He must be tempted by the phony surprise and indignation among European leaders at the latest Snowden leak to reveal (a) just how complicit they assuredly are in helping the NSA data-mine the planet and (b) how far some of them have gone to steal secrets from the U.S. I’d be curious, in fact, to see a poll of Americans on this subject. Do you support the federal government spying on U.S. allies? What if you knew that U.S. allies were spying on us? What if it could be proved that information gleaned from spying can improve national security?
The Snowden saga started a month ago as the story of a man who risked the wrath of the United States government to let his countrymen know their leaders were collecting vast amounts of electronic information on them. Basically everything is ending up on government servers. That was a big deal, and I’m glad we know about it. A month later, here’s what that story has devolved into in the media:
1. A platform for Julian Assange to rant about the U.S. government, the only one in the world whose opaqueness really seems to bother him;
2. Endless navel-gazing about what journalism is and whether Glenn Greenwald practices it;
3. The catch-me-if-you-can “where’s Snowden?” extradition melodrama and the endless propaganda fun that U.S. enemies are having with it; and
4. Daily reports of new self-serving leaks by Snowden that have little to do with Americans’ civil liberties and lots to do with embarrassing the U.S. government and/or damaging America’s relations with friends and foes. Whatever he has on his hard drives almost certainly belongs now to Russia, if not China as well, whether he gave it up unwillingly or voluntarily as a way to ingratiate himself with his hosts. (Greenwald himself has theorized that Snowden told Chinese media which Hong Kong computers NSA was spying on as a way to curry favor with his new protectors.) How much damage this might do to U.S. national-security interests is unknowable; if you believe Greenwald’s boasting about how much data Snowden has, it must be considerable. Near as I can tell, many Snowden fans think all of this is perfectly legit because he must do whatever he needs to in order to stay out of the feds’ clutches.
Greenwald keeps promising shocking new revelations to come that I guess are going to redeem all of this, but at this point he and Snowden might be prisoners of their own success. My takeaway from the PRISM story and the other Guardian scoops ever since is that the feds have almost everything, and whatever they don’t have yet they’re either working on getting or they can get in cooperation with others. Revealing that phone calls, say, are being harvested too, to be listened to in particular cases if some terrorist’s trail leads back to them, is a lesser bombshell at this point because most of the public has already assimilated the fact post-Snowden of digital surveillance being galactically broad. In fact, per Fox News’s poll last week, 44 percent of Americans now call Snowden a “misguided criminal” versus 22 percent who call him a “hero,” no doubt thanks to those self-serving leaks in point four above. That could change again depending upon what the Guardian has left to reveal, but if it’s all related to the scope of surveillance rather than what’s being done with it, I don’t know how much impact it’ll make. The more recent leaks all feel like aftershocks after the big PRISM quake.
Oh, almost forgot point 5: If you’re a Snowden/Greenwald fan, anything any government official says that hurts your narrative (e.g., that terrorists have gained valuable insight into U.S. surveillance from all of this) is a lie fashioned by a corrupt government to defend the surveillance state. Whereas anything any government official says that helps your narrative (e.g., that this hasn’t done much diplomatic damage) is an admission against interest and therefore reliably true.