Who is the true patriot, Hillary Clinton or Edward Snowden? The question comes up because Clinton has gone all out in attacking Snowden as a means of burnishing her hawkish credentials, eliciting Glenn Greenwald's comment that she is "like a neocon, practically."
In England earlier this month, Clinton boasted that two years ago she had favored a proposal by a top British general to train 100,000 "moderate" rebels to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria, but Obama had turned her down. The American Thatcher? In that same interview with the Guardian she also managed to get in yet another shot against Snowden for taking refuge in Russia "apparently under Putin's protection," unless, she taunted, "he wishes to return knowing he would be held accountable."
Accountable for telling the truth that Clinton concealed during her tenure as secretary of state in the Obama administration? Did she approve of the systematic spying on the American people as well as of others around the world, including the leaders of Germany and Brazil, or did she first learn of all this from the Snowden revelations?
Last Saturday, a carefully vetted four-month investigation by the Washington Post based on material made available by Snowden revealed that while Clinton was in the government, the NSA had collected a vast trove of often intimate Internet correspondence and photos of innocent Americans, including many users of Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other leading Internet companies. The Post reported many files "described as useless by the [NSA] analysts but nonetheless retained ... have a voyeuristic quality. They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes."
The Post concluded after four months of reviewing the documents and checking with government agencies that the material supplied by Snowden was invaluable in evaluating the NSA program: "No government oversight body, including the Justice Department, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, intelligence committees in Congress or the President's Privacy and Civil Oversight Board, has delved into a comparably large sample of what the NSA actually collects -- not only from its targets but from people who may cross a target's path."
Did Secretary of State Clinton know that such massive spying on the American people was going on and, if not, why isn't she grateful that Snowden helped to enlighten her? With her scurrilous attacks on Snowden, Hillary Clinton is either a fool or a liar.
Too harsh? Consider her continued insistence that Snowden could have addressed his concerns over the massive NSA spying on Americans and the rest of the world by going through normal channels instead of turning over the documents as he has entrusted to respected news organizations that won the Pulitzer Prize for their efforts.
In an April speech at the University of Connecticut, Clinton said of Snowden: "When he absconded with all of that material, I was puzzled, because we have all these protections for whistleblowers." That is simply not true; Snowden as a contractor to the government is not entitled to the federal protections that cover federal employees. But even those federal employees have found scant protection under the Obama administration in their attempt to blow the whistle on national security practices.
As secretary of state in an administration that has charged three times as many Americans with violations of the draconian Espionage Act than all preceding presidents combined, Clinton must know that the Obama Justice Department has effectively moved to silence whistleblowers from stating their case in court.
They even tried to prevent Thomas Drake, an honored NSA employee charged under the Espionage Act, from even using the words "whistleblower" or "First Amendment" in his defense. Drake had taken his concerns over NSA's violation of the law to the Defense Department Inspector General and the congressional intelligence committees of both houses of Congress, but that did not stop the Obama administration, when Clinton was in the cabinet, from prosecuting him under the Espionage Act for talking to the press. The government's case collapsed with a federal judge calling it "unconscionable" that Drake had been put through "four years of hell."
Hillary Clinton knows just how selective the Obama administration has been in punishing whistleblowers who expose government violations of the Constitution. Obama made a political decision not to hold accountable any of those involved in the torture program conducted during the Bush years but zealously prosecuted CIA veteran John Kiriakou under the Espionage Act for publicly revealing and condemning one of the most horrendous episodes in the nation's history.
Kiriakou, destroyed professionally and financially for his efforts to hold the torturers accountable, plea-bargained for the 30-month sentence he is currently serving. Whistleblower Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning was given a far harsher sentence for revealing crimes in Iraq in a war that Hilary Clinton supported. If she asks for your vote, you might remind her of Kiriakou's words before being imprisoned:
"The conviction of Bradley Manning under the 1917 Espionage Act and the U.S. Justice Department's decision to file espionage charges against NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden under the same act are yet further examples of the Obama administration's policy of using an iron fist against human rights and civil liberties activists. President Obama has been unprecedented in his use of the Espionage Act to prosecute those whose whistleblowing he wants to curtail.
"The purpose of an Espionage Act prosecution, however, is not to punish a person spying for the enemy, selling secrets for personal gain, or trying to undermine our way of life. It is to ruin the whistleblower, personally, professionally and financially. It is meant to send a message to anybody else considering speaking truth to power: challenge us and we will destroy you."
That is the message that Hillary Clinton seeks to send to Edward Snowden. Remind her of that when she asks for your vote.
Robert Scheer is a nationally syndicated columnist.