Almost 24 hours have passed since Edward Snowden revealed his identity — plenty of time for everyone to decide whether he's a good guy or a contemptible monster. What we know of Snowden's background suggests he's an unusual person — he never graduated from high school, but used his programming skills to climb the ladder at the CIA and then the NSA. Such a fascinating biography gives a pundit a lot to work with. It makes him either an up-from-his-bootstraps meritocrat who knows government overreach when he sees it or an uncredentialed hack who had no business being where he was in the first place. Snowden has brought together a diverse crowd of supporters — Glenn Beck, Michael Moore, Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Assange, The New Yorker's John Cassidy have all called Snowden a hero. There is also a diverse crowd that disagrees.
"A Grandiose Narcissist Who Deserves to Be in Prison" — Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker
"For this, some, including my colleague John Cassidy, are hailing him as a hero and a whistle-blower. He is neither. He is, rather, a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison," The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin writes. Toobin mocks Snowden for saying "the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting," and objecting it. Hello! The NSA records things, Toobin says. Really, that is what he says: "What, one wonders, did Snowden think the N.S.A. did? Any marginally attentive citizen, much less N.S.A. employee or contractor, knows that the entire mission of the agency is to intercept electronic communications." And yet, Toobin says converting this common assumption into established fact is reprehensible.
And what of his decision to leak the documents? Doing so was, as he more or less acknowledges, a crime. Any government employee or contractor is warned repeatedly that the unauthorized disclosure of classified information is a crime. But Snowden, apparently, was answering to a higher calling.
Is that a stand against all national security leaks? The Journalistic Conventional Wisdom just a week ago — when the Justice Department's investigation into Fox News report James Rosen was the big leak news — was that national security leaks are absolutely vital to journalism and democracy. In fact, Toobin's colleague Steve Coll wrote a longer story in last week's magazine about that very thing. Toobin allows that some leaks are acceptable. In this case, however, he says Snowden should have taken his complaints to a member of Congress.