Compare and Contrast

I love how, on a mailing list I belong to that is full of Ph.D.s and J.D.s, when I call for practical approaches to real-world problems I’m called “anti-intellectual” and in other forums when I allude to someone’s level of formal education – or lack thereof – I’m called “elitist.” What’s the old saying? If you’re pissing both sides off equally you must be doing something right.

The latest example?

I recently brought up the fact that neither Bradley Manning nor Edward Snowden were Daniel Ellsberg. I didn’t come out and say ‘they weren’t fit to hold his jock,’ I was pointing out that when you compared who they were and what they did, Dr. Ellsberg is a whole different class of actor. Let’s get on the ‘tubes and let me show you what I mean:

Daniel Ellsberg

Education: Harvard undergraduate (on scholarship); Cambridge (Wilson Fellowship); Harvard (again) for graduate school and eventually his Ph.D.

Employment: USMC officer (honorable); RAND Corporation; the Department of State and the Department of Defense (he didn’t work “in the Pentagon” he worked for the Secretary of Defense).

Access: With regards to the “Pentagon Papers” he operated at the highest level and knew the full contents of the report.


Bradley Manning

Education: High School; One semester of Community College (dropped out)

Employment: Software developer (for four months); Pizza parlor; US Army Intelligence Analyst

Access: A variety of classified military, intelligence and diplomatic systems accessible in theater.


Edward Snowden

Education: Dropped out of high school; earned GED; briefly attended Community College.

Employment: US Army (never got out of training status); contract security guard; IT engineer at the CIA and NSA

(Reported) Access: Discrete systems supporting HUMINT and SIGINT operations.


Snowden wasn’t an intelligence operator or analyst, he was an IT guy who supported intelligence operators and analysts. Sports agents know a lot about sports, but no one confuses them for players. Manning had access to a lot of data, but he was a junior analyst who (if the Army still works like it worked when I was in) was focused on a particular problem set, not the Middle East theater writ large. If you worked with either one of these guys you wouldn’t care what they thought about anything work-related beyond the very narrow slice where they had demonstrable expertise, but because you know nothing about intelligence work and they happened to have a clearance you think they’re all that and a bag of crisps.

I’m not saying Snowden and Manning aren’t smart. I’m not saying they’re not earnest in their beliefs. I’m saying if I’m going to accept the judgment of an individual about issues of national if not international import, the guy who did nothing but flex the muscles in his 18-pound brain and had full view of the entire problem has a lot more credibility.

If that makes me elitist, well, I’ll be over here sipping cognac if you want to slap me across the face with a velvet glove.