Though early notices suggest it may come and go very quickly, Oliver Stone’s Snowden will nonetheless generate renewed interest in its title character. As one of an extremely small number of writers that criticize Snowden from the left, I feel a civic duty to boost my archive to people who, as a result of the movie, want to get the lefty lowdown on Snowden and his secrets for the first time. I hope that long-time readers might find some value in this also, if only to counter the emetic of hagiographic idiocy and juvenile cheerleading the film is likely to spawn.
The working title of one of my great unwritten blog posts is Everything is a Psy Op, the topic of which would be the efficiency nowadays with which the media system turns everything to the advantage of the class that owns it. Of course, there is a long, rich history of conspiracy between the Security State and media in platforms large and small, and no doubt such collaboration continues to this day. However, day-to-day evidence suggests that media consolidation and other changes have practically automated the constant production of ruling class and state propaganda, such that daily interference by what used to be stupidly called infiltrators, and publicity stunts by plants, seem largely unnecessary under most conditions.
One of the things I find most striking about television footage from the 60s and 70s — in addition to people being more eloquent, more grown-up and less ready for their close-up than nowadays — is that there were clearly pores through which dangerous ideas and personalities could slip in. Those days are long gone. The proof is in things like the lead-up to Obamacare, in which televised advocacy of Medicare for All was practically non-existent, and in Presidential elections, where any anti-imperialist or vaguely anti-capitalist candidate is ostracized and then disappeared. Indeed, the idea that capitalism is something provisional that society could ultimately reject doesn’t come up except in small left-branded journals that recommend tactical alliances with liberal Democrats, posit Scandinavian-style social democracy as the next logical step and routinely ridicule radicals that reject incrementalism of this kind.
There can be no intelligent, leftist consideration of Snowden, or any other figure of similar stature for that matter, without recognizing that we know him entirely through instruments specially designed to prevent and suppress any dissent that’s likely to disquiet members of the ruling class and their state security apparatus even a little. Therefore, we must consider why, of the many weird things about Snowden, the very weirdest is the warm welcome the mainstream media and elites from industry and government — including members of the intelligence community — have given him.
Of course, there is no consensus among The Spectacle’s feature players that Snowden’s theft of NSA state secrets was a great thing, but those whose regard for Snowden is more hostile than mixed are most certainly in the minority. Among the few genuinely entertaining aspects of The Snowden Show at its peak was the struggle of his hand-picked media proxies — particularly clownish Glenn Greenwald — to look like enemies of the state as they flew from place to place, entirely without incident, to collect Polks, Pulitzers and Oscars for the dangerously disruptive attack on the security state they’d facillitated. At one point, Greenwald and his army of dolts circulated a letter of inquiry by Florida Congressperson Alan Grayson to Eric Holder as if it were a Grand Jury indictment.
Because of Snowden’s and his crew’s immunity from anything like the ostracism and character assassination that invariably greets anyone that’s genuinely disruptive, his own participation in the ostracism of Chelsea Manning just as she went to trial, and his reciting of clearly rehearsed talking points in a radio announcer’s voice, tongues wagged early on to the effect that Snowden was running what’s known in intelligence as a limited hangout. According to former special assistant to the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Victor Marchetti, a limited hangout is
…a favorite and frequently used gimmick of the clandestine professionals. When their veil of secrecy is shredded and they can no longer rely on a phony cover story to misinform the public, they resort to admitting—sometimes even volunteering—some of the truth while still managing to withhold the key and damaging facts in the case. The public, however, is usually so intrigued by the new information that it never thinks to pursue the matter further.”
This certainly resonates when considering Snowden, who, in relation to an unimaginably vast apparatus of surveillance and control that has tentacles in the oceans, the heavens, and everywhere in between, encourages us to focus entirely on signals intelligence, and within that narrow constraint, on only one of the federal agencies that collect signals intelligence, and within that, only on bulk data collection from computers and phones, and within that, on mostly minor details of practices that were already known. You will not often find Snowden talking about any other agencies, and indeed he has explicitly ruled out whistleblowing directed at the CIA for which he was once an agent, claiming, ridiculously, that blowing whistles on the CIA endangers individuals in a way that blowing whistles on the NSA does not. Snowden ignores the importance of federalized state and local police to mass surveillance as well the role of private contractors that account for over 50% of the intelligence budget, even though it was as a contractor that Snowden learned the NSA’s secrets.
There are a number of things besides just Snowden’s pernicious minimizing that make a respectable case for fake, but I haven’t attempted to make that case because, one, we’ll never know for sure, and two, whether orchestrated by a cabal somewhere in deepest State, or shaped by a media system for which everything is the raw material of propaganda, he is what he is and his impact is no more nor less pernicious. Whatever the reason, Snowden has led a tightly circumscribed, elite-supported, mind-numbingly trivial conversation about surveillance, that, above all else, chillingly reminds people they’re always being watched; accepts as self-evident the need for a massive surveillance apparatus and the good intentions that guide it; recommends not collective action but rather atomized resistance through individual use of privacy software produced by private companies and defense contractors; establishes restrictive norms for whistleblowing by, among other things, promoting dishonest criticism of Chelsea Manning; and finally climaxed with declaring victory when elements from CISPA — legislation reviled by privacy advocates — were pasted onto The Patriot Act and passed as The Freedom Act.
There is absolutely nothing here to warrant even grudging respect from leftists, let alone admiration, so lucky for Snowden, the workaround for the embargo on genuine dissidence, even in marginal media, is to insist on the inherent subversiveness of information all by itself. The unambiguously laudable leftishness of disclosing state secrets is to be taken as obvious, regardless of the discloser’s politics or whatever the most conspicuous effects of their disclosures are. If you’re skeptical, sharp tacks saying usefully idiotic things, like that Snowden’s politics don’t matter because he’s not running for office, are available to sort you out.
Indeed, there has been little in recent memory that professional lefties and privacy advocates have committed themselves to with more zeal than shielding Snowden and his associates in media and the privacy industry from scrutiny, and their efforts have paid off. Nonetheless, incorrigibles like me, afflicted with a misanthropy that hears shut up from some dipshit as more please, soldiered on, as the record below shows.
The posts listed here are organized by theme and within those themes I’ve organized them in the order in which I think they’re most effective, rather than chronologically. My understanding of Snowden and what was going on evolved over time, and following that evolution is entirely unnecessary and likely to be dull. I am confident that these posts can be profitably read in any order, as both a close examination of The Snowden Whistleblowing event and, more generally, as a guide to the swamp of pseudo-dissidence in which it dwells.
Snowden will change nothing for the better, I wrote, correctly, in 2013 after several months of writing about him.
Whitewashing The Problem
Snowden’s minimization of the security apparatus took several forms. One was to narrowly focus on a subset of NSA practices, to the exclusion of everything else. Another was to depict the corporate sector as victim rather than collaborator. Finally, Snowden attained peak whitewash when he proclaimed victory at the renewal of the Patriot Act with some CISPA thrown in.
With or Without Section 215, Mass Surveillance of Cell Phones is Pervasive
Multiple agencies gathering cell phone data render Snowden’s crowing over the Freedom Act ridiculous.
While You Gloat About Snowden, The FBI is Watching You
At the same time Snowden cheered the Freedom Act’s privatizing of phone data collection, stories broke about the FBI’s fleet of spy planes, which, among other things, simulate cell phone towers to snarf up phone data.
Mass Surveillance and No NSA. It Happens!
Lexis Nexis proudly adds to its data vacuuming and analysis product line for law enforcement, demonstrating how narrow the Snowden Show’s focus on the NSA truly is.
Fuck These Google Guys
Snowden’s disclosure that the NSA hacked Google, makes employees of that company really sweary, proving that Google will be a great ally in the fight for privacy, even though it secretly gave the NSA access to its networks in 2010.
Is The Freedom Act a Stealth CISPA?
The Freedom Act that Snowden and his proxies were touting as reform seems quite the opposite.
Bashing Manning While She’s Down
Consistent with celebrity dissent generally, The Snowden Show dons defiance drag and extols obedience. Nothing illustrates this more than the campaign Snowden and his proxies waged against Cablegate leaker Chelsea Manning, who they repeatedly misrepresented beginning on Day 1.
Good Whistleblower/Bad Whistleblower
A comprehensive look at how Snowden and his representatives repeatedly set up Manning as Snowden’s wayward, reckless antithesis.
Confronting Edward Snowden’s Remarks on Manning
A dissident star is born, and celebrates his coming out by repudiating Manning, just as the trial that would consign her to a cage for decades gets underway.
Another Snowden News Story. Another Lesson in Proper Whistleblowing.
An article in the Washington Post about upcoming leaks becomes another occasion for Snowden to distance himself from Manning a full three months after he’d come on the scene and after she’d been sentenced to 35 years.
Snowden Lays an Egg, a Statue Grows in Brooklyn and Manning Wins a Round
In an interview with John Oliver, Snowden admits he did not read every document in his trove, contradicting the claims he and his advocates made repeatedly to differentiate him from Chelsea Manning.
Glenn Greenwald, Snowden’s Leak Boss
Above I mentioned Snowden’s great immunity from serious scrutiny on the left. No single individual deserves more credit for that than Greenwald, who clearly understood that his star would rise in proportion to repressing agitation from transparency radicals and the left.
Take Your Drip and Stick It
However much an emerging cult wants to believe otherwise, Snowden has the stage because elites want him there. Greenwald’s opportunism, muddled reformist politics and troll army make him the perfect stage manager.
My Reply to Glenn Greenwald’s Comments on Take Your Drip and Stick It
Pursuant to igniting a Twitter beatdown, Greenwald spews juvenile invective on my blog and I reply.
A Heat Vampire in Search of a Movie Deal
News of bidding for movie rights to Greenwald’s Snowden book demonstrate how nicely ambition and service to power go together.
The Friends of Glenn
How authoritarian trolls in high places and low will attack when you criticize Greenwald or Snowden too much.
I Read the New York Magazine Omidyar Article So You Don’t Have To
In a puff piece on the billionaire who bought the Snowden leaks, Greenwald extols the merits of his new boss, and announces a plan to give other journalists access to the leaks, something he said he couldn’t do a little over a year before.
Oligarchs and media hacks agree: Best Whistleblower Ever
Of course Snowden and his crew had some showy detractors and Greenwald and co did their best to make this tiny minority look like a dangerous army. But titans of industry like Mark Zuckerberg and Upper East Side bluebloods declared their love early and many of their peers would soon follow. In media, no whistleblower has ever received the kind of love Snowden has, with both he and his proxies given lengthy, respectful prime time interviews — such as this with Brian Williams — and hagiographic write-ups across the political spectrum. His hand-picked chroniclers received the most prestigious prizes in journalism and film and ultimately the patronage of a multi-billionaire.
Dr. Rosen and The Snowden Effect
In regarding the chain of events following a whistleblowing as inevitable, NYU media professor Jay Rosen completely misapprehends how the media works.
Oligarchs Approve The NSA Debate. I Guess We’re #Winning
An astonishing number of elites pledge support to Snowden.
First Look’s Omidyar Introduces The Intercept
The tech wing of the intelligence community rewards Greenwald and Laura Poitras for their convincing portrayal of dissident journalists, giving them their own multimillion dollar online media venture with which to play investigatey journalers. Like Snowden, it blows dissident smoke and promotes military-industrial orthodoxy.
Ryan Devereaux is No Gary Webb
In a look back at Gary Webb and Dark Alliance, The Intercept provides a helpful reminder of how real whistleblowers get treated. In the process it uncritically recapitulates CIA smears against Webb from twenty years ago, leaving no doubt as to what side Snowden’s apostles are on.
The Politics Of a Career Spook
Politically speaking, Snowden is everything you’d expect in a security state careerist.
Edward Snowden’s Bizarre Conception of Human Rights
Mass surveillance only sucks if the people haven’t had a chance to ratify it, says Ed.
Philip Agee and Edward Snowden: A comparision.
60s CIA whistleblower Agee, unlike Ed, said his real beef was with capitalism.
Edward Snowden’s Incredible Mutating Document Trove
Why does the reported size of the document leak keep changing?
Snowden and The Place Where No One Would Look
Within days of the Snowden movie premiere, we learn the never-before-told tale of poor refugees in the Hong Kong slums harboring Snowden, making the ex-soldier and career spook a refugee just like them.