I haven’t followed the Snowden story closely. I think it’s significant, but not as significant as it’s been played. I am more surprised that people seem so surprised and shocked that we have federal government intelligence gathering agencies that collect – well – just about everything, than I am surprised at the fact that there are such agencies and that they have such capabilities.
If that makes any sense.
Sorry to dwell on myself with a string of ‘I’ sentences, but I’m trying to be clear about where the opinion I’m writing down here is coming from. So if you’re reading and interested please bear with the seeming ego-centricity a bit longer.
I’m a veteran of the cold war. We had a lot of newly minted intelligence gathering capabilities in the 1980’s, especially of the electronic variety. In fact, we already gathered massively more intelligence information than we could ever hope to adequately “analyze”, which is at least as important as having the information to begin with. Accordingly, I have never in my adult life believed that any phone conversation or email was safe from being surveilled by government agencies any time someone felt like it.
Of course it is obvious, or should be, that in the time since I was professsionally familiar with federal government intelligence gathering capabilities those capabilities have greatly – not to say exponentially -expanded. That was inevitable, and anyone could have seen it, even 30 years ago. Easily.
But it should be just as obvious that the ability to analyze the information, while it might have improved marginally due to sophisticated technological assist, has undergone no such transformation. We’re getting massively surveilled all the time, but that doesn’t mean anyone really knows anything. We can dig up huge amounts of information about anyone – after the fact. But frankly, we could have done that before, too.
Back in the cold war there was a nuclear disarmament movement. It’s a nice sentiment, I suppose, but in the end it’s a silly idea. We could destroy every nuclear weapon on earth or launch them into outer space. Someone could still manufacture a whole bunch more tomorrow. Including us.
You can wish things to be other than they are. But things will remain as they are.
So, back to Snowden and the WaPo take on the whole thing.
If you read the linked article carefully it substantively endorses what Snowden did and is in agreement with him. But stylistically, it’s a snide exercise in character assassination:
…smug, self-righteous, egotistical, disingenuous, megalomaniacal, overwrought.
Really, Ruth? I’ve caught clips of Snowden being interviewed. Seems like a nice young man to me, but I wouldn’t go too far out on a limb either way. Why do you?
There’s a frightening mindset at work here, and it isn’t Snowden’s.
The beltway opinion about “whistleblowers” is that they are outliers who make a splash but are not capable of effectuating “meaningful change”. Meaningful change, of course, comes about as the result of engaging in the process that makes the beltway what it is: you
manipulate the right people cultivate inside support, you bribe lobby, you fake obtain “grass roots” enthusiasm, you pitch the sale, and you close the deal only after your original purpose has been cut, pasted and compromised into unrecognizability. Then the approved pundits and “journalists” see if they can get a lot of heated opinions going among the morons in fly-over country, which distracts them from their miserable lives, generates viewership and revenue and enables the beltway insiders to feed off their host for a little while longer.
And so this is the real problem with Snowden. Not what he did, but how he did it. He’s a threat to the whole system, but not the way you think. The real problem is bypassing the beltway shuffle; all the harangue about government surveillance is a sideshow, but it’s a galling one because…he was also right to bring attention to the issue. Inside the beltway they hate it when people they don’t like have the gall to be right.
And that’s what the WaPo article really says. Isn’t that revealing?
One last point. Overwrought? That is the last adjective that could reasonably be applied to Snowden, at least from the clips I have seen. If anything, he seems almost abnormally subdued under the circumstances. But that does not deter beltway people. They love making obviously incorrect “observations” about people and then making them stick through sheer media monopoly group-think. At least, they stick among all the People Who Matter, which is to say….them.
That’ll show that smarmy Edward Snowden.
Update: So now the New York Times weighs in. Which is, you know interesting. They don’t disagree with Snowden either; in fact, they think he did the right thing. So they’re looking for some sort of clemency or amnesty.
Of course, Daniel Ellsberg went to trial. The judge threw out the government’s case eventually, which ordinarily would never happen but in those days the New York Times was cover enough for a federal judge to buck the government.
I don’t know. Maybe the only lesson here is that a government whistle blower will get a better reception at the New York Times and a Wall Street whistle blower will fare better with the Washington Post. Both big papers, in other words, protecting their turf more than anything else.