The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Ben Smith Wants You to Ignore This

Posted on | June 24, 2013 | 122 Comments

As soon as Edward Snowden came forward as the “face” of the NSA leaks, the question immediately suggested itself: “Hero or Traitor?”

Revelations about the NSA surveillance program had made worldwide headlines. Coming on the heels of other scandals, it seemed to fit into an emerging neo-Nixonian picture of the Obama administration. As I wrote Friday at The American Spectator:

Welcome to America in 2013, where Hope and Change have transmogrified into Fear and Loathing, where even a liberal reporter who last year praised Obama as “one of the most talented politicians around” could not resist the pervasive paranoia inspired by what voters were once promised would be “the most transparent administration in history.” Between the IRS secretly punishing the president’s political enemies, the Justice Department secretly seizing reporters’ phone records and the NSA’s secret surveillance, the only thing transparent about this administration is its dishonest hypocrisy.

One little problem: The IRS scandal and the DOJ scandal are genuine scandals — clear-cut abuses of power — whereas the NSA surveillance program had no actual victims. That is to say, while the NSA’s access to phone and e-mail records raises Fourth Amendment concerns about potential abuse, there is no one who can point to an instance where actual abuse has occurred. So far as we know, no one has been arrested on the basis of illegally obtained information or targeted by the NSA because they’re on Obama’s Enemies List of political opponents.

Apparently, Glenn Greenwald’s idea to solve this problem was to present the world with Edward Snowden as the hero-victim, making him the symbol (as Greenwald saw it) of how the administration was punishing courageous truth-tellers. However, rational people (a category from which Greenwald long ago excluded himself) recognized this as problematic: Snowden wasn’t an IRS employee revealing important truths about unlawful political abuse of government power, or a DOJ staffer disclosing the surveillance of journalists. Snowden had top-secret clearance at an agency whose express mission it is to gather communications (“signals intelligence,” or sigint) about America’s enemies. There is a world of difference between these two categories, and my antennae detected this difference when I saw the quote from Snowden praising Army Pvt. Bradley Manning as “a classic whistleblower” who “was inspired by the public good.”

Thanks for clearing that up, Ed: Having declared that Manning is a traitor who should be shot by a firing squad, I needed nothing else but your praise of him to form an opinion of you. If Bradley Manning is your hero, you can share a cell with him at Leavenworth.

Army privates don’t get to decide what classified documents the Army keeps secret, and 29-year-old computer nerds don’t get to decide what NSA operations our enemies can know about. And there was a certain too-good-to-be-true quality to the narrative:

Hollywood Script: Hipster Geek With Hot
Girlfriend Fights ‘Omniscient’ Government

Something about this movie scenario I instantly disliked. If leaking top-secret information made Ed Snowden a hero, then everyone with access to classified information who doesn’t leak it is a villain. And the more I looked at the backstory, the less I liked it:

After leaving the CIA a few years later, however, Snowden seemed disillusioned and suspicious toward government. In a comment on an Ars Technica article about surveillance software developed by Cisco, Snowden expressed concern about “how little this sort of corporate behavior bothers those outside of technology circles.” Criticizing what he called an attitude of “unquestioning obedience,” Snowden suggested that such surveillance had “sneaked in undetected because of pervasive government secrecy.”

Oh, what fresh hell is this? When I see the word “corporate” used as a pejorative, coupled with a jab at “unquestioning obedience,” I don’t think of Jefferson, Madison and Patrick Henry. Instead I think of Theodor Adorno, C. Wright Mills and Herbert Marcuse — the leftist indictment of 1950s America as proto-fascist oppression. I also think of every disgruntled misfit I’ve ever had the misfortune to know, malcontent whiners grumbling about the “bosses” and doing their best to spread demoralization throughout the organization.

Lee Stranahan yesterday finally went off on the conservatives who have made their pilgrimage to the Sacred Temple of Saint Edward the Whistleblower, where Glenn Greenwald presides as High Priest.

About damned time somebody said it. Greenwald had been secretly communicating with Ed Snowden for months. Greenwald timed the disclosure of the NSA documents and then presented the world with the Heroic Truth-Teller in a carefully scripted morality tale, and some people swallowed the entire narrative without stopping to think: How do we know Ed Snowden is actually telling the truth?

Gen. Keith Alexander says Snowden is lying and so we have to ask ourselves who we believe, the career Army officer who has dedicated his entire life to defending America from its enemies, or the dropout gamer who is Glenn Greenwald’s new man-crush?

Meanwhile, emerging from the JournoList conference call to share with us the Official Media Consensus, Ben Smith declares that Ed Snowden’s motives ares now utterly irrelevant to the narrative.

Permit me to quote from memory: “Fuck you. War.”

ADDENDUM: How strangely coincidental that Ben Smith decided to declare Snowden’s motives irrelevant as soon as Saint Edward embarked on the Grand Tour of America’s Adversaries.



122 Responses to “Ben Smith Wants You to Ignore This”

  1. K-Bob
    June 25th, 2013 @ 5:09 am

    Disparage much? Maybe one too many bangs on the desk.

  2. K-Bob
    June 25th, 2013 @ 5:15 am

    The freaking immigration bill,
    The I R S scandal,
    The benghazi affair,
    Fast and Furious,
    Campaign fraud.

    All are greater problems right now.

    Especially since the NSA thing is playing to barack’s favor, since he’ll never be blamed for some spy agency’s overreach, especially since it “started” (which is BS) under Bush.

  3. K-Bob
    June 25th, 2013 @ 5:17 am

    That’s fine, but I don’t understand how it’s germaine to Stacy’s point.

  4. Pablo
    June 25th, 2013 @ 9:35 am

    No, the greatest problem is that we have a government that views us as a pain in the ass at best and enemies at worst. That manifests itself in many ways, including this NSA issue.

    Obama won’t be blamed? Check with his base.

  5. Pablo
    June 25th, 2013 @ 9:41 am

    What was a simple pen register 40 years ago is anything anyone could ever want to know about you now. They were wrong then and it needs to be corrected now.

    Of course, the perversion of the Commerce Clause is a much bigger problem, so let’s all walk and forget about chewing gum. Our silly rights are completely unimportant when the Republic is at stake!

    Well, except that without our rights we have no republic…

  6. Pablo
    June 25th, 2013 @ 9:41 am

    What was a simple pen register 40 years ago is anything anyone could ever want to know about you now. They were wrong then and it needs to be corrected now.

    Of course, the perversion of the Commerce Clause is a much bigger problem, so let’s all walk and forget about chewing gum. Our silly rights are completely unimportant when the Republic is at stake!

    Well, except that without our rights we have no republic…

  7. Pablo
    June 25th, 2013 @ 10:25 am

    Speaking of long standing court rulings, SCOTUS has found that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is un-Constitutional, despite it having been Constitutional for nearly 50 years.

    So, the Constitution clearly must have been amended, right? Because otherwise, it couldn’t have been Constitutional then, but not now, right? No, that’s bullshit. SCOTUS too is off its Constitutional leash.

  8. K-Bob
    June 25th, 2013 @ 10:37 am

    Polishing the deck chairs while the ship sinks. I guess everyone needs a hobby.

    Good luck worrying abut the NSA when we’re in the middle of a civil breakdown because some people thought it best to worry about lower priority things.

  9. K-Bob
    June 25th, 2013 @ 10:38 am

    They are demanding he be the one to fix it. They aren’t ever going to hold him accountable. Not even if he somehow manages to thug his way to another term as President.

  10. Pablo
    June 25th, 2013 @ 11:08 am

    No one is held accountable anymore ever. Rules are for little people, who also happen to be a pain in the aristocratic ass. That is the problem.

  11. Pablo
    June 25th, 2013 @ 11:12 am

    If you don’t think that the wholesale abuse of the American people is part and parcel of this civil breakdown, I have no idea what else to say, other than that perhaps your admonitions would be better directed at those who think Snowden is the problem here.

  12. Scribe of Slog (McGehee)
    June 25th, 2013 @ 1:40 pm

    Stacy (and you) see it one way, and apparently most of us see it from a different perspective in which Stacy’s point, while interesting and worth considering, doesn’t really get at the heart of the matter.

    THEY”RE ALL OBAMA SCANDALS because THEY ALL SPEAK TO HOW OBAMA OPERATES and what people can expect of him.

    Nor is Obama a fluke. Just look at what Beltway Republicans are doing. He is not the sole cause of what we’re seeing — in fact he is to a great extent only a symptom.

    None of this can safely be seen in a narrow context because THERE IS NO NARROW CONTEXT.

  13. K-Bob
    June 25th, 2013 @ 4:05 pm

    Of course it’s “part and parcel”. It’s also so frikkin’ obvious it’s like some teacher running around the school telling everyone they should practice ‘stop, drop, and roll,” while a wildfire is burning down the school, and fullscale evacuation is under way.

    It’s a good thing to be aware of, but now is not the time to obsess over it.

    barack is totally loving the obsession over it, too. It makes the other scandals fade by comparison, and any one of the other scandals is far worse than the NSA data stuff. None of this NSA business will touch him. None!

  14. bet0001970
    June 25th, 2013 @ 4:07 pm

    First of all, you started in with me. I don’t even know who you are.

    Second, I’m not confusing anything. You want to replace “criminal” with “overreach”. I have no idea why. Government overreach isn’t necessarily a crime.

    Third, why are you talking about ending certain roles, agencies and/or institutions? What does that have to do with bringing the individuals responsible for committing these offenses to justice? That doesn’t make any sense.

  15. K-Bob
    June 25th, 2013 @ 4:09 pm

    Yes. But we have a shot with Benghazi. At least a possibility of fending off Hillary’s “turn” to walk on our necks.

    We also have an outside chance of moving to a flat or “fair” tax. But it will evaporate if we get hung up on the wrong things at the wrong time.

  16. K-Bob
    June 25th, 2013 @ 4:15 pm

    I’ve been saying the same things. It’s all part of a totalitarian continuum. Which is why focusing on the NSA is simply falling for the left’s ability to water everything down by making a “rogue agency” the problem, and not barack and his cronies.

    This is why it’s so damned frustrating. It’s all burning, and some people want to stop and make sure we’re focusing on what sorts of things are being destroyed, instead of putting out the damned fire.

  17. RS
    June 25th, 2013 @ 6:30 pm

    To add fuel to this fire via Instapundt:

  18. Pablo
    June 26th, 2013 @ 7:15 am

    This NSA business is the one scandal that affects everyone. You can insist all you like that this won’t touch him, but the polls say otherwise.

  19. K-Bob
    June 27th, 2013 @ 4:13 am

    Bull. The polls reflect “upset”. But the polls are not asking if he should be impeached, and no leftist will stand for impeachment, and CLEARLY many Republicans think the NSA issue is more of a problem with the leaker. Obviously barack will never be held accountable for the spying on “US Persons” (what an unmitigated a-hole he is), nor for the drones, nor any of it.

    We might have an outside chance at impeachment over Benghazi. At the very least, we may fend off a Hillary campaign. But barack will skate like a mofo on the NSA stuff.

  20. Pathfinder's wife
    June 27th, 2013 @ 9:22 am

    I’ve seen the light: I’m now so very glad that somebody blew the whistle on the odious machinations of the odious NSA, and all the victims it was producing….odiously.

  21. K-Bob
    June 27th, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

    “First of all, you started in with me. I don’t even know who you are. ”

    Are you somehow confused about how the internet works? If you don’t want people replying to you, don’t put up a comment.

    If you can parse language, you can tell I am not “replacing” anything. Helpful hint: when I want to replace a word with another, I’ll do it explicitly.

    Your last point, like your second point, is you arguing with your assumptions. If you want to know what I wrote, read it. If you don’t, don’t.

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    […] Ben Smith Wants You to Ignore This […]