What’s gotten into Edward Snowden?
The National Security Agency leaker is criticizing his fellow disseminaters of classified information at WikiLeaks, tweeting that “their hostility to even modest curation is a mistake” and suggesting that some truly damaging material shouldn’t be leaked indiscriminately to the public.
Given Snowden’s past collaboration with the group, his words are being treated as surprising by some in the press — evidence of dissension within the largely unified ranks of international transparency crusaders.
“Even Edward Snowden disagrees with WikiLeaks,” marvels Fast Company.
“Is WikiLeaks alienating its friends,” asks Bloomberg, calling the former NSA contractor “a natural ally … if there’s ever been one.”
Here’s what’s missing in all of this: there’s a critical distinction between WikiLeaks and Snowden, which makes his tweet look both consistent with his worldview and, it must be said, strategically savvy.
While WikiLeaks has abandoned its practice of vetting and redaction, Snowden and his journalistic collaborator Glenn Greenwald take pride in the fact their leak was handled by reporters who, they say, were discerning about protecting dangerous information from exposure.
Drawing this distinction is part of how they argue Snowden’s actions were virtuous and heroic, intended to serve the public interest and not harm Americans’ privacy or security.
“I used to defend WikiLeaks all the time on the grounds that they were not indiscriminate dumpers of information; they were carefully protecting people’s reputations,” Greenwald tells Slate. “And they have changed their view on that—and no longer believe, as [WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange] says, in redacting any information of any kind for any reason—and I definitely do not agree with that approach and think that they can be harmful to innocent people or other individuals in ways that I don’t think is acceptable.”
So yes, it’s significant that Snowden is speaking out against an organization he’s worked with. But doing so is entirely consistent with how he leaked material and also happens to make him look responsible in comparison, even in the eyes of his critics. Maybe he isn’t angling for a pardon with his tweet, as WikiLeaks suggests. He’s certainly bolstering his brand.