In his column over the weekend, lauding the "conscience and patriotism" of NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden, legendary "Pentagon Papers" whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg cited a 1975 warning about the NSA from Sen. Frank Church (D-ID), chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee tasked with investigating unlawful intelligence gathering by the NSA, CIA and FBI following the Watergate scandal.
"I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America," Church said, "and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return."
On Wednesday, during a fascinating interview on The BradCast on KPFK/Pacifica Radio, Ellsberg said directly, in the wake of Snowden's disclosures: "We're in the abyss. What he feared has come to pass."
The Guardian has asserted that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden "will go down in history as one of America's most consequential whistleblowers alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning," do it seemed the perfect time to chat with Ellsberg about all of this.
He offered a number of thoughts about Snowden himself, from one of the few people in the world who may have real insight into what the 29-year old leaker must be thinking and dealing with right about now, and why he may have chosen to both leave the country and then come out publicly. He describes Snowden as "a patriotic American, and to call him a traitor reveals a real misunderstanding of our founding documents."
"What he has revealed, of course, is documentary evidence of a broadly, blatantly unconstitutional program here which negates the Fourth Amendment," Ellsberg said. "And if it continues in this way, I think it makes democracy essentially impossible or meaningless."
As usual, Ellsberg pulled no punches in his comments on the dangers of our privatized surveillance state; the failure of our Congressional intelligence oversight committees (which he describes as "fraudulent" and "totally broken"); and on those who have been critical of Snowden and of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist from The Guardian who has broken most of the scoops on Snowden's leaked documents.
He said that folks like attorney Jeffrey Toobin at the New Yorker and author Thomas Friedman at New York Times and Senator Dianne Feinstein "are being very strongly discredited," by their attacks on Snowden. "The criticisms they're making, I think, are very discreditable to them in their profession," he says.
And, while answering to my request for a response to Josh Marshall's recent piece at TPM, in which Marshall weights his own conscience on this matter and frankly revealing his natural tendency to support the government over whistleblowers in cases like this, Ellsberg was particularly pointed. "Marshall has a lot to be said for him as a blogger," he said, before adding: "I think what he said there is stupid and mistaken and does not do him credit." He went on to describe some of Marshall's comments as "slander" against Snowden.
One other point that merits highlight here for now, before I let ya listen below. The difference between Ellsberg's circumstances and those in play today.
Ellsberg noted that after leaking top secret Defense Department documents to the New York Times in 1971, detailing how the Johnson Administration had lied the nation into the Vietnam War, President Nixon, at the time, ordered a break-in of his psychiatrist's office and discussed having Ellsberg "eliminated".
"All the things that were done to me then," he noted chillingly, "including a CIA profile on me, a burglary of my former psychiatrist's office in order to get information to blackmail me with, all of those things were illegal, as one might think that they ought to be."
"They're legal now, since 9/11, with the PATRIOT Act, which on that very basis alone should be repealed. In other words, this is a case right now with Snowden that shows very dramatically the dangers of that PATRIOT Act, used as it is. So the fact is, that all these things are legal. And even the one of possibly eliminating him"...
"We're In the abyss," indeed...
Download MP3 or listen online below...
UPDATE: Complete text transcript of interview now here. [Courtesy Emily Levy]