Comparing the Manning and Snowden Cases


Army Private Bradley Manning is on trial for a massive leak of classified documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

Edward Snowden is the former CIA employee who’s in the news now for admitting he leaked documents revealing the government’s surveillance of phone and Internet records.

The World's Marco Werman explores similarities between the two cases with reporter Arun Rath, who’s been covering the Manning trial.

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman. This is “The World”. Yesterday morning, the name Edward Snowden meant nothing to most of you. Today, the twenty-nine year old is at the center of a global firestorm. Snowden declared over the weekend that he is the one who leaked documents to the press that revealed top secret government surveillance programs. He did so from Hong Kong where he fled when he left Hawaii. The former intelligence contractor told Britain’s Guardian newspaper that his motivation was not personal gain. In a conversation with reporters Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, Snowden said he wanted to protect the basic liberties of people around the world. He added that if he had wanted to profit from all the sensitive data he had access to, he could have blown the cover on the full roster of people working in the US intelligence community.

[Clip plays]
Edward Snowden: If I had just wanted to harm the US, then you could shut down the surveillance system in an afternoon, but that’s not my intention. I think for anyone making that argument they need think if they were in my position and you live a privileged life, you’re living in Hawaii, in paradise, and making a ton of money, what would it take to make you leave everything behind?
[Clip ends]

Werman: So whistleblower or traitor? The question also gets raised when speaking of Bradley Manning. The World’s Arun Rath has been covering the court martial of Bradley Manning and he joins us now. So Manning on Snowden, what strikes you about the two them, Arun? Give us the similarities and contrasts.

Arun Rath: Well, both of them clearly consider themselves to be whistleblowers. It’s amazing how we’ve already come to the Bradley Manning debate with Snowden already, the “whistleblower or traitor?” argument, and both of them wanted to see accountability, Bradley Manning for what was going on in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Snowden with what he considered to be a really intrusive government surveillance apparatus that he thought should get out there. Both of them wanted these facts to get out there and basically to trigger a debate in the wider society about it.

Werman: And what about the nature of the actual information they both leaked, Manning and Snowden? What do you think it shows?

Rath: It’s interesting. Snowden himself actually draws a distinction with Manning. He says Manning, he did consider him a whistleblower, but he points out that Snowden actually was more discriminating in how he actually chose to release information. With Bradley Manning, as we know, especially with the State Department cables, which there are hundreds of thousands of them, the critique of him is that well, he released too much, he was not discriminating. Snowden in fact was very particular and even though the documents which he was releasing are more sensitive, these are top secret documents, Marco, the ones that Bradley Manning released were not that level of sensitivity, Snowden was very sensitive about releasing just what he thought was necessary, not to damages US security, but to let people know about these programs that are going on.

Werman: And just remind us, what has Edward Snowden actually released? What has he leaked?

Rath: The big one, the PRISM program that we’ve heard about, this is monitoring of phone records, not actual phone conversations, but the metadata, everything that we know about when the calls were made, who they were made to, all sorts of other information about that, a massive data harvesting operation.

Werman: So as someone who has set out with the idea of leaking information, what mistakes did Bradley Manning make do you think? And do you feel that Edward Snowden, I mean we don’t have much to go on except this interview in the Guardian article, learn from Manning’s mistakes?

Rath: Yeah, it feels like they couldn’t be different in that respect. Bradley Manning, you almost wonder if he even really had a plan of what he was going to do if he got caught, when he got caught, what exactly was his endgame. With Snowden we know actually he’s giving these interviews from Hong Kong. He’s probably going to face the music at some point one way or another, but he was, again, more deliberative about what he leaked and seems to have had a plan about what was going to happen when that information came out and chose to expose himself, whereas Bradley Manning was exposed by a hacker who he talked to.

Werman: So Manning enlisted in the army, posted to Iraq which is where his troubles began, when he downloaded and distributed the classified cables to WikiLeaks. Manning we know was disillusioned by the Iraq war and the US involvement in it. That seems to be his “aha” moment. Do you have a sense of what the “aha” moment was for Edward Snowden in this post 9/11 world?

Rath: What we’ve heard in the interviews from him is that he says there was not a particular “aha” moment. It was more of a cumulative process as these details built up over time with him. And, like you said, with Manning it was the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With Snowden it appears to be this apparatus, this vast intelligence data-gathering apparatus which he thinks was something that should be debated, that people should know about in America.

Werman: So both Manning and Snowden it’s noteworthy are in their twenties when they provided these leaks, they’re young and, I guess in the grand organization of intelligence, fairly low-level. What do you think that tells us?

Rath: It’s really almost shocking. We heard in detail last week of Bradley Manning’s court martial, about what sounded like a very lax security in the area where he had access to these documents. Snowden, again, he’s a contractor, he’s not even employed directly by the US government, had access to top secret document. We found out, obviously with Bradley Manning, there are tens of thousands of people with access to these documents, you wonder how the government is actually managing to keep these secrets with so many people who have access to them and so many people at a low level. It’s remarkable.

Werman: The World’s Arun Rath. Thanks for coming in.

Rath: Thanks, Marco.

Story source: Public Radio International