“Plug these leaks,” says the improbable print headline over this morning’s lead editorial in the Washington Post. Sub-headline: “Prosecuting Edward Snowden is less important than keeping him from revealing more secrets.” Snowden, dismissively identified as a “fugitive contractor,” seems to have left his job at the National Security Agency with more than one zip drive up his sleeve. Even while more or less imprisoned at a Moscow Airport hotel for the past week, he has kept up his steady drip of embarrassing leaks about the National Security Agency.
The Post does not like Mr. Snowden. Neither does anyone else, it seems. Even Vladimir Putin clearly wishes he could be made to disappear, like in the old days. And now Snowden is being mentored by the equally obnoxious Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.
But the Post would also like to change the subject away from prosecution to avoid difficult questions, the main one being: If Snowden’s leaks are so awful and so damaging, why did the Washington Post publish them? The Post was the main American beneficiary of Snowden’s information. Ever since Watergate, the Post has been a symbol of the important role of leaks in the functioning of democracy. So put it another way: If the Post felt free to run this information, how damaging to the nation could it be?
Prosecuting Snowden would inevitably raise the question: If Snowden is guilty of a crime, why isn’t Bart Gellman (the Post reporter who was the recipient of Snowden’s leaks) guilty also? Is it that Gellman isn’t a government employee and never signed a secrecy agreement? Well, that’s a difference, but not one that would lift the weight of guilt off the back of the reporter if he or she is walking around free—perhaps even carrying a Pulitzer Prize—while his or her source rots in jail or a Moscow airport hotel.