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I’m not an expert on the Manning and Snowden cases, and to what extent that I could be I’m not sure it would help that much. Outside of the government and the actors themselves it’s difficult to truly know what all has taken place.
What we do (seem to) know, however, makes it clear to me that we should not be considering the Snowden and Manning situations to be anything but superficially similar. At the flyover level things seem virtually identical: a low rank person working for the government sees something they think people should know about, so they release it. But this is where the similarity ends, as there is a critical difference between the Snowden and Manning cases that needs to be understood.
In short, and to use a shooting metaphor, Manning used a sawed-off shotgun, and Snowden used a competition pistol.
Manning released approximately 250,000 diplomatic cables and over half a million war cables from Iraq and Afghanistan. To be clear, I am pro-whistleblower–when it’s done properly. And given the little information I (we) have about the situation I am open to potentially considering Manning a hero. What’s clear to me, however, is that–even if he is a hero–he is simultaneously a deeply irresponsible person, and perhaps worse.
It seems likely that Manning did not read all 250,000 of those diplomatic cables, and that releasing them could have caused–and could still be causing–extraordinary harm. This fails to mention the other 500,000 war reports that could have caused innumerable deaths–both American and otherwise. It is argued that the release also did immesurable good by exposing evil and deceit–a point I’m not closed to–but it’s both immature and reckless for someone with limited information to assume that the later will outweigh the former.
What Snowden did was quite different. His concern was overreaching surveillance and he exposed overreaching surveillance. He released a significant amount of material, but it all centered around the single issue. This says nothing about how legitimate or moral that action was, but it was plainly different than what Manning did.
Without any more information I’d have to place Snowden’s actions on a moral plane above Manning’s. When releasing secrets the primary concern must be harm that can come from your actions, and divulging tightly-focused information on a single issue seems overwhelmingly superior to a mass release pertaining to thousands of potentially sensitive political situations.
Both men released data for the purpose of greater good, but how they did so differed greatly. Let’s not morally equate them based only on the superficials.