June 13, 2013 9:35 am
Updated: June 13, 2013 12:44 pm

Bradley Manning vs Edward Snowden: Comparing America’s whistleblowers

In this handout photo provided by The Guardian, Edward Snowden (left) speaks during an interview in Hong Kong. In the image on the right, U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning is escorted as he leaves a military court at the end of the first of a three-day motion hearing June 6, 2012 in Fort Meade, Maryland.

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TORONTO – The whereabouts of a former CIA employee who leaked top-secret documents about U.S. surveillance programs remain unknown three days after he checked out of a Hong Kong hotel.

Edward Snowden arrived in Hong Kong on May 20 and was last seen Monday afternoon, when he left his Hong Kong hotel.

Snowden’s identity as the source of the secret information was revealed on Sunday at his own request.

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READ MORE: NSA leaker Snowden says he’s not hiding from justice in Hong Kong in new interview

U.S. authorities have yet to bring charges against the 29-year-old Snowden or file an extradition request with Hong Kong. Legal experts said quirks in the Hong Kong legal system could allow Snowden to draw that process out for months or years through appeals.

Snowden might also block extradition altogether by claiming he would be subject to the same harsh treatment as WikiLeaks source Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who was held alone for nine months in a windowless cell 23 hours a day, sometimes with no clothing, drawing complaints from human rights groups and the United Nations’ chief torture investigator.

Currently on trial, Manning sent troves of classified U.S. documents in 2010 to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. The files documented complaints of abuses against Iraqi detainees, a U.S. tally of civilian deaths in Iraq, and America’s weak support for the government of Tunisia – a disclosure that Manning supporters said helped trigger the Middle Eastern pro-democracy uprisings known as the Arab Spring.

Watch: Edward Snowden, who has confessed to being the source of the leaks exposing the NSA programs, remains in hiding in Hong Kong.

Alongside with Manning, Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers.

Both men have been classified as heroes by supporters while others have labeled the men as “traitors.”

In a span of three years, the back-to-back breaches have “forced U.S. intelligence officials to examine whether the cases are isolated in scope or part of a new category of exposure emerging at the edges of classified U.S. networks,” said Greg Miller in The Washington Post.

But many critics argue that the comparisons between Manning and Snowden go beyond generational ties.

“Both enlisted in the Army during the war in Iraq only to later say they were disillusioned by that conflict,” wrote Miller. “Neither has a college degree or extensive academic training in computer science. And yet both were technically savvy, able to navigate sensitive computer networks and smuggle classified files.”

Miller said that Snowden and Manning both “took advantage of access to computer systems that expanded exponentially in the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, partly in an effort to make critical information available across agencies.”

But Snowden himself said in an interview with The Guardian that while he admires Manning, there is one important distinction between himself and the army private:

“I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest… There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”

The Daily Telegraph’s Raf Sanchez agrees.

In a June 10 post, Sanchez wrote that while Manning and Snowden share many similarities, in their action there is a crucial distinction.

“Unlike the soldier, whose lawyers argue he was ‘young, naive, but good-intentioned,’ Snowden appears to have known exactly what he was passing on and to have understood its significance,” wrote Sanchez.

On Twitter, MSNBC’s Christopher Hayes said he found it interesting the way Snowden distinguished himself from Manning:

While Huffington Post senior writer Radley Balko concurs with Snowden on proper whistleblower protocol.


Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo (TPM) wrote that while Snowden makes an effort to distinguish himself from Manning and that he [Snowden] “seems to be who Manning’s supporters always wanted to pretend he was but wasn’t,” both whistleblowers are “fundamentally the same.”

Marshall does argue that Snowden did take his story into a genuinely unprecedented place. “He wasn’t caught, as Manning was,” wrote Marshall. “He’s freely revealed himself, albeit from foreign soil. And he’s made it possible for himself to speak directly to the American public before he gets taken into custody, if that happens. That puts a human dimension to this story that may lead in unexpected directions.”

In a post in The Guardian, Daniel Ellsberg—who 40 years ago leaked the Pentagon Papers to expose the scale of U.S involvement in Vietnam—hailed both men as heroes and that Snowden’s “whistleblowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an ‘executive coup’ against the U.S. constitution.”

WATCH: Protesters outside the US Consulate in Hong Kong show support for Edward Snowden.

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