John Kerry

Eileen McNamara: U.S. Sec. of State John Kerry seems to have forgotten how he used to feel about dissenters being called traitors. In this Oct. 11, 2013, file photo, Kerry looks out the window en route to the ISAF headquarters after a visit to Kabul, Afghanistan. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

John F. Kerry channeling Spiro T. Agnew? Now, there’s a bit of political alchemy no one would have predicted in 1971.

But there it was this week for all morning news viewers to see — the sputtering secretary of state hopping among network satellite feeds to declare Edward Snowden “a coward,” and “a traitor,” a 21st century nattering nabob of negativism who ought to “man up” instead of “just sitting there taking potshots at his country.”

This from one of the premier potshot takers of his generation. It was Kerry, a founder of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, who sat in the witness chair before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22, 1971 to call out U.S. policy in Vietnam and the then-vice president, in particular, for characterizing as “criminal misfits” those who were challenging the conduct of the war.

John F. Kerry channeling Spiro T. Agnew? Now, there’s a bit of political alchemy no one would have predicted in 1971.

“Those he calls misfits were standing up for us in a way that nobody else in this country dared to,” Kerry said of Agnew and the swelling ranks of dissenters that included college students, draft resisters and, yes, a defense contractor named Daniel Ellsberg who set off a legal firestorm when he leaked the Pentagon Papers to alert the American people to the pattern of government lies woven to justify a war that cost this country alone 58,000 lives.

“Daniel Ellsberg demonstrated enormous courage during a difficult and turbulent time in America’s history, courage which undoubtedly saved American lives on the battlefield and helped to hold politicians accountable for mistakes they refused to admit. His story reminds us that to fulfill the responsibilities of citizenship is to always ask questions and demand the truth,” then-Sen. Kerry wrote in 2002 of the man Richard Nixon’s Justice Department indicted under the same Espionage Act that Kerry would now wield against Snowden.

It is easy to forget that Ellsberg was not the folk hero he is today in 1971. For every protester who hailed him as a whistleblower, there were many more in Nixon’s Silent Majority who condemned him as a traitor, as Kerry this week condemned Snowden for “violating his oath that he took when he took on the job he took, and betraying, I think, the fundamental agreement that he entered into when he became an employee.”

Ellsberg, himself, this week denounced Kerry’s righteous demands that Snowden return to face charges as “disingenuous” or “ignorant” or both.

“Snowden would come back home to a jail cell — and not just an ordinary cell-block but isolation in solitary confinement, not just for months like Chelsea Manning but for the rest of his sentence, and probably the rest of his life,” Ellsberg wrote in The Guardian. “His legal adviser, Ben Wizner, told me that he estimates Snowden’s chance of being allowed out on bail as zero. (I was out on bond, speaking against the Vietnam war, the whole 23 months I was under indictment.)”

John Kerry, at age 27, speaks to the Foreign Relations subcommittee, in Washington, D.C., April 22, 1971. (Henry Griffin/AP)

John Kerry, at age 27, speaks to the Foreign Relations subcommittee, in Washington, D.C., April 22, 1971. (Henry Griffin/AP)

The charges against Ellsberg eventually were dropped after it was revealed that government agents had broken into his psychiatrist’s office to collect information in hopes of discrediting him. Despite the unprecedented war the Obama Administration has been waging on investigative journalists in the courts, it is unlikely to authorize an illegal break-in to further its campaign against Snowden.

Instead, it should abandon that misguided campaign altogether. Snowden’s motive in revealing the sweep of NSA surveillance, like Ellsberg’s, was to tell Americans what was being done secretly in their name. “My priority is not about myself,” he told NBC News this week. “It’s about making sure that these programs are reformed and that the family that I left behind, the country that I left behind, can be helped by my actions. And I will do everything I can to continue to work in the most responsible way possible — and to prioritize causing no harm while serving the public good.”

Even President Obama acknowledges that the open debate about surveillance and civil liberties that Snowden’s leaks spawned has made the nation stronger but, like Kerry, he clearly misses the irony.

[Kerry] has never fully integrated his dual identity as a war hero and an antiwar activist.

As we in Massachusetts know better than most, John Forbes Kerry has always been a conflicted man. The former senator from Massachusetts has never fully integrated his dual identity as a war hero and an antiwar activist. His critics have long dismissed him as a political chameleon, taking on whatever coloration might advance his career. Even his supporters suspect that is what he did in 2002 when he supported the invasion of Iraq. We all watched him lose a presidential election a decade ago trying awkwardly to reconcile the contradictions in his life story or to revise them to make himself more palatable to voters.

Edward Snowden, like Daniel Ellsberg before him, made a different choice. These men knew that their leaks would be the defining action of their lives and, no matter how much John Kerry huffs and puffs, it is clear that both of them accepted the consequences.


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  • sideflare

    Good column. Regarding Mr. Kerry, a
    s the saying goes, “where you stand depends on where you sit.” Snowden reminds me of (in a much less important area of life) Jose Canseco. I hated to learn from him about steroid use in baseball, but am glad the deceptions were revealed.

    • marcia23

      The difference is that Kerry stayed in this country and spoke his conscience and his views against government policy. He didn’t abscond to a country where his actions would have found him immediately jailed or worse with no due process.

      • Hari Singh Khalsa

        Kerry stayed because he wasn’t facing life in prison

      • arthursc

        Did you actually read the story? If Snowden stayed or returned, under the espionage act under which he is charged, he’d be thrown into solitary confinement immediately. His life would for all intents and purposes be over. And due process? Seriously? And Kerry wasn’t charged with anything–he didn’t need to fear arrest or worse. You have entirely missed the point.

        • Ashby87

          Did you read the story – his attorney said he would be in solitary according to Daniel Ellsberg? That is hardly conclusive.

          • arthursc

            First of all, his attorney said he would not be allowed bail. I’m not basing my opinion on Ellsberg;s comments about solitary, though I believe he is right. While Obama gave lip service to a dialogue about security, little has changed, and he and his admin are deeply embarrassed by Snowden’s revelations. To them he is an enemy of America.

            What do you think are the consequences of being charged under the espionage act? Given this administration’s unrelenting, merciless, and hypocritical (and I use those words pointedly)attack on whistleblowers of even minor level, why would you choose to believe Snowden would be treated any better than Chelsea Manning to whom solitary confinement was home? There’s no indication from this administration and from Kerry’s remarks that Snowden would not be treated as harshly as possible.

    • rockhauler

      it’s taken me a long time to come around to agreeing with your sentiment.

    • Appalled

      I agree. Kerry’s sexist language (“man up”) is antediluvian and reveals how far he has regressed since 1971. Snow took on the Evil Empire, which has caused inestimable mischief and parades around like it has every right to do so. A few more Snowdens and this country would not be in the mess it is in; a few more Kerrys and we’re toast.

  • gotham77

    If John Kerry had joined the military with the specific intention of searching for and finding something to discredit it with, THEN this comparison would be a valid one.

    Edward Snowden is NOT Chelsea Manning. They’re not the same at all, stop pretending they are. Edward Snowden is just an anti-Federalist ideologue who took that job for the sole purpose of finding something to use against the government. And then he ran like a coward, to a country that has all the characteristics he claims to be offended by, but more so. This is a hero? Please.

    • rockhauler

      how do you know that? is there factual evidence showing that’s why he took the job?

      • gotham77

        Oh, please. Don’t play dumb, you’re really not very good at it.

    • Hari Singh Khalsa

      You’re almost as condescending as I can be. But for the sake of argument, your view of Snowden is the only thing that clearly represents an ideology, here, your ” Anti-Federalist” assertion not withstanding. Your utter disdain for someone who put himself in harms way, to expose what he perceived as clandestine crimes committed behind closed doors, in a country that supposedly stands up against this type of thing shows what your ideology is -Totalitarianism.

    • SteveTheTeacher

      “Edward Snowden is just an anti-Federalist . . . ”

      You misspelled anti-fascist.

  • idler

    live and learn and think and re-examine and …
    is changing ones mind a few times over a lifetime unusual or evil ?

    • Hari Singh Khalsa

      My guess is that you weren’t around then when those events occurred back in the late 60’s. If that’s true, then why are commenting?

      • idler

        your guess is very wrong …

        • Hari Singh Khalsa

          I stand corrected for that. Nevertheless, Kerry is a despicable hypocrite, as the writer points out. The fact that you’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt means that you, like him and many in our generation have sold out, and become enablers of a corrupted democracy.

          • idler

            The point I was trying to make is that just because someone changes their mind does not make them a hypocrite. We have all benefited from others having revised their opinions.

            The article strikes me as an ad hominem attack on someone with whom the author disagrees … as are your comments.

            Whether or not I agree with Kerry is a separate issue – but persuasion is rarely accomplished by name calling and pointing out personal shortcomings.

          • SteveTheTeacher

            “. . . persuasion is rarely accomplished by name calling and pointing out personal shortcoming”

            You mean how President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry refer to whistle blowers as “cowards” and “traitors,” those who oppose them as “the enemy,” or the children that they kill with their drone strikes as “terrorists”?

          • idler

            exactly !

        • arthursc

          I understand your point idler. Honest changes of opinion–growth, evolution of ideas, etc–should be lauded. Many people’s opinions about same-sex marriage and by extension LGBT rights in general have changed, for the better, even Obama. We should be encouraging that kind of growth.

          But Kerry’s changes seem to be devolution; coming from a position of integrity and conscience to one of sllly, well, hypocrisy. This is not growth of the human spirit. To me his comments were insulting and offensive, as well.

          He’s not going to have a public comment in opposition to the President–he’s his Sec of State, after all. But to play John Wayne here, calling on Snowden to “man up” and calling him a coward is indefensible, even given his status. And it’s insulting because we all know Snowden would be thrown into the slammer immediately and probably forever should he return. Calling him a coward for wanting to avoid that fate–which would of course muzzle him forever too–is infuriatingly offensive and demeans us all.

          • idler

            Yes, it’s sad indeed to see Kerry behaving thus.
            Still, the McNamara’s article does the same, starting with its headline; and that’s what I was intending to complain of.

  • nukesnowden

    Snowden has endangered all of our lives. Good job buddy.

    • rockhauler

      while no supporter of snowden, i think it was the NSA that has endangered our lives. or perhaps we should keep our dirty little secrets secret? the truth will come out eventually.

    • Stranger_In_A_Strange_Land

      If you can read, you would know that Snowden endangered nothing.

      All Snowden has revealed is the illustrative, comic-book version for those that can’t read. Everything released has already been divulged to the public domain 6 years ago in a 2008 publication. Since the early 80s, Bamford has been the go-to author for NSA activity and he nailed it with The Shadow Factory, back in 2008:

      FISA circumvention
      Warrantless surveillance of all electronic activity
      Massive communication data storage and analysis for all by default
      Voice recognition
      Complete surveillance of all voice/data (satellite, wired, cellular, fiber internet, etc.)
      Complete surveillance of foreign countries like Mexico, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc.
      Tapping into fiber trunks worldwide
      Tapping into all ISP
      NSL coercion of ISP and software companies like Verizon, AT&T, Qwest, Microsoft, Cisco, etc. (143,074 NSLs)
      Sharing citizen information with 3rd party contractors and other foreign countries as matter of course
      Usurping UN/foreign diplomats via communication interception
      Cyberwarfare offensives

      Technology initiatives such as: PatternTracer, Agility, AMHS, Anchory, ArcView, Fastscope, Hightide, Hombase, Intelink, Octave, Document Management Center, Dishfire, CREST, Pinwale, COASTLINE, SNACKS, Cadence, Gamut, Mainway, Marina, Osis, Puzzlecube, Surrey, Tuningfork, Xkeyscore, Unified Tasking Tool, EDGE.

      Tools like Verint and Narus.

      It was all there in a 5 year old book when Snowden surfaced with the picture version.

      • Shava Nerad

        Also, “The Watchers, the rise of the American surveillance state,” which almost reads as a political biography of Rear Admiral John Poindexter, the man who computerized surveillance in the US in the 70s, should be required reading for anyone on any side of this question.

        I am a professional in this area and can state definitively that nothing coming out of Snowden’s releases is shocking to any international friend or foe of this country who simply reads the open sources of the international press, professional journals, and academic papers. So if you think he’s a traitor for informing the American citizen more popularly on what our own intel services are doing, I find that convolutedly jingoistic.

        In a democracy, why would the people not want to be informed at the same level that a professional such as myself might be? Personally, I have often asked myself the same question, since I find many issues in politics profoundly disturbing and needing public attention, but they aren’t “sound byte” issues, so no one will pressure their legislators.

        Snowden and his crew found a way to successfully raise an alarm on these issues in a way that retired NBA officers Binney et Al were not able to with essentially the same info in 2007.

        But the public, while moved to dialog and outrage is not moved to effective actoon. We are no longer an effective engine of democracy.

        • Stranger_In_A_Strange_Land


          Bamford details Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness (TIA) strategy as the genesis of the NSA’s enlarging approach to encompass all the disparate data it can gather.

          Unfortunately, I’m not sure it is the public that is unmoved, but rather the presumably representative officials unmoved to actually explore their constituent’s majority stance and act upon that as expressly outlined in their ‘job description.’

  • header

    thank you for bringing this to light. I was completely incensed when I heard those remarks from Kerry. And there are some others who obviously misunderstand the Value of Snowden’s actions He revealed a truth to the rest of us, at great personal cost. He never “wanted” to flee to Russia. He gave up his life with a fiancee in Hawaii. Kerry, why don’t you grow a pair, and face the USA policies which would imprison you if you spoke out today.

    • gotham77

      Snowden is laughing at you.

  • rockhauler

    is it true that John Kerry is our chief diplomat? is tact a qualification for that job? i’m puzzled, because name calling, whether it’s directed at an assumed spy or at the president of another country, is hardly a worthy demeanor for such an elevated position. in fact, i believe our chief diplomat’s statements are more in tune with creating a market for some strange product, with sound bytes intended to stir up the populace into believing they have to buy the product. his bellicose talk is not in line with some of the secretaries of state we used to have and today are known for their philosphies, knowledge, and accomplishment. i wonder how history will define kerry’s approach.

    • gotham77

      The chief diplomat of the United States is always the President. The Secretary of State is only his delegate.

      • rockhauler

        thanks for that info. i stand corrected, if you’re correct. i just don’t recall kissinger, brzezinski, or albright being so tacky. I think they were all chief-diplomat-delegates.

  • Aaron

    I didn’t realize that he also supported the Iraq war. After about 10 years and trillions of dollars totally wasted there, I read that in May 799 people were killed in violence across that country in just one month. Isn’t it known now that it was lies that took us to war in that country?, and look at the mess there is now. I would consider it very hypocritical if he approves the Keystone pipeline also, as he’s a big climate change speech-giver. You know this whole thing is summed up like in the Cruise-Nicholson movie scene “I want the truth”..”You can’t handle the truth”. Are we supposed to be happy and proud when we’re treated like a mushroom, feed us bull, and keep us in the dark?
    p.s. I did vote for Kerry-Edwards in ’04, not sure how I feel about all that in retrospect.

  • Bowed Bookshelf

    After hearing Snowden interviewed, it occurred to me that Kerry could find himself walking back his initial reaction. As you pointed out, Snowden represents a lot of what Kerry claims he believes. I think Kerry should not say any more about Snowden being a “traitor” since even we the public can see some serious contractions in who or what is “traitorous.”

  • maraith

    There’s a huge difference between dissenting publicly about a policy (Vietnam war) and sharing national secrets with the world. The latter is betrayal, not dissent.

  • B. R. Fly

    Kerry never sold our secrets.
    That is the big difference between him and Snowden.
    The very fact that so many agree that Snowden did a good thing give lie to his claims that he would not be fairly heard in a jury trial in this country.
    Snowden is simply a coward.
    Kerry sat before Congress, and the entire country to say what he thought was the truth, and he was willing to face what that meant.
    Snowden is hiding from the consequences of his actions.

  • Yog Soggoth

    He is a tool. They have him on video having sex with an underage girl. Easy to do. It happened a long time ago. That would ruin his great life, and politics would render him to the trash pile, then forgotten except to remind the other puppets! Long time puppet = muppet .