Glenn Greenwald Calls 'Bulls***' On Snowden Doubters on 'Real Time'

Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden abetter and columnist of The Guardian, appeared on the June 20 edition of Real Time With Bill Maher determined to defend Snowden as a patriotic whistle blower. The agitated liberal journalist called “total bulls***” on Real Time panelist Paul Rieckhoff, veteran and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, for questioning Snowden’s true motives in fleeing to Russia.

Later in the segment, Rieckhoff questioned how Greenwald could “know that the information that he revealed did not cost American lives,” after Maher quoted Richard Clarke’s official statement that “what Snowden revealed has helped the terrorists.” The journalist shot back, “what American lives?” According to Greenwald, the Snowden investigative committee was merely “reading from the script they always read from” to prevent “transparency” in the government. [See video below. Click here for MP3 audio]

The heated debate quickly devolved from there. Greenwald remained determined to portray the committee’s warning as “propaganda,” while the veteran focused on the cost in American lives Snowden’s whistle blowing would inflict on the armed services.

Even the left-wing Maher seemed skeptical of Greenwald’s steadfast commitment to disregard any real danger caused by Snowden to American security.

See transcript below [warning: profanity]

HBO
Real Time With Bill Maher
June 20, 2014
10:26 p.m. Eastern
6 minutes and 10 seconds


BILL MAHER: You know, I think most people have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand we do want our government to be transparent. On the other hand, we do have real enemies who really do play soccer with people's heads. I don't want that to happen to me. So I think we do sympathize and a lot of us think -- a lot of us think that what Snowden did was great and your abetting him. But we also think, if we are going to have someone who is going to, you know, be the one to take secret materials and disseminate it, why you? You weren't elected to that post. That seems to be what the question always comes down to.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right, except there is this thing the Constitution that does say that there's a guaranteed a free press. The reason for that is because the founders knew and I think anybody who pays minimal attention to any politics anywhere knows that when people in power can operate in the dark, inevitably they have abuse that power. So you need outside forces to bring light and transparency to what they’re doing and one of the ways you do that is through journalism and through guaranteeing a free press. That is its purpose to provide a check on their power.

MAHER: Let me read you, okay. And I agree with that in theory. Let me read you Michael Kingsley. He's got an answer to this. He says “the Constitution is for everyone. There shouldn't be a special class of people called journalists with privileges like publishing secret government documents.”

GREENWALD: Yeah, I agree with that. I mean the idea of journalism was that citizens can do that. That was what the free press was. It wasn't this class of people who worked for a large media outlet. It was a tool to let citizens work against the government, work against people in power through the printing press, through all kinds of activity and you're protected from that. Let me just say this. If you look at what the biggest problem government is and you ask yourself is the biggest problem that there's too much secrecy or is the problem that there’s too much transparency I think everybody across the political spectrum would agree that the problem is way too much secrecy and not enough transparency.

MAHER: Well, certainly not everyone would agree with that. Richard Clarke was here last week--

GREENWALD: Yeah, the people who work in the government wouldn’t agree with that.

MAHER: Woah, woah, woah. Richard Clarke doesn’t work in the government.

GREENWALD: Well he did for a long time.

MAHER: For a long time and he was hardly the bad guy. Well--

PAUL RIECKHOFF: But there is a larger debate here. If Snowden did release these documents and we find out it does perform a service, at the same time he's still hiding in Russia. I mean it would be a different story if he came back and made his case and faced the music.

GREENWALD: That is total bullshit. Let me just say --

RIECKHOFF: I don't think that's total bullshit at all. I don’t think that’s total bullshit at all

GREENWALD: Why would Edward Snowden want to come back to the United States? A country that has a systematic attack on whistle blowers--

RIECKHOFF: Why would he hide in Russia?

GREENWALD: He's not hiding. He has asylum. Daniel Elsberg wrote an Op-Ed in 2013 and Daniel Elsberg said Edward Snowden is just like me and he is right to flee the country --

RIECKHOFF: But it’s now devolved, it’s now devolved into a discussion about Snowden instead about the issue.

GREENWALD: Well that’s because you just talked about Snowden in Russia, I agree that’s not the issue.

RIECKHOFF: Let him come back and make that case here on the show or anywhere else.

GREENWALD: His being in Russia doesn’t stop you from talking about the NSA.

RIECKHOFF: But it doesn’t help American interests either.

MAHER: Let me get back to the core issue. Which is, did he hurt us in a way that we can't forgive him for? Richard Clarke who I do respect, I'm sorry, I'm not sorry -- I'm proud that I respect Richard Clarke. He said

President Obama appointed me to a five-person group to review the entire issue around Snowden and he had all the clearances in the world. And we looked at what he leaked. What Snowden revealed has helped the terrorists. This is not a theory. He revealed things that there was no reason to reveal and only help people like Putin and the terrorists.

Now, I don't know because I'm not on this five-person committee that saw things only he saw.

GREENWALD: There is no whistle blower where people in government don’t say that. Daniel Ellsberg is considered a hero by everybody. You just said “he’s no Ellsberg.” Go look what the Nixon administration said in 1971 when he wasn’t a hero. He's helping the Russians. He's probably a Russian spy. He's putting men and women in harm's way. People in the national security establishment, like Richard Clarke, even if they’re well intentioned, hate transparency, they want to work in secrecy. They say this in every instance that somebody brings transparency to them, you are helping the terrorists.

RIECKHOFF: You have, you have such certainty–

GREENWALD: It’s just propaganda–

RIECKHOFF: But you have such certainty. And, and I respect your position. You have such certainty. How do you know that the information that he revealed --

GREENWALD: Because, I’ll tell you–

RIECKHOFF: Let me finish, let me finish--Did not cost American lives? How do you know that?

GREENWALD: What American lives? Is there a single piece of evidence–

RIECKHOFF: Richard Clarke and others are apparently they're looking at the information --

GREENWALD: That isn’t evidence. They’re reading from the script they always read from. What Edward Snowden didn’t release a single document. He came to two of the most well-regarded newspapers in the world. And he said, I am giving you this material and  I want you very carefully to vet it and only release that which is necessary to inform my fellow citizens about what they’re government is doing. We’ve had tens of thousands of documents for over a year and a tiny percentage of those has been released at his insistence. The real criticism comes from people like WikiLeaks that says, you haven’t released enough. I have respect for that criticism. The criticism that we’ve released too much and there’s all kinds of dead Americans all around this is propaganda.

RIECKHOFF: I don’t think it’s necessarily propaganda, I mean you haven’t answered the questions.

GREENWALD: Where are the dead Americans? Who are they--        

RIECKHOFF: Do you know for a fact that there aren’t?

GREENWALD: Where are they? You’re making the allegations

RIECKHOFF: I'm telling you that you’re so certain. You are so certain. I wouldn't be that aggressive in my certainty. And I think we’re going to see how this plays out. There is an important role–let me finish, let me finish--there's an important role for whistle blowers in our society. And I will defend whistle blowers. Whistle blowers broke the V.A. System in Phoenix. If not for whistle blowers we would not know -- there's an important role for them.

MAHER: Come on, you said what are their names--

RIECKHOFF: But they have responsibility too!

MAHER:  If they were in the C.I.A. We wouldn't know that–

GREENWALD: Exactly, that's obvious.

MAHER: That’s why the put the star on the wall, they never knew who they were

RIECKHOFF: They're not going to issue a press release.

MAHER: Never knew who the --

GREENWALD: So we're just supposed to take the government’s word?

RIECKHOFF: But we’re supposed to take your word?

GREENWALD: I think you should have evidence for accusations you want to make.

Laura Flint
Laura Flint is a 2014 summer intern for the MRC's News Analysis Division.