• Whistleblowing is About the Message, Not the Messenger

    January 9, 2014

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy

    The current media pablum about whether Snowden is “narcissistic” or “spiteful” or the devil himself is nonsense.


    This kind of thing has become a set-piece in America to dehumanize and discredit whistleblowers so as to dilute public support for the vital information they make available. In high school debate class this lame name-calling is known as ad hominem, one of the lowest forms of argument. The idea is that a claim is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the person presenting the claim. First comes an attack against the character of person making the claim. Second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim the person in question is making, just like stating 1+3=2.

    The technique is in full use against NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, particularly swirling around demands by the New York Times and The Guardian that the U.S. government grant him clemency.

    The use of cheap ad hominem takes its crudest form in “opinion pieces” such as those by Washington Post typist Ruth Marcus. In the course of only a couple of hundred words, Marcus (who has never actually spoken to Snowden) calls Snowden messianic, smug, self-righteous, egotistical, disingenuous, megalomaniacal, overwrought, feckless and insufferable before concluding “The whistleblower personality is rarely an attractive one. Whistleblowers tend to be the difficult ones, the sort who tend to feel freer to speak out precisely because they don’t fit in. So perhaps it is not a surprise that the biggest whistleblower of all time has an unpleasant personality to match.” In an earlier piece, Marcus announced that “Snowden is no Socrates and no Martin Luther King,” as if anyone but her was even making such assertions. She concludes that “Socrates is [sic] a great philosopher and Snowden the lowest type of menial.”

    Former National Security Agency and CIA head Michael Hayden said of Snowden: “I used to say he was a defector… I’m now kind of drifting in the direction of perhaps more harsh language… such as traitor.”

    None of this is new. After Daniel Ellsberg exposed America’s duplicitous history in Vietnam by leaking the Pentagon Papers, the Nixon White House broke into his psychiatrist’s office looking for dirt to smear him. Chelsea Manning’s sexuality featured prominently and pruriently in media coverage of her disclosures. NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake described his own experience as “the politics of personal destruction while also engaging in abject, cut throat character assassination, and complete fabrication and frame up.” When the State Department was seeking to prosecute/fire me because of my own whistleblowing (seriously minor compared to Snowden of course) they pushed out all sorts of nasty things, and several media people accused me of being bad in some way. I was typically asked to “respond” to questions that I blew the whistle as part of some self-promotion campaign, or that I was simply a disgruntled employee out for revenge.

    When asked to respond to such statements, I would cut them off and stipulate “I am indeed a terrible person, mean to babies and puppies. And so what? This must be about the message, not the messenger. I don’t matter. What I said is either true or made up (of course it was true). Focus your energy on that. What I said either exposed government waste and mismanagement or it did not (it did), so focus your energy on that and not whether I return my library books on time (I do).

    The technique of smearing the messenger is crudely wielded when people try to diminish Snowden’s information’s value by criticizing him for not “manning up” to face consequences in the U.S., or for “selling out” to the Russians for asylum. Snowden, having watched what happened to Manning, Drake and others, knew he would be unlikely to be handled justly. The Espionage Act of 1917 carries the death penalty, and as we learned with the Manning trial the government need not prove any actual damage was done or any foreign power was actually aided to gain a conviction. The proceedings would all be classified and Snowden would be held in devastating pretrial detention in some Supermax. He would be prohibited from discussing his case with anyone but perhaps his lawyer and denied any outside contact or information. I don’t think Snowden wanted to live in Russia but under those circumstances he did not have many options outside of basically handing himself over to the U.S. government to be disappeared. To put this in some perspective, the U.S., after all, takes in many political asylees each year, the circumstances of which ebb and flow with U.S. policy of the moment. Other countries do the same and unless one is willing to condemn all those political asylees in the same way as one does Snowden (no guts, face the music, etc.) than it isn’t right to single him out.

    Snowden. I don’t know the guy. Maybe he is cool, fun to hang around with, quick with a joke and nice to babies, puppies and kittens. Maybe he is not. But outside the guilty pleasures of gossip (what new diet trick is Edward using to stay trim? Is it true about him and Lady Gaga?!?), Snowden, in a larger sense, in a good way, doesn’t matter as a person. What matters is what he has revealed to us about a national security state that has clearly gone quite insane, violating our liberty and our freedom to live without unwarranted search and seizure of our private lives.

    We would know nothing about the extent of NSA intrusion without Snowden’s information. Whether the debate on the NSA leads anywhere or not is an evolving question, but, without Snowden’s leaks, it would not be happening in any form. Let’s focus on Snowden’s information to save our democracy and leave the hypocrisy outside the door, the name-calling on the schoolyard and the gossiping for the Kardashians.


    BONUS: No one in government takes an “oath of secrecy.” I held a TS clearance for 23 years. You sign a paper promising to follow the rules on handling classified info. However, you do swear one oath, to preserve and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. Snowden believed he was acting on that oath in revealing the extent that the NSA had spun out of control. That action is called “conscience,” and it requires significant courage. FYI.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...

      1

      01/9/14 12:36 PM | Comment Link

    • Kyzl Orda said...

      2

      Too often our political system is more about personal politics and mired in denigrating a person for silly, and majority of the time imagined and deliberately falsely maligning, qualities.

      Remember when due process and rights were applied fairly equally? And not really based on whether one was liked or not? ie if we like you, we cover for you; if we don’t, no due process for you.

      With the ‘narrative’ the instition and its lackeys write, one’s own mother wouldnt even recognize their offspring. Al Qaeda can rest easy; there’s a real enemy now,

      01/9/14 1:39 PM | Comment Link

    • Kyzl Orda said...

      3

      *Al Qaeda can rest easy; there’s a real enemy now, Insert name of American civil servant

      01/9/14 1:40 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      4

      Those civil servants and their political appointee bosses represent the Dumbest Country on the Plant.

      01/9/14 2:09 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      5

      quote:”However, you do swear one oath, to preserve and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. Snowden believed he was acting on that oath….”unquote

      Vs those who wield the Supranational Sovereign power of vindictiveness in WDC. The difference is.. Snowden didn’t cross his fingers behind his back.

      As to “beliefs”, we saw how well that worked out for Chelsea.

      Ya know, I watched a movie last night called Olympus Has Fallen. Good movie by Hollywood standards. By the time it was over I was a flag waving, red blooded apple pie eating, terrorist hating cheering for the Seal team hero patriot. I almost watched ZeroDarkThirty next. And then I woke up. Thank gawd for reality.

      01/9/14 3:27 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      6

      quote:”Those civil servants and their political appointee bosses represent the Dumbest Country on the Plant.”unquote.

      Correction. PlanEt. Lest some idiot out there don’t get it. After all..gotta keep Registered Trademarks from being misused. :)

      01/9/14 3:34 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      7

      Hey guys. Speaking of movies, I watched one last night that reminded me of the Dumbest Country on the Planet(R).

      Here’s a review…
      quote:”When an island off the coast of Ireland is invaded by bloodsucking aliens, the heroes discover that getting drunk is the only way to survive.”unquote

      Now THAT’S my kind of movie. :)

      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1525366/

      01/9/14 3:45 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      8

      Pitch,

      Thanks for saving the TM; I’ve been focusing on legalization of the plant MJ.

      Who needs MJ to lose your mind when there is cable news? Just watched Lord Humongous trot out the “I’m the victim” card, that everyone on his staff but CC were liars. If this guy is elected presi-dense of the DUMBEST COUNTRY ON THE PLANET (TM), then, my friends, we have entered the Dead Zone.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CdKuLRmg8k

      01/9/14 8:38 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      9

      @ Rich..
      quote”Who needs MJ to lose your mind when there is cable news? Just watched Lord Humongous trot out the “I’m the victim” card, that everyone on his staff but CC were liars. If this guy is elected presi-dense of the DUMBEST COUNTRY ON THE PLANET (TM), then, my friends, we have entered the Dead Zone.”

      Lord Humongus…presi-dense(TM)

      hahahahahahahahahahahahaha! man, that made my day Rich.

      01/9/14 10:34 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      10

      OMG..this one slipped right past me…

      quote:”Thanks for saving the TM; I’ve been focusing on legalization of the plant MJ.”unquote

      Gottcha. TM/MJ. Gottcha.

      no no no..it’s not PLANT. I told you. It’s MJ PLANET. :)

      01/9/14 10:37 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      11

      WAIT…WAIT…OMG..it just hit me…

      TDCOTP(TM) pending .. youbetcha..we’ll make millions. T-shirts, keychains, bumper stickers…

      not to mention tieing it in with “our” soon to be Showtime DoS hit..lest some NSA agent pass this billion dollar idea to the Carlyle investment TEAM HOLLYWOOD..

      youbetcha

      01/9/14 10:53 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      12

      Ya know..sometimes during my exploits through the DCOTP(TM) history, a giant wave of historical seas almost drowns me in it’s surge towards the beach head of insignificance. Thank god for the lifeboats of Wikipedia..

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc_Rich

      01/10/14 12:13 AM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      13

      Rich..speaking of Lord Humongous..

      http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2014/01/chris-christie-bullying-videos?google_editors_picks=true

      This guy redefines schmuck.

      01/10/14 11:46 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      14

      That fat, pompous JERK will find out the cover-up is always worse, especially when fails to cover-up his fat, pompous ASS.

      01/10/14 12:09 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      15

      youbetcha. Unfortunately it’d take something the size of Texas to cover his pompous ass.

      01/10/14 4:37 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      16

      Once in a while, everything comes into perspective. This is one of those moments. Thank you Arthur ..

      http://powerofnarrative.blogspot.com/

      fuck.

      01/10/14 11:17 PM | Comment Link

    • Lafcadio said...

      17

      PVB:

      Congrats on that shout out WaPo gave you.

      01/11/14 1:02 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      18

      “This guy (Christie) redefines schmuck.

      Christie-Petraeus 2016

      01/11/14 3:01 AM | Comment Link

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