Dammit, Snowden—Part II

Noah Shachtman at The Daily Beast quotes anonymous advisers to Edward Snowden conceding that his gruesome trained-seal performance for Vladimir Putin was an error in judgment. Cheers to them for stating what millions already know. But why do these advisers feel the need to hide their identities? Who are they afraid of pissing off?

And if they are truly so close to his thinking, why hasn’t Snowden made the same admission? Instead, he offered an obtuse and unconvincing defense in the Guardian.

I spent some time talking about the Snowden propaganda fiasco in the latest episode of The No Noise Newscast, which went online a couple of days before the Shachtman story. Now, having heard these stage whispers from his brain trust, I am more confident in my pet theory that Snowden’s most critical errors to date have shared a common source.

My theory is that Snowden is actually making the same mistake over and over again. That mistake is to overestimate his own intelligence while underestimating the intelligence of others.


This form of overconfidence is tragically commonplace among white guys from the IT department and cable news commentators.

Snowden’s big plan was to demonstrate his independence from Russian government influence. Predictably, he achieved the opposite. Putin simply outsmarted Snowden. The sad thing was how Putin made it look easy.*

To the extent that the Snowden leaks bring the unelected, unaccountable and heretofore untouchable “national security” behemoth to heel, his great caper remains a net positive, overshadowing his subsequent mistakes (and his dubious ideology). However, the possibility remains that attitudes toward this spy saga could turn sharply negative, clearing the way for a repressive backlash by the forces of secrecy and subterfuge. Snowden’s personal conduct and credibility will factor in to the eventual outcome.

In short, I fear that if Snowden keeps fucking up like he did last week, the advantage returns to the jingos calling for his head.

I hope he gets this. If Snowden is, for reasons of his own safety, currently unable to publicly and personally apologize for his mistake, then the smartest thing he might do is to keep his head down until he can secure asylum in a country not currently engaged in a ruthless geopolitical contest with the United States. Obviously that is easier said than done. Until that day of salvation Snowden’s reputation is tied, fairly or unfairly, to his cause. Last week he did no favors to himself or to the preservation of privacy in the world.


* The scary thing was: Snowden, who was duped so humiliatingly by Putin, had himself outsmarted his former employers in the NSA and basically the entire United States “intelligence community.” What does that say about American intelligence?