by Tim Cushing

Filed Under:
ed snowden, thomas friedman

Thomas Friedman Believes Snowden Should Get A 'Second Chance,' By Which He Means 'Come Back To The US And Stand Trial'

from the solitary-confinement:-the-ultimate-'second-chance!' dept

Thomas Friedman, who I'm sometimes convinced the New York Times keeps around solely to provide the internet with a chew toy, has written another column that strays from his areas of expertise. When Friedman fails, he does so spectacularly -- there's nothing half-assed about it.

Attacking the subject of the Obama/Putin/Snowden trinity, Friedman argues that "you only get one chance to make a second impression," and hands out some suggestions for Edward Snowden's "redemption" and stating Putin has already blown his. Unfortunately, his unsolicited advice is front-loaded with errors.

Considering the breadth of reforms that President Obama is now proposing to prevent privacy abuses in intelligence gathering, in the wake of Snowden’s disclosures, Snowden deserves a chance to make a second impression — that he truly is a whistle-blower, not a traitor.
First off, Obama's reforms may be "broad," but that's because they're only skin deep. This is what happens when you apply a few ineffectual efforts to a wide range of problems.

Second, whether or not you agree with Snowden's actions, he's not a "traitor," at least not in the legal definition of the word. Snowden has been charged with espionage, not treason, a charge whistleblowers often find applied to their actions as the exposed wrongdoers grasp in vain for an effective deterrent to further whistleblowing.
The fact is, he dumped his data and fled to countries that are hostile to us and to the very principles he espoused. To make a second impression, Snowden would need to come home, make his case and face his accusers. It would mean risking a lengthy jail term, but also trusting the fair-mindedness of the American people, who, I believe, will not allow an authentic whistle-blower to be unfairly punished.
Oddly enough, the administration of this country also appears to be "hostile" to Snowden and "against the principles he espoused." I'm not sure how this theory that whistleblowers must be punished in order to establish their "credentials" first developed, but that seems to be a common thread in articles by writers who seem to believe no good deed should go unpunished.

Also, that bit about "dumped his data and fled" -- that's not true and (as if this were possible) undermines Friedman's credibility even more than usual. As anyone who's been following this even slightly knows, Snowden very carefully vetted the information he was handing over to a trio of extremely experienced journalists, and then made it clear that he expected each of them to do further reporting in deciding what should and should not be published, noting that he did not want them to publish anything that might put people at risk. That's anything but a data dump.

And the claim about fleeing to countries hostile to us... there was an initial strategic choice to go to Hong Kong for legal reasons which made a ton of sense if you looked at the legal regime of Hong Kong (not China). As for Russia? That was supposed to be nothing more than a waypoint to somewhere else, and it would have been if the US hadn't pulled Snowden's passport and more or less forced him into Russia's hands. To suggest he "fled" to Russia without mentioning that it's mainly the US's own actions that left him stranded in Russia suggests Friedman is either uninformed or is being willfully misleading.

Unbelievably, Friedman somehow feels he's being generous by "granting" Snowden a right he already enjoys as an American citizen, as Barry Eisler points out in his thorough takedown of Friedman's article.
Wow. Snowden now "deserves a chance" to be afforded a trial as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, but in the absence of Obama's proposed whitewash, he would have had to forfeit his Sixth Amendment rights? This is very generous of Friedman, suggesting that under proper conditions an American might deserve Constitutional protections. What does Friedman think Snowden "deserved" before Friedman decided he had earned his "chance" at being afforded his Sixth Amendment rights -- an imperial drone execution?
Friedman also somehow believes the "fair-mindedness of the American people" will have any bearing on Snowden's trial and sentencing. Even more incredibly, he somehow believes the American people are blessed with the power to prevent a vindictive government from harshly punishing the whistleblower. Because that worked out so well for Bradley Manning.

Friedman obviously can't sincerely believe any of the above, which means he truly considers Snowden to be a traitor, not a true whistleblower. If Snowden does somehow end up back in the US and sentenced to lengthy stay in prison, it will just prove Friedman right: Snowden is not a true whistleblower. If he was, he wouldn't have been sentenced so harshly! At this point, Friedman should just lay all his cards on the table because by the end of his second paragraph, he's already holding his hand face-out.

From this point on, his piece becomes largely more tolerable and less enragingly stupid, with Friedman offering up suggestions on how Obama should have handled the Putin/Snowden situation. Of course, it doesn't take much to top Obama's decision to sulk away from his scheduled meeting with Putin like a child on the losing end of a playground argument.

Friedman makes the point that Obama should have attacked Putin for his xenophobic, homophobic policies, and how those policies are directly undermining his country's financial success, rather than made it about the only quality dissident Russia's hosted in years. He's absolutely right. In the larger scheme of things, Russia's human rights violations should be a much bigger concern than the continued freedom of an ex-NSA contractor who exposed disturbing information about domestic spying. Instead, Obama chose to make it about his administration's problems and came out looking much weaker for it.

As much as I want to give Friedman more credit for his stronger finish, I can't. His article basically revolves around the assumption that Snowden should be punished for his whistleblowing and any suggestions he's giving Obama on foreign affairs are subservient to that assumption. Even worse, his starry-eyed supposition that Snowden will be treated fairly and safeguarded from the administration's vindictive actions by a "fair-minded public" shows a woeful, or willful, ignorance of the tactics employed by our government against whistleblowers.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2013 @ 3:19pm

    I always have to role my eyes at any variations of the "fled to countries hostile to us" argument.

    When you are fleeing the wrath of a nation's government, your first priority in choice of destination is generally going to be "Some place that will tell the government I'm fleeing 'F*** you' when my persecutors ask for my extradition."

    Typically those countries will be somewhat hostile to the country whose government you're fleeing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2013 @ 3:25pm

    Beware how you treat your own citizens

    This is what Friedman says Obama should have said when asked about Putin:

    “Look what Putin just did. Sergei Guriev is one of the most talented of Russia’s new-generation economists. He was director of one of the few world-class academic institutions left in Russia today: the New Economic School. Guriev was a loyal, liberal adviser to former President Dmitri Medvedev, but after he co-authored a report that criticized the conviction of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the imprisoned oil magnate, Putin’s goons began to harass him. He said they even demanded his e-mails going back five years. (Snowden beware.) Well, in the spring, Guriev fled to France, saying he feared losing his freedom, and he says he’s not going back.

    If Obama said that, I wouldn't know whether to laugh or cry. He's saying Russia made a mistake in snooping into its citizens' emails, and that drove away a talented individual. Perhaps, instead, Obama, Clapper and Alexander, should be looking in the mirror and saying, 'Hey, let's not make that same mistake as Russia (anymore).'

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Beech, Aug 15th, 2013 @ 3:36pm


    But how "hostile" are China and Russia, really? Aren't they allies? Didn't the Chinese bail us out by buying up a bunch of debt from us?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2013 @ 3:38pm

    Wasn't Mike Rogers calling for Snowden to return to the US too? Always do the opposite of what Mike Rogers suggest, if you know what's good for you.

    They simply want to put Snowden on the defendant's stand, hold him up high for the world to see, and then make an example out of him to deter future whistleblowers.

    Everyone in the unconstitutional spy community, wants to change the subject from their illegal spy operations, to Snowden's prosecution.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2013 @ 3:40pm

    Do people even read news papers any more, how are these paper wasters still in business.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Beech, Aug 15th, 2013 @ 3:40pm


    I for one like seeing the "No True Scotsman" fallacy. You really don't see it enough in day to day conversation, unless maybe you live in Scotland?

    "Whistleblowers don't do data dumps"
    "But this whistleblower did...I mean, releasing previously unreleased data is kind of necessary to being a whistlebower..."
    "No TRUE whistleblower would do a data dump!! Only traitorous spies would think of such an actoin!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Binko Barnes (profile), Aug 15th, 2013 @ 4:04pm

    The most depressing thought in this whole depressing mess is that the current administration could, in fact, simply murder Snowden with an Imperial Drone attack and, under current executive branch secret interpretations of their secret laws using a secret warrant from a secret court, declare it to be perfectly legal.

    The fact that the American people acquiesce to this degree of despotism makes us little different than the Germans of the 1930s who acquiesced in the Nazi persecution of Jews.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), Aug 15th, 2013 @ 4:18pm

    The treatment of Manning vindicates Snowden's flight.

    Bradley Manning is the proof that we needed that US government interests will forcibly preside over justice or fairness.

    Any whistle-blower needs to flee, and any scrupulous nation should offer them asylum.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    PopeRatzo (profile), Aug 15th, 2013 @ 4:22pm


    And the fact that some self-described "progressives" are so energetically acquiescing to the surveillance state is even more depressing to me. It's led me to question a lot about the lack of meaning in current partisan politics in the US. I'm getting convinced that the main job of the "Left" and "Right" is to distract us from the really bad things that are happening under our noses.

    I know this: the progressives I grew up admiring, like Paul Wellstone, must be banging their heads on their desks up in heaven.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Wolfy, Aug 15th, 2013 @ 4:27pm

    Mr. Snowden's most serious offense was embarrassing the Gov't. with the truth, right after they went on the record lying about the extent of domestic surveillance.

    For that, unfortunately, he will not be forgiven and will be relentlessly hounded.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2013 @ 4:56pm

    I'm sure he's dying for the chance to come back here so we "by that I mean the government" can throw the book at him BM style.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    FM Hilton, Aug 15th, 2013 @ 5:11pm

    Thomas Friedman's words of wisdom

    I'm surprised that he's not been fired yet. How many bad articles does he have to write before the NYT gets tired of everyone hating him?

    Between him and the other dude who likes to beat the conservative drum, the Times has a very boring focus on upholding the "rule of one law."

    "Whatever the administration says, goes."

    Of course this is the same issue where a letter to the editor has this comment in it:

    " I have no problem with the N.S.A.’s checking my e-mail if it helps keep us safe, and I think most people feel the same. "

    God help us all. We've got idiots running this country down to the river.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2013 @ 5:57pm

    Re: Re:

    Hence the "somewhat". We aren't super buddy buddy with them like we are with the UK. They aren't strong military allies, and we all take diplomatic and political potshots at each other.

    Otherwise, yeah that's the additional reason for eye rolling. It's not like he's fleeing to North Korea or Iran.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    silverscarcat (profile), Aug 15th, 2013 @ 6:04pm

    Re: Re:

    They did so because it helps them out in the long run. Don't forget that it's standard practice of other countries to buy debt. The U.S., for example, buys up European debt.

    By buying up U.S. debt, China helps keep their own costs down and helps them out when doing trading.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Who Cares (profile), Aug 15th, 2013 @ 7:13pm

    What baffles me is:

    That that Obama took the advice of the dolt who said antagonize Putin on this subject. I mean Putin signaled that if he was given a way to get out of this mess that wouldn't reduce his strongman image he'd do so. But no, the brilliant minds advising on how the US should react to this went into complete meltdown mode while trying to push Putin around, leaving Putin no other option (at least not if he didn't want to look weak) then handing asylum to Snowden to show the people that vote for him that he isn't beholden to the USA.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Beech, Aug 15th, 2013 @ 7:15pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Yeah, but they aren't threatening nuclear holocaust every other week like North Korea either.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2013 @ 7:15pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    " We aren't super buddy buddy with them like we are with the UK."

    AKA, they don't do exactly what we tell them when we tell them?! Those bastards! ;-)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    That One Guy (profile), Aug 15th, 2013 @ 9:47pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    To be fair they seem to be kinda crazy over there, I don't think it's malicious intent, so much as a very strange way to celebrate the weekend.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    PaulT (profile), Aug 16th, 2013 @ 1:19am

    Re: Re:

    I'm fairly convinced that a lot of the people who are attacking Snowden for being in Russia still think it's the cold war. Hell, half of the comments I've read online are still referring to "Soviet Russia" or even the "USSR" as if it's still the 80s.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 7:54am

    Anyone else get the idea that the government is staffed by Soldiers from Valve's Team Fortress 2? "We give up, Snowden! You're too scary for us! Now get out here so we can kick your ass!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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