Washington Post turns on Snowden despite receiving Pulitzer Prize for his NSA leaks

Washington Post reporters Barton Gellman (left) and Eli Saslow address colleagues in the newsroom after the Pulitzer prizes were announced in Washington on April 14, 2014. © Reuters
The Washington Post says whistleblower Edward Snowden should not be granted a presidential pardon from Barack Obama. This is despite the newspaper receiving a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting of the NSA leaks sent to the Post by Snowden.

In an editorial published on Sunday, the Post said that Obama’s answer to whether Snowden – the paper’s one-time source – should be granted a presidential pardon is complicated, but should continue to be “no.” 

The Post accepts that Snowden’s actions helped to make the US public aware of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) use of metadata, which led to reforms regarding surveillance legislation. 

However, while accepting that Snowden may have had noble intentions in trying to expose the NSA’s spying on members of the public, the Post believes he crossed a line by leaking information about the NSA internet-monitoring program PRISM, which was “clearly legal and not clearly threatening to privacy.” 

“Worse — far worse — he also leaked details of basically defensible international intelligence operations: cooperation with Scandinavian services against Russia; spying on the wife of an Osama bin Laden associate; and certain offensive cyber operations in China,” the paper stated in its editorial. 

The Post adds that his revelations possibly caused “tremendous damage” to national security. 

Glenn Greenwald, who helped publish Snowden’s leaks in the Guardian newspaper, was scathing of the Post’s decision. Writing in the Intercept, he called the decision made by the Washington-based publication an “act of journalistic treachery,” by saying Snowden should not be pardoned. 

“In doing so, the Washington Post has achieved an ignominious feat in US media history: the first-ever paper to explicitly editorialize for the criminal prosecution of its own source — one on whose back the paper won and eagerly accepted a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service,” Greenwald wrote. 

“But even more staggering than this act of journalistic treachery against the paper’s own source are the claims made to justify it,” he added. 

The Post has called on Snowden to return to the US from Russia, where he has been granted asylum, adding that this would “be in the best tradition of civil disobedience, whose practitioners have always been willing to go to jail for their beliefs.” 

The newspaper also states that Snowden “hurt his own credibility as an avatar of freedom by accepting asylum from Russia’s Vladimir Putin.” 

The Intercept, the New York Times and the Guardian, who also published the NSA leaks, in contrast to the Post’s editorial, have called on the US government to allow Snowden to return to the US and not face any charges.

Greenwald was scathing of the Post, saying that the paper fails to note that it was not Snowden, “but the top editors of the Washington Post who decided to make these programs public. Again, just look at the stories for which the Post was cited when receiving a Pulitzer Prize,” he wrote in the Intercept. 

Greenwald also cited comments from the Post’s Executive Editor Marty Baron in 2014, after the paper was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. 

“Disclosing the massive expansion of the NSA’s surveillance network absolutely was a public service,” Baron said, as cited by the Intercept. “In constructing a surveillance system of breathtaking scope and intrusiveness, our government also sharply eroded individual privacy. All of this was done in secret, without public debate, and with clear weaknesses in oversight.”

Despite the Post profiting from Snowden’s NSA leaks, the paper believes a favorable solution would see Snowden accepting “criminal responsibility” for his actions, and an outright pardon “would strike the wrong balance.”