COMMENTARY — Could Edward Snowden do “the worst damage” the United States has ever faced in its history? That’s the gist of a statement that The Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald made to Argentina’s La Nación and then sorta kinda halfheartedly took back yesterday.
If you read Spanish, Alberto Armendariz’s interview with Greenwald about the Edward Snowden mess can be found by clicking right here. The sentence that had all Twitter in a rage on Saturday is this:
“Snowden tiene suficiente información como para causar más daño al gobierno estadounidense él solo en un minuto del que cualquier otra persona haya tenido jamás en la historia de Estados Unidos.”
Considering that the United States has been involved in two World Wars, a devastating Civil War, and several near-misses with nuclear war or accidents in the Cold War era, that would seem fairly difficult to achieve unless Snowden plans to reveal nuclear launch codes or something on that level.
The Reuters translation went on to say: “The U.S. government should be on its knees every day begging that nothing happens to Snowden, because if something does happen to him, all the information will be revealed and it could be its worst nightmare.”
Considering that the United States wouldn’t go on its knees to Nazis, Nikita Khrushchev, or Osama bin Laden, Greenwald seemed to be expecting a bit much. Twitter erupted.
If there’s one thing guaranteed to turn Americans against your side of an argument, start asking them to get on their knees. Most of us think we settled that one sometime around 1776, but apparently Greenwald is still bitter about it.
After widespread negative reaction, Greenwald returned to The Guardian to defend the Snowden “worst damage” remarks. You can read his entire very lengthy statement by clicking right here.
However, here is a key passage:
“[T]his interview is being wildly distorted to attract attention away from the revelations themselves. It’s particularly being seized on to attack Edward Snowden and, secondarily, me, for supposedly ‘blackmailing’ and ‘threatening’ the US government….
“That Snowden has created some sort of ‘dead man’s switch’ – whereby documents get released in the event that he is killed by the US government – was previously reported weeks ago, and Snowden himself has strongly implied much the same thing.”
So, in other words, Greenwald hasn’t really denied that he made the statement that Snowden could inflict the worst damage the United States has ever seen in its very bloody history.
He continued to say, at length, that The Guardian already has in its possession a large number of documents from Snowden that could harm American interests if the newspaper decided to publish them.
But then Greenwald added:
“I don’t have access to those ‘insurance’ documents and have no role in whatever dead man switch he’s arranged. I’m reporting what documents he says he has and what precautions he says he has taken to protect himself from what he perceives to be the threat to his well-being. That’s not a threat.”
I’m not sure how that squares with the claim that The Guardian already has damaging documents. But that statement seems reasonable as far as it goes.
It certainly isn’t a threat to report that a guy already known to stretch the truth has said something else incredible. Like any other reporter, Greenwald is entitled to report what his source has claimed.
Greenwald may even have a duty to report it if Snowden is in fact trying to blackmail the United States into dropping its criminal case against him. That in itself seems perilously close to the crime of extortion to me.
I may as well admit that I don’t believe Edward Snowden can inflict the worst damage the US has seen in its history. Has he never heard of General Sherman?
But I don’t see how you can take the claim as anything other than a threat of blackmail. The Snowden “worst damage” dead man’s switch threat seems to suggest that Snowden has plans to destroy America by some sort of hacker attack or release of harmful information if he doesn’t get his way.
You know, I don’t want to hang a guy because a reporter gave a bad interview.
But c’mon. If the Snowden “worst damage” comment actually reflects how Edward Snowden thinks, it’s way past time to stop calling this man any kind of hero.