Among the many things I have grown to detest about the Snowden Leaks spectacle is that for every heavily redacted page that’s been revealed — a meager ~300 pages in five months according to Cryptome.org — we rubes seem to get at least twenty, sometimes very stern, lessons in proper whistleblowing from the the Leaker, the Leak Keepers, the Leak Keeper inner circle, and soldiers in the sycophant army that doltishly parrot and hype everything these people say. The lesson is as follows:
1. Don’t ever just dump your leaks on the internet.
2. Make sure your leaks are properly vetted and mediated by proper mainstream journalists.
This lesson is often, perhaps even usually, stated as, or with, some variation of the following:
Don’t be like Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks, that is, indiscriminate, reckless and dangerous to both national security and human life.
We first received this lesson on day number one, when The Guardian introduced us to new, improved, ever-so-meticulous document leaker Snowden — just as Manning went to trial — and we have been hearing it ever since.
Yesterday, while the Leaknoscenti were breathlessly insisting on how horrible and ever-so-important it is that European leaders are under the same surveillance regime as everyone else on earth, the Washington Post announced:
U.S. officials are alerting some foreign intelligence services that documents detailing their secret cooperation with the United States have been obtained by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, according to government officials.
This seems like a trumped-up warning to people like German Chancellor Angela Merkel to dial back the righteous indignation just a bit lest subsequent disclosures implicate them as both collaborators and hypocrites. But since elite vs. elite NSA hijinx don’t interest me at all, let’s fast forward to the obligatory, and in this case, quite long lesson the same article provided in proper whistleblowing:
“[Snowden] made it quite clear that he was not going to compromise legitimate national intelligence and national security operations,” said Thomas Drake, a former NSA executive.
Indeed, Drake said, Snowden made clear in their conversation that he had learned the lessons of prior disclosures, including those by an Army private who passed hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables to the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks, which posted them in bulk online. “It’s telling,” Drake said, “that he did not give anything to WikiLeaks.”
I sometimes wonder, does Snowden ever have a conversation where he does not remark upon the crucial differences between himself and Manning? That is, when he is not imparting his truly bizarre and toxic understanding of democracy and human rights, which summarizes as secrecy about mass surveillance is a greater evil than mass surveillance? I also wonder if, when he does this, is he also the one imparting the equally mandatory mischaracterization of what Manning and Wikileaks actually did with the cables — here stated as ‘posted them in bulk online’ — or are his intermediaries ladling that in on top?
For emphasis, WaPo trots out the Guardian article where this lengthy lesson first began and quotes it at length:
Snowden has instructed the reporters with whom he has shared records to use their judgment to avoid publishing anything that would cause harm. “I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest,” he told the Guardian newspaper. “There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”
Yes Ed is such a good whistleblower — so very un-Manningly responsible! — and as such has received the endorsement of no less an expert on proper surveillance state undermining than WaPo’s own Richard Cohen, who, prior to jumping on board the whistleblowing train, was a living parody of power worshiping shitbaggery. In his recent ‘Edward Snowden is No Traitor’ column, Cohen recanted his prior excoriation of Snowden, writing:
He has been careful with his info, doling it out to responsible news organizations — The Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, etc. — and not tossing it up in the air, WikiLeaks style, and echoing the silly mantra “Information wants to be free.” (No. Information, like most of us, wants a home in the Hamptons.)
And now this latest article in WaPo shows that approval for Snowden’s methods goes to the highest level, to the surveillance apparatus itself:
It is those documents that may not be subject to journalistic vetting or may be breached by hackers that worry some intelligence officials.
Fans of Drip Drip Drippery, please do read that again and then savor this, from the same article, which exaggerators, both pro and con, of the awesome disruptive power of Wikileaks are encouraged to ruminate on also:
In the case of WikiLeaks, the State Department had a number of months to assess the potential impact of the cables’ release and devise a strategy, former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
To review, working backwards: The State Department, intelligence officials, and the living embodiment of everything vile in the Washington press establishment are in agreement that slow leaking to a small array of news sources featuring multiple layers of responsible vetting is just peachy. Well then, haven’t we formed a most powerful alliance against the surveillance apparatus, when even officials from that apparatus and their flacks agree with our methods? This is some serious 11-dimensional chess kinda leaking going on right here.
So now that the credibility Snowden and co have so assiduously sought pursuant to The Debate™ is a fait accompli, can we at last pull back the veil of silence on these Manning comparisons? Specifically can we talk about how they rest on a lie? Can we then also insist more loudly on how objectionable they are, not simply because they smear Manning and distort her legacy, but because they preemptively smear and distort future whistleblowing that doesn’t pass muster with insider douchebags like Richard Cohen and various intelligence officials?
I have gone over elsewhere how the reported size of Edward Snowden’s document trove keeps changing. But I fear I have crunched the numbers too little out loud to make my point plain. Let’s say the trove consists only of the 50,000+ Snowden documents the New York Times recently said it received from The Guardian. Since these documents are only the documents about the GCHQ, no doubt the entire Snowden collection spread across the Times, The Guardian, Gellman, and Greenwald/Poitras is many tens of thousands of documents bigger than that.
But for arguments sake, let’s restrict ourselves to the Times’ trove. And also for the sake of argument, let’s assume that by some weird good fortune, each document Snowden selected for review passed his test for inclusion, despite how completely unlikely this is. By most accounts, Snowden began downloading documents in 2012, his last year at Dell but, for the sake of argument, let’s be really generous and assume that Snowden has been gathering documents since first going to work for Dell in 2009.
If you assume that Snowden spent every working day of four 50-week years meticulously selecting documents, and that each document he looked at ended up in the trove, he would have had to review 50-60 documents per working day. Remember, we are talking about ‘documents’ not pages, and that they are, in Greenwald’s words, ‘very, very complete and very long.‘ It is not simply unlikely that Snowden vetted each of these documents. It is impossible. Which means that, from the standpoint of selecting documents, he is not different from Manning at all. So how about everyone stop saying that he is, ok, starting with Snowden himself.
I have been saying things along these lines for a while now, and have been fascinated by the number of people who privately share a lot of my concerns – shock and disappointment about the Manning comparisons started immediately – while also disclosing their misgivings about airing their concerns publicly. Isn’t that extraordinary? We are having a debate about transparency, in which people who have concerns about how that debate is being mediated are literally afraid to speak up, for fear of how it might impact their social capital or their credibility. Clearly this is not really a debate at all. By design. Which is all the more reason for people to speak up.
I am glad that this post has provoked people who have so far pretty much stood down on the Leak Keepers’ incessant Good Whistleblower/Bad Whistleblower lesson to take it up more vocally. However, if this post has inspired you to insist on how well Manning/Wikileaks meet the Edward Snowden/Richard Cohen benchmarks for proper whistleblowing, you have missed my point entirely. To the extent that Wikileaks meets this standard — and they do, to a point, mostly by way of withholding so much information or delaying its release — they are problematic in my view, and certainly the appreciation shown them by the State Department’s P. J. Crowley for delaying Cablegate (cited above) makes my point.
The point of this post is to draw attention to the Leak Keepers’ incessant and toxic campaign to promote a standard for proper whistleblowing and their shamelessness in building this campaign on what appears to be an obvious lie. It’s hard to point out this lie without at the same time implicitly, and quite wrongly conceding that the accusation contained in the lie — that Manning and WL just dumped unfiltered, unredacted data — is genuinely damning. But if you are accepting that the State and its media lackeys are within their rights to set or ratify standards for dissent, and you are arguing for how your dissidence meets the State’s standard, you’ve already lost the argument. It was ok that Manning didn’t review every single document and it’s ok that clearly Snowden didn’t either.