Is Edward Snowden The Hottest Whistleblower?

Seems like everyday there’s more news about Edward Snowden, because, you know, there is. It’s a huge story, on lots of levels. Privacy implications, national security, Snowden’s own odyssey from Hong Kong through Moscow’s airport to who knows where as of this posting. It’s even got it’s own term of art, the Snowden Effect, the “direct and indirect gains in public knowledge from the cascade of events and further reporting that followed Edward Snowden’s leaks of classified information.” Here’s the thing, though: would this story be as big if Edward Snowden wasn’t kind of hot?

Well, it would be different. There have been lots of complaints that the media is concentrating too much on Snowden’s own story with not enough emphasis on the staggering information he’s shared. But with every revelation there’s that screenshot from Glenn Greenwald’s original interview with Snowden in Hong Kong: boyish, earnest, clean cut, scarily eloquent and, you know, doable. This kid doesn’t look like any treasonous villain I know. I mean he’s no Ethel Rosenberg, right?

Or is he? Compare him with whistleblowers, leakers and/or traitors throughout history help. We thought so. Herewith, a list.


Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

The Rosenbergs were convicted of passing atomic secrets to the Soviets and executed in 1953. They denied their involvement to the end, but Soviet cables declassified in 1995 confirmed Julius acted as a courier and recruiter for the Soviets; they were ambiguous about Ethel. There was widespread belief among left-leaning intellectuals at the time, including Jean-Paul Sartre, in the Rosenbergs’ innocence, or that their punishment was too harsh, but after two years of appeals and protest the Rosenbergs became the only American civilians to be executed for espionage during the Cold War. Like Nixon with Kennedy, the Rosenbergs came off just a little five o’clock shadowy. Maybe it would have been different on radio.

Snowden 90% more appealing


Erin Brockovich

She was a law clerk without any real legal training, and haunted by a series of mysterious illnesses in the town of Hinckley, California linked to wastewater from a nearby power plant. And Julia Roberts played her in the 2000 movie. She also did a really bad reality show for Lifetime in 2003 called Final Justice but we’re not holding it against her, she’s awesome.

Snowden 10% more appealing


Bradley Manning

Private First Class Manning was arrested in Iraq in 2010 on suspicion of downloading over half a million classified documents to Wikileaks, including army reports, combat videos, and a bunch of really frank and, for many of the subjects, embarrassing, diplomatic cables that may or may not have played a role in the Arab Spring uprisings. The video of a U.S. Apache helicopter opening fire on a group of civilians in Eastern Baghdad racked up over 13 million hits on YouTube. He’s on trial now for aiding the enemy. Manning is tiny, gay, and unassuming, we’re told, though he has not had the benefit of nicely produced video that might prove otherwise.

Snowden 80% more appealing


Mark Whitacre

In the 1990’s Whitacre worked for Archer Daniel Midlands, the super giant agribusiness, and fell in with the FBI to expose a massive price-fixing scheme. More importantly, he was played by Matt Damon in the movie version of the story, “The Informant!” But Damon’s not who we’re comparing with.

Snowden 70% more appealing


Julian Assange

Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006 and claims over 1.2 million leaks since, including Manning’s. Last year Sweden pressed charges and Assange was forced to find asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he’s been holed up ever since. He and WikiLeaks have been providing Snowden with counsel, because they’re pretty expert at this leaking and international evasion business by now. Some people think Assange bears passing resemblance to Bill Maher. Don’t see how that helps his case.

Snowden 60% more appealing


Sherron Watkins

She blew the whistle on Enron with her internal memo about accounting irregularities that proved executives knew exactly what the hell was going on, Ken Lay. With Coleen Rowley of the FBI and Cynthia Cooper of WorldCom, she was named one of Time’s Persons of the Year 2002: The Whistleblowers. Rowley’s a nice looking lady from accounting. Fun at an office party, probably.

Snowden 75% more appealing


Daniel Ellsberg

Like Snowden, Daniel Ellsberg was a contract player in the military-industrial complex, a former U.S. military analyst then employed by the RAND Corporation. In 1971, Ellsberg leaked a top-secret Pentagon study, to become known as the Pentagon Papers, to the New York Times and the shit hit the fan. The military, and by extension the Nixon Administration, was flat out lying to the American public about what was really happening in the Vietnam War. The godfather of leakers says, “Snowden’s whistleblowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an ‘executive coup’ against the US constitution.” Ellsberg’s personal story played basically no part in his revelation.

Snowden 50% more appealing


Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat

He kept it a secret for more than thirty years but one of the modern era’s most famous leakers finally came out in 2005 and admitted he was Deep Throat. It was FBI agent Mark Felt who supplied damning information to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, which helped lead to President Nixon’s resignation in 1974 and the political thriller All the President’s Men starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. Hal Holbrooke played Deep Throat, all petulant and demanding. Since Felt was leaking off the record late at night in a subterranean parking garage, there’s really no comparison.

Snowden 95% more appealing


Mordechai Vanunu

When this former Israeli nuclear technician revealed details of Israel’s nuclear weapons program to the British press in 1986 it confirmed what everyone had thought for a long time and what Israel still denies, that it has the bomb. Later he was lured to Italy by a Mossad agent, where he was drugged and abducted by Israeli intelligence agents, transported to Israel and ultimately convicted in a trial behind closed doors. He served 17 years in prison, and is routinely hounded by Israeli authorities to this day. Secrets! They get you in trouble, but he’s a solidly handsome man in that sun-kissed on a Tel Aviv beach kind of way.

Snowden 30% more appealing


Frank Serpico

Another whistleblower immortalized on film, this time by Al Pacino. Serpico was an NYPD detective in 1971 when he testified about rampant corruption on the force. He was later shot in the face and left the country.

Snowden 80% more appealing


Vidkun Quisling

Quisling was the Norwegian Minister of Defense and founded the country’s fascist party in 1933. When the Nazis invaded Norway in 1940 they installed Quisling and his quisling followers as the puppet government. And that’s where we get that great term that’s defined as “a slur for any individual who seems to favor a foreign nation more than his own.” And the guy basically looks like a blonde Hitler, which made him no more appealing than the original.

Snowden 80% more appealing


Jeffrey Wigand

In an appearance on 60 Minutes in 1996, Wigand, a former tobacco company executive, claimed Big Tobacco knew their products contained addictive levels of nicotine. And he was played by the more appealing Russell Crowe in the 1999 film “The Insider.”

Snowden 80% more appealing


Linda Tripp

Oh, God, remember this bitch? Sorry, I meant self-aggrandizing cow who plunged the country into the ridiculous, all-consuming Monica Lewinsky scandal of the entire late 90’s? What a colossal waste of time and column inches and international prestige, and everything! Not all whistleblowers are the good kind.

Snowden 100% more appealing


Benedict Arnold

At the beginning of the American Revolution, Arnold was a successful American commander but felt unappreciated and humiliated by his adversaries, so he offered the British enemy West Point. The plot was exposed and Arnold fled, joining the British army outright. It’s said he regretted his treason and on his deathbed in London uttered: “Let me die in this old uniform in which I fought my battles. May God forgive me for ever having put on another.” God may have forgiven him, but his name remains synonymous with traitor in America.

Snowden 90% more appealing