National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and Iraq war crime whistleblower PFC Bradley Manning seem to have a great deal in common and according to journalist Glenn Greenwald, Snowden was actually inspired by PFC Manning.
Both Manning and Snowden are slightly cute, vaguely nerdy white dudes who wear glasses; both find themselves on the wrong side of the law after revealing secrets that the powers that be would rather all of us not know; and both are veritable lightning rods for people on both sides of the aisle who call them whistleblowers, heroes, or traitors. Manning, of course, is gay; We don’t know about Snowden.
Here at Queerty, we’ve covered the Manning case quite a bit, but for the Snowden neophytes, here’s what you need to know: An employee of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton at the NSA, Snowden met with journalists from The Guardian, including Greenwald, who published bombshell stories detailing the U.S. Government’s strong-arm tactics to force Verizon to hand over phone records of private citizens, as well as achieving direct access from the NSA to personal information from the Facebook and Google accounts of private citizens.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting. A handy timeline from The Guardian itself gives the dates of the meetings between Snowden and their journalists, and the first meeting and the first published date of the Guardian exclusive story are within the first few days of June, at the same time the trial of one Private First Class Bradley Manning was to begin, ending the biggest wave of mainstream media attention the Manning trial has ever received to date. PFC Manning is not a mainstream media superstar like Snowden is becoming. The story is too messy, and is fraught with minefields like war crimes, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
A common criticism leveled at people like PFC Manning and Edward Snowden is that, in our reality television/YouTube/24 hour news cycle/reality obsessed generation, these are people who sold out their country for fame. While conversations on record prove that this could’ve been a very real motivation for PFC Manning, Snowden insists that it wasn’t his.
“I don’t want public attention because I don’t want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing,” he says in a profile in The Guardian. Indeed, the profile reveals a man who is almost pathologically obsessed with his own privacy as a result of his time at the NSA and his recent actions, and one who has little desire for fame or notoriety.
In Greenwald’s profile, the former NSA employee calls Manning “a classic whistleblower” who “was inspired by the public good.” Greenwald has himself referred to Manning as a hero, and in a Skyped talk to the Socialism 2013 conference over the weekend, the journalist said that Snowden cited Manning and Mohamed Bouazizi — a Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in protest of government harassment — as his role models.
Although PFC Manning is nowhere near as divisive a figure as Snowden is now, it’s impossible to deny the connection between the two. Both men are at the center of two of the biggest whistleblowing scandals in recent memory. Whether one inspired the other or not, both will inspire heated conversation and opinions for years to come.