Snowden Lawyer Compares Edward Snowden To Underground Railroad Runaway Slaves

FILED TO: Politics

Whistleblowing testicle-annihilator-cum-Russian television star Edward Snowden was back in the news this week by virtue of his feature length interview with NBC News’ Brian Williams.

To follow up the PR blitz, Snowden attorney Ben Wizner appeared on Sunday morning’s Up with Steve Kornacki to explain that Snowden is kinda like slaves who escaped the South via the Underground Railroad, before quickly explaining that he wasn’t doing that.

Toward the end of his interview with Wizner, Steve Kornacki asked “Should Edward Snowden come back and face a trial?”

Wizner responded predictably, drawing comparisons to Daniel Ellsberg and equating a trial in U.S. courts with an automatic life sentence (even though none of the “whistleblowers” the Snowdies cite came anywhere close to a sentence like that), but Kornacki, to his credit, wouldn’t let Wizner off the hook.

“It seemed to me part of the deal, fair or unfair, if you’re going to claim whistleblower status, leak highly classified stuff, if you’re going t0 bring it out there, part of the deal is you’ve got to stand and take the consequences,” Kornacki said.

“Do you think people who used the underground railroad should have stayed and faced the consequences of the Fugitive Slave Act?” Wizner said, adding “We don’t always mean that.”

With an astonished laugh, Kornacki said “So you’re likening Edward Snowden to… that’s quite a comparison.”

Wizner explained that, no, Snowden isn’t like a fugitive slave, or isn’t only like a fugitive slave, but also like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Team Snowden long ago transitioned from jumping the shark to taking up permanent residence in a levitating capsule in the airspace above the shark, but even for them, this was spit-take inducing. Kudos to Kornacki for calling it out, and for pointing out that Snowden has taken refuge in a country where his worst U.S. nightmare is simply called “Thursday.”

I’m not going to dissect the the interview because I don’t care enough about this story to weather the aggravation. I’m much more of a spectator on the Snowden story, but as a spectator, there was one other pat of the interview that stood out to me. Kornacki brings up the capabilities that Snowden alleges in the Williams interview, including the ability of the NSA to turn on your phone (something I’ve found even Verizon incapable of on occasion), and asks him if any of these capabilities are being deployed on ordinary Americans.

Wizner patiently explains that it’s not what the NSA is doing now, but what they might do in the future. As tired a premise as that is, though, listen to the nightmare scenario Wizner envisions:

“It would help solve a lot of crimes.”

Oh, the humanity. There are a million different reasons that people might object to the NSA turning their phones into surveillance drones, but solving lots of crimes? Probably ninth or tenth, at best.


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  • Ormond Otvos

    Simply put, privacy is going, going, gone, and Snowden was seriously upset by it, to where he basically threw his life as he knew it away.

    Why we expect him to volunteer to go to jail forever like Manning escapes me.

    • undsoweiter

      Snowden did what he did, on behalf of his own seriously warped ideology.
      It’s not “threw his life away,” so much as “pissed his life away.”
      I expect him to come back and make his case in open court, but he won’t do that, because he has no case to make.

      • Ormond Otvos

        There is no open court in security cases. Judging from past performance, Snowden would be locked up indefinitely in isolation for several years, and then a closed court would convict him of treason or some violation of security law. He would not be allowed to present most useful evidence, and certainly no use could be made of claims the government acted against the constitution.

        You should read up. Ellsberg is good. EFF is good. The facts of the Manning case are useful.

        • undsoweiter

          That is, assuming he has any evidence that the NSA violated the Constitution, something he so far has failed to present.
          That’s the thing, Ormand. The only evidence we have, that anybody broke the law, is that Snowden did.
          Should we just ignore that? If we’re going to ignore that, what else should we ignore? I mean, as long as an action supports our personal ideology, shouldn’t anything go? What the heck do we need laws for?

  • mattand

    Just me, but I find it amusing that someone connected to Snowden got some serious pushback on Up, given that the show’s previous host, Chris Hayes, can’t slobber enough over Snowden and Greenwwald.

  • D. Alexander

    It is never a good thin g to compare your white male client to slaves or the under ground railroad. In CBS news poll, 54 percent disapprove of his actions and 31 percent approve. 61 percent thinks he should stand trial and 23 percent he should be granted immunity. Evidently not as many folks are in love with what Snowden did as they think.

    • Joe

      81% of people agree that most stats are made up. Don’t really care about who thinks who should stand trial. As long as Clapper is free and the NSA is spying on us, justice is an illusion anyways.

      • D. Alexander

        Joe, Snowden’s lawyer just pulled a Cliven Bundy! You cannot excuse that no matter how you try.Good night.

  • WiscoJoe

    “Wizner patiently explains that it’s not what the NSA is doing now, but what they might do in the future.”

    I guess this makes Mr. Snowden the first ever precog whistleblower. Totally Orwellian, amiright?

    • mattand

      That’s part of the whole problem with the Greenwald/Snowden Traveling Martyr Show, to be frank. For every piece of concrete overreach by the NSA, there’s seemingly 10 or 11 instances of “Well, the dictatorial US government could maybe do something like this in a scenario we just are pulling out of our asses.”

      Look at Greenwald’s reporting. Every frigging article starts with a breathless rant on how the NSA is like the Stasi and the Agents from the Matix combined. Then about 8 to 13 paragraphs in, there’s alway something along the lines of “While there’s no evidence this has happened” or “A warrant is needed to execute this request.”

  • Tort Master

    Snowden is a unicorn, Jesus and Tebow mix. He’s a uni-Jebow.
    When will interviewers ask the tough questions of these third-raters? That was some confrontation, but the Snowden mythology deserves a lot more than that! Start the interview with: “It’s true, isn’t it, that ‘whistleblower’ Edward Snowden, even with hundreds of thousands or millions of stolen NSA documents, has failed to prove a single unconstitutionality?”

  • CL Nicholson

    So Edward Snowden is MLK? Uh-huh. So I guess Glenn Greenwald is Rosa Parks, JUlian Assange is Malcolm X and Poitras is Robert Aberbathy? This the most absurdist, self-important group of entitled dicks.

    • condew

      I suspect there are much stronger parallels between Snowden’s posse and the leaders of the Confederacy, many of whom took an oath to defend and protect the United States, and then found some excuse to violate that oath and do their best to divide the nation.

  • i_a_c

    Oh here we fucking go, more white people comparing themselves to slaves. You know, people who suffered real oppression, not oppression that is merely hypothetical or in the realm of possibility.

    • condew

      There are no people who remember the abuses of slavery in the U.S. first-hand; the civil war was about 1865, almost 150 years ago. So I don’t get where you’re coming from unless it’s some racism of your own.

      • BumpIt McCarthy

        Pretty obvious you don’t get it. First, slavery didn’t actually vanish at the end of the Civil War, but was widely preserved in every way but name using methods so creative you have to wonder how the country would have done if such determined ingenuity had been applied to something other than robbing black people of the fruits of their labor.

        Second, even if there were NO effects of slavery still in evidence, and this land were a beacon of fairness, racism a distant memory, it would STILL be gross to compare an IT guy’s flight from the ravages of an uneasy conscience in an easy life to people fleeing for their very lives and liberty from SLAVERY. Beatings. Rape. Not guns taken, but CHILDREN. People fleeing from being OWNED.

        My mother is 92, and remembers trying to go to a movie with her college friends and discovering it was segregated—in Colorado. There are people alive today whose grandparents were slaves. 150 years is less time than you think.

        Did you read the Ta-Nehisi Coates piece in the Atlantic? You have no idea how long slavery endured, no idea.

        • 624LC .

          Thank you. Seriously, the need for condew to take a few seats was obvious.

          • condew

            Who made you hall monitor?

          • 624LC .

            The same person that made you professor of African American studies. A very short course no doubt: covers slavery…uhhh Abe Lincoln … Martin Luther king and the Cosby show.

          • condew

            African American “studies”, is that where they train you to cash in on “white guilt”? Sounds like a place to sell a lot of rationalizations you pulled out of your ass as “peer reviewed academic studies”.

          • 624LC .

            Uh, dickhead? You can stop digging that hole now. Really, you have done an admirable job of showing your simple ass and we are all impressed with your tone deaf analysis of any kind of history in this country. Any more, and you might want to consider checking out Stormfront .

        • condew

          Ever read Animal Farm? Lots of that “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” among the non-male non-whites. Lots of whining that because somebody you know suffered, you get to dictate what others are allowed to say. Bullshit. That’s not equality, that’s claiming a special privilege just for yourself. That’s a repulsive sense of entitlement.

          • 624LC .

            No, what’s repulsive is that instead of thinking before you speak, you seem to think that your myopic viewpoint should go unchallenged. Since you know shit about this subject, why don’t you stop showing your ass? Maybe take some time to read the recommended Atlantic article. you might learn something.

          • condew

            What is repulsive is this idea that because somebody I don’t know and never met did something to somebody you don’t know and never met, somehow I owe you.

          • 624LC .

            Actually what is repulsive is how fucking simple you are that you read iac’s comments the way you did.

      • oneninenine

        Well said condew. All the slaves are dead so we might as well compare our hardships to the trials they faced. I left my teabag in the pot for far too long this morning, it turned out patchy. I now know how the slaves felt.

        • condew

          Not my point. i_a_c is arguing that white people are not allowed to compare themselves to slaves because they didn’t suffer “real oppression”. Sorry, neither did i_a_c. Unless an actual American slave is involved, a white person comparing themselves to slaves is no more or less valid than anybody else, since none of them has first-hand knowledge and all are extrapolating from what they read or heard.

          • i_a_c

            Let me expand on this a bit: all too often we see the Sirota wing of the left (not to mention the right) compare themselves to civil rights leaders, use the words of MLK to lecture black people, etc. This is just the latest example of trying to co-opt the struggles of black people as their own.

      • i_a_c

        dafuq? Is this snark?

      • feloniousgrammar

        Putting three African Americans who lived to the age of 60 back to back going back in time, we have a 60 year old black today who was born in 1954; which predated the Voting Rights Act (1965) and the Civil Rights Act of 1968, a.k.a. The Fair Housing Act.

        A black who on the day the first black was born, was born in 1894. A black who died at 60 the day the second African-American was born, was born in 1834 and might have lived in slavery for 29 years before the Emancipation Proclamation was passed.

        The African-American culture, history and identity is inseparable from slavery and Jim Crow and all the other white supremacist mechanization put in place to keep blacks down as a people and whites privileged is white supremacy in action.

        White privilege is being able to identify as a person and an individual with the privilege of not thinking about your race on a daily basis because not being discriminated against on the basis of skin color is not a daily part of the lives of most whites. It’s easy to take white supremacy for granted, and it’s about time that it started to get a little more difficult to avoid.

        • condew

          Hating white people for being white is racism. It doesn’t really matter how you rationalize it.

          • 624LC .

            God, you continue down that simpleton path. Where did anyone say anything about hating white people? Being brought up to speed about black history and context is not hate – it is education. Your resentment is at the very least is racially motivated, however. Very sad…

  • Katela

    Eddie Schnook is a arrogant pawn of Glen Greenwald’s et al and a cowardly traitor. How did ‘blowing the whistle’ demand that he steal millions of files?

  • DubsCorleone

    Snowden’s lawyer needs an ex-lax…

  • condew

    It’s really rich that Snowden’s lawyer would be comparing Snowden to those helping escaping slaves and civil rights leaders, since the event that seems to have pushed Snowden over the edge seems to have been President Obama’s re-election.

  • repugnicant

    Its too funny: Ask for proof, get a ‘well, this is all hypothetical’ response.

  • Badgerite

    The ‘Snowden Team’ jumped the shark a long time ago. Snowden describes himself as having been a fully trained CIA agent and operating at the “top levels” of the NSA. Yet, it somehow had not occurred to him that after revealing to the world that he had stolen a whole trove of classified material, the US government was going to pull his passport. And so he was “stranded”.
    Stranded, I tell you. Uh huh. China was the first country that he gave an interview in.
    Was he ‘stranded’ there. In terms of repression of free speech rights and political dissent both in the digital world and in the non digital world, China is in a class by itself. ( Probably North Korea tops them but that is about it.). After spending an entire year undermining US relationships, alliances and interests, both diplomatic and in terms of law enforcement, and basically serving as a shill for Vladimir Putin’s aims to undermine NATO, now he makes some grand statement. And the purpose of that statement is primarily to absolve himself of all he has said and done in support of Putin’s aims for the last year. And his supporters show up here and say stuff like, “but he clearly denounced” , yada yada yada. Yeah, who cares?

    • Mike Lumisch

      Maybe this is all a great big head fake by the CIA: send one of their top operatives to China to dump a huge trove of plausible-yet-faked documents for the stultification of the gullible, followed by yanking his passport in a procedure so exquisitely timed that he was able to leave China but get trapped in Russia so that the Russians would be forced to take him in.

      What a sensation it will be when Agent Smith (God alone knows his real name) returns to Langley with a chest of real data on Russian and Chinese counter intelligence methods and an inside look at the Moscow spook machine.

      You have to admit, it’s every bit as plausible and backed by the evidence as anything the Greenwald sycophants and the Firebaggers and the hysterical ninnies of have put out there.

      • Badgerite

        I don’t think Russia or China would trust him. They are, of course, happy to use him. But trust him?

      • bobbyhansonf898


  • Jon Fox

    The US gov has had the capabilities to quietly turn on a cell phone for decades(they used this technology to try and find Pablo Escobar in the 80/early 90s), but there’s a big difference between that and what Snowden claims.

    • Ormond Otvos

      If the battery is in the phone, it’s never off.


      • condew

        That’s one of the things that worry me about my android tablet; the battery is glued in and can’t be removed; and even though it may be “turned off” for days, somehow it has renewed it’s lease on the IP address from my router; which means it is quietly waking up while it is “off” and exchanging a few WiFi packets. Further, of the ways an android tablet gets location is by identifying the WiFi access points it can hear. Of course an android tablet is just a bigger android phone with WiFi and without the cell phone bits. So Google knows where I am, whether my device is on or not.

  • JozefAL

    What Team Snowden seems to forget with all the comparisons to the Underground Railroad and the Civil Rights leaders is that the folks operating the Underground Railroad KNEW the penalties they faced and were willing to pay the ultimate price IF they were caught and most of the Civil Rights leaders, including Dr King, DID accept jail time for their lawbreaking activities (not saying their actions were wrong in the end but AT THE TIME, they accepted the legal penalties for their actions).

    I think Snowden read what happened to Manning and Snowden realized he wasn’t nearly as willing to accept the consequences of his actions. Granted, Manning was in the military at the time, so any thought of escape would require the likes of a James Bond or Jason Bourne (or even Indiana Jones) to actually achieve and Manning was hardly any of those masters of escapism (and, yes, I’m aware they’re fictional but even Houdini couldn’t extricate himself from some of the “tight places” the fictional guys did). And, from what we’ve seen of Snowden, neither is he. Then again, Snowden wasn’t serving in the military and Manning was held in MILITARY custody; Snowden, had he been caught, would’ve been put in a regular CIVILIAN prison (barring some real legal sleight-of-hand declaring him an “enemy combatant”).

    • That River Gal

      Thank you.

    • Joe

      Don’t you think that Snowden knew the consequences if he got caught? Everything I read seemed to say that he was almost positive he would have been caught. Anyone would be terrified of being in US custody in this matter so I don’t blame him right now. Besides, like most things American is we lose interest as time passes. Eventually no one will care enough to pursue serious charges.

  • Neddy Merrill

    “Sometimes, to do the right thing you have to break the law.” Edward Snowden

    Sometimes, to do the right thing you have to break the law. The NSA

    Subjectivity can sure be a bitch.

    • JozefAL

      I’d just like to ask Snowden this question: IF you’d learned that a member of your immediate family had been the victims of a terrorist incident that, it was learned later, could’ve been prevented but the NSA had been hamstrung by the kinds of legal oversights that you seem to expect, who would you blame? Would you blame the government’s failure to prevent the terrorist incident or would you blame the governmental red tape that kept the NSA from acting in a timely fashion?

      As a follow-up, I’d like to ask him this: Now, let’s say that it was learned that the hypothetical family member had ALMOST been a victim of a terrorist plot but ONLY because some slightly “shady” action on the part of the NSA, that plot had been thwarted. Would you still think the NSA was so terrible or would you be willing to let your family member die JUST to prove your point?

      It would be so lovely to sit and watch him squirm from not wanting to answer questions that would him look like either a hypocrite (“Well, it’s MY family member at risk”) or a complete sociopath (“Yes, I’d be willing to sacrifice my family for the sake of everyone else’s liberty”).

      • Joe

        How about blaming the terrorists….

        Since you think that way maybe you should move to Russia. They ID’d the Boston Marathon bombers before it happened and value security over freedom.

    • Mike Lumisch

      You would have a valid point if Snowden had provided evidence of ongoing criminal activity by the NSA, but the fact is that he did no such thing.

      There is evidence of criminal activity under the orders of the criminal Bush gang, strongly resisted within the NSA and leading to an open revolt by the US attorneys (you may have read about this, it was in all the papers), but these programs were shut down by the Obama administration. You can whine that the cleanup was not so forceful as you would have liked, but you can not wish it away or pretend that it never happened.

      There is also evidence that the NSA is doing its job, under the supervision as mandated by law of the courts and legislature and thus strictly legal. You and your buddies have your noses bent about this, but you and your buddies do not decide what is legal and constitutional – we have proper channels in our Representative Democracy for making those decisions. In the same manner, Ed Snowden does not get to make important national policy decisions – that is the proper task of our elected representatives. If you do not like this, the proper recourse is to elect officials who think the way you like – as when President Obama was swept into office with a mandate to undo the crimes of his predecessor.

      All of which is to say that Ed Snowden is no whistleblower. Where was Snowden during the Bush administration, when the intelligence agencies were under orders to run amok? Silent as the grave he was. A whistleblower releases timely information about real crimes. A leaker coughs up lurid allegations and unverifiable insinuations in support of an agenda that he keeps carefully hidden.

      • Neddy Merrill

        My point is that a claim of doing the “right thing” is subjective. Available to both parties, Snowden and NSA.

      • Joe

        Sad excuse. The “why didn’t you do something sooner.” This is when he could do something.

        Its the same as me asking why haven’t you done anything. Easy to judge when it isn’t you with their life on the line.

        Obama didn’t shut down any program. He made excuses for them. He is as culpable as Bush is. Regardless of what laws are passed if it is unconstitutional then it is illegal. The NSA is terrified that the Supreme Courts will tear them down and is why they do everything in their power to avoid that event.

    • Sabyen91

      “Leakers should be shot in the balls.” — Edward Snowden

      I wish he was a man of his word.


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