So, we have a name for the PRISM leaker: Edward Snowden. Now his name is public, the US government and the military-infosec complex are going to work really hard at blowing smoke around the whole thing.

In that, I think Snowden made a tactical error – not because of the danger he’s in (his name would have been found out by his former masters before many days had passed). Rather, he has put his name at the centre of the story, which will help the spinners re-frame the story as Snowden rather than PRISM.

The spin-masters are already at work, and they’re going to spend a lot of effort discrediting Snowden’s actions, character and information – along the way, blurring the issues and giving us black painted as white.

  • “Junior employee” – The implication of the Booz Allen Hamilton announcement that he’d only been with the company for three months is that Snowden didn’t really know what’s going on. The proper response to that is that neither do we, and we should.
  • Expect attacks on his character and motives. We know that he’s breached his employer’s trust – that’s what a whistleblower does. When media starts looking for “the man behind the story”, we give the spinners an angle to work, because you can be sure that the spinners are looking for ways to tell us we’re mistaken about his motives.
  • Attack his facts – Minor corrections of what Snowden claims don’t invalidate the underlying outrage that comprises mass-scale spying on the communications of innocent individuals.
  • Retreat behind the secrecy of national security – “This program has saved lives, but we can’t tell you how.”

The underlying strategy of the spin machine will be to keep the spotlight on Snowden, and draw attention away from the things he’s revealed.

It’s a strategy that’s worked in the past, partly because people so willingly co-operate with it. We’ve been here before, with Julian Assange. The creation of “Saint Julian” suited his opponents perfectly: it allows them to publicly identify the value of Wikileaks with the character of its founder.

Snowden looks personable enough, sounds intelligent and sincere to the point of earnestness, and he’s now in serious trouble, all of which pulls the vox humana stop all the way out. The human interest is irresistible – and all of which plays into Snowden’s opponents, who want the story to be playing the man rather than the ball.

I realise that as an activist, I make a passable journalist, but if any of the activists are listening, here is my advice.

Don’t draw the halo of secular sainthood around Snowden’s head. There is practically no human who would survive the scrutiny (and whisper campaign) that’s about to commence. He will have imperfections and they’ll be played to discredit him.

Don’t become disillusioned if and when something damaging is revealed about Snowden.

Don’t let your attention be distracted by the shiny bauble of a personable front-man. The story is about government surveillance.

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An NSA employee working through outside contractors is the man behind the NSA leak. A former technical assistant for the CIA and current Booz Allen Hamilton employee, 29-year-old Edward Snowden worked with The Guardian to release his identity today.

Though he publicly disclosed numerous confidential documents, Snowden tells The Guardian:

I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong . . . I don’t want public attention [though] because I don’t want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing.

Snowden did contract work for the NSA in Hawaii where he lived “comfortably” with his girlfriend on a salary of about $200,000. He gathered the documents for the leak three weeks ago and then took two weeks off from the NSA, ostensibly to seek treatment for his epilepsy. Next he prepared to leave for Hong Kong. Snowden told The Guardian that he barely had to explain the trip or its motives to his girlfriend because his work in intelligence often necessitates secrecy. Snowden has been in Hong Kong ever since, a location he selected for its climate of free speech advocacy and its potential ability to resist U.S. mandates.

Working for Booz Allen Hamilton, and by extension the NSA, wasn’t necessarily the obvious path for Snowden, who admits that he was a lousy student and left high school to join the army. After a quiet childhood in Elizabeth City, NC and Fort Meade, MD (near NSA headquarters) Snowden wanted to fight in Iraq to help free others from oppression. But he was surprised at the attitudes he encountered in the Army, which he says reflected a desire to kill more than an ideological interest in liberation. Snowden broke both his legs in a training accident and was discharged. He became a security guard at an NSA facility and then joined the CIA in IT security.

Snowden is adamant that the leak and its consequences for him not overshadow thecontent of the documents he revealed. Along with the first set of documents he released,Snowden wrote:

I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions . . . [but] I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.

Still he seems resigned to the fact that there will be consequences and that his actions have totally altered the course of his life.

I think the sense of outrage that has been expressed is justified. It has given me hope that, no matter what happens to me, the outcome will be positive for America. I do not expect to see home again, though that is what I want . . . The only thing I fear is the harmful effects on my family, who I won’t be able to help any more. That’s what keeps me up at night…

It’s a brave revelation, and a fascinating story. Be sure to check it out in its entirety here: [The Guardian]

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