Streetwise Professor

August 19, 2013

Maybe Guys Named Ed Stick Together: Why Is Edward Lucas So Pro-Snowden?

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 7:03 pm

Under the editorship of Edward Lucas, who has written passionately about the New Cold War, and the dangers of Russian espionage under Putin, has taken a very benign-to say the least-line on Snowden, Poitras, Greenwald, etc.  Indeed, the publication has been broadly sympathetic with the Snowden-as-whistleblower meme, and quite uncurious about Poitras and Greenwald.  Lucas has expressed similar views on his Twitter timeline.  Yes, often in RTs and MTs which he will no doubt claim do not represent an endorsement, but given the obvious tilt in what he RTs, and the correlation with the Economist’s editorial line, it’s clear where his sentiments lie.

This despite the fact that, as Orwell would say, Poitras and Greenwald are objectively pro-terrorist.  I would say they are subjectively so, but they would respond that the concept of terrorism, in its Muslim incarnation anyway, is a construction not based in fact, but created by the US to justify a war on Islam.  So is Lucas/the Economist buying into those views?  Neither he nor the publication have expressed the slightest interest in their background or agendas to determine whether these have led them to slant their writing, and to disclose selectively in highly misleading ways.

Even more peculiar: at the very least, Snowden, Poitras, and Greenwald (and Assange too) are in an alliance of convenience with Putin and the FSB.  It is plausible that it is more than an alliance of convenience, but the Snowden-Poitras-Greenwald-Assange agenda and methods are quite to Putin’s and the FSB’s satisfaction, you can be very sure.

Yet Lucas, who has written two books warning about Putin’s malign intent, and the nefarious goals and methods of the FSB, seems oddly uninterested in this convergence of interests.  Indeed, Lucas’s warnings about Russia have been dismissed as overwrought, not to say hysterical, by critics: but his deep suspicions of Putin and Russian intelligence seem to go into abeyance where Snowden, Poitras, Greenwald, Assange et al are concerned.

Passing strange.

I am at a loss to explain this.  Perhaps it is just the instinctual sympathy of a member of the journalist tribe to a fellow member-although to call Poitras a journalist is to push the definition almost beyond recognition.  (I get the sense that the label of journalist is viewed as better than a get out of jail free card: it’s viewed as a never go to jail card. Hell, even Appelbaum is calling himself a journalist, for crissakes. Case in point: today Lucas  RTd something bewailing the detention in Heathrow by British law enforcement of Greenwald’s partner-and admitted mule of encrypted, stolen material-Miranda.  No mention of the fact that the Guardian admitted to paying for this expedition, and is declaring Miranda a journalist by proxy.  Or something.  Real journalists should be very leery about buying into this, because it bodes ill for them.)

Another hypothesis that comes to mind is that like many Brits, Lucas bears a lingering grunge against the upstart colonials who have supplanted Britain as the indispensable nation.  I’ve read more than enough WWII history to recognize the similarities with the attitudes of Britain’s high command and political elite in 1943-1945: attitudes that became even more sour post-Suez.

Just a hypothesis.  But I can’t find a better explanation for Lucas’s suspension of suspicion and skepticism.  And the disconnect between Lucas’s suspicion and skepticism about Putin and the FSB and his broadly supportive take on Snowden et al couldn’t be more stark.  (And I don’t mean Holger, but that sort of fits too.)

Update: I owe Edward Lucas an apology.  I incorrectly identified him as Editor of the Economist, and hence responsible for its editorial line, on Snowden and other issues, which he is not.  Moreover, he did write a piece titled Snowden is Not a Hero, which criticized Snowden for taking refuge in Russia.  So it is not correct to attribute the decidedly squishy-on-Snowden Economist editorial position to him, or to claim that he has gone soft on Russia on Snowden.

So my criticism should be directed at the Economist generally, because it (like virtually the entire journalistic establishment) has been virtually silent on the Poitras-Greenwald-Appelbaum-Assange nexus; their agenda; and their methods; and hence, on the reliability of their “reporting.”  (That’s not right, exactly.  When the silence is broken, hagiography replaces journalism, aka the NYT piece where Maass basically played stenographer to Poitras and Greenwald, and served up the transcript with a big, wet kiss. H/T to Catherine Fitzpatrick for the stenographer metaphor.)

I will say that six weeks ago I did convey to him my dismay at the Economist’s benign characterization of Poitras, and provided some background to demonstrate why a far more skeptical attitude is warranted.  Since then nothing really has changed.  But I can’t say that he is responsible.

Perhaps Britain’s libel laws are ultimately to blame.

So let’s grant this makes the British press unlikely to dig into Poitras et al, or if they dig into them, to publish what they find.

What’s the excuse of journalists in the country that does have the First Amendment?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. I wish I had the past 5 minutes back

    Comment by colleen — August 19, 2013 @ 7:53 pm

  2. @colleen You could save yourself 15 seconds typing that comment.

    Comment by deith — August 19, 2013 @ 10:04 pm

  3. ICE started its WTI contract before Nymex was bought by CME. ICE was able to grab market share mostly by giving traders the electronic market that Nymex was loath to offer. There was also the issue of looser regulation in London. The same story played out in gold where the CBOT almost stole Comex’s flagship contract simply by offering an electronic marketplace.

    Comment by ACS — August 20, 2013 @ 7:49 am

  4. “Another hypothesis that comes to mind is that like many Brits, Lucas bears a lingering grunge against the upstart colonials who have supplanted Britain as the indispensable nation.”

    I love begged questions. Yes, there is certainly a lot of such resentment in the UK, but so what? Does the fact that many Britons look at the way the US manages its power and conclude that they could do better really invalidate anything? Are they even wrong?

    Remember, the British Staff eventually won their debate with the US in 1943 and got the invasion of Europe delayed until 1944. The American generals may have disliked the British “style” but they admitted that the British approach was correct, before appropriating it as their own. That’s one reason Americans today are still a bit miffed about the Washington and Quebec Conferences. The Americans came with the attitude that they would charge in with guns blazing, sweep the ineffective British out of the way and get the War won by Christmas, and they came out sounding just like the British, cautious and realistic.

    There isn’t really anything inconsistent about Lucas. He can perfectly well distrust Putin, and still shake his head in dismay over the mess the West’s intelligence Services have made of the Snowden case and the little constellation of sub-cases.

    You can see both the danger in Putin and also the current Pink Panther like behaviour of western Intelligence. You just have to take care not blindly to take a side. No longer being the indispensable nation means your intellectuals can afford to be a bit less automatically patriotic and a bit more skeptical and objective.

    Comment by jon livesey — August 20, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

  5. SWP, you question has a simple answer, no matter which side of the atlantic you live on. I am American living in the UK.

    There is no incongruity being critical of Putin’s thugish behavior and being pro-snowden. It seems like a commensurate view of personal liberty and fearful of all government actors. Obama is just as sinister as Putin, but a constitution checks his behavior. it is the sanctity of the constitution (personal liberty- and freedom from government search and seizure) than protects me, not the goodwill of Obama.

    You are missing the thread of the story by focusing on personalities of Snowden, Assange, Greenwald et al, or worse the correlation with terrorist plots. A much larger historical thread of personal liberty versus established power (be it king, state or church) is at play here. Personal liberty has been wining the battle over the last few millenia, and this is another chapter with technology playing a disruptive role, not the individual actors.

    Comment by scott — August 20, 2013 @ 2:53 pm

  6. Yes, well, Suez was a bit of a stab-in-the-back by the US against the UK and France. A bit like the current US Prez supporting Argentina RE: The Falklands…..

    Comment by Andrew — August 21, 2013 @ 2:39 am

  7. My belief is that this type of behavior will become increasingly common as ethics (in the sense of detachment from self interest) decline and narcissim ever increases. How pure patriotic humanity loving motives can be ascribed to someone seeking asylum in Venezuela and Russia is beyond my comprehension.

    Comment by pahoben — August 21, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

  8. The issue with Snowden, assuming he is not a pure narcissist as pahoben states (probably correctly), is that while he pointed out an evil, he did it (“objectively”)in the service of others to weaken the US, not strengthen it- that is treason.

    Given either of the above, it is morally bankrupt to support Snowden in his behavior. Nor is it a battle of personal liberty vs. established power. At best it is a battle between established powers: that of O vs. Putin.

    The concept of an ever increasing states of personal liberty over millennia is jejune: the greatest tyrannies in the history of mankind were those of the 20th century, no the 8-19th. Even the Chin emperor or Caligula did not have the power over his subjects that technology gave Saddam Hussein or any tin pot dictator with wire taping capability.

    Instead I would argue that the most recent trend has been to wipe out differences and impose uniformity, either voluntarily or otherwise. Historically in Islam there was always a tremendous diversity in ethnic groups, variations of practices, etc., within the Muslim world, all of which now underlie the civil wars that are breaking out as various orthodoxies try to impose their wills on others. the drive for racial or ideological purity even transcends technology: the mass murders of Rwanda were largely done without firearms.

    this is not limited to any one group. All of us suffer this. Rather than some kind of ongoing historical process, or Hegelian dialectical shift, the rise of Personal liberty is something we have to fight to keep. Indeed it may run against our very nature. Humanity has a tendency to want to avoid it: see Erich Fromm.

    It is something we must fight to keep, not a natural process.

    Comment by Sotos — August 22, 2013 @ 9:45 am

  9. @Sotos-good points.

    Comment by pahoben — August 23, 2013 @ 4:37 pm

  10. I’ve followed Edward Lucas’s writings for many years, and particularly admire the forthright stance he has taken on support for the aims and aspirations of the Baltic States in the aftermath of the fall of Communism. In the present instance, regarding Snowden and the NSA leaks, I suspect that his allegiances may be torn, and that in the activities of the NSA he fears a lapse into practices more typical of the KGB than of Western power institutions. After all, the possibility that some collusion between Western and Russian security agencies may have taken place during the curiously-named “war on terror” is not to be excluded, particularly when the former senior director for Russia on the U.S. National Security Council staff from 2004 to 2007 can make such enigmatic statements as the following:

    “Russia is not the Soviet Union; it offers no compelling ideological alternative, nor is it about to invent one.”

    Comment by David McDuff — August 24, 2013 @ 2:30 am

  11. […] Pirrong recently wrote in a post to his Streetwise Professor blog that he wondered why British journalist Edward Lucas, otherwise […]

    Pingback by The Security Trap | A Step At A Time — August 24, 2013 @ 3:10 am


    Comment by LL — August 26, 2013 @ 10:25 am

  13. @LL. This further raises the question of whether the connection might even precede Hong Kong. Perhaps Snowden was not in touch with Russians before HK, but Poitras, Harrsion, the Wikileaks crowd could well have been. Could he have just waltzed into the consulate, and be accommodated there, without some advance planning, or advanced connections between those he was collaborating with and the Russians? Methinks not.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 26, 2013 @ 11:59 am

  14. I’ve followed Edward Lucas for years and always admired his writings, but he has certain beliefs that are inexplicable to me. Like his dislike and disdain of the Belarusian opposition — this is something I just never get — if he is critical of the Kremlin and for East European freedom movements, why can’t he accommodate the Belarusian opposition and why is he so harsh about them? But people develop their views, and there it is, they won’t be changing them.

    I think David Duff probably guessed it right, that Lucas is for freedom and the authentic open society, and sees Snowden as representing a battle against a creeping bureaucratic “surveillance state” tendency in the US — began its big and powerful. I just don’t share these views, simply because I think the technicalities and the cases matter, and when you really examine these, you don’t find that these radicals have a case. I think it’s important to point out that no more impeccable an East Coast liberal than the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg has pointed out that the harm of the NSA’s snooping is hypothetical, not real:

    I also think that unless you have been following the hacker movements for years as I have, and as Streetwise and LibertyLynx and some others have, you just won’t see how they mirror the Bolsheviks in their views and practices. It’s annoying that even to attempt to explain this is to risk ridicule, but I don’t care. I think eventually, it will become clear to all, and you just have to keep chronicling it. Eventually, Lucas, who is an honest and decent man, will see it. If he doesn’t, then maybe it will turn out that we are less decent than we supposed, but I’m not afraid of this discovery.

    I also have to say that the tone of this post is one of “why doesn’t he come around to the Line” — this is such a turn-off. Why does there have to be a Line?

    Comment by Catherine Fitzpatrick — August 28, 2013 @ 7:03 pm

  15. @catfitz. I have similar sentiments re Lucas. I also understand what you mean about risking ridicule. It’s very frustrating to be a Cassandra.

    I perceive a shift in Lucas’s emphasis on Twitter. He has tweeted articles that question the Poitras-Greenwald-Wikileaks cabal.

    Re a line. Not intended that way. The opposite, actually. My frustration was that there seems to be a journalist tribe line that very few will cross.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 28, 2013 @ 8:48 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress