On Leakers, Heroes and Traitors

Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and, now, Edward Snowden. Heroes or traitors? My latest story in The Nation argues that character questions of this sort serve as distractions from the most important thing–the content of the leaks. The legislators and journalists who focus on Snowden’s background (high school dropout? narcissistic millennial? pole-dancing girlfriend?) are either missing the point of the NSA’s surveillance operations or trying to make us miss it. Alex Gibney’s new documentary, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, is a case in point. Although the film criticizes the Obama administration for excessive secrecy and its crackdown on leakers, a great amount of its fury is directed at the character flaws of Assange, who currently resides in a small room in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he is trying to avoid extradition to Sweden to answer sexual assault allegations. On five occasions the film mentions the condoms that Assange did or did not use when he had sex with two Swedish women; it mentions on just one occasion Eric Holder, the attorney general who oversees domestic surveillance and the prosecution of leakers. This is off-kilter. We have gotten neither the film nor the debate we need.

Author: Peter Maass

I was born and raised in Los Angeles. In 1983, after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, I went to Brussels as a copy editor for The Wall Street Journal/Europe. I left the Journal in 1985 to write for The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, covering NATO and the European Union. In 1987 I moved to Seoul, South Korea, where I wrote primarily for The Washington Post. After three years in Asia I moved to Budapest to cover Eastern Europe and the Balkans. I spent most of 1992 and 1993 covering the war in Bosnia for the Post.