12:56 p.m. August 10, 2013

Edward Snowden As The Millennial Jimmy Stewart

Ever since Snowden made it clear that he planned to stay in Russia and take cover under Vladimir Putin’s protection, my views on Edward Snowden have changed, as has my reporting.

I’ve found it impossible to remain uncritical about Snowden and his decision to defect to the Kremlin; I know that place, and those people and that world too well — the goons he’s hiding behind, and the anti-Putin opposition struggling against Putin — to keep my mouth shut. Not with Snowden praising Putin’s courageous commitment to human rights, and everyone on Team Snowden going along with that crap uncritically.

I have a problem with people who try to con me. Basically, I hate them. And Snowden lied to me through Greenwald and Poitras when he was still in Hong Kong, talking a lofty and impressive game about standing up for what’s right, about risking it all for a higher cause and being a leader when no one else would, and about his readiness to face jail and the awful might of the US national security state — if only people would take notice. From Hong Kong, Snowden righteously told the Washington Post,

“I intend to ask for asylum from any countries that believe in free speech and oppose the victimization of global privacy."

And yet just last week, a regional TV station in Snowden's adopted Motherland "accidentally" ran a short clip critical of Putin's role in quashing human rights in Russia. The news director responsible for running the clip was immediately fired for allowing this on-air:

"Under Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin) the freedom of speech, the freedom of assembly and freedom in general are not at all welcome."

No criticism of Putin is allowed on Russian television.

So he conned us all — and now Greenwald and other Snowden diehards have been reduced to conjuring up absurd and offensively idiotic rationalizations to explain away Snowden’s defection to the Kremlin. The only way you can rationalize what Snowden did is by remaining totally ignorant about what is going on inside of Russia, and how Snowden is being used by the state as Putin faces his most serious opposition of his 13-year reign. It's a good thing that 99.9% of Snowden's supporters are completely ignorant about Russia, beyond a few stories about Pussy Riot.

As I’ve reported in a series of articles on Snowden’s disastrous defection, he’s playing directly into the Kremlin’s hands and becoming an incredibly useful tool—Russian state TV news has been running Snowden’s statements praising Russia’s human rights record, showing Amnesty and Human Rights Watch sitting with Snowden giving his defection their blessing (both Amnesty and HRW's local reps later told reporters about their frustration over the sense they'd been used to provide cover for Snowden's defection ) and state TV has been rebroadcasting the interviews Snowden’s father gave — with GOP lobbyist/libertarian Bruce Fein, a paid genocide-denier, by his side — in which, again Snowden’s father praised Putin’s courage and commitment to human rights. This is why Russia’s beleaguered opposition has been either unusually silent about Snowden, sullenly silent; or, in the case of Anna Politkovskaya’s newspaper Novaya Gazeta, outright hostile to Snowden because of the demoralizing effect he’s having on the Russian opposition.

Most recently, as I reported here, Snowden has been taken under the wing of a Kremlin goon in the upper house of parliament who has publicly made Snowden an offer he can’t refuse: Help the Kremlin tighten its control over the Russian Internet.

Now, as a reporter I find these twists and turns to be not just newsworthy, but epic and grotesque and meaningful on so many levels. It’s tragedy and black comedy and dumb slapstick with terrible consequences all wrapped up in one: “Mr Magoo Goes To Moscow... and kills the opposition.” That’s a great story.

But what I’ve learned this past month or two watching this story unfold is that there’s a far more powerful cultural consensus — or need — to see this as another replay of the “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” myth, with Snowden as a millennial Jimmy Stewart — the earnest, sentimental hero who cannot possibly be fallible, and whose actions cannot possibly lead to the very consequences he and his supporters claim to be fighting against.

The sentimental myth is stronger than the facts — even among all the progressives on the left who claim to be so skeptical of sentimental myths and who claim to see through bullshit. The Snowden-as-Jimmy-Stewart myth is made easier by everyone’s ignorance here about Russia, and the shit Snowden is stirring up inside that country. Suddenly all the same people here who claim to care so much about American bull-in-a-china-shop intervention in other cultures are now saying that we should ignore whatever damage the Snowden bull is wreaking on Russia’s opposition. The consensus on preserving this Snowden-as-Jimmy Stewart myth at all costs spans what passes for America's political spectrum — the left, right and middle — Sara Palin and Peggy Noonan to The Nation; from DeVos-funded corporate Republicans, to social media anarcho-"radicals." To me this whole goddamn thing is bizarre, in a Body Snatchers way. I must've been away too long to understand your weird fits.

Anyway, as Dan Froomkin recently wrote,

“The best reporters get angry when they’re lied to, not when they’re criticized.”

I definitely agree with the first part — Snowden and/or the reporters managing Snowden lied to me in Hong Kong, and I believed him and gave him the benefit of the doubt until he decided to stay in Russia. And hell yes I’m angry about that. As for the second part — well, I’m generally pro-anger, so I don’t see the two as mutually exclusive, as an either/or anger situation. My initial Snowden material was getting a lot of praise until the truth changed in Russia, and my reporting turned critical and painful. I’ve been taking shit for telling the truth about Snowden-in-Russia for over a month now — at NSFWCORP dinners, on Twitter, in conversations, and in my email inbox.

Here is one example from someone I’ve known for several years, we keep in touch a few times a year. Sometime between when he left Russia and when I was forced to move back here in 2008, this friend turned into a Ron Paul libertarian. I’ll keep his name out of this. My response to him is published after his email:


How hard did you criticize Putin's human rights record when you were living in Russia? Not that hard, if I recall. The emphasis was on attacking the US. You certainly didn't leave Russia in protest. We can hardly expect Snowden to raise human rights issues in Russia considering the guy is now relying on Putin's forbearance in order to avoid the Bradley Manning treatment back here.

You leveraged your position in Moscow to make criticisms of Americans in Russia and US foreign policy. And it was great. But now you're saying Snowden is hypocritical or shouldn't have the right to live in Russia, because the goons there also spy and treat people poorly? That's like saying you had no right to go to Russia on the grounds that they don't protect free speech there either.

I don't see the logic or any sense of consistency in your position here. Condemning Snowden is as cheap and ridiculous as saying, in response to your criticisms of the US, 'Well, Ames lives in Moscow, so he's preaching pro Kremlin propaganda'. Or, 'if he wants to talk about the US, he should get a job here'. Now you're playing the same game as those right-wing commentators.

I understand your point about how this impacts domestic politics, but not all of the Kremlin opposition thinks Snowden's presence is such a bad thing, as you assert. Novaya Gazeta, for instance, also ran articles that are not unfavorable to Snowden, yet you tell readers (exploiting Politkovskaya's corpse in the process, to grab a headline) the domestic opposition are uniformly against him. Obviously, any western backed human rights group in Moscow is not going to openly come out on his side. But the Russians I know are certainly for him. Have you asked Limonov what he thinks?

The Russians I've talked to think highly of Snowden and *also condemn the horrible treatment of minorities in Russia. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive. And you know this, that's what bothers me. All the sudden you're shocked and outraged by Russia's treatment of minority groups? I mean, come on!

I don't understand this jihad vendetta you have against Snowden. Aside from being wrong, it also doesn't serve any purpose except to gratify certain Obama voters and various right-wingers who want whistleblowers hanged. - XX

My reply…

You do know that I had my paper raided and shut down by the Kremlin, right? You've read the eXile I assume? How about with my "101 Reasons Why Putin Is A Fascist" cover story, with a big cover showing Putin's face photoshopped onto a uniformed HitlerJugend with Hitler smiling and tickling his chin? Just about every goddamn issue I published something criticizing Putin. I also heavily criticized US/West policy in that country. Unlike the dumbfucks in this country, I'm actually capable of savaging both US imperial policy and Putinism; of going after the secrecy apparatus in the USA, and a giant fuckup failure like Snowden. It's not that hard if you tell the truth, though it appears to be harder to read - truth hurts.

I'm suddenly more interested in minorities being mass-rounded up into camps for the same reason I'm more interested in NSA leaks/secrecy, which I've written tens of thousands of words on in the last 2 months - because Snowden made the issue of refugees in Russia relevant to any American journalist who does his fucking job. As for your claim that anti-Putin opposition figures think Snowden is a hero - name them. Don't say you know them, name them, cite what they've said and written about Snowden's heroism; prove it. I and others have been looking long and hard at this. No one else will write about it because the herd mentality on this story on both sides is too strong, and if you're anti-empire like I am, and you're not me, you'll censor yourself and listen to cultist lugheads who demand censoring out anything that doesn't conform to the Snowden cult narrative.

Look, you're suffering cognitive dissonance and you don't like reading things that hurt your heroic narrative you've been conned into accepting. You can't handle criticism of Snowden despite how obvious it is that he completely fucked this up, let everyone down, and is fucking up the opposition within Russia.

If you can't handle reading something you disagree with, then don't read me. I've never followed what the goat herd thinks the Party Line should be; I write what I know. Everything I've written in my life can be described as a jihad vendetta, did you just figure that out now, just because I'm not in the Snowden cult?