Ellsberg is quite right in that. But oddly, he never mentioned the one overriding difference between his case and Snowden’s.
The documents Ellsberg leaked were history — revelations of decisions by Nixon’s predecessors. Documents Snowden has leaked concern current events — revelations of ongoing secret NSA operations intended to keep Americans safe tomorrow in an age of global terrorism.
To grasp what that distinction means to us today, consider the evolutionary wisdom of Erwin S. Griswold. As Nixon’s solicitor general, he argued to the Supreme Court that publication of those old Pentagon Papers secrets would endanger America’s security. But 20 years later, Griswold conceded in The New York Times: “In hindsight, it is clear to me that no harm was done by publication of the Pentagon Papers.”
Now we must ask: Twenty years from now, can even Snowden or Ellsberg be 100 percent certain that no harm will have been done by publication in 2013 of the NSA papers?
While I’m not certain of my own answer to that, I really don’t want to entrust my family’s safety to Snowden’s best guess.
Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.