The Russians are manipulating what is released, obviously, and are distorting it to maximize the pain and suffering of the U.S. and its allies. Simultaneously, Vladimir Putin suavely woos the West’s leftist and liberal elites, clasping hands together in America bashing. The implications are grave. The Kremlin aims at weakening, if not disintegrating the Western Alliance.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz | December 3, 2013
This is not to cheer the defector but simply to point out that the phenomena undergirding the Edward Snowden case will continue to metastasize predictably, linger painfully, and haunt us into the foreseeable future. Yet, this awful affair affords us an opportunity to have a long, merciless look at the perpetrator, ourselves, and the damages wrought on the nation. It enables us to pinpoint the sources of our weaknesses and suggest remedies. The disaster invites us to delve into the business of spying. Above all, it prompts us to posit a moral question: Is Snowden right?
Every American has a right to dissent. Snowden’s actions perhaps could be seen as legitimate, where the United States of America is perceived by many as an evil entity creeping toward soft totalitarianism. According to this Occupy Wall Street-cum-McVeighish narrative, with its overweening government, the U.S. violates natural law by promoting pathologies at home and abroad, oppressing its own citizens, and targeting foreign nationals for global social engineering schemes incongruent with their civilizations. If it does not get its way, Washington invades or otherwise rains violence and destabilization upon the rest of the world. Although America remains a constitutional republic, its democratic conduct at home and abroad reflects the will of its people exercised through their elected representatives to enable and condone such policies. In this narrative there is much to dislike about America. Enter Snowden. Either he opposes America with all its flaws and virtues, or he objects to the forms that have lately sprung from our system. The latter is legitimate.
Some call it treason
Yet, there is no indication that Snowden believes in natural law and the power of the continuity of tradition. We can thus safely assume that his was not a brave voice in defense of natural law. Instead, he appears to have been shocked by the chasm between pseudo-idealistic rhetoric of the current administration and harsh realistic practices of statecraft, the arts of intelligence in particular. In other words, the defector is infantile. Or he is mercenary, as suggested by his pre-defection internet musings on selling our national secrets. Or both. Thus, conservatives can find few redeeming qualities in Snowden’s stance, even if we agree about the corrosive impact of our nation’s post-modern popular cultural context on the man’s psyche. Moral relativism and the destruction of traditional standards make a poor foundation for young, confused Americans.
There is no ambivalence, nonetheless, about Snowden’s decision to defect and leak the nation’s innermost secrets. It is treason pure and simple. The betrayal is greatly exacerbated by the fact of the erstwhile intelligence analyst’s flight abroad: first to China, and then to Russia. The former, having undoubtedly acquired what it wanted, rejected him. The latter continues to toy with the traitor and manipulate us. His treason is so obviously jarring also because Snowden had no gumption to stay and face the music unlike the RAND Corporation’s Daniel Ellsberg with his Pentagon Papers, whose infamous deed likewise seriously damaged national security, but who escaped just punishment through a legal technicality, a liberal jury, and a claque of leftist journalists. Snowden could have enjoyed a similarly friendly reception.
A top intelligence official remarked in an interview on CBS 60 MINUTES that the Snowden affair wrought the greatest damage ever in America’s history. Well, this may be a bit hyperbolic. The Rosenberg spy ring was certainly more lethal; it handed a nuclear bomb over to Stalin. However, as a veteran CIA officer has correctly put it, off the record: “Le Affaire Snowden has to be THE biggest Active Measures success in Soviet and post-Soviet history.” Active measures (aktivnye meropriatia), a favorite weapon from the Chekist arsenal, denote political warfare against an enemy by all means, short of violence. In a word, active measures mean monkey business, including character assassination (Rufmord).
The Kremlin certainly has indulged in character assassination of the United States, dipping liberally into the treasure trove, complements of Edward Snowden. One scandal will follow another into the foreseeable future. Our allies will continue to be embarrassed either by the pseudo-revelations of our spying on them (Really? Nations eavesdrop on one another? The horror!) or, more seriously, by the details of their close cooperation in intelligence gathering with the United States. The Spaniards, the British, the Israelis, and others will continue to be targeted. The French will feign outrage. The Germans will pout. It all harshly undercuts America’s standing in the world. For the international community thrives on the feel good political correctness. It is the overt business of statecraft to maintain that wholesome veneer. It is the domain of the intelligence community to penetrate covertly under the veneer of the official protocol. Hypocrisy? No. That is the business of national security. Snowden still does not understand that, or pretends so.
It is pertinent to ask, therefore, whether the traitor was recruited by Russia or China long before his defection. I do not think so. I believe he is a product of his mother’s basement, a lax school discipline, and lack of formal education. A high school drop out, he dabbled in New Age via fashionable Buddhism, and registered a protest vote for the anarcho-libertarian isolationist Ron Paul. Thus, Snowden is Everyman of contemporary America who has been led to believe that everyone is special, in particular himself. Egalitarian propaganda informs us that every boy can be a president, and, in an updated, post-modernist version, in particular when he does not work for it.
We all deserve it. We deserve everything. We demand our rights. We jeer at our obligations as we reject the ancient virtues, including loyalty and patriotism. Computers allegedly make us all equal. Skills developed playing “Grand Theft Auto” can be easily parleyed into a great paying job with the CIA, NSA, and, finally, Dell and Booze Allen Hamilton, in Hawaii, or any other government contractor. All one has to produce is a security clearance. And since our approach to clearing people is egalitarian also – there are several million security clearances – it was not a big deal for Snowden to obtain one.
Parenthetically, we’d better abandon this approach or suffer more security breaches in the future. Or at the least we should maintain not only a hierarchical system of security clearances, reflecting periodic electoral changes, but an internal, layered system of secret passes to reflect America’s national security needs. In the latter setting, which should be kept secret from the ubiquitous political appointees and others, “ethical” people like, say, Sandy Berger get bogus clearances, their democratically-anointed position notwithstanding. The counterintelligence component of America’s security system must become much more airtight. The intelligence community needs more quality people and more secrecy. Egalitarianism pumped up on the steroids of post-modernist counter-culture will fail to yield either.
The unanchored generation
At any rate, after 9/11, Snowden’s idealistic reflex was his way in. Undisciplined and unanchored, he joined the military and wanted “to kill Muslims.” But then he shattered his legs in basic training. Or so he says. Banking also on his parents background, his father a veteran and his mother a legal clerk, he coasted into the CIA on a wave of lachrymose sympathy and contrived respectability. And of course he is a computer genius. Or so he says. One can teach a monkey to shoot a gun, but one should not leave the simian unsupervised, ever.
But what a charming creature Snowden was. So much so that he was able to deceive at least a score of his friends, colleagues, and co-workers to divulge the passwords to their work computers, thus granting the discombobulated one access to secret files. He betrayed his country but first he betrayed his friends. Were there no security procedures governing access to personal passwords? Wait, one fears that Snowden’s friends were also victims of the same post-modern counter-culture, where nothing much matters and no one cares. Hang loose, Hawaii. Now they feel the brunt of their failure to be vigilant. And that is a good thing, too. Too bad America suffers because of their actions.
Yet, there is not enough heat coming down on the milieu and its global support network that enabled the traitor: Moguls, liberal main stream media and anarchist websites. A boyfriend of one of the enabling journalist was stopped, frisked, and threatened with legal consequences of transporting secret government data. Big deal. Perhaps the media stars who have aided Snowden should consider applying for political asylum to enjoy freedom of the press in Russia. As for the cyber pirates, we must ask, most certainly, how the cyber platform which availed itself for Snowden’s revelations is used against the United States? In essence, Wikileaks acts like a hostile intelligence service which benefits unfriendly spy agencies and other anti-American entities. It should be treated as a national security threat with all the implications. Since we believe in freedom, the Wikileaks folks have every right to post anything their little hearts desire and then they should suffer the consequences. Same goes for the enablers in leftist media. Freedom without responsibility exists not outside the post-modern Snowden world.
Wikileaks: A hostile proxy platform?
Again, I am rather sure that, initially at least, Wikileaks was not set up by foreign intelligence agencies and other hostile entities, but it is painfully obvious that those who wish us ill have been having a field day surfing the website’s bountiful offering, downloading the lot, and deploying the information in an orgy of political warfare against the United States. After al-Qaeda and its mignons went to town with the gifts of Bradley “Chelsea” Manning, processing the intelligence and, subsequently, exterminating our assets across Iraq and Afghanistan, it was Moscow’s turn to rejoice. It launched the greatest active measures offensive in post Cold War history. As a U.S. intelligence expert on Russia put it, off the record, “The Russians are manipulating what is released, obviously, and are distorting it to maximize the pain and suffering of us and our allies.” Simultaneously, Vladimir Putin suavely woos the West’s leftist and liberal elites, clasping hands together in America bashing. The implications are grave. The Kremlin aims at weakening, if not disintegrating the Western Alliance so that Putin could lead the charge to re-integrate the post Soviet sphere under Russia’s yoke. Too bad for Estonia, hooray for Snowden’s New Age fun. Well, so long as he feels good about himself, everything is fine. Or is it?
The defector still fails to comprehend the acidic malfeasance of his deeds. “Snowden Asks U.S. to Stop Treating Him Like a Traitor,” whined the New York Times (1 November), in sympathy. I’m sure he is a good kid. Let’s bring him home, by snatching if necessary, and give him what he deserves: a serious spanking followed by a long stint, not in Hawaii.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is a Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, A Graduate School of National Security and International Affairs in Washington, DC, where he also holds the Kościuszko Chair in Polish Studies. Professor Chodakiewicz is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.