Time permitting, I’ll try to comment on Charlie Rose’s interview with President Obama. Meanwhile, here’s a post up at The Atlantic by Matt Schiavenza. Both what he has to say, and the comment section below it, are worth checking out.
Not because they are particularly insightful or enlightening. Rather, they are as good a demonstration as any of just how ridiculously people are approaching the issue of the NSA surveillance leaks.
What’s more, Schiavenza’s post appears in a national magazine of some repute, which is a shame for that magazine, and the other writers that appear within its pages and under its masthead. At the time of writing, the post in question is “second most popular” on The Atlantic‘s website.
In it, Schiavenza ponders whether Edward Snowden is China’s “useful idiot.” The entire thing is less than five paragraphs long, and consists mostly of ominous rumor mongering which runs contrary to all current evidence.
Preferring to try (and fail) at some good old “gotcha” journalism, Schiavenza tsk, tsks Snowden for inadvertently aiding a country (China) whose own record on surveillance and civil liberties is presumably far worse than anything Snowden has or will leak about the U.S.
The only thing he can offer, in addition to the specious claim itself though, is this,
“Snowden claims to have had no contact with the Chinese government, but it’s unclear how much this matters: Chinese intelligence are believed to occupy several floors of a building located near the hotel where Snowden first surfaced in Hong Kong, and, as Evan Osnos notes, it’s likely Beijing has kept close watch of his whereabouts.”
“In any case, Snowden doesn’t seem all that concerned about China. When The Guardian‘s Spencer Ackerman asked him to address rumors that he’ll exchange U.S. secrets with China in exchange for asylum, Snowden dismissed them as old-fashioned “red-baiting.” Maybe so — but it’s difficult to escape the sense that Snowden has sacrificed his life and freedom for the benefit of China, a country whose record on issues like state surveillance seems to contradict the very principles Snowden supports.”
Why exactly is it unclear to Schiavenza how much Snowden’s lack of contact with the Chinese matters in trying to demonstrate that he’s not in Hong Kong to sell China secrets? Simply by being present in the country the information will be available to them? Is Snowden not just a leaker but himself a leak–letting secrets slip out from him to inhabit the ether as if by osmosis?
And why is it difficult to escape the sense that Snowden has “sacrificed his life and freedom for the benefit of China?” Is that because Schiavenza believes that no one in the U.S. will meaningfully act on the information Snowden has helped make available? That the debate surrounding private information shared with commercial third parties will necessarily come to naught, and the only real effect will be for China to look slightly less undemocratic relatively speaking because the U.S. now looks slightly less democratic?
The post his full of “yes this, but still, what if, maybe…” Because there is no evidence that the net-effect of Snowden’s leaks is to shield the Chinese government from criticism, and because there is no evidence that Snowden is working with the Chinese, and because there is no evidence that Snowden has done anything that would explicitly make him a traitor, Schiavenza relies on innuendo, name calling, and baseless speculation for seemingly no purpose.
As one commenter put it, “Mr. Schiavenza , whenever you’re ready to make your point …… I’ll stand by.” I’m not nearly so optimistic that Schiavenza ever had a point to make in the first place, or that other editors at The Atlantic won’t allow such embarrassing slander to get published in the future.