With heroes like these, who needs heroes? As we discussed last week, Edward Snowden derped his way into handing Vladimir Putin a major propaganda victory live on the state-run RT network. So phenomenal a blunder it was for Team Snowden, he almost immediately fired off a mea culpa, published in The Guardian.
The article, presumably written by Snowden but likely crafted in conjunction with his team of advisers (explanation to follow), desperately attempted to ameliorate the negative impact of Snowden's deep-tissue massage for Putin into a shot across Putin's bow -- an initial step into adversarial journalism against the Russian intelligence community. Snowden wrote that he had attempted to get Putin on-the-record (on a state-run TV network, laughably) denying what the FSB, Russia's NSA counterpart, was really up to -- this way, when the facts come out, Team Snowden could collectively scold the Russian president for lying, just like what happened to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. But of course we all generally know what Russia is doing, that its surveillance operations are considerably more vast and pernicious than NSA's.
The reality is that a would-be Russian variant of Greenwald who attempts to expose the FSB in the same way Snowden and Greenwald did with NSA won't get anywhere. Indeed, if by some miracle such a process occurred, it would only end up making the United States appear saintly, contra-Snowden -- what with our press freedoms and comparatively transparent government, not to mention the narrower scope of our surveillance activities when contrasted against what Russia is up to.
Since the crisis in Ukraine, the Kremlin has been gagging Russian journalists and their publications. And, of course, any outside journalists who publish information about the FSB will be met with yawns rather that awards and accolades. Why? Because the world already knows about all of that. Then again, recycling old news didn't stop Greenwald and the others from spicing up previously-known information, adding PowerPoint slides, click-bait headlines and lots of melodrama to grab attention and incite public outrage.
So realistically, there was no intention to launch SnowdenOp: The Sequel -- that is until Snowden realized he and his team really screwed the pooch on this one.
To wit, The Daily Beast published an explosive article on Sunday, titled "Snowden’s Camp: Staged Putin Q&A Was a Screw-Up," detailing how Snowden's advisers acknowledge that the RT appearance was badly botched.
“It certainly didn’t go as he would’ve hoped,” one of these sources said. “I don’t think there’s any shame in saying that he made an error in judgment.”
According to [ACLU lawyer Ben] Wizner and others, Snowden hadn’t realized how much last week’s Q&A—with Putin blithely assuring Snowden that Moscow had no such eavesdropping programs—would appear to be a Kremlin propaganda victory to Western eyes.
This raises the salient question: what other aspects of the Kremlin, its politics and propaganda has Team Snowden underestimated and misinterpreted? I mean, this was a pretty obvious one to even casual observers with limited Russian expertise. Consequently, what else have they given up?
Snowden’s camp wouldn’t get into the specifics of how his question made it onto the live broadcast on Russian state television.
Yeah, that's because it would make an already embarrassing situation even worse because not only would it potentially further the connection between Snowden and his Russian keepers including one of his lawyers, Anatoly Kucherena, who happens to have been an FSB lawyer, but it might also confirm that every word of Snowden's pre-recorded, scripted remarks was vetted in advance by Russian PR operatives.
With several of his key advisers offline, Snowden crafted his question for Putin. The leaker was aware that a frontal assault on the Russian leader likely wouldn’t make it past the Kremlin’s publicists.
Didn't they foresee that a Russia-approved question would only end up appearing Russia-friendly? Sheesh.
Snowden may have crafted the question to mirror Sen. Ron Wyden’s questioning under oath of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, as Snowden later claimed in his Guardian op-ed.[...] But that assumes Putin—or Russia—cares about such untruths in the same way America or its leaders do. “Trapping Putin in a lie is not the same as trapping Obama or Clapper,” one of Snowden’s advisers sighed.
Exactly. So why bother? Why not take another route in criticizing Russian surveillance activities? Snowden's post-show explanation makes no sense. It really sounds as if he was coached to ask Putin a carefully crafted question through which Putin could drive a tractor-trailer loaded with propaganda. That might not have been the intention, but that's what it looks like.
“The best you can say about this is he may have thought he was trying to broaden the conversation to talk about Russian surveillance. If that is the case, this is probably a naïve way to go about it,” Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute and a major NSA critic, told The Daily Beast.
If Snowden is naïve, then so are his advisers who helped him do it! And what does that tell us about the entire operation?
Wizner said he understood the revulsion: The interchange looked like cheap agitprop. “I know this is hard to believe. I know if I was just watching from afar, I’d think, ‘Wow, they forced him [Snowden] to do this,’” the ACLU attorney added. “But it’s not true. He just fucking did it.”
Wizner said he hopes that the Guardian op-ed silences those “Snowden-Putin truthers” who are convinced that the Russian security services are behind the leaker’s every move.
Snowden-Putin Truthers? Okay, here's the thing. If you're an ACLU adviser for a man who said he could wiretap the president; who thinks NSA is watching everything we do and which has sensors in our pockets; a man who used pillows and soy sauce dribblings to flummox NSA eavesdropping -- if you're on this man's team, you don't get to accuse others of being 9/11-style conspiracy theory "Truthers." For the last 10 months, Snowden, his media flacks and his followers have displayed Alex Jones style appetites for wild conspiracy theory mongering. Questioning Snowden's association with Russia doesn't even come close.
Nevertheless, this wasn't the first Snowden fuck-up and it won't be his last. But what's becoming increasingly obvious is that many of Snowden's advisers might be just as naïve as he is. So we're not talking about one useful idiot, but an entire troupe.