This story originally appeared at Truthdig. Robert Scheer is the author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (Nation Books).
The tide is turning. Yesterday’s traitor is today’s hero, and the brave journalists who helped Edward Snowden get the word out are at last being honored for their public service. Or so one hopes.
On Sunday it was announced that the prestigious George Polk Award for National Security Reporting would be given to the four journalists—Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, Laura Poitras and Barton Gellman—most active in reporting about the content of the NSA documents leaked by Snowden. The award, named after a CBS News correspondent killed in 1948 while covering the civil war in Greece, is intended to honor journalists who “heightened public awareness with perceptive detection and dogged pursuit of stories that otherwise would not have seen the light of day.”
That is, of course, the very purpose of the First Amendment’s guarantee of a free press, an indelible standard of freedom subverted by figures like James R. Clapper Jr., the president’s director of national intelligence, who condemned those reporters as “accomplices” to Snowden’s disclosures and suggested that telling the truth should be treated as a serious crime. Of course, Clapper’s own blatant lies to the Senate Intelligence Committee, denying mass-scale surveillance of the American public under his direction, are to be presumed virtuous.
In reality, the documents Snowden shared with the reporters from The Guardian, The Washington Post and other news organizations with well-established records of journalistic integrity were reported on in a manner that was mindful not to reveal the sources and methods used to ferret out terrorists. There is no evidence that this reporting has weakened the US government’s ability to protect the nation or that the NSA’s mass surveillance of the private communications of Americans has made us safer.
On the contrary, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, concluded, after an exhaustive investigation in the wake of the Snowden revelations, that the NSA surveillance program should be ended, as it is ineffectual and dangerous to our freedoms. Defenders of the program, implemented under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, have argued that if that NSA program had been in operation, one of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar, would have been caught because of a call he made from San Diego to Yemen. But the board concluded in its majority report: “We do not believe the Mihdhar example supports continuance of the NSA’s Section 215 program. First, the failure to identify Mihdhar’s presence in the United States stemmed primarily from a lack of information sharing among federal agencies, not a lack of surveillance capabilities. As documented by the 9/11 commission and others, this was a failure to connect the dots, not a failure to collect enough dots.”