Kevin Ryan Has Unfairly Smeared Edward Snowden
January 5, 2014
Kevin Ryan’s recent article, “Flirting with Sauron: The Risks of Trusting the Snowden Story” seriously and unfairly tarnishes the integrity of a likely hero, wrongly calling Edward Snowden a liar. By first misreading and then altering a Guardian quote from Snowden, Ryan claims falsely to have caught Snowden in a flagrant lie. Ryan then (mis)uses that “lie” to impugn and impeach Snowden’s credibility, effectively implicating Snowden as a co-conspirator or principal in Greenwald’s ostensibly shady self-serving dealings with Paypal billionaire Pierre Omidyar.Ryan’s article presents no new facts or insights about Glenn Greenwald’s questionable behavior, nor any legitimate basis for linking Edward Snowden to Greenwald’s putative misbehavior in any way except as its victim. Rather than clarifying or adding anything to the questions already raised by others, especially Sibel Edmonds, Ryan’s article does essentially nothing beyond unfairly smearing Snowden, who deserves better treatment than this.
Kevin Ryan owes Edward Snowden a public apology. But rather than apologizing for his mistake and withdrawing the article, Ryan has refused to reexamine his work. Sadly, my efforts to explain Ryan’s error to him in an extended email exchange have been met with nothing but his peremptory denials that he erred. Thus, in fairness to Edward Snowden, I describe Ryan’s mistake below and attempt to correct the public record myself.
A careful reading of Ryan’s own source, an article by Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian, shows his elementary misquoting of Snowden and the implausibility of Ryan’s interpretation of Snowden’s actual statement.
It was originally reported that the number of documents Snowden had stolen was in the thousands. Today, however, that number is said to be nearly two million. This calls into question Snowden’s early statement, as reported by Greenwald, that he “carefully evaluated every single document… to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest.” The huge, new number also reveals that less than one tenth of one percent of the documents (only about 900) have actually been released to the public.
How could Snowden have “carefully evaluated every single” one of what is now being said to be nearly two million documents? He only worked for Booz Allen Hamilton for a few months. According to NSA Director Keith Alexander, Snowden also worked directly for NSA for twelve months prior to that, which is interesting. But still, that would require carefully evaluating thousands of documents a day during that entire time. Didn’t he have a job apart from that?
But Ryan has misquoted Snowden. This is what Greenwald wrote:
Snowden said that he admires both Ellsberg and Manning, but argues that there is one important distinction between himself and the army private, whose trial coincidentally began the week Snowden’s leaks began to make news.”
“I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest,” he said. “There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”
He purposely chose, he said, to give the documents to journalists whose judgment he trusted about what should be public and what should remain concealed.
Greenwald wrote his article on June 9, 2013 shortly after he met Snowden in Hong Kong. Greenwald’s article indicates that Snowden at least initially had entrusted to him only a portion of the documents that Snowden had taken.
… In a note accompanying the first set of documents he [Snowden] provided [to Greenwald], he wrote …
Elsewhere Snowden had contrasted himself with Julian Assange who Snowden believed had dumped everything into the public domain without concern for the harm it might cause. Thus, Snowden was saying that he carefully reviewed every single document that he had disclosed to the public, but he was not saying that he reviewed every single document that he had taken or that he would give to journalists that he trusted.
Ryan’s quote omits the crucial “I disclosed.” These two words function as a restrictive clause, i.e., they limit Snowden’s statement to the modest claim that every document he had by that point in time disclosed to the public he had first “carefully evaluated.” There is absolutely nothing in the quote even to suggest that Snowden is claiming to have carefully reviewed all the documents that he had taken.
In our email exchange, Ryan wrote:
Either Snowden disclosed all the documents or he did not disclose any.
Try as I will to make sense of this I cannot, as it defies elementary logic, and I am not trying to quote Ryan out of context. One would think that Snowden might have disclosed some but not all the documents to the public, since this is what Greenwald said he did in the same Guardian article that Ryan cites:
The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he [Snowden] decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity.
Snowden presents himself as having willfully challenged the National Security Administration, understanding full well that he would likely become another Man without a Country, not for betraying his nation, but by standing up for it and its putative values. Snowden stated openly that he might be rendered or assassinated, and that at best if captured he would likely spend the rest of his life in prison if he were not sentenced to death. While of course we should remain open to any evidence-driven possibilities that Snowden’s real story is not what it appears to be, in the absence of such evidence his apparent courage deserves our respect and not a warrantless act of character assassination based on a misquotation.
Michael B. Green, Ph.D.
Qualified Medical Examiner (1992-7/2006, retired)
Former Assistant Professor of Philosophy
University of Texas at Austin