Since NSA leaker Edward Snowden first unmasked himself to the Guardian and the world, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg has tirelessly defended his unauthorized public disclosure of government surveillance programs. On Sunday, he added that Snowden was right to flee the United States rather than face prosecution.
“Many people compare Edward Snowden to me unfavorably for leaving the country and seeking asylum, rather than facing trial as I did,” wrote Ellsberg in a Washington Post op-ed released on Sunday. “I don’t agree. The country I stayed in was a different America, a long time ago.”
The shadow of Pfc. Bradley Manning, currently on trial and facing possible life in prison for providing classified materials to Wikileaks, looms large in the Snowden case. Ellsberg, who was prosecuted under the Espionage Act but had the charges dismissed, said it was better that Snowden remain in hiding than be subjected to the same treatment as Manning.
“He would almost certainly be confined in total isolation, even longer than the more than eight months Manning suffered during his three years of imprisonment before his trial began recently,” wrote Ellsberg. “The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Torture described Manning’s conditions as ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading.’”
Snowden is currently believed to be holed up in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo-2 airport, where he has been hiding since late June. Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia have offered the international fugitive asylum, but it is unclear whether he would be able to reach those countries without first being nabbed by the United States or its allies.
Ellsberg also described the secret data collection programs unveiled by Snowden as troubling in the extreme.
The implementation of those programs “was, in effect, a global expansion of the Stasi, the Ministry for State Security in the Stalinist ‘German Democratic Republic,’ whose goal was ‘to know everything,’” he said.