Chris Hedges, writing in TruthDig, has raised an issue that will be familiar to my regular readers:
It is argued that Snowden, in exposing the National Security Agency’s global spying operation, judiciously and carefully leaked his information through the media, whereas WikiLeaks, Assange, Manning and Hammond provided troves of raw material to the public with no editing and little redaction and assessment. Thus, Snowden is somehow legitimate while WikiLeaks, Assange, Manning and Hammond are not.
Hedges too charitably calls this argument ‘misguided’ and wrings his hands accordingly, correctly noting that “it lends credibility to the relentless attacks by the government” against whistleblowers who don’t meet the Snowden standard. But Hedges is timid about who exactly injected this extremely toxic Good Whistleblower/Bad Whistleblower notion into the discourse in the first place. ‘It is argued…’ he writes. But by whom Chris, by whom? He doesn’t say, even though the record could not be more clear. Indeed, Hedges muddies the water further when he quotes an equally vague Michael Ratner, a lawyer for Wikileaks, who says:
It sounds to me like the so-called Fourth Estate protecting its jobs and ‘legitimacy.’
But Hedges’ misdirection doesn’t end there. By introducing hacker Jeremy Hammond into the discussion, he also misleads on the extent to which Good Whistleblower/Bad Whistleblower originated in a campaign against Chelsea Manning and Cablegate at the onset of The Snowden spectacle. Having been injected into the discourse, it now serves usefully against Hammond, but that is certainly not how it started.
Before tracing the omitted history, I should first point out that Good Whistleblower/Bad Whistleblower is built entirely on lies. The first lie is that Snowden reviewed every NSA document in his cache. We now know that the trove is far too big for him to have done that within the time he is said to have done it. The second lie, mostly promoted by implication, is that Manning was indiscriminate in her selection of documents. The third lie, also promoted by implication, is that Wikileaks dumped Manning’s trove onto the internet without review or redaction.
I have covered these matters in detail here and here. The short version is that Manning was very deliberate in her document choices; she shared documents with a far lower security classification than Snowden’s; she did not ‘dump’ on the internet, but instead gave them to Wikileaks; Wikileaks shared the documents with the world through journalists in a way much like the arrangement Snowden has with Greenwald et al. It is remarkable that the baldly false and easily refuted assertions of Good Whistleblower/Bad Whistleblower have passed for six months almost entirely without scrutiny.
It’s also important to point out that Manning’s trial — in the words of Leak Keepers Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewan MacAskill — “coincidentally began the week Snowden’s leaks began to make news.” But by what coincidence, exactly? We know why Manning’s trial had to begin on June 3, a date which was known months before. Less obvious is why the NSA stories had to begin the same week and with a prolificacy that would later prove highly uncharacteristic.
This coincidence merits scrutiny, if only because venerable media watchdog Project Censored chose Manning’s trial as the most censored story of 2013. Certainly media abuse of Manning didn’t begin with the onset of the Snowden stories, but surely the NSA deluge the week her trial began was a devastating blow. This Buzzfeed article credits the timing of the first NSA story to Greenwald, who, by his own account, strong-armed his editors, because he was “eager to have the world learn about this spying as soon as possible.” But this urgency seems an odd alibi for this ‘coincidence’, given that six months on, the world is only privy to 1% of the Snowden documents.
Since the NSA stories were likely squashing the last chance that Manning’s humanity might intrude on the public, one would expect Snowden and his elected interpreters to at least unequivocally ally themselves with her. But they did just the opposite. Two days after strong-arming his editors into publishing his first NSA story, Greenwald administered the first injection of Good Whistleblower/Bad Whistleblower (hereafter GW/BW) into the chatter, though without naming names, via a June 8 Buzzfeed post:
“We’re not engaged in a mindless, indiscriminate document dump, and our source didn’t want us to be,” said Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian writer, in an email to BuzzFeed Saturday. “We’re engaged in the standard journalistic assessment of whether the public value to publication outweighs any harms.”
The next day, Barton Gellman, Snowden’s contact at the Washington Post, wrote this:
Snowden said he did not intend to release a pile of unedited documents upon the world. “I don’t desire to enable the Bradley Manning argument that these were released recklessly and unreviewed,” he said.
This is quite the deft smear: Snowden vaguely suggests Manning has been disparaged in bad faith, without noting that the ‘Bradley Manning argument’ is a lie. Instead he gives the lie new life, and suggests that Manning brought the resulting aspersions on herself.
The same day that Gellman published his article, The Guardian published a story by Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras that contained this:
…[Snowden] admires both [Pentagon Papers whistleblower, Daniel] Ellsberg and Manning, but argues that there is one important distinction between himself and the army private.
“I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest… 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.”
To the increasing alarm and bewilderment of Manning supporters, Greenwald — who was tirelessly making himself the avatar of the Snowden Leaks — promoted GW/BW more vigorously than anyone, each time placing particular emphasis on the importance of journalists to the whistleblowing enterprise. From a June 10 MSNBC appearance:
if you ask [Snowden] what the difference is [between Manning and himself], he will say that he spent months meticulously studying every document. When he handed us those documents they were all in very detailed files by topic. He had read over every single one and used his expertise to make judgments about what he thought should be public–and then didn’t just upload them to the internet–he gave them to journalists who he knew, and wanted to go through them each one by one and make journalistic judgments about what should be public and what wasn’t, so that harm wouldn’t come gratuitously, but that the public would be informed, and that he was very careful and meticulous about doing that
In addition to the quaint notion that each of 50,000+ documents can be ‘meticulously studied’ in ‘months’, these comments are notable for their blatant dishonesty toward Manning and the exceptionally thick layer of self-promotion. Greenwald’s “if you ask Snowden” is his charming, lawyerly way of absolving of himself of blame for the numerous deliberate lies by implication that follow: that Manning dumped directly onto the internet; that her documents were not mediated by journalists; that she risked causing “harm” “gratuitously.” Of course Greenwald knows all of this to be false, having burnished his brand with Manning and Wikileaks only a few years before.
Bear in mind that while this campaign continued to some degree in the ensuing months, everything I quoted above came out between June 8 and June 10. Obviously a promotional strategy had been decided upon and pursued from the start with a great deal of discipline. Clearly we can’t blame Ratner’s too general ‘Fourth Estate’ for this, though I think he has pegged the motive exactly.
Unsurprisingly, members of the mainstream media instantly saw a cudgel to use against Manning, and how convenient for their purposes that the start of her trial and Snowden’s arrival so elegantly coincided. Chris Hayes, Radley Balko and Ari Melber were among the journalists who promoted GW/BW on Twitter. Within days, articles appeared in The New Republic, The New York Times, Talking Points Memo and elsewhere expounding on the same theme, all taking Snowden’s unverified self-assessment as established fact. From The New York Times, June 10:
[Snowden] was also not nearly as reckless as Bradley Manning, the soldier on trial on charges with giving classified materials to WikiLeaks, who seemed not to know or care what secret documents he was exposing.
That Greenwald and Snowden mixed their smears with professed admiration for Manning made it easy for their more credulous advocates to blame the mainstream entirely for this too predictable result. Even after the beatdown got underway, Greenwald had clearance from his adoring fans to sing the same song, though with Manning now established as meticulous Snowden’s reckless antithesis, he mentioned her less by name; instead he would return to the phantom indiscriminate dump of that first Buzzfeed mention, juxtaposed against the prudent journalists to whom Snowden had so wisely entrusted his trove. From a July 31 CNN appearance:
If you have access to classified information, you could just spew it out all into the ether … [Snowden] could have uploaded it onto the internet en masse…he could have given it to Wikileaks and asked them to just publish it all. He did none of that. He came to established media organizations and said ‘please be extremely careful.'”
In September, WaPo Leak Keeper Barton Gellman said something strikingly similar in an NPR interview, citing Manning by name:
Let’s consider what [Snowden] could have done. If Chelsea Manning was able to exfiltrate and send to Wikileaks and publish, in whole, half a million US Government documents, Edward Snowden who is far far more capable, had far greater access…he could have sent them to Wikileaks…That’s not what he wanted to do.
It is a tribute to both GW/BW’s sticking power and its perniciousness, that servile WaPo hack Richard Cohen parroted these exact talking points three months after Greenwald had introduced them on CNN:
[Snowden] 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…
Shortly after Cohen had declared his new-found love for Snowden, the whistleblower himself returned to GW/BW with explicit reference to Manning — at least as paraphrased by fellow NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake — in a Washington Post piece published on October 25:
“[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.”
Note that Manning has almost no existence here beyond Snowden/Drake’s familiar, power-serving mischaracterization. The Post even omits her name, along with any mention of her 35-year sentence, handed down in August.
Finally, Janet Reitman, in her December 4 Rolling Stone Greenwald-Snowden hagiography, mashes up both of Snowden’s above-cited June 9 Manning quotes to explain why he didn’t go to Wikileaks. She then quotes Greenwald who, with his patented yappy hyperbole, extols yet again Snowden’s superhuman ability to un-Manningly download, read, and meticulously file tens of thousands of documents in mere months:
“…every last motherfucking document that he gave us was incredibly elegant and beautifully organized.” Greenwald had no doubt that the leaker had read every page; not a single one was misfiled. “It’s 1,000 percent clear that he read and very carefully processed every document that he gave us by virtue of his incredibly anal, ridiculously elaborate electronic filing system that these USB sticks contained.” (h/t Jay23)
‘Incredibly elegant and beautifully organized…1000 percent clear…ridiculously elaborate…’ Greenwald’s vulgar hucksterism is firing on all cylinders here but Reitman — true to the strict ethical code of resurgent journalism — doesn’t do the simple math that quickly reveals how flagrantly dishonest and stupid this legend truly is. So GW/BW finishes the year emanating from the same source with whom it began, unexamined as ever.
Thus ends the history of GW/BW to date. As I have written elsewhere, the Snowden Spectacle is unique as dissidence in the degree to which its stars repudiate dissent and accede to, and even promote, state and corporate power. Good Whistleblower/Bad Whistleblower embodies this more dramatically than any other aspect, being nothing less than the mendacious, calculated erasure of Manning except as a bad example, in a power-appeasing bid for legitimacy and status. It is, as a friend noted recently, the Leak Keepers’ original sin.
UPDATE 4 (link to this update)
Just a few weeks after Snowden revealingly squirmed and equivocated when John Oliver asked him how many documents he’d actually read, Good Whistleblower/Bad Whistleblower took another hit. Today in Italy, at the International Journalists Festival, Alexa O’Brien, the no-bullshit, indispensable chronicler of Manning’s battle with the state, said this during a panel discussion of whistleblowing:
The dump narrative regarding Manning is also a red herring. As I said before, Manning was convicted of disclosing 247 documents under The Espionage Act. So if you use that paradigm, the Good vs Bad Whistleblower that has been covered by people like Rancid Tarzie on Twitter and the like [woo hoo! – ed.], it doesn’t stand up under scrutiny.
I don’t know how many documents Snowden has been charged with because he hasn’t gone to trial and there’s no Bill of Particulars. But when it comes to making an educated guess, I would posit that he would be charged with more than 247 documents under the Espionage Act at a higher classification than Manning…and Snowden’s leaks cover more than simply mass surveillance. So, if you’re going to use that paradigm, Manning would appear to be the responsible whistleblower, and Snowden appears to have dumped.
She goes on to say that she rejects the GW/BW paradigm that forces this kind of comparison. Good stuff. Transcribed content starts at 15:50
UPDATE 3 (link to this update)
If you thought there could not possibly be a liberal pseudo-rebel more cringe-makingly delighted with himself than former Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, you clearly have not watched Last Week, an HBO-show hosted by Daily Show alum, John Oliver. Last night, in a shockingly reactionary segment that would have been mostly at home on CNN, Oliver demonstrated that 22 months after Snowwald first concocted it, Good Whistleblower/Bad Whistleblower still lives.
In the lead-up to his predictably over-praised interview with Snowden — They talked about dick pics. How cool is that? — Oliver did a shallow, cool kid take on Julian Assange. Manning was only damned by implication, but it was fundamentally the same GW/BW canard.
In the same reactionary vein, Oliver elsewhere admonished The New York Times in a Rachel Maddow – like way for screwing up a redaction. In the interview itself, Oliver mentioned the screwed up redaction again and grilled Snowden on whether or not he’d read every document. Snowden hedged — I evaluated every document…I understood what I turned over — suggesting that maybe even he thinks it’s time to stop lying so emphatically. (Remarks begin around 8:34. Transcribed below embedded video)
Edward Snowden is not the Wikileaks guy. The Wikileaks guy is Julian Assange and you do not want to be confused with him, partly because he was far less careful than Snowden in what he released and how and partly because he looks like a sandwich bag full of biscuit dough wearing a Stevie Nicks wig. And that is critical. Julian Assange is not a likable man. Even Benedict Cumberbatch could not make him likable. He’s un-Cumberbatchable!
UPDATE 2 (link to this update)
Oct. 2014 and Snowden’s still working his Good Whistleblower/Bad Whistleblower schtick, though with truly impressive subtlety. From a recent Nation interview:
You know, [Manning’s disclosures] are the kinds of things voters in a democracy need to know in order to make meaningful choices. But when they were brought forward—regardless of your opinion on how it was done or whether it could’ve been done better or if it was a good or bad thing—Manning got thirty-five years in prison. Meanwhile, I’m still free.
Note, once again, for those who are still too fucking stupid to get this, there is no real functional difference between Manning’s and Snowden’s document selection and distribution method, other than that Wikileaks distributed Manning’s documents to more journalists, and Snowden’s documents have a higher security classification.