Much of the attention has been focused on the revelations contained in the documents released by Edward Snowden and rightly so. It is what has been revealed and what it says about the way the government works that is important, not the people involved. But at the same time, I want to step back a little and observe that when it comes to strategic thinking, Snowden has revealed himself to be an exceptionally able at it, even though he is up against the US government propaganda machine.
Right from the beginning, he has been shrewd in the way he went about the whole operation. He selected his primary outlets to initially release information carefully, correctly identifying Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald as being the kinds of journalists who would not be cowed by undue deference to the US government, be responsible enough to be judicious about what to reveal and how, be guided by their own judgment about what was safe to release, would not worry about merely embarrassing the US government by revealing its lies and hypocrisy, and yet be able to make the information widely known, using the Guardian as the primary vehicle..
But then he has also made the smart move of involving other, more establishment media sources as well, such as Germany’s Der Spiegel, Brazil’s O Globo, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and ProPublica. The inclusion of the Post and later of the Times was a masterstroke.
This is because those are solidly establishment newspapers that are deferential to the US government and have been known in the past to first check with the government before publishing major stories that might embarrass it, and even withholding publishing because the government asked them to. But by giving them information now, he puts them in a bind. Like any news outlet, they want major scoops and his information certainly qualifies. But unlike before, they cannot sit on the information because they know that he has other outlets. They have no choice but to publish.
But as soon as they do, they essentially also become agents of his dissemination efforts, part of his network so to speak, making it harder for the Obama administration and its supporters to argue that the whole thing is a rogue or even criminal operation conducted by outsiders and that the journalists who help disseminate the information should be prosecuted. People like Jeffrey Toobin, David Gregory, Michael Grunwald, and Andrew Ross Sorkin will also find it increasingly harder to maintain their position that these people deserve to be condemned.
Snowden and his small band of allies have deftly outmaneuvered one of the most sophisticated propaganda systems we have ever seen.