Three weeks ago, the mild-mannered New York Times reporter, James Risen, nailed Jeffrey — Snowden’s a criminal — Toobin, when Risen said:
“That’s the thing I don’t understand about the climate in Washington these days, is that people want to have debates on television and elsewhere, but then you want to throw the people who start the debates in jail.”
Having been left speechless, Toobin seems to have has spent the last three weeks struggling to come up with a come back.
This is what he came up with:
The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy led directly to the passage of a historic law, the Gun Control Act of 1968. Does that change your view of the assassinations? Should we be grateful for the deaths of these two men?
Of course not. That’s lunatic logic. But the same reasoning is now being applied to the actions of Edward Snowden. Yes, the thinking goes, Snowden may have violated the law, but the outcome has been so worthwhile.
Say what? James Earl Ray and Sirhan Sirhan were advocates of gun control? That’s the unintended lunatic logic in Toobin’s reasoning.
Somehow I doubt that Toobin’s capacity to reason is that impaired. His purpose, much more likely, is to make an emotive argument based not on reason, but insinuation. Having already committed himself to the position that Snowden is a criminal, Toobin now wants to up the ante by placing him on a par with infamous assassins.
For Toobin, Snowden’s unforgivable crime was that he stepped out of line. The man who Toobin views with utter contempt is a “thirty-year-old self-appointed arbiter of propriety [who] decided to break the law and disclose what he had sworn to protect. That judgment — in my view — was not Snowden’s to make.” In other words, Snowden’s job was to do as he was told and not have the temerity to question the judgement of his superiors. Snowden’s sole responsibility was to follow his orders, without question.
If Toobin actually believes that the issue at stake here is one of propriety, then he’s even more confused than he already appears.
A state that engages in mass surveillance on its own population, is not merely being intrusive. Those of us who object to the NSA gathering all our personal information are not objecting because we think the NSA is being rude. Information is power and the more information the government acquires, the more likely it becomes that the power which flows from this information will sooner or later be abused.
In a final desperate swipe, Toobin suggests that Snowden can hardly be imagined to have stayed in Hong Kong and now taken up temporary residence in Russia without either the Chinese government or the Russian government gathering the classified information in his possession. They surely snuck into his room and copied his hard drive while he was asleep.
However much Snowden might lack the kind of stature for which Toobin reserves his respect, the former NSA contractor is an expert on one issue about which Toobin knows nothing: cyber security. Snowden knew how to gather the intelligence and how to extract it. I have little doubt in his ability to now maintain its security.
And what Toobin is forgetting, through his fixation on trying to undo his own embarrassment, is that Russia and China do actually have other interests at stake. Hong Kong was only too pleased to be relieved of its Snowden problem by seeing his departure, and Russia’s reluctance to take on the burden was made only too obvious by its insistence that Snowden, while he remained in Moscow airports transit lounge, was not in Russia.
Maybe it’s time for Jeffrey Toobin to follow Snowden’s lead and go into hiding for a while.