It is no secret that I don't much like Bradley Manning. I consider his behavior, if he is indeed guilty of the secret-spilling crimes he's charged with, to constitute serious breaches of the moral, ethical, and legal duties that he accepted when he joined the military.
But as deplorable as Private Manning's betrayal of his country was, at least he was sincere. The same cannot be said of the 29-year-old leaker who so proudly announced his identity from Hong Kong, and is now on the run hoping to find any country misguided enough to mistake his behavior with an act of bravery or free speech.
The blind respect that many in the hacker community pay to any act, no matter how indiscriminate or irresponsible, that brings any secret into open light has spawned a new, less sincere, but equally dangerous kind of creature: The leaker who does it for the fame.
For all Manning's flaws — and there are many — the young man quite clearly was not leaking information to get famous. Instead, for reasons I cannot even begin to wrap my head around, Manning simply appears to have believed that the public should have access to the same information that he did (even though he did not read the overwhelming majority of cables and such that he turned over to Julian Assange). The same cannot be said of Edward J. Snowden. Indeed, Snowden is the Paris Hilton of leakers.
It used to be that you had to do something of value to become famous. You had to hit home runs or make a good movie or win elected office. Paris Hilton and her ilk changed the game. She has never done anything of consequence. She is a professional pursuer of fame. And so too is Snowden.
Everything about the manner in which the young man betrayed his country suggests that he was far more concerned with becoming known as the man who leaked the information about the government's surveillance programs than he was with shining a light on the program themselves. Had he been motivated by a desire to stimulate public debate, he would have never come forward — at least not so early in the process. Before he came forward, Snowden's leaks were having an impact. The front page of every paper and the top of every talk show dealt with filling in the details of the classified programs Snowden so brazenly leaked. The president of the United States was even forced to acknowledge the existence of these programs and defend their use.
But it seems Snowden wanted credit. And so, in an obviously orchestrated portion of a not-so-well-thought-out master plan, Edward Snowden unveiled himself to the world, immediately making himself the topic of debate and pushing the programs he theoretically wanted discussed onto the back burner.
I do not profess to understand the absolutism of the hacker community's understanding of ethics. What I can say, however, is that it should be able to recognize a phony in their midst. There was nothing brave or admirable about Snowden's behavior. He just wanted to be famous. Now he has his wish. He should enjoy his 15 minutes while they last, because when they are through, he will likely be headed to prison for one heck of a lot longer.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- A gay Mormon's complicated journey
- Why you shouldn't eat dog. Not even once.
- 7 things the world's happiest people do every day
- Why you should really take a nap this afternoon, according to science
- The biggest lesson Obama failed to learn from Bush
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- How to flirt, according to science
- Incheon: the next white elephant city
Subscribe to the Week