By Chris Hedges
There is a deeply misguided attempt to sacrifice Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond on the altar of the security and surveillance state to justify the leaks made by Edward Snowden. It is argued that Snowden, in exposing the National Security Agency’s global spying operation, judiciously and carefully leaked his information through the media, whereas WikiLeaks, Assange, Manning and Hammond provided troves of raw material to the public with no editing and little redaction and assessment. Thus, Snowden is somehow legitimate while WikiLeaks, Assange, Manning and Hammond are not.
“I have never understood it,” said Michael Ratner, who is the U.S. lawyer for WikiLeaks and Assange and who I spoke with Saturday in New York City. “Why is Snowden looked at by some as the white hat while Manning, Hammond, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange as black hats? One explanation is that much of the mainstream media has tried to pin a dumping charge on the latter group, as if somehow giving the public and journalists open access to the raw documents is irresponsible and not journalism. It sounds to me like the so-called Fourth Estate protecting its jobs and ‘legitimacy.’ There is a need for both. All of us should see the raw documents. We also need journalists to write about them. Raw documents open to the world give journalists in other countries the chance to examine them in their own context and write from their perspectives. We are still seeing many stories based on the WikiLeaks documents. We should not have it any other way. Perhaps another factor may be that Snowden’s revelations concern the surveillance of us. The WikiLeaks/Assange/Manning disclosures tell us more about our war crimes against others. And many Americans do not seem to care about that.”
The charge that the WikiLeaks dump was somehow more damaging to the security and surveillance state because it was unedited, however, is false. Snowden’s revelations to the journalist Glenn Greenwald, which are ongoing, have been far more devastating to the security apparatus than the material provided by Manning. Among the four larger data sets released by Manning—collectively 735,614 documents—only 223 documents were charged against the Army private first class under “reason to believe such information could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation,” as stated in the Espionage Act. Specifically there were 116 diplomatic cables, 102 Army field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, and five Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, as the journalist Alexa O’Brien has reported.
As O’Brien points out, many of the individual documents that resulted in charges have not been identified and those that have been are turning out to be very, very benign. For example, the government prosecuted the soldier, then known as Bradley Manning, for three detainee assessment briefs from Guantanamo Bay that were nothing more than profiles of the “Tipton 3,” British citizens who were held for years without trial or charges before finally being released. The information Manning made public was not top secret. There was much in the WikiLeaks release that was already public or unclassified. All the leaked material had been widely circulated to at least half a million military and government officials as well as private contractors. It had no serious impact on U.S. operations at home or abroad. Even then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in a letter to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, admitted that a Department of Defense review of the leaked Manning documents had “not revealed any sensitive intelligence source and methods.” But what the leaks did do was expose the deep cynicism of U.S. policy, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the plethora of government lies about what was happening under U.S. occupation. The WikiLeaks material documented several important war crimes that the government had covered up. Manning wrote, correctly, in a letter last October to The Guardian newspaper: ” ... [T]he public cannot decide what actions and policies are or are not justified if they don’t even know the most rudimentary details about them and their effects.”
Manning, whose material was published by WikiLeaks as the Iraq War Logs and the Afghan War Diary, was sentenced to 35 years in prison in his court-martial at Fort Meade, Md., on 22 charges, including espionage, exceeding authorized access, stealing U.S. government property and wanton publication.
The Snowden case differs substantially from Manning’s. The Snowden leaks are top secret. They expose the National Security Agency’s wholesale abuse of privacy across the world and repeated lies told by senior officials, including President Barack Obama, to cover up the massive capture, monitoring and storage of electronic communications of Americans and others. Snowden’s revelations, unlike most of the revelations from Manning and WikiLeaks, detail current, ongoing operations. And these violations are being committed not only against foreigners but against us. Snowden is hated as much as any of the other leakers by the security and surveillance apparatus. He has done, arguably, far more damage than WikiLeaks by exposing the illegality of our surveillance state. It will not assist him if he or his supporters try to parse his way out of his legal problem—some of the charges against him are under the Espionage Act, which was used to charge Manning—by attempting to differentiate himself from other courageous whistle-blowers. The government propaganda machine, working feverishly to discredit Snowden, as well as Greenwald, the reporter who made public the Snowden documents, considers all leakers and their allies to be traitors. It doesn’t make distinctions among them. And we shouldn’t either.
The attempt to paint Snowden as prudent in his disclosures and Manning, Assange, WikiLeaks and Hammond as reckless will not protect Snowden. It myopically lends credibility to the relentless attacks by the government against Manning, Assange, WikiLeaks and others, such as Hammond, who has courageously and at great personal sacrifice opened a window into the nefarious world of the power elite.
If the corporate state were legitimate it would be worthy of more judicious and careful consideration. If the corporate state truly cared about the common good it would have to be treated with more deference. If the war on terror was, in actuality, a war to protect us rather than an excuse to enslave us we could take as serious our leaders’ warnings about loss of secrecy. But our corporate overlords are gangsters in pinstriped suits. They care nothing for the rule of law. They have put into place the most sophisticated system of internal security in human history. They have shredded our most basic constitutional rights and civil liberties. They have turned the three branches of government into wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate state. They have seized control of the systems of information to saturate the airwaves with lies. They distort the law and government regulations to advance their own pillage and exploitation of us, as well as the ecosystem, which now totters toward global collapse. They have arrogated the right to assassinate U.S. citizens and to rain terror and death from the skies across the planet even though we have not declared war on any state that is being attacked by drone aircraft. There is no internal mechanism left, whether the courts, electoral politics, the executive branch of government or the traditional press, by which these corporate elites can be reigned in or held accountable. The corporate state, in theological terms, is about unchecked exploitation and death. And if the corporate state is not vanquished, and vanquished soon, the human species will not survive.
The most crucial point about the leaks from Assange, Manning, Hammond and Snowden is that they expose egregious crimes by the state and a concerted attempt by the government to mask and lie about its criminal activity. We have a legitimate right to be informed about these crimes. And those who live in foreign countries have a legitimate right to know about the crimes we have carried out and are carrying out against them. But we live in a state where the rule of law no longer functions. We live in a state where those who commit crimes are the persecutors and those who expose them are the persecuted. This is the nature of all totalitarian states. Manning, Assange, Snowden and Hammond, whatever their differences, function as our prophets. They are the voices crying out in the wilderness. And they are the ones the state intends to martyr. Just as the differences between Jeremiah and Amos in the Hebrew Bible did not diminish their courage and their voices, the differences among Snowden, Manning, Assange and Hammond should not be permitted to diminish the vital importance of all their acts.
A supporter holds a picture of Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who leaked top-secret information about U.S. surveillance programs, outside the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong on June 13, 2013.