The documents published thus far do not depict a rogue agency. They indicate—with partial, out-of-date and ambiguous evidence, mostly consisting of out-of-context presentation slides—that the NSA has plenty of flaws. How could it not? Like other government agencies and bureaucracies, it pushes the limits of its regulatory, political and judicial constraints. That is not surprising. Like people everywhere, NSA officials brag. They make mistakes (and get disciplined for them). Again, not too surprising.
To justify even a limited breach of secrecy, Snowden would need to prove something far more: evidence of systematic, gross wrongdoing, based on wilful contempt for judicial, legislative and political oversight. In such circumstances, the actions of a Daniel Ellsberg can be justified.
But nothing published by Snowden shows that. The NSA revealed in these documents looks nothing like J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. And Barack Obama, for all his faults, is not Richard Nixon, using the power of the state to go after his domestic enemies. On the contrary: The United States has put the most elusive and lawless part of government—intelligence—into the strongest system of legislative and judicial control anywhere in the world. Some want it still stronger (I think it’s too cumbersome and intrusive). But such questions are for the political process to settle. They do not justify catastrophic and destructive leaking.