National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, MD

Pundits and those with ties to the power elite, whom media conglomerates allow to appear on television regularly, happen to have a profound appreciation for all apparatuses and mechanisms of the national security state. They all also hold the view that if Congress and federal judges have not opposed the expansion of massive and secret surveillance programs then it must all be legal and not in violation of the Fourth Amendment or any other laws.

From that view flows the reaction that anyone can see on television right now as the media discusses Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower whose disclosures on top secret surveillance programs were published by The Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald.

Jeffrey Toobin, a senior CNN legal analyst and contributor to the New Yorker, was leading the charge against Snowden in the media by characterizing him as a “grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison.” He appeared on Piers Morgan’s program later in the evening and said, “I think there are right ways to do it and there are wrong ways to do it, and by a 29-year-old kid, just throwing open the safe and giving away documents that people have devoted years of their lives to creating and protecting. That’s the wrong way to protest.”

Toobin appears to cling to this faith in institutions that are wholly subservient to the national security state, believing that if abuses of power were truly occurring Congress or an inspector general would listen to someone like Snowden and it all would be corrected. But, when NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake went to the inspector general to expose fraud, waste, abuse and illegality related to a private contractor boondoggle at the NSA, according to writer Marcy Wheeler, he became the target of a leak investigation.

Jesselyn Radack, who sought to expose how the Justice Department was involved in the coverup of torture involving American Taliban John Walker Lindh experienced, told Harper‘s Scott Horton in 2012 that an inspector general can start investigating the whistleblower instead.

“After seven months of a pretextual investigation, the IG told my attorney that he had ‘looked into’ my whistleblower allegations, and that he was ‘not going to pursue it,'” according to Radack. “Obviously the IG didn’t look very deeply. He didn’t even bother to ask me, the whistleblower, what had happened. Not bothering to interview the complainant shows where the IG’s priorities lay. Moreover, Justice never responded to the congressional request.”

Thus, sheer ignorance or the will to make excuses for the national security state is the one of the few ways to explain the arguments of people like Toobin, who persistently maintain that nothing foul could be happening.

Kathleen McClellan of the Government Accountability Project was also on CNN during the day and had an opportunity to rebut Toobin during one of his many appearances. She told Toobin, “You can ask some other NSA whistleblowers that are clients of ours at the Government Accountability Project, Thomas Drake, William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe, who raised concerns years ago about this same exact kind of surveillance. And not only were their concerns ignored, but the government prosecuted them, criminally investigated all of them, and prosecuting Mr. Drake under the Espionage Act.”

Toobin spent most of the day, like others, highlighting how no individual should be able to claim the power to be able to unilaterally decide what information should and should not be public. McClellan pointed out that this distracts from the actual message and, “We’re here because of something the government did, which was monitor innocent Americans’ communications and do so in a way that was so alarming that even two senators who knew everything about the program said that Americans would be shocked and angry when they found out.”

This also ignores two realities, which Toobin paid no attention to in his condemnations of Snowden throughout the day: how the United States has a rampant over-classification problem when it comes to information, especially that which pertains to the operations of national security agencies and how senior officials in government or aides of Congress people make unilateral decisions to release secret information all the time that they maybe should not be disclosing because it exposes no crimes or illegality but merely advances a political agenda.

Snowden paid particular attention to this dynamic when he made the decision to disclose information about NSA surveillance programs when he told Greenwald in his interview, “The public is owed an explanation by the people who make these disclosures that are outside the democratic model. When you are subverting the power of government, that is a fundamentally dangerous thing to a democracy and, if you do that in secret consistently, as the government does when it wants to explain a secret action it took.”

The government will tell the press certain things about programs or policies to the get the press on its side. In the minds of people like Toobin, that is entirely of no concern when engaging in caricaturizations of whistleblowers like Snowden.

Feeding into the caricaturization, which Snowden anticipated, Megan McArdle of The Daily Beast ostensibly suggested that “whistleblowers are weird” in an article with that same headline. [cont’d]

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."