For weeks, leaker-at-large Edward Snowden has been attacked by many in the progressive punditocracy on the charge that he is no Daniel Ellsberg.
Now, finally, someone who speaks with authority has come forward to say it isn’t so.
It is Ellsberg himself.
The patron saint of all leakers, who in 1971 famously revealed the secret Pentagon Papers, just wrote a Washington Post op-ed explaining why critics are wrong to suggest Snowden didn’t have the guts to stay and fight as Ellsberg did.
Surprisingly, even Ellsberg has missed the essential difference between what he did and what Snowden did this year by leaking the secret documents revealing the National Security Agency’s high-tech communications data collections. We’ll get to that — but let’s start with Ellsberg’s words.
“Many people compare Edward Snowden to me unfavorably for leaving the country and seeking asylum, rather than facing trial as I did,” Ellsberg wrote. “I don’t agree. The country I stayed in was a different America, a long time ago.”
The Pentagon Papers described the secret history, culled from decades of secret documents, of how U.S. troops got incrementally inserted into the Vietnam War during the presidencies of Nixon’s predecessors.
Ellsberg, an elite defense analyst who worked on the project, saw decades of memos that told truths quite the opposite of what Americans had been told. He leaked a set of the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times. When a court injunction barred the newspaper from publishing, Ellsberg leaked a copy to The Washington Post.
After another court injunction, Ellsberg and his wife, Patricia, went into hiding for 13 days — “quite like Snowden’s in flying to Hong Kong,” Ellsberg wrote — to arrange for other chapters to be given to other newspapers.
Like Snowden, Ellsberg also became a “fugitive from justice,” he wrote, adding: “I surrendered to arrest in Boston, having given out my last copies of the papers the night before.”