It’s grimly amusing that after a post in which I faulted the “determination with which [Greenwald] and his cultish fans smack down critics calling for more leaks, more technical information, less redacting, less subservience and greater accountability”, Greenwald replied to my call for more leaks, more technical information, and greater accountability with an infantile, largely fallacious screed in which he berates me for writing under a pseudonym, variously calls me ‘pathetic’, ‘lazy’, ‘cowardly’, ‘stupid’, ‘moronic’, ‘[unable] to keep two thoughts in [my] head at the same time’, ‘an idiot’ and then comically puts me on the couch to tell me what my real problem is. (Diagnosis: His courage and self-sacrifice make me feel inadequate).
It’s also amusing that after I had very explicitly walked back my original proposal for an upload to Cryptome, because, among other things ‘it plays too easily into a false dichotomy that Greenwald invokes every time he or his colleagues are criticized’ Greenwald wastes about half of his frothing, and an intelligent reader’s forbearance, invoking this straw man.
Color me not sorry. Also, vindicated.
Since Greenwald is bent on making this about dumping vs. the sun shining from his behind and since status-conscious people are way too happy to let him think for them, I am going to quote myself, in full, from my last post, on dumping:
When I took this all up after Alan Rusbridger ‘s weird, meandering, and long-overdue blog post about harassment by Cameron’s goons, I posited a dump of the leaks on Cryptome as a possible alternative. In retrospect, I think that was a mistake if only because it plays too easily into a false dichotomy that Greenwald invokes every time he or his colleagues are criticized.
So I am going to concede that for reasons of Snowden’s safety among other things, we’re stuck with a paternalistic system we have, but I am not going to concede that its current form is the only shape it can take. I feel that people should continue to put pressure on Greenwald and co to do things differently, and when they refuse, to press them on why.
See? Explicitly walked back dumping.
Also, there is an implied ‘argument’ in Greenwald’s comments to the effect that courageous people who work 16-hour days are above reproach. This is stupid on its face — something Greenwald would likely ridicule if it were used against him — and I am not going to credit it with any argumentative weight. Even if it were relevant, he has no basis to speculate on how any of his critics would behave if Snowden had chosen them instead of him to shepherd the leaks.
To me the most revealing thing about Greenwald’s reply — moreso than how weirdly defensive, childish and argumentatively inept it is — is that he only answered one of the four questions I’d posed at the end of my post. Only one and not persuasively. In the too few instances where he bothered to contend with things I actually said, using some semblance of an argument, it’s pretty thin stuff. I’ll take them all in turn, though I am not going to dignify the fallacies that made up the bulk of Greenwald’s remarks:
The idea that we’re engaged in some sort of “slow” leak strategy is moronic. We’ve published dozens upon dozens of articles, in multiple countries around the world, and have published hundreds of top secret NSA documents.
If Glenn felt any obligation to carefully read something before he starts frothing about it, he’d have realized that while we differ on his prolificacy, we agree on the rest. Here’s what I wrote:
…between commercial interests and the plain old difficulty of writing this shit up, clearly THERE IS NO FUCKING DRIP DRIP METHOD, and it’s cringe-makingly foolish for the savvy knowing knowers on the outside, and outright dishonest for the book deal makers on the inside, to insist that there is. So stop it, already.
But see, the last time Greenwald commented here, he himself extolled the merits of ‘staggered releases’ as if they were a thing. As he so often is, Greenwald is vexed that someone foolishly took him at his word, which is ever-changing. But he should really take this up with his devoted followers, since not a day has passed since I first started posting about this stuff when someone hasn’t extolled the genius of slowly torturing the NSA with a handful of stories per month in a handful of news markets.
Laura [Poitras] and I both work 16 hours a day on this, for more than 3 months straight, and nothing else. We’re churning out articles at the fastest possible pace. It’s easy – but worthless – to sit on your anonymous, lazy, cowardly ass on the sidelines and demand that more be done.
Glenn is clearly missing my point. I am doing the exact opposite of asking him and Poitras to work more. I am suggesting they work less, by sharing the leaks with other journalists, particularly those in other countries that have very few country-specific stories about them at all.
As for partnering with media outlets, we’re already doing that, and have long been doing it. I’ve published enormous amounts of material in Brazil, and Laura has done the same in Germany. I’m partnering right now with media outlets in India, France, and Spain, and Laura is working on others as well. That’s all on top of the countless articles we’ve published in the Guardian (and Laura in the WashPost).
Once again, Glenn confirms rather than refutes the point in question, which is that he and Poitras have tasked themselves with directly serving other markets rather than sharing the leaks with other news providers. There are 150 countries with NSA listening posts. That Greenwald and Poitras are working 16 hour days already to cover a mere fraction of these countries helpfully makes my point about how inefficient their method is.
As for why we don’t just hand out the documents like lolipops around the world, the answer is simple: we can’t legally. If we were to do that, we’d become distributors or sources, not journalists. We can only publish the documents journalistically, which means we have to work in partnership with those media outlets as journalists.
Well, that’s interesting, but also not obvious to lay people like me, considering that the leaks are being shared with other journalists at the Guardian, the New York Times and ProPublica. What is the difference in the relationship? And if there is some legal barrier to Greenwald’s and Poitras’ sharing the leaks, can’t Snowden share them since he has already crossed that line?
The idea that the NSA is thrilled with what’s going on is so patently stupid that I would probably throw myself off the nearest bridge if I heard myself saying something so dumb. Yeah: the NSA is totally thrilled with our going around the world publishing their top secret documents, having Brazilians and Germans furious that they’re being spied on.
I guess I can’t really fault Glenn for skimming, since I do that with him (who doesn’t?), but he probably shouldn’t do it and then tell me I should kill myself for saying shit I didn’t say. I did not say the NSA was ‘thrilled.’ I said that, given that the leaks are out there, the NSA is probably somewhat grateful that thanks to Greenwald’s ‘methods’, the leaks are not propagating more rapidly both in other countries and among technicians who can build software to thwart the NSA’s methods. That the NSA would prefer slowly proliferating news stories in the countries where the leak keepers live to rapidly proliferating stories in dozens of countries seems obvious to me. It seems equally obvious that the NSA would prefer a leak keeper like Greenwald, who scrupulously protects the NSA’s methods from inquisitive security specialists, to one that did not.
As for whether the NSA would benefit from a mass, indiscriminate leak: I’m sorry you can’t keep 2 thoughts in your head at the same time. A massive document dump would hurt the NSA to the extent that it would enable competing states to replicate their surveillance systems – something that nobody wants, including Snowden, because he didn’t do what he did to help Russia, China andI Iran spy more efficiently on everyone.
What Glenn means is I should, like him, keep these two thoughts in my head at the same time: That a less mediated gush of secrets is something that “would only help the NSA” and that “Snowden has enough information to cause harm to the U.S. government in a single minute than any other person has ever had.” Frankly, yes I do find that difficult and Glenn’s improvised gobbledygook about replicating surveillance systems is not making it easier. While scandalous news can fly around the world in “a single minute”, I believe the replication of the NSA’s byzantine spying apparatus takes a good deal longer. My point — that Greenwald says two entirely opposite things about the impact of rapid disclosure depending on circumstances — stands. I’ll note also that in keeping with his tendency to ignore any question he can’t answer or lie his way around, Glenn did not contend with my quote from the Barton Gellman NSA budget story, about how U.S. counter-intelligence was derailed by less meticulous data dumping from Wikileaks.
Yeah: I know it’s so shocking – and so unusual – that my publisher hyped my book as containing new revelations. Wow, that’s really meaningful.
Well, no, what’s meaningful — besides Greenwald’s apparent struggle to sound consistently like a grownup — is that his publisher hyped his book with claims that it would contain ”new revelations exposing the extraordinary cooperation of private industry.” As my context made clear, this does not look good set against how vague Greenwald’s reporting often is on corporate complicity, particularly in the PRISM stories, where the question of direct access remains open and controversy surrounded the withholding of most of the slide deck. If Greenwald is going to ridicule people for assuming his publisher is telling the truth, perhaps he should ask his publisher to stop lying.
This is a good time to point out that the objections in my Fuck the Guardian posts and the heat going with them didn’t arise in a vacuum. Greenwald and his colleagues are not at all forthcoming when questions are raised about withholding documents, smashing computers on government orders, muling files and suppressing stories. If this stonewalling makes people even more inquisitive, Greenwald and co only have themselves to blame. Again, really, really not sorry.
So yes: some of the long-term projects I’m going to do in my book because they take a book to have the space and the time to lay out the case. Only an idiot thinks that a book is a sign of suspicious motives rather than another instrument for spreading ideas.
A book is also a vehicle for making money, which is a thing that is paid for information, especially information that only a few people have. Glenn seems to think I have a basis for regarding him as a saint, you know, the way Bob Woodward is a saint, and also that I should give a shit when he once again invokes delays resulting from his iron grip on the leaks as some sort of alibi.
Few people have done as much to support WikiLeaks or Chelsea Manninhg [sic] as I have. I founded a group that raised and still raises a ton of money for WL. I’m the one who exposed and then repeatedly denounced the abusive conditions of Manning’s detention.
All true and all very much appreciated. But it doesn’t erase the fact that just as Manning went to trial, Greenwald and his Guardian colleagues introduced Snowden to the world as ‘Not Manning!‘ and have been working variations on it ever since with constant, unnecessary harping about dumping. Greenwald’s status as a Manning and Wikileaks supporter actually gives this shit added weight and thereby makes it more toxic. Greenwald previously admitted to me that the original Guardian story was problematic but his only concession seems to be not naming Manning specifically when he still too frequently delineates proper whistleblower protocol. Also, for the record, my objection isn’t simply to needless smears against Manning, it’s also to establishing whistleblowing Dos and Don’ts and thereby setting up other whistleblowers for demonization.
Sometimes, when we feel really bad about our own unwillingness to take risks and sacrifice our self-interest for some cause we claim to believe in, we get to feel a bit better about ourselves by attacking as inadequate those who actually are doing that.
And sometimes we pathologize people who criticize us, so that stupid people don’t realize how evasive, dishonest and self-serving we’re being. Greenwald is scraping the bottom of the barrel here, invoking a fallacy that is entirely incompatible with both my defense of Manning (against Greenwald) and my previous admiration for Greenwald himself. I’m fairly sure Glenn knows I’m too smart for this bullshit, but then, this is all for the fans, not me.
It’s quite unfortunate, but not surprising, that Greenwald seems entirely oblivious to the privilege that put him in a place where he could be useful to Snowden, and which affords him more protection from economic hardships and state violence than most dissidents normally have. For all his difficulties right now, surely most of his more principled colleagues find his situation enviable. He does fulfilling work from a comfortable home in Rio and is more likely to end up wealthy and celebrated than in jail, so watching him conflate his courage/sacrifice with that of Snowden for the sake of beating down critics is an increasingly unedifying study in self-unawareness.
Just dug up this tweet. Greenwald, encouraging me in May to do more long form, presciently.
I had thought that Greenwald’s comments were so stupid and childish that they’d be self-undermining but, of course, that’s not how things work when big people talk down to little people. So Greenwald’s substance-free spew is finding much favor with the crowd for whom arbitrary cliches about Brooklyn are withering. Here’s jowly Marxist bond-trader, veteran gatekeeper and wealthy dolt Doug Henwood, who lives not far from me, but with the patented imbecility of New York’s establishment ‘left’, finds the idea of a radical in Park Slope a perennially hilarious gotcha, for reasons that remain elusive. Suck up the applause Glenn, and forget that you’re hemorrhaging credibility with far better people.