By Robert Hackett
September 17, 2016

Edward Snowden is back in the news with the release of Oliver Stone’s Snowden film on Friday. And so is the war over whether to praise or contemn the man who revealed the extent of the surveillance state three years ago.

The House intelligence committee made clear its opposition to any sort of Snowden hagiography in a three-page executive summary on the eve of the movie’s premier. The brief condensed the findings of a substantially longer, 36-page confidential report, the result of a two-year-long investigation. The précis opens with an assertion that the National Security Agency secret leaker “perpetrated the largest and most damaging public release of classified information in U.S. intelligence history.” And it adds that he “was, and remains, a serial fabricator and exaggerator.”

Barton Gellman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who led the Washington Post’s coverage of Snowden’s stolen cache of NSA documents, fired back, calling the report “one-sided,” “incurious,” “contemptuous of fact,” “dishonest,” and “trifling.” In his tally, the exaggerations and fabrications are greater on the government’s side: “four of the six claims are egregiously false, and a fifth is hard to credit,” he said, evaluating the 22-member bipartisan committee’s bullet points in a blog post on the website of The Century Foundation, a policy think tank where he serves as a senior fellow.

Neither side is entirely unbiased. The intelligence committee, charged with overseeing the nation’s spy apparatus, undoubtedly has the government’s interests in mind. Meanwhile, Gellman has a Snowden book in the works. The American public will have to decide for itself whether Snowden is a traitor or hero.

Except for one slight complication. It’s hard to know all the facts since the committee’s unabridged report remains, as many other government activities, secret.

Robert Hackett


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