Peter Maass's blog

June 18, 2013  |  permalink

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.

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