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NSA leaker Edward Snowden: Washington's 4 most stinging insults
Critics of the whistleblower are finding ever more creative ways to disparage him
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n Washington, politicians and pundits appear to either love NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden or really, really hate him. The former IT specialist became "the toast of the libertarian left and the libertarian right," said Alexander Burns at Politico, when he gave journalists secret documents on the National Security Agency's telephone and internet snooping. But, Burns wrote, to just about everybody else in the D.C. establishment, he's "a dangerous villain."

The establishment hasn't been too kind to Snowden — the list of insults is long, and growing. And in some cases, critics are twisting themselves into creative knots to come up with original ways to describe just how distasteful they find Snowden and his actions. Here is a brief sampling of the most memorable barbs:

1. Traitor
This is one of the more popular terms among Snowden's detractors. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) led the charge of high-ranking lawmakers branding Snowden, 29, as an enemy of the state. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) concurred, calling Snowden's leak to The Washington Post and the Guardian an "act of treason."

2. High-school dropout
A popular way for critics to belittle Snowden is to point out that his resume is quite thin for someone privy to such sensitive intelligence information. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) sneered that Snowden was "a high-school drop-out who had little maturity [and] had not successfully completed anything he had undertaken."

David Brooks at The New York Times hit this theme, too. "Though obviously terrifically bright," Brooks wrote, "he could not successfully work his way through the institution of high school. Then he failed to navigate his way through community college." Brooks opined that Snowden had lived "a life unshaped by the mediating institutions of civil society," which led him to betray his friends, his employers, "honesty and integrity," and even "the privacy of us all."

"If federal security agencies can't do vast data sweeps," Brooks explained, "they will inevitably revert to the older, more intrusive eavesdropping methods."

3. "A grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison"
That was how Jeffrey Toobin at The New Yorker summed up Snowden. Toobin said Snowden shouldn't have been shocked when he learned what the NSA was up to, and he certainly shouldn't have rushed off to Hong Kong, where his secrets could wind up in the hands of the Chinese government.

What, one wonders, did Snowden think the N.S.A. did? Any marginally attentive citizen, much less N.S.A. employee or contractor, knows that the entire mission of the agency is to intercept electronic communications...

Our system offers legal options to disgruntled government employees and contractors. They can take advantage of federal whistle-blower laws; they can bring their complaints to Congress; they can try to protest within the institutions where they work. But Snowden did none of this. Instead, in an act that speaks more to his ego than his conscience, he threw the secrets he knew up in the air — and trusted, somehow, that good would come of it. We all now have to hope that he's right. [New Yorker]

4. "Cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood"
The list of run-of-the-mill jabs goes on and on — defector, loner, lousy boyfriend. But one attack in particular stood out among all of the others for its perplexing originality. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen made a big deal of a report that Snowden uses a large red hood to prevent spies from detecting his computer passwords.

Cohen concluded that Snowden will go down in history not as a heroic whistleblower, but "as a cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood." As Elias Groll at Foreign Policy wrote: "Snowden may have expected to be called names when he stepped forward as the NSA leaker, but odds are he didn't anticipate that one."

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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