Befitting a boy who obviously views himself as the Second Coming, Ed Snowden blessed us mere mortals with an “Alternative Christmas Message” on BBC4. It’s not as bad as you’d imagine. It’s worse.
The main theme was “end mass surveillance.” Apparently irony is lost on Ed, because he delivered this message (filmed by Laura Poitras, ‘natch) from Moscow, capitol of the Land of Sorm. I might take him seriously if he delivered the same message on NTV, or in Red Square-or to Putin’s face, a la Khodorkovsky circa 2003.
This epistle comes hard on the heels of an extended Snowden interview with Bart Gelmann. Actually, “interview” doesn’t really convey the full truth. ”Slobber job” comes somewhat closer.
The very first day the Snowden story broke, a friend asked me what I thought of him. My very first impression was of a grandiose narcissist.
I didn’t know the Nth of it. The entire interview consists of Snowden instructing us on his great moral superiority (especially over those in government whom he refers to as “the overseers”) and penetrating judgment. Some lowlights:
“For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished,” he said. “I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.” [Oh how will we ever thank you?!?]
“All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed,” he said [from Russia]. “That is a milestone we left a long time ago. Right now, all we are looking at are stretch goals.”
. . . .
“I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA,” he said. “I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it.”
And the best one:
“Let them say what they want,” he said. “It’s not about me.”
Word to the wise. Just as when someone says “It’s not about the money” it’s about the money, when someone says “it’s not about me” it’s about them.
Then there are whoppers like this:
“I don’t care whether you’re the pope or Osama bin Laden,” he said. “As long as there’s an individualized, articulable, probable cause for targeting these people as legitimate foreign intelligence, that’s fine. I don’t think it’s imposing a ridiculous burden by asking for probable cause. Because, you have to understand, when you have access to the tools the NSA does, probable cause falls out of trees.”
If probable cause “falls out of trees”, why is the number of times that metadata connections have led to the issuance of less than 60 warrants to surveil communications of American subjects (which do require probable cause)? Note the fundamental dishonesty of this statement. Yes, collection of metadata is fairly characterized as indiscriminate (but also fairly characterized as Constitutional based on Supreme Court decisions), but to go beyond that does require NSA to obtain warrants based on “individualized, ariticulable (and articulated) probable cause.” To insinuate otherwise, as Snowden does, is low and dishonest.
For a supposed genius who should be trusted with substituting his judgment on matters of secrecy and security for those who are the legitimately constituted authorities to make such judgments, Ed is totally clueless on the paradox of markets for information:
“But when you weigh that against the alternative, which is not to act,” he said, “you realize that some analysis is better than no analysis. Because even if your analysis proves to be wrong, the marketplace of ideas will bear that out. If you look at it from an engineering perspective, an iterative perspective, it’s clear that you have to try something rather than do nothing.”
Um, that doesn’t work when the issue is what is, and what is not, legitimately a state secret. Revealing what is secret, and then asking “should this be kept secret” is an absurdity. Once the secret has been revealed, the question becomes totally moot. (“Hey. We’ve broken the German Enigma code. Should we keep this a secret, or not, people?”)
This is exactly why issues relating to security and secrecy are so difficult. They are fundamentally incompatible with public debate, except in broad generalities. And this is precisely one of the benefits of republican, as opposed to democratic, government. But it is a difficult challenge even for republican (i.e., delegated) government, and is definitely not amenable to the simplistic nostrums that Snowden (and others, like Assange and Greenwald) push, dripping Olympian disdain all the while.
Moreover, Snowden does not address, and the sycophantic Gelmann does not press him to address, other crucial questions. For instance, if Snowden’s overriding concern is for individual privacy, why have the bulk of the recent revelations involved matters of intelligence involving foreign governments? Moreover, if Snowden had a very specific concern relating to individual privacy, why did he indiscriminately scrape documents reputed to number in the millions, rather than limiting his whistle blowing to a smaller set of representative documents that would illustrate his point? Relatedly, was there a way to make his point that posed less of a threat to US national security than stealing hundreds of thousands of documents, then absconding to countries hostile to the United States? And if his case is so overwhelming, why has virtually every story-every damned one-been presented in an exaggerated and misleading way, with the errors and distortions being pointed out with devastating accuracy usually within 24 hours? Doesn’t that suggest that he is not the honest agent for the public interest he claims to be?
Not to say that the Gellman piece was without its comic moments:
It would be odd if Russian authorities did not keep an eye on him, but no retinue accompanied Snowden and his visitor saw no one else nearby. Snowden neither tried to communicate furtively nor asked that his visitor do so. He has had continuous Internet access and has talked to his attorneys and to journalists daily, from his first day in the transit lounge at Sheremetyevo airport.
Stop it Bart! You’re killing me! Um, have you ever heard of, I dunno, electronic surveillance? Do you really f*cking believe that the Russians didn’t hear every word you uttered? Ever think that “continuous Internet access” might be continuously monitored? That those daily conversations with lawyers and journos are monitored-and perhaps scripted? Can you really be such a big dipshit?
The only thing more depressing than the Snowden Sermon is that so many people eat it up. At best he is a pretentious poser who arrogates to himself decisions on grave matters of national security that he is judgmentally and temperamentally incompetent to make. At worst he is the witting agent of a foreign power, and has been all along. Either way: the (grandiose) gift who keeps on giving, and giving, and giving. Such Christmas gifts we could do without.