What I’ve learned so far: Obama is really mad at Edward Snowden for forcing us patriots to have this critically important conversation.
— Binyamin Appelbaum (@BCAppelbaum) August 9, 2013
That captures the irony of a president who both needs to prevent terror attacks and motivate his counter-terrorism staff and who doesn’t particularly care for the intrusive surveillance state. But it’s an easy irony. It mocks a president caught between two legitimate objectives and waiting on public opinion to nudge him toward reform.
Still, how can one interpret Friday’s confirmation that FISA courts and NSA surveillance are under major review without crediting Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald? I was distracted at the end of last week, but it seems inescapable to me now that Snowden leaked information to get reform of the system and succeeded in doing so. The government Snowden hacked has vindicated his goal of greater transparency. That pushes Snowden far closer to the whistle-blower role than the leaker-as-traitor one, doesn’t it? Ezra gets to the nub of it:
Obama’s frustration with Snowden is that he interrupted what could have been “a lawful, orderly examination of these laws; a thoughtful, fact-based debate.” The White House believes Snowden’s leaks — and the drip-drip-drip way the Guardian released them — left the public misinformed. And at times, that’s certainly true. The initial reports on PRISM, for instance, clearly suggested that the program was wider in scope than it actually is.
But the White House could have led that thoughtful, fact-based debate, and despite Obama’s protestations to the contrary, they didn’t. They prevented it. If this conversation, and these reforms, are as positive for the country as Obama says they are, then it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Snowden did the country a real service — even if the White House can’t abide crediting him with it.
If the only reason to treat Snowden as a criminal is that he disrupted Obama’s control-freakiness (in this case, transparently bogus) then the president needs to understand that the public will not stand for it. Least of all his own core base of supporters.