The only person more upset than Army Pfc. Bradley* Manning this week, other than Manning himself, is probably fellow leaker Edward Snowden.
Manning’s 35-year-sentence and dishonorable discharge is a clear signal to Snowden that he faces a similar fate if he returns home from Russia.
That’s the same Russia where Snowden has fled to maintain his “freedom,” after a stop along the way in that other bastion of human rights — China, in the guise of Hong Kong.
How ironic that Snowden’s mouthpiece, “journalist” Glenn Greenwald, can’t visit his famous source in homophobic Russia without some trepidation. After all, gay men like Greenwald and Bradley Manning, who is also openly gay, are hardly welcome in Russia these days.
I call Greenwald a “journalist” in quotes because I know of no other legitimate reporter who would react the way Greenwald did this week to his partner being questioned by authorities in Great Britain.
Greenwald told Brazil’s Globo TV, “I am going to publish many more documents now. I am going to publish a lot about England, too. I have a lot of documents about the espionage system in England. Now my focus is going to be that as well.”
After my 40 years as a working journalist, forgive me if I didn’t know that was a reporter’s role: to avenge spouses whom we perceive were mistreated. (My own partner will be thrilled at my new purpose in life.)
But it’s typical of the blurred lines that we’ve seen in these cases, as Snowden and Manning continue to look less like whistleblowers and more like what Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid called Snowden in the Reno Gazette-Journal this week: “a traitor.”
Did Snowden do America any good by leaking state secrets and stating the obvious: that the National Security Agency is engaged in spying? What exactly do people think the N.S.A. does, anyway? Do people think those satellite dishes on its roof are just there to collect rainwater?
But that’s not the point. As The New Yorker’s legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin wrote this week, “This is all because a thirty-year-old self-appointed arbiter of propriety decided to break the law and disclose what he had sworn to protect. That judgment—in my view—was not Snowden’s to make.”
The fact is the world has changed since 9/11. There are extremists who are trying to kill us. That’s why reluctant supporters of the government’s surveillance program have come to the same conclusion as liberal Bill Maher, who said on his HBO show in June, “We live in a world of nuclear weapons. And there are religious fanatics who would love to get one and set it off here.”
Snowden’s leaks have already hurt America in that battle. ABC News reported in late June, “The intelligence community is already seeing indications that several terrorist groups are in fact attempting to change their communications behaviors based on what they’re reading about our surveillance programs in the media.”
And yes, our enemies do pay attention to what’s leaked.
At Bradley Manning’s espionage trial it was revealed that documents he sent to WikiLeaks were found in Osama bin Laden’s hideout when he was killed.
Yet there are still efforts to portray Snowden and Manning as heroes. This past June, San Francisco’s Gay Pride Parade leaders tried to honor Manning as a parade Grand Marshal, until backlash against the move stopped it.
Many wondered why the Pride Board didn’t choose to give the “Grand Marshal” honor to more obvious heroes, like the plaintiffs and lawyers who had just won the landmark Prop. 8 gay marriage case, but they didn’t.
As for Edward Snowden, he seems to be losing the public relations battle here at home, with a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll finding more than half of Americans believing he should face criminal charges.
So much for personal freedom.
Hank Plante is an Emmy and Peabody-winning reporter who spent three decades covering politics for the CBS TV stations in San Francisco and Los Angeles. He lives in Palm Springs where he masquerades as Calbuzz Bureau Chief.
*This piece was written and posted before Pfc. Manning released this statement: “I am Chelsea Manning. I am female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition.” For the full story see Truthout.