Illustration: David Rowe
Americans are figuring the monster at the bottom of the garden can't be tolerated - unless they know what kind of monster it is.
They bog down a lot on the traitor v patriot and hero v betrayer argy-bargy often used to steamroll any public debate about the controversial material the leaker in question has released into the public domain.
Knowing little about Washington's huge eavesdropping operations, they allowed themselves to be gulled by successive administrations that said ''trust us''.
But now, a sea change. Any one of the WikiLeaks-Assange, Manning or Snowden cases might not have got up a head of steam, but combined they have achieved critical mass - Americans are saying ''enough''.
The mood might change now that Edward Snowden is to be a guest of Moscow indefinitely. But despite all of Washington's bluster, Bradley Manning this week was found not to have ''aided the enemy''.
Similarly, a swag of opinion polls now show that perhaps Americans are working out it's the spooks that are the monster, not Snowden and his ilk. A poll released this week showed 55 per cent of Americans see Snowden as a whistleblower; and only 34 per cent ranked him as a traitor.
Almost three years ago, just 29 per cent of respondents in a Pew poll believed the Manning leaks served the public interest. But in June this year, 49 per cent rated the Snowden leaks as in the public interest. Finally Americans are having the debate they needed to have - the one President Obama was never too keen to instigate.
But there he was glad-handing a Congressional delegation at the White House, assuring them that he was ''open to suggestions'' on taming the NSA monster.
At the same time a geeky-looking guy called Edward Snowden was being escorted from the Moscow airport transit lounge where he has been marooned for weeks, to start his new life as a refugee in Russia.
Maybe there will be no substantive change. Washington is very good at pretending to do things. But what is being proposed as reform for national security surveillance is right.
Such as having a public advocate in the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court where things these days are too cosy. In a closed-door tribunal where the government that appoints the judges makes applications against individuals who are not present or represented in any way, just 11 out of 34,000 applications to snoop have been rejected over 30 years.
Like having the judges appointed by the president instead of by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. The former would require a public congressional confirmation process, which could usefully examine their respect for Fourth Amendment freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.
There has been graphic proof of the capacity of officials to lie to congress about the surveillance. And even at this stage of the debate, the administration and its talking heads still opt for the lie when it suits them.
Exhibit A - the Bradley Manning sentencing hearing. The Obama administration has always had great difficulty articulating the damage caused to the US by the soldier's leaking of 700,000 classified documents, so it called Robert Carr, a former head of the Defence Intelligence Agency.
Pressed for detail on anyone who had been harmed by the leaks, he claimed an Afghan had been murdered by the Taliban. Really? When the defence lawyer jumped in, arguing that the Afghan's name could not be found in any of the leaked documents, Carr conceded the point.
That Manning dodged the ''aiding the enemy'' charge, for which he could have faced the death penalty, ought to be instructive for Washington.
Vladimir Putin might have done Obama a favour. If the administration could get its hands on Snowden, hauling him back to face the music would land him in a civilian court - before a jury of his peers.
With public opinion running as it is in Snowden's favour, how difficult would it be for a clever defence team to construct a case in which jurors hear again and again that they were the victims of the monster at the bottom of the garden - and they wouldn't have known how dangerous it was had Snowden not revealed it.