Friends of Snowden Turn Against Liberal Anti-NSA Lawmakers

In the eyes of Glenn Greenwald and Daniel Ellsberg, just about no one in Congress has clean hands.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 21: Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) listens as members speak during a markup meeting of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee March 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. The committee met to vote on the nomination of Sarah Jewell for the position of Secretary of the Interior.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
April 23, 2014, 5:26 a.m.

A co­hort of Ed­ward Snowden’s con­fid­ants are now cast­ing verbal stones at a pair of lib­er­al law­makers long thought to be among their biggest anti-spy­ing al­lies in Con­gress: Sens. Mark Ud­all and Ron Wyden.

Journ­al­ist Glenn Gre­en­wald and Daniel Ells­berg, the famed leak­er of the Vi­et­nam-era Pentagon Pa­pers, took turns chas­tising the Demo­crat­ic duo Tues­day even­ing for fail­ing to ex­pose what they knew about the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s sweep­ing spy pro­grams be­fore the Snowden leaks sur­faced last June.

Ud­all and Wyden “ran around the coun­try for three years wink­ing and hint­ing and do­ing everything they could to im­ply and sug­gest that something was very awry in the U.S. sur­veil­lance state,” Gre­en­wald said, ap­pear­ing via a taped video re­cord­ing be­fore a crowded theat­er at Geor­getown Uni­versity.

But those couched in­sinu­ations failed to ac­com­plish any­thing, ac­cord­ing to Gre­en­wald, whose re­port­ing on NSA sur­veil­lance re­cently earned The Guard­i­an a Pulitzer Prize.

“Mark Ud­all and Ron Wyden lacked the cour­age to do what they should have done, which is, gone to the floor of the Sen­ate, in­voke the im­munity that the Con­sti­tu­tion gives them, and re­veal this in­form­a­tion,” Gre­en­wald said to a smat­ter­ing of ap­plause. “There has been a cli­mate of fear de­lib­er­ately cre­ated by the United States gov­ern­ment” to pre­vent whistle-blow­ing, he ad­ded.

Ells­berg piled on dur­ing a key­note ad­dress that fol­lowed Gre­en­wald’s taped re­marks. He cited Wyden’s well-known ques­tion­ing of Dir­ect­or of Na­tion­al In­tel­li­gence James Clap­per last March, when the Ore­gon Demo­crat asked him wheth­er the NSA col­lects “any type of data at all on mil­lions or hun­dreds of mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans.”

Clap­per replied, “No sir. Not wit­tingly,” a now in­fam­ous re­sponse that he later de­fen­ded as the “least un­truth­ful” an­swer he could give at the time.

Des­pite Wyden’s ag­gress­ive line of in­quiry, Ells­berg said it didn’t go far enough.

“Wyden did not say, ‘Sir, you and I both know that state­ment is false. You know it [and] you com­mit­ted per­jury,’ ” Ells­berg said. “It was Wyden that joined him in the de­cep­tion of the Amer­ic­an pub­lic.”

As mem­bers of the Sen­ate’s In­tel­li­gence pan­el, both Wyden and Ud­all at­tend secret brief­ings from of­fi­cials such as Clap­per in which clas­si­fied in­form­a­tion about gov­ern­ment pro­grams is dis­cussed.

Anti-secrecy ad­voc­ates fre­quently lam­baste mem­bers of Con­gress seen to be de­fend­ing the status quo of gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance in the name of na­tion­al se­cur­ity. Sen. Di­anne Fein­stein and Rep. Mike Ro­gers, who head their re­spect­ive cham­ber’s In­tel­li­gence pan­el, are among their com­mon tar­gets.

But Wyden and Ud­all, along with Re­pub­lic­an Rand Paul, are viewed as among the harshest crit­ics of NSA spy­ing in the Sen­ate. Both had been try­ing for years to con­vince gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to de­clas­si­fy the NSA’s secret sur­veil­lance of phone metadata be­fore the Snowden leaks.

“The Amer­ic­an people will also be ex­tremely sur­prised when they learn how the Pat­ri­ot Act is secretly be­ing in­ter­preted,” Wyden said on the floor of the Sen­ate in 2011, in ref­er­ence to the post-9/11 bill from which the ad­min­is­tra­tions of both Pres­id­ents Obama and George W. Bush de­rived much of the leg­al­ity for the bulk col­lec­tion of Amer­ic­ans’ phone re­cords.

But that sort of coy ref­er­ence was not enough to sat­is­fy some of the biggest faces of the anti-secrecy move­ment. A rolling in­ter­na­tion­al de­bate over the prop­er scope of gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance was ig­nited only after Snowden, a former NSA con­tract­or, gave journ­al­ists, in­clud­ing Gre­en­wald, top-secret agency doc­u­ments.

After his speech, Ells­berg joined a pan­el to dis­cuss the need for stronger pro­tec­tion for gov­ern­ment whistle-blowers. The group, in­clud­ing Thomas Drake, a former NSA of­fi­cial who also leaked agency secrets, and Jes­selyn Ra­dack, an at­tor­ney who coun­sels Snowden, also ex­pressed sup­port for the Free­dom Act, which would end much of the gov­ern­ment’s cur­rent sur­veil­lance prac­tices. The bill is au­thored by Rep. Jim Sensen­bren­ner, a Wis­con­sin Re­pub­lic­an and a one­time ar­chi­tect of the USA Pat­ri­ot Act.

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