Proud of the whistleblowers

Glenn Greenwald's San Francisco appearance and Julian Assange's plea from exile crystallize a year of surveillance state revelations

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Glenn Greenwald amplifies the leaks of documents that are damning to the US government.

rebecca@sfbg.com

A lot has happened since June 2013, when famed Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, then 82, donned a pink feather boa to lead an energized San Francisco Pride Parade contingent on behalf of US Army private Bradley Manning, who couldn't attend due to being held in federal custody.

Manning, a whistleblower who stood accused of leaking classified US documents, was celebrated as a queer hero by the more than 1,000 parade participants. They hailed the young private's courageous decision to share US military secrets with WikiLeaks in a bid to expose human rights atrocities committed during the Iraq War.

The Bradley Manning Contingent had been ignited by the drama following Manning's nomination as a grand marshal for Pride, then crowned grand marshal in an erroneous public statement, an announcement that was then emphatically revoked by the San Francisco Pride Board of Directors.

The messy, embarrassing incident made international headlines and sent a torrent of criticism raining down upon Pride. Progressives sharply condemned the board as spineless for being afraid to stand with a celebrated queer whistleblower whose act of self-sacrifice could alter the course of history.

In late August 2013, Manning announced that she identified as female and would be known as Chelsea Manning from that day forward. The announcement was concurrent with her sentencing to 35 years in prison for leaking classified US government documents.

The whistleblower's name and gender identity aren't the only things to change since last year: Chelsea Manning has been named an honorary grand marshal for the 2014 Pride celebration.

"The 2013 SF Pride Board's controversial decision to revoke her status as Grand Marshal fueled an international controversy and created intense strife within the local LGBT and progressive communities," a statement on Pride's website explains. "In January, in the spirit of community healing, and at the behest of SF Pride's membership, the newly elected SF Pride Board of Directors reinstated Manning's status as an honorary Grand Marshal for the 2014 Celebration and Parade."

The other game-changing subplot of this continuing whistleblower saga, of course, began to unfold just weeks before the 2013 Pride celebration, when former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden came forward to explain that he'd leaked secret NSA documents to expose a sweeping dragnet surveillance program intercepting millions of Americans' digital communications, because he believed it posed a threat to democracy and personal freedom.

Snowden first unmasked himself as an NSA whistleblower in a statement filmed in a hotel room in Hong Kong; he's now in Russia, where he's been temporarily granted asylum. Ellsberg recently joined an advisory board to the newly formed, Berlin-based Courage Foundation, which has set up a legal defense fund for Snowden. Manning continues to serve out her prison sentence, while Julian Assange, founder and publisher of WikiLeaks (which exposed Manning's leaks to a global audience) marked his second anniversary of being confined within the walls of the Ecuadoran Embassy in London on June 19.

Meanwhile Glenn Greenwald, whom Snowden selected as the recipient of his revelatory NSA files, has just embarked on a US book tour.

"The last year has been a bit intense," Greenwald told a sold-out audience at San Francisco's Nourse Theater on June 18, shortly after his arrival onstage was greeted with a standing ovation. His newly released book, No Place To Hide, provides an overview of what's transpired in the movement against government surveillance since Snowden first approached him with leaked NSA documents.

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