Streetwise Professor

December 25, 2013

A Christmas Message From Our New Messiah

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 5:19 pm

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.

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  1. All I have to say in answer to this xmas day polemic is:

    Judge Leon NSA Case 1: NSA 0
    WH NSA Panel 1 : NSA 0

    Happy New Year!

    Comment by OpenUp — December 26, 2013 @ 9:48 am

  2. Snowden’s comments instantly brought my thoughts back to an article I recently read.

    I buy into Snowden because he is soooo smart! Boy, am I ever smart!

    HT Small Dead Animals.

    Comment by Gordon — December 26, 2013 @ 10:37 am

  3. While I share your skepticism about Moscow’s role (as with Max Keiser’s attacks on capitalism coming out of RT), it is equally ironic to have your copasetic imprimatur applied to anything that comes out of the Supreme Court [re Snowden being “dishonest”:] ” Yes, collection of metadata is fairly characterized as indiscriminate (but also fairly characterized as Constitutional based on Supreme Court decisions).” It is difficult to find one of the Bill of Rights that has not been trashed with impunity : Protesters at the DNC penned behind razor wire enclosures in a “free speech zone,” seizure of property prior to a finding of guilt, sophism taken to a fine art in justifying invasions of privacy, stop and frisk, mockery of Habeus Corpus, one undeclared war after another, and most recently, sanctioning of a massive 2500-page monstrosity of a law passed in the dead of night without having been read (and the Senate majority leader virtually bragging about the fact). Now I have never trusted a government where the President reserves the right to override the people’s choice for state governors, but this is no worse than rule in a “republic by Executive Order.

    Comment by Robert — December 27, 2013 @ 12:10 am

  4. @Robert. I certainly do not endorse every Supreme Court decision. My inclinations are strongly libertarian/classical liberal, and therefore am critical of many of the decisions you mention. But I am very aware of trade-offs between individual liberty and national security. I only mention the SCOTUS decision re metadata to point out that it is not self-evident that metadata collection is a violation of the 4th Amendment. SCOTUS has not made the 4th a dead letter. It does overturn some state actions as violations of it. And insofar as the NSA is concerned, given this decision it is reasonable for it to interpret the decision as establishing the legality of metadata collection, meaning that NASA is not deliberately flouting the law, as Snowden et al are effectively claiming it does.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 27, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

  5. Professor, you’re in the New York Times today. Apparently they’re out of arguments against commodities trading and now they’re resorting to ad-hominems and conspiracy theories.

    Comment by qqq — December 28, 2013 @ 1:08 am

  6. Re: Failure to disclose financial interests: “[W]hen someone says “It’s not about the money” it’s about the money.” Your denials are ironic, are they not?

    Comment by James Roach — December 28, 2013 @ 8:11 am

  7. A libertarian defending mass surveillance by the NSA? You’ve mastered double-think! All hail Big Brother!

    Comment by Pete — December 28, 2013 @ 9:17 am

  8. One might draw the conclusion that based on the NYT article that the Streetwise Professor is a whore but that would discredit an honorable profession.

    Comment by Louis Proyect — December 28, 2013 @ 9:32 am

  9. Pot meet kettle. All about for the money for you too. I hate hypocrites.

    Comment by qqq — December 28, 2013 @ 9:57 am

  10. I don’t like ad hominem attacks in any context. I remember when I first started discussing politics on my facebook page I was warned by friends and family that things would very quickly turn ugly. I set up a few hard and fast rules about conduct on my page. It isn’t personal. It really isn’t. I often remark that no one gets to comment and then use the excuse that, “I am not political”. We are all political. Politics matter to all of us. How our government and financial markets work effects all of us personally. People who do not understand that tend to vote against their own interests. Tomorrow I leave for a ski vacation with a life long friend who is now the CEO of a Fortune 100 company that I am sure you know well. We have been on opposite sides of the political aisle most of our lives (literally dating back to arguing about Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter when we were small children). We make Oscar and Felix look like soul-mates. We will undoubtedly discuss The New York Times article. My question to you is what would you say to him if he asked (which he might not)why you didn’t disclose who (and how much) you received and whose payrolls you were on, when you, both, published reports and testified before congress. I am not talking legalities. I am talking ethics. Respectfully, Jonathan Tiersten

    Comment by Jonathan Tiersten — December 28, 2013 @ 10:43 am

  11. Two quotes from you:

    “Just as when someone says “It’s not about the money” it’s about the money”


    “My compensation doesn’t depend on my conclusions,” he said.”

    Hoist by your own petard.

    Comment by laughingboy — December 28, 2013 @ 11:31 am

  12. How shall I say this politely, so you might be able to see it… You are an intelligent yet soulless, dishonest, and arrogant asshole.

    Comment by Mike Jacobs — December 28, 2013 @ 2:36 pm

  13. Professor,

    I say this with all due respect (I feel obligated to say this, but I don’t actually have any respect for you as an academic or a human being), but you clearly don’t even kind of understand the issues at hand, or what Snowden has done.

    His presence in Moscow is not the least bit “ironic”…they gave him asylum. Adurrrr!!

    Also, you don’t get to call people “grandiose narcissists”. That’s ironic.

    Comment by Cs major — December 29, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

  14. Professor Streetwise, the New York Times says it all. At least Snowden is not hypocritical. You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you can not fool all the people all of the time. ABRAHAM LINCOLN

    Comment by David Black — December 29, 2013 @ 2:53 pm

  15. Where did all these morons come from?

    Comment by LL — December 29, 2013 @ 10:24 pm

  16. Probably they are SO’s boyfriends…..

    Comment by Andrew — December 30, 2013 @ 12:19 am

  17. Professor, the most complimentary thing I can say about you: I’m surprised you don’t edit the comment section given what a tool you are.

    Comment by wow — December 30, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

  18. @wow. I am so confused. On another post, @josephine.g (wrongly) accuses me of deleting comments. Now you suggest that I should. What to do? What to do?

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 30, 2013 @ 7:08 pm

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