Edward Snowden is not alone. On Wednesday, the men behind some of the other most notorious unauthorized leaks in the history of U.S. intelligence said Snowden had their full support. And that wasn’t just an empty promise.
“We are in touch with Snowden frequently, and we are involved in the process of brokering his asylum in Iceland,” Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said on a Wednesday press conference call. Also featured on the call were Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and previous National Security Agency leaker Thomas Drake. The joint gathering was an unusual show of solidarity from three men who have all found themselves under attack by the United States government for disclosing classified information.
“I support unreservedly Assange, [Bradley] Manning, and Thomas Drake,” said Ellsberg on the call. “And Snowden of course.” The similarity between all three cases, including his own, was that they all “saw crimes and unconstitutional behavior, inhumane and reckless behavior, being covered up by the administration, effectively,” he said. “And each of us was willing to take a personal cost, a personal risk, to expose it to the public.”
Currently, Pfc. Bradley Manning is undergoing court martial for allegedly leaking vast troves of secret information to Wikileaks. Assange has spent the past year holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in the United Kingdom, where he sought asylum in order to avoid being extradited to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations. Snowden’s last-known whereabouts were an anonymous hotel somewhere in Hong Kong. Drake and Ellsberg both currently walk free, but each of them has faced criminal prosecution.
Drake, who leaked details of the NSA’s electronic surveillance programs years before Snowden, said that all of them were battling a vast, unaccountable national security apparatus.
“What we’ve seen over the past 12 years is going over to the dark side of secret law, secret rules, secret courts and secret evidence,” he said. He dismissed President Obama’s claim, repeated this week in Berlin, that NSA spying is limited in scope.
“The policy is there to provide legal cover, what I call the color and cover of law, because they’re secretly interpreting it as they will and they essentially have a rubber-stamp court,” said Drake, referring to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The three men also attacked the Obama administration’s attempts to limit transparency to the press, comparing the current president to Richard Nixon.
“Thomas Jefferson once said he would prefer newspapers without a government, if he had to choose, to government without a newspaper,” said Ellsberg. “President Obama clearly disagrees with that.”
Last month, the Washington Post revealed that the Department of Justice had used the Espionage Act as justification to name Fox News reporter James Rosen an unindicted co-conspirator in the leaking of classified materials, essentially arguing that cultivating journalistic sources was tantamount to spying for a foreign agent. Ellsberg said such a move “goes very far beyond criminalizing the process of investigative journalism, which I think is the objective of the administration.”
Assange wondered aloud whether the next step would be to start prosecuting journalists for publishing classified materials.
“Will [Guardian reporter] Glenn Greenwald be granted asylum by Brazil by this time next year?” he asked.