James Clapper Stupidly Refers to Snowden Reporters as ‘Accomplices’

Someone in public relations needs to take Director of National Intelligence James Clapper aside and give him a good talking-to. One of many reasons why the Edward Snowden saga continues to drag on and on is because Clapper and other government officials, including the Obama administration, can’t seem to talk about the issue without feeding red meat to the pro-Snowden crowd, especially Snowden’s chief spokesman Glenn Greenwald.

Today, Clapper was testifying Senate Intelligence Committee and said:

“Snowden claims that he’s won and that his mission is accomplished,” Clapper said, according to a transcript from the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, posted by the Washington Post. “If that is so, I call on him and his accomplices to facilitate the return of the remaining stolen documents that have not yet been exposed, to prevent even more damage to U.S. security.”

Snowden and “his accomplices,” he said.


It’s difficult to fully describe how profoundly tone deaf that is. Sure, it’s possible Clapper was referring to possible “accomplices” who might’ve helped Snowden to steal the NSA documents at Booz Allen Hamilton in the first place, then shuttle the files across the globe to Moscow. [See UPDATE below.]

But no, Clapper was obviously referring to reporters like Greenwald who’ve been publishing the documents since June. And if that’s the case, he’s successfully and stupidly jabbed the Greenwald hornet’s nest with a very short stick.

On cue, Greenwald has been ranting on Twitter and elsewhere about Clapper’s use of “accomplices,” and it’s only a matter of time before he appears on cable news performing his wordy martyr routine, issuing another threat about promising to work even hard to expose the NSA’s activities. And you know what? It’s Clapper’s fault.

There are a lot of words I’d use to describe Greenwald, beginning with “misleading” and “bad journalist.” But “accomplice” implies something very specific and very criminal. While I clearly have well-known gripes with how Greenwald and others have reported on the Snowden documents, I don’t think it constitutes criminal activity. Irresponsible tabloid journalism, complete with outrageous click-bait headlines and buried facts, isn’t against the law, at least in the United States, and Greenwald shouldn’t be the subject of prosecution for doing what he’s doing. And even if a high ranking official really believes Greenwald and others have broken the law, they should never say it out loud in a public hearing. Duh.

But now Clapper has carelessly handed Greenwald yet another tanker truck of metaphorical steroids and plenty of reason to behave as though he’s an exiled, stateless martyr in the name of the noble cause of journalism. If you thought Greenwald was an insufferable, sanctimonious blowhard before, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

UPDATE:The Washington Postconfirms:

A spokesman said Clapper was “referring to anyone who is assisting Edward Snowden to further threaten our national security through the unauthorized disclosure of stolen documents related to lawful foreign intelligence collection programs.”

Bob Cesca is the host of the Bob Cesca Show podcast, a twice weekly political talk show. He’s also a contributor to Salon.com. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.