Updated: Another Unsupported Attack on Obama by Greenwald

So, Glenn Greenwald is busy working on “some stories,” but he decided to take time out from his busy schedule to grace us with a column that continues his vendetta against President Obama, and suggests that the charges against Edward Snowden are doing more harm than the leaks he made.

In the grand scheme of things, the leaks Snowden made were probably somewhat minor. They didn’t reveal anything most of us didn’t already know about, and it triggered a discussion that apparently needed to be had, again. But he’s not a whistleblower; he didn’t uncover anything illegal. He’s not a hero, because he ran away to freedom loving China, rather than face the music. More than that, Snowden knowingly and willingly signed an agreement as a condition of his position of responsibility to the American people and he violated that and the law in doing so. He’s just as subject to the law as any other American citizen.

But, of course,  this is Glenn Greenwald’s fifteen minutes, and he’s going to milk them for everything he can. And while he does, I’m going to correct the record. For example, in his column, Greenwald says:

Prior to Barack Obama’s inauguration, there were a grand total of three prosecutions of leakers under the Espionage Act (including the prosecution of Dan Ellsberg by the Nixon DOJ). That’s because the statute is so broad that even the US government has largely refrained from using it. But during the Obama presidency, there are now seven such prosecutions: more than double the number under all prior US presidents combined. How can anyone justify that?

If Greenwald is going to take his status as a “journalist” seriously, he needs to be a little more careful with he facts from now on. His numbers are WAY off. Before I cite some real numbers, let me note that Greenwald cites no sources for his figures, and that he tries to finesse his attack on President Obama by using the term “prosecutions” and not “charges” or arrests.

Journalism requires more precision. You really can’t complain about a law being “too broad’ (which he does later on), and then be incredibly imprecise yourself. Snowden hasn’t even been indicted yet, so comparing his status with “prosecutions” is very misleading. Also misleading is his use of the term “leakers” to qualify his charge further. Snowden may be more than a “leaker.” He claims to have thousands of documents, and intends to release them in a trickle. 

But let’s talk about espionage charges generally, which is a lot more accurate in this context. This is more common than many think. In all there have been at least 150 cases since 1947. This is from “Espionage: A Statisical Overview“:

Five spies were arrested or otherwise publicly exposed during the decade of the 1950s. This increased to 13 in the 1960s and 13 in the 1970s. Arrests and other public exposures mushroomed to 56 in the 1980s and remained at a high level, with 29, in the 1990s. Information is available for all 150 cases.

The data in this study comes from the Espionage Database Project, a database maintained by the Defense Personnel Security Research Center, and it includes people who have been “convicted or prosecuted for espionage or attempting to commit espionage, or if clear evidence of espionage is available in the public domain even though they were not prosecuted.” As you can see from the numbers above, the “seven” prosecutions under Obama that Greenwald claims have occurred (without citing a source) seem rather tame, especially compared to the 59 during the Reagan/Bush Administrations in the 1980s. And it’s certainly NOT “double the number under all prior US presidents combined.” Now, if Greenwald intended to limit his charge to those who leaked to “the media,” he should have said so. But he didn’t.

Now, when it comes to justification, all I can say is, welcome to the digital age, Glenn. You should know all about this by now, because it’s how you manage to write for a British newspaper from your current location in Brazil. It’s easier to pilfer documents these days, because you can fit millions of pages on a thumb drive or micro SD card. No need for copy machines, or microfilm; stealing documents has never been easier. We should actually expect the number of prosecutions to skyrocket in coming years, as technology advances even further.

If Greenwald wants to be taken seriously as a “journalist,” (and given his ire on Twitter when the New York Times referred to him as a “blogger,” he apparently wants us to think of him that way), he might try a greater reliance on facts, and less on the opinions of other columnists. Take the next paragraph:

For a politician who tried to convince Americans to elect him based on repeated pledges of unprecedented transparency and specific vows to protect “noble” and “patriotic” whistleblowers, is this unparalleled assault on those who enable investigative journalism remotely defensible? Recall that the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer said recently that this oppressive climate created by the Obama presidency has brought investigative journalism to a “standstill”, while James Goodale, the General Counsel for the New York Times during its battles with the Nixon administration,wrote last month in that paper that “President Obama will surely pass President Richard Nixon as the worst president ever on issues of national security and press freedom.” Read what Mayer and Goodale wrote and ask yourself: is the Obama administration’s threat to the news-gathering process not a serious crisis at this point?

Pay special attention to the links in the above paragraph. The first leads to an article about Obama’s alleged “war on whistleblowers,” which has little or nothing to do with anything Obama promised before being elected. But Snowden does NOT fall under any legal definition of whistleblower under the law. There is nothing illegal in any of the documents Snowden and Greenwald have provided to us thus far. Obviously, reasonable people can argue that perhaps some of it should be illegal, but that’s a whole other discussion. But look at what “journalist” Greenwald cites as “sources” for his attack on Obama. The link to Jane Mayer’s quote is actually a link to a New Republic article in which Mayer suggests the FBI’s surveillance of news sources may have a “chilling effect” on reporting. Here’s what she actually said:

Jane Mayer, a national security reporter for the New Yorker, has had a source targeted by the FBI for potential national security violations, and another who feared being targeted. “People reporters need to be able to speak to become legally quarantined, so there’s no way then to get the story,” she wrote in an email. “It’s a huge impediment to reporting, and so chilling isn’t quite strong enough, it’s more like freezing the whole process into a standstill.”

I agree with her on that, but  the complaint is not new, and part of the problem is the autonomy the law gives to the Justice Department in general and the FBI in particular. It’s up to the judiciary to draw the lines, and they have not done a very good job with that in recent years. But note the lack of a mention of Obama. Not exactly supporting Greenwald’s contention, does it?

And James Goodale is a crank. Most of us who were actually around during Watergate have to laugh at the comparison of the Nixon and Obama Administrations. When Obama puts together an enemies list, orders the IRS to target reporters with audits, and refuses to speak to any reporter not friendly to the administration, call me. Until then, anyone who compares the two administrations is into histrionics, not facts.

Snowden broke the law; even Greenwald admits that. So for either he or Snowden to be whining about which laws he was charged is just plain silliness. And Greenwald’s justification for his complaints about Obama are even more ridiculous. The broadness of the law is irrelevant, since he was charged under two specific sections, and not the entire Act. The age of the Espionage Act is also completely irrelevant, especially since it’s been amended numerous times since 1917. While the methods of espionage may have changed, the concept itself has not. Is there really a material difference between using microfilm to take pictures of secret documents and handing them to foreign power, or transmitting a thumb drive full of documents to a reporter in Brazil? Of course not.

Has Snowden actually committed espionage? That’s for a jury to decide. But so far, he’s just been charged. I don’t understand the claim that he’s been “overcharged.” Is that possible? If he’s been “overcharged,” the jury will acquit him, right?

And one more thing. What Snowden attempted to do falls under the concept of “civil disobedience.” That means you know you’re breaking the law, and you know you’re probably going to have to face the justice system, but what you are fighting for is more important than you. From the beginning of this republic, people have faced jail time for doing what they thought was the “right thing.” Why, suddenly, are we supposed to be outraged when lawbreakers are subjected to the law? How is it outrageous that someone who broke our laws is charged?

Oh, and one more thing. There are FAR greater whistleblower protections under the law now than when Obama took office. You know that NDAA that Greenwald is always complaining about? That bill actually included expanded whistleblower protections for Defense and National Security employees. Basically, if Snowden was a whistleblower, he could have taken advantage of the channels  available. He didn’t. He  stole documents, hightailed it to China and leaked from there. And knowing China as we do, can you imaging them not monitoring and intercepting the documents? It’s certainly within a greater realm of possibility than if Snowden had transmitted them from Hawaii.

If Greenwald wants to be called “reporter” or “journalist,” might I suggest some journalistic standards?


Greenwald took me off block long enough to respond with the following Tweet:

So, I did. And this is what the Times article reads:

“The charges against Mr. Snowden, first reported by The Washington Post, are the seventh case under President Obama in which a government official has been criminally charged with leaking classified information to the news media. Under all previous presidents, just three such cases have been brought.”

Now, let’s revisit what Greenwald wrote once again:

Prior to Barack Obama’s inauguration, there were a grand total of three prosecutions of leakers under the Espionage Act (including the prosecution of Dan Ellsberg by the Nixon DOJ). That’s because the statute is so broad that even the US government has largely refrained from using it. But during the Obama presidency, there are now seven such prosecutions: more than double the number under all prior US presidents combined. How can anyone justify that?

See the difference? Both are sloppy, and neither Snowden nor Ellsberg were/are “government officials.” But Greenwald changed the already-inaccurate “government officials” to “leakers,” failed to cite his source (funny, since he cites other people’s opinions elsewhere in the column) and passed on a claim that is completely unsubstantiated. THAT is the issue. Not only does Obama NOT have to “justify” it, the FACT is, there were at least 150 such cases since  1947, and most of them were either in the government itself or in the military. Do a little math; 150 is a lot more than three. Now, granted; most of those 150 were not about government employees handing classified information to the media, specifically. But Greenwald didn’t specify, either.

So Greenwald responded by citing the New York Times, without checking to make sure the Times was correct in its assertion. Hey, Glenn; you don’t get away with passing on untruths just because someone else cited it first. If you want to be a journalist, and not just a “blogger,” which makes you bristle, then act like one.

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2013 The PCTC Blog

One comment

  1. Well done. It’s amazing just how thin GG’s skin is. If anyone questions his moral superiority, they have no brain.

    Can someone kindly explain the logic that prosecution something more necessarily means that the justice system is out of control? There were more prosecutions of Nazi’s in 1945 then in any time in our history! How can you justify that?

    Even assuming he’s right, that there were less prosecution in the past, why is there an assumption that Obama is deranged? Is GG suggesting that there is no such thing as a bad leak? That ALL information leaked to the press is necessarily good? That there is no cause for National secrets?

    If he doesn’t claim that, than why does it matter if PBO prosecuted 7 or 1000? The question is are they good cases or bad?

    Plus the whole rhetorical device of “How can you justify X” is about the stupidest fucking thing i ever read. It presupposes that anyone taking a different view of him is by definition morally deficient. It’s the rhetorical tool of a zealot, not someone who really wants the answers to anything. And why should he? He already knows all the answers.

Comments are closed.