The difference between the NSA leaker and the Pentagon Papers leaker


Comparisons of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg have inevitably arisen in recent days.

Indeed, Ellsberg himself has praised Snowden for disclosing certain details of NSA surveillance programs (see HERE).

But any valid comparison of the two men requires an historical perspective, as Adam Cohen ARGUES:

[T]here is a significant difference between Ellsberg and Snowden. The Pentagon Papers revealed that the government had ramped up the war in Vietnam and lied to Congress and the public about it, which is clearly wrong. But in Snowden’s case, it’s still unclear whether the NSA’s spying was in fact legal and if what Snowden did was simply leak classified information because he objects to how the government has chosen to defend national security. If the surveillance was legal, Snowden could still look like a conscientious objector, breaking the law because of his own moral imperatives, but he might not look like a whistle-blower. (Snowden’s defenders argue that the NSA’s spying goes beyond what the law allows.)

Ellsberg is also widely regarded as a hero today because history moved his way. There is general agreement now that it was high time we pulled out of Vietnam — and that there was little real damage to national security from the release of the Pentagon Papers. The more it appears that what the NSA has been doing is wrong, the more Snowden will look like a whistle-blower. History’s verdict on Snowden will turn on whether he got the balance right: whether it turned out that we were more at risk of becoming a surveillance state than we were of terrorism.


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