"[T]he return of this information to the public marks my end," Edward Snowden told the Washington Post's Barton Gellman prior to telling that public -- under the auspices of several journalists and publications -- about the NSA's PRISM program and other horrors of the modern American surveillance state.
Snowden did indeed suffer for his good deeds: These days he lives in exile in Russia, awaiting a day when he might return home to some fate other than life in a prison cell at the hands of the criminals whose misdeeds he exposed.
It's a shame to see Snowden picking a public fight with Wikileaks, an organization dedicated to a similar mission whose leader, Julian Assange, himself suffers a form of exile in Ecuador's London embassy (one of his sources, American political prisoner Chelsea Manning, has it worse: She's serving a 35-year sentence in Leavenworth for her heroism in exposing US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan).
On July 28, Snowden took Wikileaks to task via Twitter: "Democratizing information has never been more vital, and @Wikileaks has helped," he wrote. "But their hostility to even modest curation is a mistake."
Presumably Snowden's ire applies to previous Wikileaks operations such as "Collateral Murder" and "Cablegate," not just to this last week's uncensored dumps of emails exposing the internal workings of Turkey's government and of the US Democratic National Commitee.
The Wikileaks response (presumably tweeted by Assange) dripped vinegar: "Opportunism won't earn you a pardon from Clinton & curation is not censorship of ruling party cash flows."
I hesitate to criticize Snowden, or to impute to him the motives implied in the Wikileaks response. The sacrifices he's made command a great deal of respect from those of us who value truth and transparency.
Nonetheless, Wikileaks is right and Snowden is wrong here.
Good and honest motives or not, Snowden and the journalists who help him disseminate "curated" selections from the information in his possession have set themselves up as little governments. They're not "return[ing] this information to the public" which theoretically owns it. They're merely parceling out the information THEY'VE decided it's OK for the public to have. But the the NSA and the US State Department do the same thing. Snowden and friends differ from those organizations merely on content selection criteria, not on the principles involved.
Snowden and Assange both serve the public. But only one of them seems to actually trust that public.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.