Snowden, Manning, and Screwtape

bradley-manning-edward-snowdenWell, we’re at the beginning of the end of the Snowden and Manning sagas — or at least, to borrow Churchill’s phrase, at the end of the beginning.  Since just about everything that could be written about these hapless boys has already been written, I’m going to be a bit philosophical at this point. Bear with me.

First, a recap. Snowden’s going to stay in Russia for a while, probably until he figures out that the biggest threat to his safety is from the Russian intelligence services, who at this point will never want him to make it back to the United States and reveal in a debrief to us about how he was debriefed by them. (The Russians are good with people outing American secrets. People outing their secrets, not so much.)

And Manning is going to go to jail for a long time, hopefully in solitary right next to Robert Hanssen, who also was convicted of espionage but whose treatment, strangely, was never a source of angst to human rights activists. Although he, too, was a freakish narcissist — and I mean freaky — he was a middle-aged FBI agent, and those get no love from kids who don’t follow the news.

As an aside, I’m starting to agree with John Schindler that neither of them were as culpable as they look: after weeks of really having to watch them, they’re both increasingly looking too weak, too stupid, and too easily manipulated to be conscious traitors. Rather, they seem to be narcissistic and naive pawns used by Wikileaks, and thus in turn by whoever is pulling Julian Assange’s strings these days. (Hint: It begins with “R” and ends with “ussia.”)

But one thing keeps nagging at me about both of these young men, and even more so about their fanatic devotees among both the young and old: the grandiose notion that they, and only they, were virtuous and intelligent enough to decide what secrets should be kept and which shouldn’t.

Their supporters constantly invoke the magical word “democracy” as the excuse not only for treason, but for every other destructive vice of ego and arrogance that propelled both Snowden and Manning into prisons of their own making. (Snowden’s in prison. He just doesn’t quite know it yet.)

sluploadfk7And that made me think about one of my favorite literary characters, C.S. Lewis‘s fictional demon “Screwtape.” If you’ve never read The Screwtape Letters, it’s time: whether you’re a religious person or an atheist, the insights into human frailties will make you squirm (or should, if you have a conscience) while making you laugh (or should, if you have a sense of humor).

The original book, published in 1942, was a series of letters from Screwtape — a very senior devil high in Hell’s predictably large bureaucracy — to his young nephew who’s just been assigned to snag the soul of his first human “patient.”

The book is delightful, but was rarely political — although Lewis did include pretty scathing depictions of intellectuals, socialites, patriots and cowards, and dysfunctional clergymen. It wasn’t until some years later, when Lewis was asked to revive Screwtape one more time, that Lewis made a far more overtly political point about democracy.

In 1959, Lewis wrote one more story, in which he imagined Screwtape as the guest of honor at a fete at the Tempters Training College, whose new class is just leaving Hell for Earth.

Screwtape noted that the world was no longer producing great sinners — which was okay by him, since it was no longer producing great saints, either — and that while most of the people falling into perdition were by and large just nincompoops, there were lots of them. Hell, the old demon argued, was effectively winning by attrition.

Screwtape gives special credit to “democracy” as a key weapon in the battle for humanity. Not the notion of democracy, actually, which he of course detests — just the word itself. It’s worth listening to him at a bit of length here:

Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose. The good work which our philological experts have already done in the corruption of human language makes it unnecessary to warn you that they should never be allowed to give this word a clear and definable meaning. They won’t. It will never occur to them that democracy is properly the name of a political system, even a system of voting, and that this has only the most remote and tenuous connection with what you are trying to sell them. Nor of course must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle’s question: whether “democratic behavior” means the behavior that democracies like or the behavior that will preserve a democracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to them that these need not be the same.

You are to use the word purely as an incantation; if you like, purely for its selling power. It is a name they venerate. And of course it is connected with the political ideal that men should be equally treated. You then make a stealthy transition in their minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal. Especially the man you are working on. As a result you can use the word democracy to sanction in his thought the most degrading (and also the least enjoyable) of human feelings. You can get him to practice, not only without shame but with a positive glow of self-approval, conduct which, if undefended by the magic word, would be universally derided.

The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say I’m as good as you.

The first and most obvious advantage is that you thus induce him to enthrone at the center of his life a good, solid, resounding lie. I don’t mean merely that his statement is false in fact, that he is no more equal to everyone he meets in kindness, honesty, and good sense than in height or waist measurement. I mean that he does not believe it himself. No man who says I’m as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept.

That last paragraph has been haunting me for years as I’ve watched not only the “death of shame” in Western society, but an even worse by-product: the rise of the angry loser, the over-entitled and emotionally delicate kids who never grow up, who refuse to believe that anyone has ever learned anything they haven’t, and who believe that when things don’t go their way, it’s only because dark forces — rather than their own mistakes or the natural limitations of their own talents — have conspired against them to deprive them of their rightful due.

This has created a world in which children lecture scientists about the future of technology, in which cowards lecture soldiers and spies about national defense, and in which pop culture pinup Jenny McCarthy proudly proclaims she went to “the University of Google” and is therefore qualified to advise mothers that they shouldn’t vaccinate their kids. It’s a place where commentators like Eric Bolling show off pocket-sized copies of the Constitution (as he does on Fox’s The Five regularly) as though someone’s going to ask him to straighten out Brown v. Board of Education or Ex Parte Milligan like it’s a pop quiz he can answer easily.

After all, what do people with doctorates in astrophysics know? Why defer to someone who’s spent a lifetime studying a foreign country when you, after all, took some Spanish in high school? And why listen to medical doctors, who are just tools of Big Pharma or Big Medicine or Big Band-Aids or whomever you’re pissed off about at the moment?

In fact, why listen to anyone? Who are they to think they’re better or smarter than you? Because after all, snowflake, you’re unique and special, and you know this because you won a lot of trophies just for being you.

Let’s be clear: there have always been people who have an insane sense of expectation and entitlement, and a wildly inflated estimation of their own intellectual ability. It’s a natural human failing, and it’s produced a fair share of thieves, murderers, and yes, traitors for centuries.

What’s changed is that most of us used to deplore such behavior in others, but now — under the guise of “democracy” — we applaud it, or at least more of us do than we once did.

“Tsarnaev is innocent” protesters.

Angry people, confused by not enough education and too much information, or unwilling to face their own poor choices in life, or bearing vague grudges about the forces that always seem to deprive them of the right job, or mate, or status among their peers, cheer on a Snowden or a Manning as a kind of self-actualizing exercise.

They’re happy that someone’s finally sticking it to the Man, or the system, or the Coca-Cola Corporation, or whomever they resent for not giving them a round of applause every morning just for getting dressed without help.

I can’t say I’m certain why this is happening. Some of it, I think, is from years of marination in an American culture that once celebrated excellence, self-reliance, and success, and now demands more “democratic” values like “equality” (meaning mediocrity), “community” (meaning conformity), and “education” (meaning pissing away a few years studying the deep works of Jay-Z at Georgetown). Add to this a therapeutic obsession with never “demeaning” others, and you have the alchemic makings of an explosion of insecurity and anger.

Think about it: when people say that Snowden and Manning had the right to do what they did, they’re saying that a 23 year old Army private knows what the hell he’s doing with 700,000 classified documents. No experience needed: his youth and good sense are justification enough.

There’s no reason to learn anything more, or gain more experience, because…well, damn it, achievement just takes too much time. This impatience with learning and working is visible everywhere: whether it’s in the early 1990s ascendance of rap and hip-hop (where instant musical fame didn’t require actually playing a musical instrument or singing), or in the later epidemics of cheating at America’s elite universities and military academies, American kids of all races and backgrounds have joined together to say, in one voice, like the chorus of God’s children that they are, that they want what they want, they want it now, and they don’t want any guff about earning any of it.

Thus did Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning decide that the gratification of their feeble egos through work and achievement just wasn’t worth the wait. Snowden drifted into and out of college, and then tried for some glory in the Army, and failed. Manning was a misfit whose short Army career was in trouble almost before he started it, and he clearly decided it wasn’t going to get any better.

It wasn’t enough. He wanted sprinkles.

Snowden and Manning’s supporters constantly wail that they had “nothing to gain” by doing what they did. But that’s exactly wrong: they had everything to gain, because anything would have been better than the stalled-0ut lives they were living — and by this, I mean the lives they think they were supposed to be living. The drudgery of the Army, the slog of government contracting, even a job in Hawaii with a pole-dancing girlfriend with lit cupcakes on her boobs: none of it was enough for hollow young men who craved the frisson of heroism on the cheap.

And so they went for the gold, and assumed that social media and fawning journalists would give their lives the meaning it was lacking. For a short time, maybe it did.

In describing a one of the damned souls presented for dinner at the College (in this case, a corrupt public official), Screwtape notes that he was not a great sinner, but rather an utterly unremarkable and weak-willed cipher:

Was he not unmistakably a Little Man — a creature of the petty rake-off pocketed with a petty joke in private and denied with the stalest platitudes in his public utterances — a grubby little nonentity who had drifted into corruption, only just realizing that he was corrupt, and chiefly because everyone else did it?

Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning are people who by most accounts you could stand next to in an elevator and still think you were alone. (The Washington Post described Snowden as “a life of hiding in plain sight,” meaning no one could remember him.) They, too, are “unmistakably Little Men.” There will always be such people. But after having read tweet after tweet and post after post celebrating their crimes by people reared in the great democracies of the West, I couldn’t help but wonder: when did the rest of us stop knowing any better?

This crazy and unfocused resentment, propelled by ignorance and turned to sheer acid by the incantation of I’m as good as you, will destroy our society faster than Al-Qaeda, or socialism, or spelling reform, or a Chinese nuclear attack. And that final corrosion of our society will take place not because of awe-inspiring bastards like Caesar or Stalin or Hitler, but because of insecure little boys who so desperately wanted to be someone that they sold out their country and endangered the well-being of others because they got flattering emails from the likes of Julian Assange.

The great French thinker Jean-Francois Revel once despaired that Western culture was the only culture in history that actively cooperated in its own demise. I had hoped, when the great conflict of the Cold War was over, that he was wrong. Today, however, too many Americans hurl hatred at their own government and institutions not because they are oppressed or impoverished, but because they can’t get what they want all the time.

I would say those people are insecure, ignorant; maybe stupid or lazy; and in a very few cases, genuinely despicable.

But that would be “undemocratic” of me.

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  1. Almost entirely agreed – even with parts that unfavorably apply to me.

    Money quote:

    “Think about it: when people say that Snowden and Manning had the right to do what they did, they’re saying that a 23 year old Army private knows what the hell he’s doing with 700,000 classified documents. No experience needed: his youth and good sense are justification enough.”

    This is why there are so many structures for whistleblowers, to add the additional eyes needed for such massive contextual needs. It could even be argued some of the newer ones across Government with financial reward structures might go a bit too far in encouraging complicity then indiscriminate leaking. Either way – bottom line – the idea that Manning or Snowden style leaks ~work~ in a reasonable fashion to create productive reform seems demonstrably silly (even though I would like it not to be).

    Now – I have a question in relation to this paragraph:

    “I can’t say I’m certain why this is happening. Some of it, I think, is from years of marination in an American culture that once celebrated excellence, self-reliance, and success, and now demands more “democratic” values like “equality” (meaning mediocrity), “community” (meaning conformity), and “education” (meaning pissing away a few years studying the deep works of Jay-Z at Georgetown). Add to this a therapeutic obsession with never “demeaning” others, and you have the alchemic makings of an explosion of insecurity and anger.”

    How do we ~fix~ that? I agree with the slide, “self-loathing” has become second only to Football in school activity circles it seems.

    (Side note: I disagree a bit with the last sentence of that paragraph – I think that is just generally what everyone, on every side, responds with now’a’days – the elusive civility requests.)

    Thank you, Cheers, -Ali

    • Ali – I’m not sure how to fix a broken culture, but I think some parents (at least in my experience) are trying to create a more realistic attitude in their children. It’s kind of futile at times — pissing into the wind and all — but worth the effort, I hope.

      I also think a good dollop of cynicism about passing fads of political correctness would help us all grow thicker skins. It seems to me that part of the problem is how fragile and easily enraged the egos of most people are today. Some of that comes from the exhortations of opportunistic politicians and cultural leaders about how everyone’s a star, everyone should go to college, every child could be the one to cure cancer one day, and on and on. This (as Lewis knew full well and could say back in 1959), is a terrible lie. But once people believe in that lie, it’s a short step from there to betraying your country because you feel you’ve been shortchanged somehow when life doesn’t turn out the way you think it should have.

      Thanks for writing.

  2. “I’m better than you,” and “I’m as good as you” may have replaced “United we stand” as our national mantra much the same way as “Whatever,” and “It’s all good” have ameliorated Aesop’s metaphorical “sour grapes.” When the worth of a man’s life is measured by the amount of gold in his pocket, or rather when society believes it to be true, when it imbues Mr. Big Pockets with an aura of superior intelligence, morality, education, and savvy to which he may or may not deserve, it also creates “the other,” the resentful, small man who will never achieve greatness (meaning money) and fame (meaning undeserved adoration). Whatever…It’s all good…I’m Donald Trump…You’re fired!…

    Snowmen and Manning may not be masterminds or the dupes of a great puppet master, but they are most certainly little men, bred to be little, expected to do little, and yet have achieved a moment of infamy. Escaping the airless cubicle they found themselves in will stand as their greatest achievement. But who put them in that box in the first place? Who allowed such petty and resentful boys access to government secrets and classified cables? Oath, shmoath, they were lowly Privates allowed to look under the big king’s robe and did not like what they saw, a world bigger and more complex than they were led to believe, an adult world painted in shades of grey. Yes, they could be heroes. They could blow their bugle like Gunga Din, and let all the other “dupes” know they were truly being “duped.” Maybe life isn’t “all good.”

    The question remains, because it is a question of national security, and by extension, national failure, as to how these two boys gained access to sensitive and potentially damaging files? The answer might be found in Henry Ford’s assembly line and McDonald’s icon driven cash register. By creating a simpler tabletop maze, you require a simpler rat. No one aspires to be that rat, limited, undereducated, self loathing, and “worth-less.” It’s not “all good,” is it? Is Generation Snowden-Manning furious? Yes. Did the Nanny State let them down? Yes. Should they be given access to sensitive documents and be expected to perform like American patriots with a real stake in our national future. I think we know the answer to that.

    • Andrew – I agree and think the one real place where there’s going to be reform, ironically, is in the one place people like Snowden probably don’t think we need it: namely, making sure we hire fewer people like Snowden.

    • PS: I like the expression “bred to be little.” I think there’s a lot of truth in that; people like Manning and Snowden didn’t suddenly “break bad” in their 20s. The red flags warning that they were marginal (and marginalized) personalities were there, but in a world full of such young men, it was probably difficult to spot them in a world where they looked like so many of their peers.

  3. I’m all with you on the need for people to be aware of the limits of their knowledge and to make use of experts in forming their opinions. But if we are to have a functioning democracy (and there’s that word) it can’t stop at simply accepting the word of the experts – that way lies a factionalism based on choosing which experts (serving now the role of priesthoods) one believes, as is so devastatingly the case today in the field of climate change.

    Being an expert does not absolve one from backing up ones assertions and opinions, and being a non-expert does not absolve one of critically analyzing (and potentially rejecting) what the experts say. In my unfortunate exchange with Dr. Schindler on Twitter yesterday, I began with a premise which was probably in error – that there was more effective oversight of the intelligence community in 1983 than there is today. You were kind enough to interject with your expert opinion that I was in error on that point, and I accept that you are probably right.

    But in the meantime, my exchange with Dr. Schindler had gone badly off the rails. He immediately assumed that I advocate complete transparency. Even after I explained that I don’t, his side of the exchange devolved to nothing more than “I’m the expert and you’re not, therefore you are a jackass and an idiot for expressing any opinion different from mine.” Even my mild suggestion of two points: that the IC needs significantly more effective oversight and that the FISC needs an adversarial process earned me nothing but an argument by authority from him. (And I will add that even that argument fails on its dubious merits, given that members of congress with many years experience on the intelligence committees have said the former, and a retired judge who sat on the FISC has said the latter – experts all.) Do you see how far from helpful that is? I recognize that some of this is a consequence of the severe limitations of Twitter as a medium for discussion, but that’s surely not the whole story.

    With that off my chest, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions about the assertions in this article:

    1) What is the basis of the claim that Wikileaks is associated with (or controlled by) Russian intelligence? What I have seen so far in support of this is:

    A) Their association with Israel Shamir (how close that association is is in dispute, but he does appear to be close to Assange) and the fact that Shamir passed sensitive documents to the government of Belarus, to the detriment of Lukashenko’s political opponents.

    B) Wikileaks lawyers arranged his escape from Hong Kong to Moscow.

    C) Once Snowden was in Moscow, Wikileaks lawyers worked in concert with Anatoly Kucherena who has a direct connection to the FSB.

    If that’s truly all there is, that seems very thin. The Shamir stuff happened in 2010 to early 2011. when Wikileaks was on public record calling Russia a “Mafia state.” And lawyers work with unsavory types all the time.

    2) You wonder at the lack of angst over Robert Hanssen compared to that over Manning. Do you not see a significant difference between a person passing top secret documents in secret to Russian intelligence for profit, vs someone giving secret documents to a journalistic organization (I understand you may dispute that Wikileaks is a journalistic organization but there’s at least a cogent argument that they are) for no profit for the stated purpose of informing the American people of government wrongdoing?

    3) On the subject of wrongdoing, while there are specific things Manning revealed like the double-tap shooting of rescuers in the so-called “collateral murder” video which are generally discussed as being the wrongdoing revealed by him, one thing not often mentioned is the sheer mass of stuff that is classified secret which (based on a moderately large random sample which I looked at) seems to me has no business at all being classified. I wonder what your perspective on that is – do we have a big problem of over-classification and if so does that do real damage to the public’s ability to understand what it’s government is doing (and thereby exercise an informed opinion at the ballot box)?

    Finally, I cannot restrain myself from asking whether you have a degree in psychiatry or psychology and whether you have done your due diligence by directly examining Messrs. Manning and Snowden. I only ask because there is some substantial irony in a piece attacking people for opining in fields outside their expertise which consists in large part of remote amateur psychoanalysis. Mind you, I absolutely do not argue that that you shouldn’t do that if you wish. But it appears that in this piece, you do make that argument. I would respectfully ask that you think about this. You have a valid point in this article, but it seems to me an entirely too facile dismissal of the issues at hand.

    I hope I have not offended too much with this comment – I assure you that wasn’t my intent.

    • Jan, no offense taken, but your question’s a little long. I do dispute that Wikileaks is a journalist outfit; I think of them as a hostile foreign intelligence organization, not only for suborning Manning’s behavior, but for their conspicuous lack of interest in ever outing any information that doesn’t seem to come from Western nations.

      Assange once feinted at releasing Russian data, and the Russians basically said, in a not-very-veiled way, that they’d eradicate both him and Wikileaks. Shortly thereafter, Wikileaks seemed to have a very comfy relationship with the Russians. (Ask yourself how Sarah Harrison can just show up in Moscow and throw a press conference without Russian cooperation.)

      The reason, I think, that Schindler’s a tad impatient with you is that he’s covered all this, over and over and over, in his blog and on his TL on Twitter. At some point, when you present evidence that says: “my considered judgment as an former intelligence professional is that the preponderance of evidence points to Russian penetration of Wikileaks,” you kinda do lose your temper when you get 100 tweets that then ask: “Yeah, but why does your opinion mean anything?”

      I have no compunction about remotely psychoanalyzing Manning and Snowden, because I’m not relying on any kind of psychiatric evidence, but rather comparing to them to the broad body of knowledge we have about traitors, which is something I have studied as a Soviet/Russian foreign policy expert. This is not rocket science: these guys are not special or unique, and before I knew a thing about either of them I or Schindler could have built you a basic profile of their likely personality issues.

      I’m not going to debate Shamir and Wikileaks with you, because I take Schindler’s evaluation of this as grounded in experience and scholarship. If you want to take it up with him, I suggest you do so — but be very sure you know what you’re talking about first 🙂

      • Well, if they’re a hostile foreign intelligence organization then they’re a particularly inept and dysfunctional one who’s boss has been trapped for years in England and whose finances and staff are a shambles. I think Occam’s razor suggests rather that they’re more or less what they claim to be and that their main problem is that their founder is pretty sleazy and more than a little off his rocker. (I can engage in amateur psychoanalysis too.) Their comparative dearth of dirt on Russia and other former Soviet states could as well be a product of those countries providing fewer productive leakers than we do.

        I had an exchange this morning with Joshua Foust about Assange’s “feint” at releasing dirt on Russia. I made the point that in December of 2010, they did publish cables describing Russia as a “Mafia state” and detailing various corruption, but he insists that could not be the dirt Assange promised (a conclusion turning, apparently, on the definition of “kompromat”). I’m willing to think more on that but it really doesn’t seem too convincing to me. Part of what troubles me about that whole theory is that if evidence ever came out on such a collaboration, Wikileaks truly would have zero credibility left with anyone. And as to the threat of destruction, it seems to me that in the interim we have done our level best to carry out that threat ourselves – killing their funding and serially intimidating and launching denial of service attacks on their hosting services. If that threat were effective, wouldn’t they have backed off on us as you think they did on Russia?

        I don’t want to belabor the tiff with Dr. Schindler, but I really do think he is damaging his own cause if his aim is to persuade anyone not already in full agreement with him. When he tells me I should read his timeline and blog and I then go and do so, reading the blog back through January and having followed him on Twitter for over a month, It doesn’t make the best impression when he then mocks and derides me and calls me a troll (a poor one at that – that stings) for saying I did as asked and didn’t find anything on the issues we were discussing. I understand you have longer experience with him and your impression is quite possibly better grounded, but frankly my impression given what I have read over the past month and by my interaction with him is of a person who leaps to wrong conclusions and then closes his mind to any further discussion, resorting to insult and sarcasm. Unless I’m alone in that reaction to his public persona, surely you can agree that reduces his odds of being persuasive.

        I don’t want to turn this into a debate. I only write this in hopes that you’ll think about it and perhaps transmit whatever part you think useful to Dr. Schindler. I doubt he cares to hear from me again. For my part I’ll try to put my personal reactions aside and continue to give fair consideration to what he writes.

        Again, thank you for a civil and thoughtful exchange.

        • You’re not alone with that perception of the – lets say lack of tactful engagement – by Dr. Schindler.

          The thing is we all do that within our own domains. I don’t even realize it until my own peers chime in.

          It’s unfortunately but there is no winning at Internet. 😉 -Ali

        • Occam’s Razor is a good guide, but to my mind it suggests the very opposite — that is, that Wikileaks cannot possibly be what it claims to be.

          As you note, it’s a dysfunctional organization whose boss is in virtual prison. But a loosely affiliated organization with so many problems should have collapsed a long time ago from far less stress than the problems you mention. And yet, Assage and his crew managed to provide Snowden with money, plane tickets, contacts in Russia, a press conference, a British lawyer-activist, a Russian lawyer, and many other things even a small state would find hard to do. (Evo Morales, a head of state, couldn’t get home in one jump, and yet Sarah Harrison flits into Moscow and runs a presser with Ed on Russian TV?)

          For any organization, managing weird Eddie would have been hard. But Wikileaks managed it for over a month. If it’s clear that a small, independent organization (one in the kind of disarray you describe) couldn’t possibly pull that off, then the simplicity of Occam’s Razor suggests another explanation: that it’s not an independent organization.

    • A few comments from my perspective – and I also have no smooth sailing with either @20committee or @TheWarRoom_Tom (or @LibertyLynx etc.).. but on a lot of this I agree w/ them.

      1) This business about the Russian connection plays out exactly like you’d expect it from master manipulators. The Wikileaks behaviors match the “exodus” of the RBN a few years back (entirely manufactured) or the constructed animosity with RT and other media. It all fits an acceptable narrative and I would also add that it’s a lesson that the Russians taught the Iranians during the revolution and has since been used to control regional Basij. So – from my other interested scope (Iranian activism) – all the patterns match to things that I have seen proven there. That’s inches me toward giving all those folks a professional hat-tip the rest of the way.

      So I am not ready to say Wikileaks overtly set out to be complicit with the Russians but from early on it became clear they certainly wouldn’t deliberately rock that relationship. Indeed they seem almost in denial with issues of “debrief” and no FSB contact – things they don’t believe when they talk to, lets say, the US DoS.

      I expect we’ll see a smoking gun exactly when the Russians feel it’s a good idea to show us one. I doubt before.

      2) I totally understand the frustration about expertise and everyone encroaching on every other space. “We” do it to “them” – they suddenly are IT Security experts – regular IT Security architects are Crypto experts – intelligence operations are reverse engineering experts – and the cycle continues. Tom said he was going to go a bit off-kilter and I likened it to a *get off my lawn* moment – we all need those.

      And – RE: Twitter – it’s the worst possible medium for any depth. I think we all feel it. I’m probably a really bad offender at taking it personally but I try to remember that.

      3) I’d dispute Wikileaks is journalistic and I’d also dispute Manning had any positive intent up-front – I won’t pontificate on Manning but refer to a good piece on the topic (and the comments get good too).

      Particular quote that baselines a lot of it: “There is no evidence, nor reasonable view, by which Manning could have reviewed and understood exactly what the vast majority of documents were or what effect they may have.”

      RE: Wikileaks nothing they’ve done from controlled fund-raising releases to that nonsense setup with willingness to redact with the DoS (which is another way of saying fishing for validation) adds up.

      To Tom’s point – but from another angle – lets assume Wikileaks is at best not under a Russian thumb. They still would most certainly be a meta-State entity and wants to be a State-level independent actor. They don’t subscribe to ~any~ State or treaty organization’s views consistently enough to claim anything otherwise. From top to bottom various people within and closely associated with Wikileaks have talked about each and every aspect of finance, lawfare, borders, etc. in a Wikileaks-centric way. While that’s not “official” positions all the time it certainly points to considering themselves a meta-State (more on this another time I’m sure).

      4) Over-classification and over-criminalization absolutely play into this. It plays into the lack of trust in the Government and the “special” feeling it gives people to go outside of any reasonable pathways to break the information out / break the system down (at least temporarily).

      Augh.. got way too long here. Sorry, Cheers, -Ali

      • Thanks for your comments.

        I guess I’m agnostic on the subject of what Wikileaks is exactly. Certainly I’d be far happier if there were a better-run, more transparent organization fulfilling the ostensible purpose of Wikileaks. Since that doesn’t seem to be happening, I pretty much default to taking the bad with the good. Same with Manning and Snowden – I can find all kinds of fault with what they did and how they did it, but the fact is we are finally beginning to have a real public debate on this issue that all the good efforts of Dr. Schindler, Tom, and all of us who have opined about this for years failed to produce.

        At the risk of sounding Rumsfeldian, we don’t spark change with the leakers and journalists we wish we had, but with the leakers and journalists we have.

        And I won’t directly accuse anyone here of this, but another thing “master manipulators” do is deflect and thus quash substantive discussion by attacking the messenger. That’s often effective because most messengers are flawed, some badly so. Thus my immediate instinct to question conclusive statements about Wikileaks being run by the Russians or Manning and Snowden being “traitors.”

        On Manning’s motivation, one need only read the chat log with Adrian Lamo, and subsequently his elocution during his guilty pleas. Both consistently tell the same story – that he did this to show the American people what their government is doing in their names in order to spark the kind of discussion we are now having. that he didn’t do this with the care either you or I might wish he had doesn’t erase that, and in the chat at least he was not making self-serving comments for public consumption but baring his heart to someone he thought was sympathetic.

        • :: “I guess I’m agnostic on the subject of what Wikileaks is exactly.”

          I agree with you from the perspective that holding Government or Corps accountable for what we know now – however we know it – should not be dependent on the good faith of Wikileaks or their closest allies.

          However, there is value in how to respond to it in knowing and understanding who’ve they’ve aligned themselves with. People are definitely choosing sides here – there is obviously a large contingent of States not at all concerned w/ Wikileaks going after them. Consider the most crude form of hacktivist leaks today – Pastebin – and how many leaks have been posted there that never get a *peep* from Wikileaks. Various Anonymous feeds pick them up and they’re not hard to find – why not Wikileaks?

          That form of alignment, even informal, has value to understand.

          :: “but the fact is we are finally beginning to have a real public debate on this issue that all the good efforts of Dr. Schindler, Tom, and all of us who have opined about this for years failed to produce.”

          Agreed but at what cost? And there is a bitter cost to discourse when things happen this way.

          Let me be clear – I utterly disagree with Dr. Nichols and Dr. Schindler on substantive swaths of the current controversy but I’d sure like to have less screeching involved. And that is what Wikileaks and Anonymous have fomented and it’s by design – that can’t be denied. Their spokespersons talk at cons about inherently playing outside of ~all~ frameworks but ~theirs~.. that’s every bit as Statist without calling yourself a State.

          End result is that nobody is ~really~ listening to anybody else. Lots of scoffing and dismissals and people clicking into corners like school. I’d like to think had Dr. [Choose one] and I met at a whiteboard outside of the Twitterati that we’d be far more receptive to each other and less inclined to lump each other into binary pools. I’d stake my blood on it that Wikileaks would HATE that result because they’d not be issuing the edicts on discourse.

          With that said – I can’t disagree that the discussions don’t seem to be happening on their own. I just tend to think that’s a failure of attention span on the constituents part and not by any overt action of the three-letter agencies (IRS, DOH, etc. included).

          :: “but another thing “master manipulators” do is deflect and thus quash substantive discussion by attacking the messenger.”

          Sure but people who deflect and squash aren’t always trying to geopolitically manipulate – sometimes it’s just anger or showmanship. No offense to Dr. Schindler but he sure plays to a crowd well.

          :: “On Manning’s motivation” *snip*

          OK – let me concede that – let’s say he had every positive motivation. That may – MAY – extend to the Collateral Murder debacle. And even then he went outside of the established scope. Everything after that? Sorry, he was played like a fiddle the way I read it – he was fed more feel good and swallowed it up to justify something he thought would relieve him of his mental anguish. And that had nothing to do with The People.


          I’ve taken up far too much of Dr. Nichols blogspace. Cheers, -Ali

    • Whether a Snowden or a Manning passes secrets to Russia or WikiLeaks, it stems from the same fractured psyche, the little man resenting his own smallness and seeking reward and validation. Whether its for profit or publicity, the ‘reward’ serves the same purpose, to ease a deep emotional need and frustration. There’s something to be said for the professional criminal, spy, and traitor. They don’t want to be caught. They shun publicity. They don’t want to be heroes, they want profit and personal gain. Snowden is a publicity fiend, he craves the spotlight and the pulpit. He’s the boy in the corner pouring grape juice on the carpet just to get your attention. Manning, the wannabe hero, the guard dog of democracy and justice, needed to fuel his own ego. The lowly Private, in the heat of battle, grabs up his Captain’s M16 and blasts those insurgents to hell. There, that’ll show those high school bullies. But what if Mr. Action is stuck behind a computer? How is he to achieve his hero moment? If you can’t get to the enemy and do battle, you create one you can defeat. You use the weapons at hand, a router, a laptop, and WikiLeaks.

  4. My gut feeling is that the root causes are misdiagnosed here. They are too much ‘folk psychology’, which usually turns out to be wrong.

    In the specific cases of Manning and Snowden, I think we might simply be able to say that such people have always existed in large numbers, in the Army and as technicians, but now their power is amplified by technology. A Snowden could not have existed if he had had to use a ditto machine. The plus side is: great people have their powers amplified by the technology to an even greater degree. We just do not notice it, most of the time.

    As for others, who knows. Maybe now it is too hard to get a solid education in the first place. I shudder at the thought of whether I could have gotten a master’s degree, like I did, if it were now and not in the 1980s. My situation was not advantageous at all; I think it simply would not have happened, and thus my brain would never have gotten the exercise. (And we are talking about electrical engineering, not Postmodern Swing Jazz Criticism.)

    • Actually, there are a lot of people who did a lot of damage with copiers and microfilm. (And ooh, you dated yourself with the term “ditto machine.”) Hanssen probably did more damage than Manning, but it just took him longer.

      And I don’t think it’s harder to get an education now. I think it’s the opposite: we now talk about a college education like it’s an entitlement, complete with super-low-interest loans. This is what I mean about making excuses for the Snowdens of the world, who are failures because they’re failures, and they know it.

  5. Tom, this is an outstanding piece and I find myself nodding in agreement with almost every point. A couple thoughts:

    I’ve also been struck by the colossal arrogance of Snowden, Manning et al in taking the moral position that they are gifted with uniquely divine insight into what is good or bad policy, as well as the obtuseness of their disciples who don’t acknowledge how profoundly *anti-democratic* it is to substitute their unilateral judgment for that of our elected officials and their professional staff. (A law school friend was fond of saying that the ideal form of government would clearly be a benevolent dictatorship run by himself — but he was joking!). Hell, even if it’s POTUS acting with unchecked executive power, at least that authority was conferred by 65,910,437 voters. Engaging with those who feel our representative democracy is hopelessly dysfunctional, I have never received a principled answer to the question of “Who decides?”

    Another thing I find particularly dumbfounding is that a large number of educated people who normally would view most serious allegations or conspiracy theories with healthy skepticism have no problem switching off their BS detectors when it comes to reports by the Guardian-Snowdenwald complex. It seems the baseline assumption is that everything Snowden says is true, with little or no independent confirmation. That’s entirely unjustified given that he’s a single source with an explicit political agenda, who gave nearly exclusive access from the start to a hand-picked activist-journalist with an equally clear agenda (Greenwald), with the guidance and support of an organization whose raison d’être is that agenda (Wikileaks). Yet somehow the burden of proof has shifted from “prove there’s any substance to these claims” to “prove these programs don’t exist or are less threatening than reported.”

    I can’t put a finger on why such deep distrust of government — if not outright contempt — exists among so many on both the left and right. It actually extends beyond government: As Mark Jaquith wrote in his post debunking the initial PRISM reports, the Greenwald-Gellman version of the facts would mean every representative of every major Internet company was lying, as well as the government officials. It seems like confirmation bias run amok, or as I like to call it, the “Fox Mulder Effect”: “I WANT TO BELIEVE.”

    • Antone – This isn’t all that new, I guess; Richard Hofstaeder wrote about “the paranoid style in American politics” in the early 1960s. But yeah, there’s definitely an X-Files groove to all this lately, in part because the internet overloads people with information, and offers venues where even the worst crackpot can find at least one person who agrees with him.

      I also think that grandiose theories about government intrusion — and that word, grandiose, is important in all this — are so enmeshed with the personal narratives of so many people that they cannot, and will never, let go of such a narrative even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Think about it: if you’ve become convinced that the NSA’s surveillance makes you really important, and that it also explains your vague anxieties, your failed social relationships, your unsatisfying work life…well, then, how amenable are you going to be to having that crutch pulled away from you? That’s why, when faced with facts, the alarmists double-down, again and again.

      I can only hope some of this is a passing fad; the nice thing about conspiracy theorists is that their attention gets divided a lot because they have so many areas of investigation. Tomorrow they can go back to vaccines and genetically altered fruit or something.

  6. Just a couple of quick observations:

    “Democracy” comes in two forms: populist and liberal. What you’re attacking–usefully and correctly in my view–is the populist version. What needs protecting and defending is the liberal version, which stipulates not only the selection of leaders by majority vote but also, and just as importantly, free speech and assembly, minority rights, and limited government under law.

    Actually, most of the cultural phenomena you’ve attacked are far from new; many of them, including that distorted notion of equality, have been described by Tocqueville, Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, and others of past generations. When I was young–long before the ’60s and the so-called era of narcissism–we used to joke about the yahoos who answered superior knowledge by proclaiming, “I’m an Ameeerican and my idea is just as good as yours.”

    I think you’re on target in describing both Manning and Snowden as narcissists seeking their 15 minutes of fame. For what it may be worth, I also think that Manning beats out Snowden in this regard. Snowden, I feel, knows little if anything beyond the mere existence of the NSA’s eavesdropping programs, which was fairly well known (to those who cared) beforehand; arguably, though it doesn’t negate his criminal mischief, he performed a service by opening up this eavesdropping to public debate. In contrast, Manning walked off with so much material that he can’t possibly have known what it all contained; he obviously had no regard for, or concern with, how the material would be put to use or whom it might hurt.

    • David – I completely agree that the faux equality of “democracy” has been around since the founding of the Republic. Even my example from C.S. Lewis is now well over 50 years old, so it’s not that new.

      But something seems different. I ran into a colleague today who said he’d read this post and that I was wrong only about one thing: that “I’m as good as you” has now morphed, among a certain kind of millennial, or among the activists who get their news primarily from the internet, into “I’m better than you,” because I’m more virtuous, uncorrupted pure of heart, whatever it is.

      And that’s what leads people who can’t even name their own member of Congress to bray that they have the “right to know” about NSA interceptions of Al Qaeda communications. I am not kidding: on Twitter, the head DC honcho for McClatchy — an older guy like us, sadly — said that publishing that info was important because “his readers care.”

      When did “our readers care” turn into “our readers have the right to classified information?” The level of arrogance, combined with sheer ignorance about even fundamental issues of foreign policy, has become breathtaking, and it’s mostly to serve a growing market of people who demand ever increasing amounts of information for no clear purpose other than to satisfy their own egos that they’ve been properly “informed.”

      I also agree with you about Manning. Snowden might well have been too stupid to know what he was handing over, although I think we both know that revealing the guts of a classified program is harmful in itself. But Manning really did corrode the basic trust and confidentiality that makes successful diplomacy possible. I think it would be the supreme irony if a conflict broke out because diplomats, post-Manning, were reluctant to speak to each other in private and candidly.

      • Well, let’s remember the Pentagon Papers. Of course, the big difference there was that Ellsberg never left US Government jurisdiction and was ready to face US justice…unlike the two cowards we’ve been discussing. Also, Ellsberg knew exactly what the Pentagon Papers contained when he revealed them. (In fact, as I’m sure you’ll remember, those were historical materials that if anything gave a black eye to the previous–Johnson–Administration, and their revelation could have actually been beneficial to Nixon if he didn’t have that obsession about secrecy.)

        People DO care about such information and should, whenever our rights, including our right to transparent governance, are involved–which, however, is NOT to claim they have a RIGHT to it. And let’s not forget that at least since WWII the executive has routinely classified information because it might be politically embarrassing.

        Lastly, I think it’s mainly the boomers, not the millennials, who display the kind of intellectual arrogance you’ve noted.

        • Hey, I’m not going to contest the arrogance of the Boomers. As a member of “Generation Jones,” I’m more than happy to point the finger at the Boomers as the people who gave us the Xers and the Millennials. But I have to say that I’ve never been lectured to by the young ‘uns the way it happens — a lot — today.

          Speaking of Ellsberg, have you seen the CNN documentary “Our Nixon?” Ehrlichman made the point you did: that the Pentagon Papers were far more damaging to LBJ, since they were written before Nixon even became President. He said Nixon realized it, but felt he had to stand on principle where classified material is concerned. (Exactly Obama’s point, and they’re both right.)

          There’s also a snippet of a call between Kissinger and Nixon where HK describes Ellsberg both as “the most brilliant student I ever had,” but also unhinged and unstable. Apparently, Ellsberg was a hard right kook who joined the Army and drove around Vietnam shooting at peasants. I knew Ellsberg had…erm…issues, but I didn’t know about the crazy right-winger days.

          Anyway, the footage — home movies by Haldeman and others, and unreleased until it came out of an FBI vault after 40 years, is mesmerizing.