Notes From the Margins…

Edward Snowden: Shooting the Messenger

  • January 07, 2014
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Journalists whose careers are based on the faithful reproduction of the views of governments and institutions more powerful than themselves are rarely enthusiastic about whistleblowers.

Faced with people who actually take risks to confront and expose the lies and deceptions of the powerful that they themselves either don’t see or prefer to ignore, it is has long become a standard – even a kneejerk response – amongst such scribes to go for the man rather than the ball.

The careerist will shake his/her head sadly at Bradley Manning’s naivete.   Or smirk at   Julian Assange’s white hair and dress sense and his messianic qualities.   Edward Snowden is no exception.   Snowden has justified his revelations about the NSA ‘s spying programs on the grounds that

‘ I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things [surveillance on its citizens]… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded… My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.’

Statements like tend to make the careerist smirk or shake his/her head at such foolhardiness.     Or look for ways to debunk them.

That’s why we get pieces like this from Raul Gallegos, the Reuters and   Bloomberg News columnist who wrote last November of the ‘sad and lonely future’ awaiting Snowden, whose mediocre career and one-page “manifesto,” suggest limited prospects as a turncoat spook or as a critic of US spy agencies. More important, history shows life isn’t kind to US intelligence insiders gone rogue.’

Having neatly dismissed Snowden as a mediocrity motivated by a desire for new career ‘prospects’,   Gallegos compares Snowden to the former CIA whistleblower Philip Agee, declaring:

‘Snowden has also exposed himself to charges that could haunt him his entire life. Just as Agee’s detractors often attributed the death of CIA Athens station head Richard Welch to his leaks, House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Mike Rogers, has already blamed Snowden’s revelations for a change in how several terrorist organizations communicate.’

How about the possibility that both these charges were false, and were in fact leveled at Agee and Snowden in order to discredit their revelations about the secret and lawless machinations of US spy agencies?     No never mind, better to say something like this:

‘Snowden’s idealism also stands in stark contrast to Agee’s motivations. Agee became a convinced leftist who sought to help U.S. enemy regimes during the Cold War. Snowden’s belief that his leaks will help end what he calls the US’s “harmful behavior” shows a lack of sophistication.’

Poor Snowden.   Not only is he mediocre but he lacks the ‘sophistication’   of seasoned analysts like Gallegos, who really understand how power works and have spent their careers telling us about it.

Gallegos’ less-than-forensic analysis conveniently overlooks the fact that Agee, the devout Catholic who joined the CIA hoping to fight the good fight, became a ‘convinced leftist’ after observing with horror and disgust   the secret torture program run by the Uruguay police with US support, during his tenure with the CIA station at Montevideo.

Agee’s belief in the essential virtuousness of US power was dissipated by sounds of political prisoners and captured Tupamaros being zapped with electricity, which led him to reassess his government’s relationship with the national security states that constituted America’s ‘friendly’ regimes in Latin America during the Cold War.

But   you don’t get gigs with Reuters and Bloomberg News by saying things like that.       Far better to celebrate the fact that ‘the worse is yet to come’ for the poor unsophisticated idealist Snowden.   Because to the careerist journalist, everything is about getting on, and getting on depends on going with the flow and saying certain things that you know those above you want to hear.

Few journalists do this more consistently than Tony Blair’s biographer and court stenographer, the Independent’s John Rentoul.     This month Rentoul stepped up to make a typically insightful observation about Snowden, in a piece predicting possible surprise events in 2014.

Among these ‘black swans’   we find the suggestion that ‘ a terrorist ” gets lucky”.   What has this got to do with Snowden?   Let the Rentaghoul explain:

‘ Ever since 9/11, and especially since 7/7, the spies have shivered our spines with claims to have averted “hundreds” of plots on a similar scale…. A terrorist has to get lucky only once, as the intelligence mantra has it. If that happens, the minor tilt that has happened under the Coalition Government towards a more liberal regime of detention powers for terrorist suspects would be reversed, and the general tenor of public indulgence towards Edward Snowden, the US whistleblower, might change.’

This is classic Rentoul.   Passive intellectual submission to the powers-that-be served   up with a vague hint   of jovial irony.       One can’t help feeling that Rentoul would really like to see ‘public indulgence’ toward Snowden change.       Maybe it’s jealousy.   Or maybe he actually believes his uncritical replaying of the government’s essential accusation that Snowden’s revelations have damaged national security.

What if they haven’t?     Suppose NSA spying hasn’t averted ‘hundreds of plots’?   What if the security services are lying?     And anyway, what has terrorism got to do with listening in on conversations by Angela Merkel, the UN and the Brazilian government?

Don’t expect Rentoul to answer such questions or even ask them in the first place.   But do expect him, and others like him, to doff the hat to those in power and look for ways to smear and denigrate those who don’t.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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