Imagine a heaping plate of spaghetti teetering on the edge of a table. A few strands of pasta have already fallen to the floor, and now the whole darn thing seems a breath away from toppling. This is basically the situation faced by the intelligence and political communities in dealing with Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old National Security Agency contractor responsible for what some call one of the biggest intelligence leaks in American history.
Snowden revealed that the NSA collects data from millions of Americans, and has the cooperation of several of the country's largest internet and telecom companies. He also disclosed that during the 2009 G-20 summit, Great Britain's intelligence agency GCHQ monitored delegates' phones and tried to get their passwords.
And Snowden now, in effect, says you ain't seen nothing yet: "All I can say right now is the U.S. government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped," he said in a Q&A.
But these truths are not exactly unnerving Washington. Indeed, as The Daily Beast's Lloyd Green notes, consensus has at long last come to Congress.
The center lives. Bipartisanship is not dead, as Democratic and Republican congressional leaders rally around the National Security Agency's big data grab. With the exception of op-ed writers, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Pauls — Rand and Ron — Washington's establishment is standing together with the administration. In this scrum, party is secondary, at least on Capitol Hill. In a show of unity virtually unseen since 9/11, the congressional leadership has come out unanimously in support of the status quo, while deflecting allegations that The Guardian's news story was actually news. [Daily Beast]
Still, in some sense, Snowden's revelations have split the left and right, and revealed delicate cracks within each party that could complicate the 2016 presidential election. The split within the Republican Party — between what The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Dave Galloway calls "defense and liberty" Republicans — is actually quite profound.
"Campaign contributions aren't necessarily a tattoo of one's political ideology, but they at least raise the possibility that some conservatives have found their answer to Daniel Ellsberg, who 42 years ago leaked a secret Pentagon history of the Vietnam War to The New York Times," Galloway writes. "Ellsberg, by the way, thinks Snowden's leak is grander, and more important. As do many Democrats. But it is among Republicans that Snowden's self-proclaimed act of civil disobedience has resonated, splitting a party whose two pillars are national security and limited government."
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) says Snowden committed an act of "civil disobedience," while former Vice President Dick Cheney and House Speaker John Boehner call Snowden a "traitor." Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) went on MSNBC and said he sees a strong possibility that Snowden is working with China "because of the fact that he transferred money to China. The fact that he studied Chinese. The fact that his girlfriend had some connections to China. The fact that, of all countries in the world, he went to China..."
And the Democrats? Sen. Dianne Feinstein calls Snowden's behavior an act "of treason," and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wants Snowden prosecuted — as do many Americans. But some liberal bloggers cheer Snowden on.
Meanwhile, partisans in both parties (again) have shown how their positions shift when the other party is in power. Some Republicans now up in arms about the NSA's surveillance didn't seem concerned about it when Republican George W. Bush was president. And Nancy Pelosi sure sounds more tolerant about surveillance with Barack Obama in power.
So much for principles.