employee Stephen Kim, the judge lowered the burden of proof for prosecutors from having to demonstrate information could possibly have caused damage to the United States to only having to prove it was “national defense information” that was released.
Federal government employees who leak and view themselves as whistleblowers are not allowed by the government to mount a defense that what they did was in the public interest.
Snowden was well aware of this reality, and it greatly influenced his decision to leave the country. For example, when he applied for asylum from Ecuador in June, he indicated that his case was “very similar to that of the American soldier [Chelsea] Manning, who made public government information through Wikileaks revealing war crimes, was arrested by the United States government and has been treated inhumanely during [her] time in prison. [She] was put in solitary confinement before [her] trial and the UN anti-torture representative judged that [Mrs.] Manning was submitted to cruel and inhumane acts by the United States government.”
This was written while Manning was still on trial. Snowden was aware that secret documents had been presented and secret witnesses had testified. Snowden concluded, “Given these circumstances, it is unlikely that I would receive a fair trial or proper treatment prior to that trial, and face the possibility of life in prison or even death.”
Does any of this help one understand why Snowden would not “trust the American justice system”?
Nonetheless, there is this dominant view—especially among individuals who like to claim they’re sympathetic to Snowden—that he must martyr himself for the cause of privacy and come back to the US and face US justice.
This was MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry’s “beef” with Snowden. “Once you’ve decided to be a defender of those ideals,” she said in June, “you have to be prepared to face the consequences. That is the whole point of civil disobedience, to show that you are willing to risk your own freedom, your own body, in order to bring attention to something that needs to be known.”
But it is nationalistic to suggest that by fleeing the US he has avoided facing the consequences and is not properly engaging in “civil disobedience.” He cannot travel. He is isolated. He does not have family living with him. He left his girlfriend. He gave up his life in Hawaii. He sacrificed his career as a federal contractor in US intelligence. He has been charged with committing crimes. He does not know how long he will remain safe in Russia. And he can either risk decades in US prison or accept asylum in a country with an autocratic leader, who the US government despises and will relentlessly use to undermine his advocacy against mass surveillance.
This is the “civil disobedience,” the sacrifice, the risking of freedom. Snowden violated policies and regulations all US government employees or contractors indoctrinated into the country’s secrecy regime are supposed to follow and is paying dearly. He does not have to do it in an American jail cell to be a “patriot.”