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Bradley Manning versus Edward Snowden


I’ve been reading about National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations that the NSA is vacuuming up all telephone, email, credit card transactions, credit bureau reports, and basically anything that’s on the Internet, even if the information belongs to US citizens inside the United States, which is normally off-limits to the NSA. Snowden is on the run, having been last seen in Hong Kong.

The case reminds me of US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, who released hundreds of thousands of classified documents, cables, memos, and videos obtained from secure government networks when he was working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad, Iraq in 2010. Manning is in prison now, and his trial started a few days ago. (One of the documents Manning released, gun camera footage from a 2007 helicopter attack, is one of the most damaging pieces of information, public-relations-wise. I have seen the full video, and I think it’s much ado about nothing. That’s war at this time and place on this planet. Things have improved a lot since The Iliad was written, and people need to get a sense of historical perspective before they complain about the events in the video.)

Snowden released his information to The Guardian newspaper in England. Manning shopped his information to The New York Times and The Washington Post (who ignored him) before releasing his information through Wikileaks.

I’m trying to figure out why Manning should hang and Snowden should not. I think it’s because Manning released very specific, very damaging information indiscriminately, whereas Snowden released general information very selectively. Manning’s information apparently resulted in the exposure and/or deaths of US agents whose identities were revealed. Snowden’s information is explosive because the NSA’s activities (and the court orders which allegedly authorized those activities) have far-reaching implications regarding the constitutional protections that US citizens expect versus what they actually have. But Snowden didn’t reveal any specific information contained in the NSA’s activities, just the fact that those activities are occurring. In some ways, Snowden sparked a bigger debate than Manning, because Snowden’s information brings up issues about the core of the United States’ identity.

Manning’s information was about specific events and people, while Snowden’s information is about ideas. That’s the difference between Manning and Snowden, and that’s why Manning should hang and Snowden should not.

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