Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sick think and Ed Snowden

A growing number of stories (including a few in this very blog) have questioned the bona fides of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Note, for example, these two Facebook posts by Naomi Wolf:
Some of Snowden’s emphases seem to serve an intelligence/police state objective, rather than to challenge them.

a) He is super-organized, for a whistleblower, in terms of what candidates, the White House, the State Dept. et al call ‘message discipline.’ He insisted on publishing a power point in the newspapers that ran his initial revelations. I gather that he arranged for a talented filmmaker to shoot the Greenwald interview. These two steps — which are evidence of great media training, really ‘PR 101″ — are virtually never done (to my great distress) by other whistleblowers, or by progressive activists involved in breaking news, or by real courageous people who are under stress and getting the word out. They are always done, though, by high-level political surrogates.
What does this argument come to? Simply this: If a whistleblower has his shit together, he is automatically to be considered a suspicious character.

That attitude doesn't quite seem fair, does it?
He keeps saying things like, “If you are a journalist and they think you are the transmission point of this info, they will certainly kill you.” Or: “I fully expect to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act.”
Finally in my experience, real whistleblowers are completely focused on their act of public service and trying to manage the jeopardy to themselves and their loved ones; they don’t tend ever to call attention to their own self-sacrifice.
Catch-22: If he did not note the risks and sacrifices, people would accuse him (have accused him) of being in it for some imagined pay-off. Yet if he does emphasize both the risks and the sacrifices, that fact alone is made to seem suspicious (or solipsistic). It's a no-win situation!

Then there's this offering from old-school conspiracy researcher Dave Emory, who asks many of the same questions I have asked about Snowden's bizarre "fast track" rise within the intelligence world. Perfectly legitimate points, these. But then Emory (who also thinks that Assange is some sort of Nazi) gives us stuff like this:
It turns out that Cit­i­zen Snow­den is a sup­porter of Nazi-linked Ron Paul.
The vast bulk of Paul’s Super PAC money came from ultra-right wing Peter Thiel.
Oh, come off it.

As readers know, I detest Paul. Anti-libertarianism has been a recurrent theme of this blog. (So much so that my brother has advised me to stop bitching about "the librarians.") But Ron Paul exerts an understandable appeal to those who believe in legalizing pot and staying out of foreign entanglements. We can count Bill Maher as a member of this group -- although, ultimately, he made his big donation to Obama instead of Paul.

Many people (particularly the young) have a poor understanding of economics, yet they also possess a keen awareness that the Iraq war was a disaster, and they have a deep suspicion of the national security state. I can understand why these people admire Ron Paul, even though I would strongly advise them to transfer their affections to some other leader -- preferably one who didn't take Atlas Shrugged so fucking seriously.

Accusing all Ron Paul supporters of evil motivations is simply foolish. Hell, it's as foolish as supporting Ron Paul.

The point about Thiel is, of course, well-taken -- but he has nothing to do with Snowden. By way of analogy, one could point out that Barack Obama got a lot (and I mean a lot) of money from Goldman Sachs and other big Wall Street banks back in 2008. That fact doesn't permit us to construct absurd scenarios in which all Obama supporters (including the aforementioned Bill Maher and, presumably, Dave Emory and Naomi Wolf) are secretly controlled by Lloyd Blankfein.

Let us continue with the afore-cited piece:
Thiel is one of the asso­ciates of the Koch Brothers-founded Cato Institute.
The leak­ing jour­nal­ist, Glenn Green­wald, is also pro­fes­sion­ally asso­ci­ated with the Cato Institute.
The pos­si­bil­ity that the Cato/Thiel/Paul dynamic may have fac­tored in the devel­op­ment of this story is one to be con­tem­plated and researched.
If you want to know more about the Greenwald/Cato link, go here. To my eyes, the "professional" association does not amount to much. Cato hosted an event for an anti-Bush book written by Greenwald, who also wrote a Cato study on drug decriminalization.

Libertarianism is, at root, an ultra-conservative phenomenon. In previous posts (here and here), I've noted that post-war fascists (unlike their pre-war predecessors) have felt drawn to libertarian economists -- the Pinochet/Milton Friedman "marriage" being the most obvious example. How did this linkage form? I'm not sure, although I suspect that the answer has much to do with the fact that the basic libertarian economic stance comes down to this: "Might makes right! Hail the strong and damn the weak!" That also happens to be a fairly good precis of the fascist weltanschauung.

Yet there are a number of non-economic issues on which libertarians and liberals have agreed. Drug policy is one; neoconservative adventurism is another. That's why, during the Bush years, we frequently saw folks on Democratic Underground citing Justin Raimondo on the Iraq debacle. If Greenwald and Cato have stepped toward each other, they did so only in these areas of overlapping interest.

I would advise Greenwald (if ever he asked for my advice, which he wouldn't) to steer clear of that crowd. That said, if you have any political sophistication at all, you no longer feel deeply surprised every time you see libertarianism create strange bedfellows. Annoyed, perhaps, but not surprised. At any rate, this "strange bedfellows" phenomenon provides an insecure basis for a grand conspiratorial scenario.

Which brings us back to Eddie Snowden.

Right now, I feel both regretful and proud of my previous posts about him. The regret stems from some rather over-the-top reader reactions -- e.g., "Snowden is the CIA equivalent of COINTELPRO." The evidence for such a proposition is thin, although it may thicken in the future. But right now, a lot of people are getting War and Peace out of the Beale ciphers -- in other words, they're reading way too much into way too little.

The Snowden controversy has reminded me of an old bete noir: James Jesus Angleton, the CIA's chief of counterintelligence whose overblown fears about Soviet penetration did enormous damage to the Agency. In the past, I've made no secret of my own belief that Angleton masterminded the Kennedy assassination -- a belief that owes much to John Newman's Oswald and the CIA, updated edition.

(We'll soon bring this back to Eddie. Promise.)

I mention Angleton here for one obvious reason: Our larger subject today is paranoia. JJA was the Priest-King of the Paranoid Clan. That's why we older spook-watchers continue to fixate on him: He is a mirror unto our natures. Although we may wish he had never been born, he is, god help us, us.

He may even have helped to create us. James Jesus Angleton played no small role in fomenting criticism of the Warren Commission, even though Angleton also helped the Commission formulate its conclusions. At least two important early critical works -- Inquest by Edward Epstein and Farewell America by "James Hepburn" -- trace back to Angleton and his circle of cronies and admirers.

I'm still not sure why he played both sides in that game. (At any rate, the JFK assassination is really a topic for another time.) But I do know this: Angleton's sad history proves that the dark craft of counterintelligence breeds sick think.

What is "sick think"? The basic idea is easy to grasp: While most people do not hesitate to presume bad motives on the part of those with whom they disagree, a sick-thinker takes matters further. A sick-thinker presumes bad faith on the part of his friends.

Here's how a sick-thinker thinks:

The person who presents himself as an ally is really my foe. He's playing a game of 11-dimensional chess -- and only I, clever I, am clever enough to see him for who he truly is. And only I, clever I, can foil his plan by taking the game into the 12th dimension.

Which again brings us, by a commodius vicus of recirculation, back to Ed Snowden and Environs. What makes Snowy tick? Any attempt to answer that question forces us to think like a counterintelligence specialist -- like James Jesus Angleton.

Frankly, I don't like what I turn into when I try to play that role. How much of my previous writing about young Edward is valid, and how much is Angletonian sick think? Are people like Naomi Wolf thinking sickly?

Perhaps we would all be better off if we took Eddie at face value. Isn't he the whistleblower we've been hoping for all these years? Now that we have him, must we piss on him? If we piss on him, what message do we send to future potential whistleblowers?

I can't recall any previous story which so quickly became enveloped in a thick cloud of weirdo politics. Many conservatives have labeled Snowden a traitor, yet some conservatives have also welcomed the political damage he could potentially do to Barack Obama. Meanwhile, Obama supporters have become very suspicious of Snowden -- and of Greenwald, normally considered a liberal hero. Those suspicions would not exist if a Republican were in office. On cable TV and throughout much of the internet, the controversy has focused on a whistleblower and a president, when we ought to be talking about the NSA.

Maybe the whole damned culture has come down with a bad case of sick thick.


Anonymous said...

There has been a lot of polarizing on this issue.

Its a strange partnership between authoritarian conservatives and obots, as well as the apparent alliance between left wing and libertarians.

I don't know why there is a phear of being aligned with any libertarian issues. It doesn't make one a Paulie, if you're a Left Libertarian whose civil liberty concerns are matched with social justice. What's in a name?

I know conservatives (Jeff Goldstein) who call themselves Classical Liberals. Abe Lincoln was a Republican, Obama is a Democrat. It means almost nothing nowadays to stick a label on someone.

I don't know what label to put on Snowden, except maybe he was tired of the bullshit, and I am grateful for each crack of light that appears.


Propertius said...

It doesn't matter who Snowden is, what his real background is, or what his personal politics may be.

The revelations are either true or they are false.

Since the PTB have been running in circles trying to "justify" them, I think it's safe to assume they're true - in fact, it's safe to assume we haven't heard the worst yet.

Worrying about Ed Snowden's politics is missing the point - there's only one fundamental question we should be asking now: do we wish to live in a totalitarian state?

Grung_e_Gene said...

Many people overestimate their intellect and ability to not be fooled by the propaganda of the "evil other". Snowden's allegations appear to have been embellished and Greenwald has a political axe to grind.

I'd love a discussion on curtailling the Surveillance State but with a Congressional Oversight Committee run by Darrell Issa, who wouldn't release transcripts which run counter to his BS accusations?

That move is akin to a State's Attorney not releasing exculpatory evidence writ large.

Anyway there's a lot of Confirmation Bias running around here.

Michael said...

I don't know but Snowden's kerning doesn't look quite right to me.

Anonymous said...

Joseph, though I don't always agree with you, your ability to refine your position and admit error earns you my abiding respect. Too few journalists are willing to take the risks you take and bear the responsibility.

As to the SickThink, perhaps like ConspiracyFatigue it is propagated to enervate us, and perhaps that was Angleton's purpose in promoting skepticism of the Warren Report.

In the 9/11 arena, Rep. Crowley commented in a congressional hearing in March of 2002 about the destruction of the steel evidence at Ground Zero:

"I do believe that conspiracy theorists are going to have a field day with this. They are going to make the Warren Commission look like a walk in the park. And that is unfortunate not only for the Members of Congress who are trying to work on this issue, but for all the families out there that are listening very carefully. . . ."

I suspect that the reason the Pentagon has refused to release photos of flight 77 hitting the Pentagon is partly because they want to generate kooky conspiracy theories and further ConspiracyFatigue.

I know you have no patience for the Controlled Demolition hypothesis, Joseph, and that's fine. I'm no expert on the engineering of 100-story buildings myself, so I don't claim to know what happened there. But I invite you to consider the possibility that the official reports on the towers are as bad as they are precisely to further the atmosphere of Conspiracy Fatigue and Sick Think.

LandOLincoln said...

Then there are those of us who're too old to give a flying fuck anymore. Personally, I can't wait to go back to the good old days, when X ruled the airwaves and I saw a young, beautiful woman every time I looked in the mirror.

Carry on, boys. You'll catch up with us eventually...

Andy Tyme said...

The Assange pile o'leaks included NOTHING that would cast serious doubt on the validity of the War On Terror thesis, on the integrity of its Likud-compliant authors, or on the "horse they rode in on" (the legend of the suicidal hijackers). And when queried, creepy Julian Boy himself expressed only utter contempt for all who doubt that "sacred" legend.


Now comes this Snowden flake, with another "golden treasure" of top secrets that in retrospect are mostly dross, since they have not seriously swayed public opinion (against the panopticon state), only confirm what was previously suspected and reported, and have ultimately served to buttress the sleazy spooks' specious stories of "hundreds of terror plots foiled".

Yes, the initial media-driven furor did distress the Obama regime into dropping its ban on (acknowledged) direct military aid to the anti-Assad Israeli surrogates. But so far the worst (possible) revelations -- about how our spooks have used their total-surveillance tech-toys to blackmail and destroy their real enemies (foreign and domestic) will likely never surface via Fast Eddie's uploads.THE

Dojo Rat said...

For a libertarian, Thiel sure doesn't mind making money off the government. Here's a pretty good summary of Thiel:

Aside from PayPal, he was the co-founder of Palantir, which snakes it's way through all kinds of government computers.
They also use "prism" software, though the company denies it is the same "Prism" used by the NSA.

Palantir was a CIA "start-up" company:

If I remember correctly, Thiel once proposed a huge floating Libertarian city, outside the reach of any government taxation or rules in general.

I still think it's possible someone is "running" Snowden.

Joseph Cannon said...

The floating city thing is real, Dojo. And I really must write a post on Thiel some day soon.

You may be right about Snowdon. As I said in an earlier post, we're in Spooksville, so anything is possible. My first reaction, even before Snowdon came forward, was to suggest that we may be witnessing an anti-Obama operation.

But privately, I've been re-reading a lot of stuff about JJA. And going through those older books, the thought hit me: "Am I turning INTO Angleton when it comes to this Snowden thing...?"

Dojo Rat said...

I gave it a good shot on Thiel here:

May have to revise, it's complicated.

As far as JJA, have you looked at Joseph Trento's " Prelude To Terror"?

Lots of back-biting in intel groups, and the "privitization" of the CIA factions.