Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Snowden and Ellsberg Compared

The following essay may have to be read with a “sarcasm alert”.

I am sorry, I just could not resist.  Back when Ed Snowden was newsworthy and before he disappeared off the media radar, I was hearing him compared to Dr. Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers' fame.  Now Danny Ellsberg used to smoke dope on the beach with a good friend of mine who was at RAND at the same time, so I feel a certain, close, personal relationship.   And even though Danny has publicly congratulated Snowden, as all truly committed lefties are required to do, I just had to write this post comparing the two people and events because ... well you will see.

None of this particularly addresses the issue of whether the various materials should have been leaked.  That is a topic for another day.

So I am now going to compare the two men in the areas of education, experience, knowledge in the domain, and so forth.   Lets see where it goes.  

1. Education.

Dr. Ellsberg was scholarship to Harvard in Economics where he was summa cum laude, went to Cambridge University on a Woodrow Wilson scholarship and completed his PhD in Economics at Harvard. Ed Snowden dropped out of Arundel High School in Maryland.

2. Prior Experience.

In 1959, Dr. Ellsberg became a strategic analyst at the RAND Corporation, and consultant to the Defense Department and the White House, specializing in problems of the command and control of nuclear weapons, nuclear war plans, and crisis decision-making. In 1961 he drafted the guidance from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the operational plans for general nuclear war. He was a member of two of the three working groups reporting to the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (EXCOM) during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Ellsberg joined the Defense Department in 1964 as Special Assistant to Assistant Secretary of Defense (International Security Affairs) John McNaughton, working on the escalation of the war in Vietnam. He transferred to the State Department in 1965 to serve two years at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. On return to the RAND Corporation in 1967, Ellsberg worked on the top secret McNamara study of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam, 1945-68, which later came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. Ed Snowden dropped out of high school to be a sysadmin for the CIA and later for the NSA through a contracting agency. The CIA identified Snowden as a security risk and terminated his involvement but failed to communicate that information to the NSA.

3. Depth of Knowledge in the Area

Dr. Ellsberg was a recognized member of the national security apparatus and co-author of the report in question. Ed Snowden simply vacuumed up everything he could get his hands on, including stealing security keys from other people, and dumped the material in the public domain. He has no credentials in any of the areas where he released material.

4. Role That They Played in Creating the Material

Dr. Ellsberg was one of the authors of the report that became known as the Pentagon Papers. Ed Snowden had no role whatsoever in the materials he copied without permission and released.

5. The Process By Which the Material Was Released

Ellsberg approach various members of congress to try and get them to both read and release in the Congressional Record the report (thus making it difficult to prosecute anyone). Whoever Ellsberg approached would not do it. Eventually he gave a copy to a NY Times reporter with the (supposed) intent that it not be published, more as background, I suppose. Well the NY Times decided to publish it. I dont know the truth of the matter, but I suspect hairs are / were being split on who could legally be prosecuted. Snowden fled the country before releasing anything and found someone who in my opinion is highly motivated to release material no matter how much it hurts this country, Greenwald. That Greenwald received the Pulitzer prize for this is a disgrace and lowers the credibility of the Pulitzer, IMHO. In any case, Snowden was no where near as clever or responsible as Ellsberg. He leaked everything and then fled to the most oppressive surveillance state on the planet. Many knowledgable people believe that he was working for Russian intelligence more or less all along. Dismiss that as paranoia if you will, that is what they believe, and the people who believe it have access to much more information than you or I do.

6. The Nature of the Material Released

Dr. Ellsberg released a report that was primarily about the history of the Vietnam war and the decision making that led to our involvement. Because the report had information from very secret sources it did compromise sources that were directly involved with this area and (supposedly) led to the death of many people (possibly a few hundred) of people who risked their lives to help us. Ed Snowden released information on a vast number of current operations and activities, activities for which he should not have had access, and released them indiscriminately. The full impact will not be known for years, but it is likely that the death toll will be huge. The impact on foreign policy and international relationships is far afield from what Snowden claimed he was interested in, which is to say domestic surveillance, will also be huge. In fact, very little of the Snowden material released pertains to domestic surveillance and no one could seriously take that as a motivation for his activities. In other words, Ellsberg's leaked information about the past in order to demonstrate that the POTUS was not completely honest with the American people. Snowden released information about the present, in a vast number of areas, completely unrelated to his announced motivation for the release.

7. Actions after the Release of the Material

Dr. Ellsberg stayed in the United States and said he would take responsibility for his actions. His trial was thrown out of court by the judge due to the famous misdeeds of the Nixon Administration and his Plumbers. Arguably this was one aspect of the Watergate scandal that led ultimately to Nixon's resignation. Snowden fled the country and, demonstrating his unique hypocrisy, took asylum in a country with the most oppressive internal surveillance in the world. He regularly states that he can not get a fair trial in the USA but I think his real concern is that he is likely to get a fair trial in the USA.

8. Other Service

Ellsberg had been ROTC to Harvard and spent two years in the USMC as an officer. Snowden has no service to his country other than as a consultant where he violated his oath.

So as you can see and, in summary, the two cases are very, very similar.

Actually, that was a lie.  The two cases are about as dissimilar as they could be.   So you can conclude at least that anyone who claims to you that they are similar is just an idiot.  From top to bottom, soup to nuts, materials released, credibility of the person who released them, impact on our country, and so forth and so on, they are completely and utterly different.   About the only thing you can say that they had in common is that they both involved the unauthorized release of highly classified material.

Of course, this discussion does not go into the more interesting question, about whether they were right to release the material they did.  My short answer to that question, which is of course of very little interest to the world, will be the subject of another post.

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