Edward Snowden’s brilliant move

The decision by Edward Snowden to reveal himself as the whistleblower was a public relations masterstroke. Long time readers of this blog will recall that I have documented case after case (Iranian Airbus, London subway ‘bomber’, KAL 007, Clinton’s bombing of a milk factory) of how governments, when they are faced with a situation that is potentially damaging to their image, will rush out an initial story that makes them look good. In doing so they will have no compunction about shamelessly lying and distorting the facts. This is because they have realized a major truth about manipulating people: It is the first impression in the public’s mind that is important because that is what sticks.

They know that in the initial aftermath of such an event, the media are hungry for news and will seize on any ‘official’ story that is put out, even if it comes from ‘anonymous high-level official sources’, the favored mode of government leaks. This is so that when the statements are later revealed to be lies, no one will be held accountable for the deception.

The goal of the government is to frame the initial public perception of the story in a way that is favorable to itself, and they know that the lazy and compliant establishment media, ever-willing to please their sources in government, will lap up the nonsense and broadcast it far and wide. When the truth is revealed, it will come in dribs and drabs, and be buried in the back pages of news reports because the media does not like to acknowledge the fact that they have been suckered by the government yet again. The later emerging truth will put hardly a dent in the public’s perception that had been shaped by the initial story. The only ones who would know what actually happened will be those interested enough to keep following the story closely.

In this case, if Snowden had not revealed himself, the government would have trolled through his past and seized on anything to imply any or all of the following: that he was unpatriotic, greedy, mentally unstable, a loser, disgruntled, a kook, and the like, just like they successfully did with Bradley Manning. If they did not find anything sufficiently damning, they would have made it up. This would have been released in leaks and then at some point they would have dramatically unmasked him at a press conference and the media would have run fascinating stories about the sleuthing efforts of the investigators and how they cleverly pieced together all the clues to identify the whistleblower. By the time Snowden got to tell his story, it would have been a major uphill battle to change the narrative that he was a villain with dubious motives for his actions

But in coming forward as he did, Snowden tore up that playbook. He comes across as a thoughtful, articulate, young person who was deeply troubled by what he saw as the government usurping powers that rightly should be decided by the people, and being willing to sacrifice his life and career to bring this information to the public. The choice of doing a video interview was especially good, since video has a much greater impact in shaping people’s opinions than printed words and will be played over and over again.

Given the work that he did, Snowden would have known that his identity would be discovered fairly quickly so deciding to go public was a brilliant move. Rather than being seen as a fugitive desperately trying to hide and being ferreted out like a cornered rat, he is now seen as defiant and bold and unbowed and unapologetic, challenging the government from a high moral ground. It is the government’s task now to try and change that perception.

The government will make every effort to discredit him, lying shamelessly if necessary. So I would advise everyone to treat with caution any statements that emerge from anonymous high-level government sources, or even identified ones, that are not backed up by credible evidence.

The propaganda war has commenced and the government and its compliant media have all the major weapons. All we have to counter them is a healthy skepticism.


  1. slc1 says

    Of course, he outed himself in Hong Kong, where it is not a slam dunk that his extradition will be approved by the Chinese Government. He might even be considered a hero there.

  2. jamessweet says

    Heh, I just got done typing a comment on your other post about how Snowden seems like he may be much harder to discredit than a Manning or an Assange. I think it’s not just how he’s beating the government to the narrative (though that is undoubtedly part of it), but I think he’s also just a “better” figure for PR. I mean, whatever lies the government has told about Manning, for example, it’s an inescapable fact that an unconventional-looking young person questioning both hir gender and sexuality is not going to play well in many parts of the US or the world at large. It’s easy to falsely paint someone like that as crazy and amoral, because there are lots of false stereotypes you can latch onto. Much harder to hang that sort of thing on an attractive clean-cut tech guy who until recently lived with his girlfriend in Hawaii…

  3. Nepenthe says

    I suppose everyone knowing who and where he is makes it less likely for him die in a suspicious umbrella accident as well.

  4. Marshall says

    I wonder how this will affect relations with China. On the one hand, the government might get angry with them at harboring someone they want to torment. On the other hand, here’s a national hero stating that Hong Kong has, on some levels, greater freedom than the US, and that is some pretty solid praise.

  5. says

    this news makes me hate my job.

    The people will also need folks on the inside. If you ever get sick of working for the government or being a contractor, plan your exit accordingly.

    I occasionally daydream about what I’d do now if I had a “do over” on some of the systems access I’ve had in my life. I think I’d have a huge archive of material somewhere, encrypted, with a piece of software that would send the key to wikileaks and the media if I didn’t perform a certain action at least once a month.

  6. says

    On the one hand, the government might get angry with them at harboring someone they want to torment.

    I think it was a brilliant move. After the way the US sheltered that Chinese dissident a couple years ago -- in spite of Chinese diplomatic protests -- the Chinese may be happy to provide payback.

  7. One Day Soon I Shall Invent A Funny Login says

    Happened to catch CNN today around 7am PDT and they ran a full minute of Snowden’s interview, with a promise to run “the entire seven minute interview at the bottom of the hour.” Kudos to CNN.

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