June 17, 2013

Edward Snowden (Glenn Greenwald/Laura Poitras/The Guardian Newspaper)

If Edward Snowden had a PR firm, it would have been in crisis mode over the weekend. Dick Cheney called him a “traitor” for his allegedly national security-harming disclosures. Bob Schieffer called him a “narcissistic young man who has decided he is smarter than the rest of us.”

Today furnished evidence that Schieffer was right. More accurately, he’s right that Snowden “is smarter than the rest of us.” A bunch of gray beards have hammered the 29-year-old former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor for having failed to stick around following his disclosures. To frontally face his accusers. To accept the consequences of his actions. Here’s Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz on that matter:

Yet Snowden has ditched the United States not so much to dodge the consequences of his actions as to dictate them. He’s not just prompting a debate; he’s directing a debate. For evidence, all you have to do is click here, on the Official Guardian Leaker Q&A with Edward Snowden. Moderated by Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, the forum showcased Snowden’s responses to all manner of criticisms that have been lodged at him since he became a phenomenon.

Called a traitor by Dick Cheney? “The highest honor you can give an American,” replied Snowden.

What about his feelings about President Obama? Snowden: “[S]hortly after assuming power, he closed the door on investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded several abusive programs, and refused to spend the political capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see in Guantanamo, where men still sit without charge.”

And how about all this snooping? Snowden: “More detail on how direct NSA’s accesses are is coming, but in general, the reality is this: if an NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, etc analyst has access to query raw SIGINT databases, they can enter and get results for anything they want. Phone number, email, user id, cell phone handset id (IMEI), and so on – it’s all the same. The restrictions against this are policy based, not technically based, and can change at any time. Additionally, audits are cursory, incomplete, and easily fooled by fake justifications. For at least GCHQ, the number of audited queries is only 5% of those performed.”

In other words, no wonder that the powers that be are freaked out about this guy. He’s got information, which is hard to come by; and he’s got a platform, which in these days is remarkably easy to come by. Just fire up a web chat, take the questions and start typing. When asked how the chat came to pass, a Guardian spokesperson responded: “We’ve read and heard enormous amounts of speculation about Edward Snowden’s motivations and seen the substantive questions raised about the issues he has brought to light. We proposed the idea of a Q&A with readers as it is the most direct way for him to answer the public’s questions, with as little intervention as possible.”

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.