With public opinion turning on leakers like Edward Snowden, is it possible that the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald was overcompensating for his complicity in divulging information about NSA surveillance programs during his CNN appearance on Tuesday night? At face value, Greenwald was simply on Anderson Cooper 360 to engage in a light debate over the acquittal of PFC Bradley Manning, the army private who handed over more than 700,000 classified battle plans and State Department cables to WikiLeaks in 2010. However, when Greenwald began discussing the verdict with CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, Greenwald seemed more concerned with carving out a specific moral justification for leaking by Washington outsiders — like Manning and Snowden — rather than specifically explaining how Manning’s actions benefited the general public.
This strange phenomenon quickly became visible during Greenwald’s opening statement:
Anderson Cooper: What’s your reaction to the verdict?
Jeffrey Toobin: “I thought it was a good verdict… I think the charge of helping the enemy was excessive … but I think what Manning did was appalling. I think he betrayed his fellow members of the military, he betrayed the Foreign Service, and he should be going to prison and he will be.
Anderson Cooper: Glenn, I know you disagree.
Glen Greenwald: I do … I think the verdict and … Jeff’s comments underscore what a lot people really hate about Washington, which is that if you are sufficiently rich and powerful and well connected … the laws don’t apply to you and you don’t get punished. The only people who do are people like Bradley Manning.
In this sense, Greenwald immediately attempts to draw attention away from the fact that Manning betrayed the confidence of his countrymen, and instead works to link Manning’s story with the rhetorically potent narrative of a good, principled, and modest American who has fallen victim to a system run by corrupt political elites.
Curiously, Greenwald’s talking points also happen to resonate with Edward Snowden’s situation as Snowden, much like Manning, was never a Washington insider. While Snowden did find employment at both the CIA and the massive defense contractor Booze Allen Hamilton, he was also a high school drop out who became thoroughly disillusioned with U.S. government conduct over the course of his career. With these aspects of his personal history in mind, it is very unlikely that Snowden would have found good company amongst the many Ivy League educated, wealthy, and gung-ho Washington elites that Greenwald is referring to. Furthermore, Snowden’s self-promoted accounts of insider knowledge abut the NSA have come under scrutiny in recent weeks, as reporters have revealed that he both had less access to data than he originally claimed and made far under the $200,000 yearly salary that he asserted the U.S. government had used to lure him away from his morality. Accordingly, while Greenwald’s talking points emerged in a debate over the prosecution of PFC Bradley Manning, they also firmly apply to the ongoing U.S. government attempts to reprimand Edward Snowden.
Of course, these similarities may simply constitute a coincidence or the result of a thought process that has nothing to do with linking Manning and Snowden’s actions together under the same rhetorical narrative. At the same time, however, the slowly declining popularity of Snowden, when combined with the fact that Greenwald was integral in leaking Snowden's documents, begs the question of whether these talking points were only intended to advocate for PFC Bradley Manning’s innocence or if they were also a part of a broader attempt to bolster public opinion in favor of Edward Snowden’s actions.