In response to yesterday's embarrassing dance as Putin's puppet, Edward Snowden apparently took to the Guardian's op-ed section and wrote a rather interesting defense of his actions giving the motive that he was trying to hold Putin as accountable as he wants President Obama to be.
On Thursday, I questioned Russia's involvement in mass surveillance on live television. I asked Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, a question that cannot credibly be answered in the negative by any leader who runs a modern, intrusive surveillance program: "Does [your country] intercept, analyse or store millions of individuals' communications?"
I went on to challenge whether, even if such a mass surveillance program were effective and technically legal, it could ever be morally justified.
The question was intended to mirror the now infamous exchange in US Senate intelligence committee hearings between senator Ron Wyden and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, about whether the NSA collected records on millions of Americans, and to invite either an important concession or a clear evasion. (See a side-by-side comparison of Wyden's question and mine here.)
Clapper's lie – to the Senate and to the public – was a major motivating force behind my decision to go public, and a historic example of the importance of official accountability.
In his response, Putin denied the first part of the question and dodged on the latter. There are serious inconsistencies in his denial – and we'll get to them soon – but it was not the president's suspiciously narrow answer that was criticised by many pundits. It was that I had chosen to ask a question at all.
I was surprised that people who witnessed me risk my life to expose the surveillance practices of my own country could not believe that I might also criticise the surveillance policies of Russia, a country to which I have sworn no allegiance, without ulterior motive. I regret that my question could be misinterpreted, and that it enabled many to ignore the substance of the question – and Putin's evasive response – in order to speculate, wildly and incorrectly, about my motives for asking it.
It's those last two paragraphs that really, really ring alarm bells for me. This comes across as incredibly condescending and arrogant, as if anyone in the class of Snowden's critics even have the right to question his motives. Given what Snowden is trying to accomplish, the irony of that is breathtaking. He basically says "I'm sorry you misunderstood me" which is no apology at all, and then dismisses his critics as speculating wildly and incorrectly about him.
He then goes on to point out that yes, Russia is very much a surveillance state, and that he was trying to get Putin into a "gotcha" moment.
The first is true. I don't believe the second. That's pretty naive. But how then do we explain this column?
If Snowden didn't pen this, he's being used as a pawn by his allies as well as Putin, in which case he's severely damaged his own argument not once but twice in the last two days. If Snowden did pen this, he's an arrogant prick who believes he's beyond criticism, and who severely damaged his own argument not once but twice in the last two days.
Now having said all this and insofar as there are two separate arguments here, that is A) “What role should the NSA play in America and how can we enforce that the NSA remains in that role when they are a covert organization with next to zero transparency” and B) “Did Edward Snowden really have no other choice but to break the law in order to expose the NSA’s practices”, Snowden remains the sideshow compared to the NSA's awful practices.
My problem is the people who say “A justified B, and therefore Snowden is a hero” and then when Snowden does something like this, immediately respond with “Snowden is not the argument.”
I agree Snowden himself and his conduct are a much much much smaller issue than the NSA repeatedly not telling the truth and doing whatever the hell they feel like, because NSA LOL.
But there are people that not only want it both ways, they conflate the two arguments to begin with, and that’s making any realistic discussion on A) very difficult.
And now we have Snowden himself making that discussion more difficult with his own actions. Snowden's credibility is damaged.
But maybe that's the whole point, says Putin, laughing in the background.