Both Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald had long hinted that even greater bombshells were in the works and in recent days, Greenwald has indicated that this will be in the form of revealing the names of those who have been spied upon by the NSA.
If one has a big scoop, is it a good idea to give out a teaser? It is dangerous to do so for several reasons. One is that the time between the hint and the actual news may result in expectations being built up beyond reason and the news itself may be seen as a damp squib. Do you recall the build up by Dean Kamen promising a dramatic new invention that eventually turned out to be the Segway? It is a nifty little device but disappointed those who had built up their hopes for something much more spectacular.
So if you are giving a teaser, you had better be sure that it lives up to its expectations.
The other danger in the case of Greenwald’s teaser is that it gives the government time to think of a way to neutralize the effects of this revelation. They are undoubtedly hindered by the fact that nearly a year after the revelations began, they still do not seem to know exactly what documents were taken and how many. In order to scare people, they have leaked to friendly reporters that about 1.7 million documents were involved even though Greenwald has said repeatedly that the number is in the tens of thousands.
What I suspect they might do is leak to friendly reporters that ‘of course’ the names of some well-known people who are not terrorists may have inadvertently been swept up in the dragnet, so that when the news breaks they can minimize it as ‘old news’. In this they will be aided by the servile pundit class.
On the other hand, putting out a teaser increases the anticipation of the news and keeps it in the public’s eye by enabling people to speculate on who may or not make the cut. For some, it will be considered a badge of honor to be thought of as an enemy by the NSA. Older readers may recall the release of president Nixon’s infamous secret list of enemies. As I said in a comment to another post, Paul Newman said that he considered being on Nixon’s list to be his greatest accomplishment. Humorist Art Buchwald had a hilarious column where he blasted the Nixon administration for not putting him on the list. As a result he said that his social standing had plummeted and he was now considered a nobody. Head waiters would seat him at the worst tables. He stopped being invited to the fanciest parties. People would no longer return his calls. He said nobody hated the Nixon administration more than him and he fumed, “What kind of incompetent administration does not know who its real enemies are?”
Greenwald and Snowden are pretty media-savvy and likely have considered all these possibilities. But it is still a risky move.