Oldies but Guilty
Many readers are not old enough to remember the last time a problem like Edward Snowden beset our land—no, for it was long ago in the dark days of evil King Nixon that this problem first noticeably presented itself in anything approaching modern form….It was a problem redolent with the winds of change in our land—for it was only the swiftly shifting zeitgeist that made it a problem at all. Or put another way, it was only these effects that made it a problem of baffling complexity. See, time was when one could not conceive of a guy like Snowden casting his countrymen into the mental and moralistic contortions his caprices now provoke…not at all. Consider some of treason’s greatest hits:
The last time this nation treated traitors as, well, traitors, and worthy therefore of the ultimate penalty, was the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. They were the first American civilians executed under Section 2 of the Espionage Act. And yes, WOOF understands that many of your trusting adolescent psyches were warped nearly beyond repair when your well meaning and perfectly sincere social studies teachers taught you that this was a travesty—an American atrocity—a horrendous miscarriage of justice in which a nation so besotted with the opportunistic ravings of the monstrous Joe McCarthy lost all sense of proportion or justice and blindly, even gleefully flung this pleasant, uncomprehending, patriotic couple into the electric chair(s) where the hapless Rosenberg’s paid the price for America’s cold war paranoia. Charges (which we now know were accurate despite all the hand wringing on the Left) connected the Rosenbergs directly to the passing of vital atomic bomb secrets to Russian agents. Additional data came from Ethel’s brother, who worked on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, as did, seemingly,every locatable communist party member with a post graduate education in physics.
Despite massive evidence of their guilt, the couple became a cause célèbre among the anti-anti-communists of the American left, and many felt the couple were unfairly convicted simply because they didn’t seem like bad folks at all—not Boris and Natasha –not Baader and Meinhof– just a sweet, doting couple approaching tranquil, middle age—not the sort who would enable the communist tyrant in the east to lay his blood-stained hands on the secrets of the most fearsome weapon of mass annihilation in history– by which the iron curtain could now lay waist to everything the West held sacred, reducing our barbecue-smoke-perfumed suburban neighborhoods to a death valley of radioactive ash heaps at a nod from some faceless, atheistic commissar. The very fact that this was now conceivable sufficed to destabilize the world for all time to come, horribly and irretrievably. Every American school child of that era grew up under the mushroom-cloud visions of a nuclear fusillade from the communist east. Indeed, much has been made by the psychotic left, as was also the case with execrable Alger Hiss, that the Atomic mom and pop super spies were simply railroaded—victims of Joe McCarthy (who never met them nor had anything whatever to do with their convictions) and the insensate FBI led by the deranged J. Edgar Hoover, probably while cavorting in his mythical pink tutu.
Since the couple’s execution, the left has spared no effort to portray America’s cold-war saboteurs as martyrs for civil liberties…for social justice. Somehow they have even taken on the raiment of righteous dissenters, heroes whose chief crime was to express their constitutionally protected political beliefs (after they were caught.) This is the inevitable result of allowing history to be written by liberals—and allowing it, still worse, to go unchallenged by right-thinking Americans. None of this alters the fact that recently declassified cables from the Soviet Union’s ultra-secret Venona project prove beyond doubt that Julius was, indeed, a courier and recruiter for the USSR. And co-conspirator Morton Sobell, who was tried along with the Rosenbergs (and served 17 years in prison), admitted in 2008 (it takes a long time, sometimes!) that, yes, he was, after all, a communist spy for the Soviet Union who worked hand in hand with Ethel and Julius Rosenberg making certain the Reds could build an atomic bomb all their very own.
What Venona Transcripts?
Because the extraordinary significance of the Venona Transcripts demanded a critical rethinking of recent American history by historians of conscience and integrity, it is hardly surprising that most Americans never heard of them, especially from those flouncing guardians of left-wing doggerel who nowadays posture as America’s dedicated watchdogs of the press—our valiant investigative journalists—those blown-dry, spray-coiffed chickalet-toothed poseurs of the 4th estate who would no sooner utter or publish a word out of sync with the quotidian streams of rhetoric issuing from the mills of Official Liberal Newsdom than miss a power dinner at Bistro Bis or a confab with David Gregory or maybe Maureen Dowd on the 6th floor of the Watergate! Who among that gaggle of popinjays would sacrifice such glory, together with his good standing among the flock, to stress some irksomely discordant news item of the sort that less elevated reporters of a bygone era once quaintly called “a scoop?” None of them, in fact. And that’s why most Americans, if asked, would probably hazard a guess that Venona was the Judd who went solo after her mom quit the act. But if the network landscape painters were willing to exchange their roseate daubings for a few stark, naturalistic brush strokes, every American citizen would know full well that Venona is a the vital Rosetta Stone by which concerned Americans can reinterpret our almost wholly dissembled recent past—that part of American history that runs from the opening salvos of Pearl Harbor through the desperate years of world war two, and well into the eerie twilit topography of the “Cold War.”
The Venona project was a counter-intelligence operation begun under the auspices of the United States Army Signal Intelligence Service (because in 1943 there wasn’t any NSA and the fledgling OSS, forerunner of today’s CIA, was still in its formative phases). The program began as an Army effort to decode messages sent by Soviet intelligence services, including its foreign intelligence office and military intelligence services, despite the fact that we were allied with the Russians in World War Two following Hitler’s violation of the Hitler/Stalin pact. So valuable to the United States were the Venona intercepts that their existence was not revealed even to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, nor to his chief assistant Harry Hopkins (who may well have been a Soviet agent himself.) During the program’s four decades, approximately 3,000 messages were decrypted, conclusively demonstrating that Russian spies in the American government were running amok, and pretty much running the State Department while they were at it. These included Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, Lachlan Currie—and a veritable who’s who of the Roosevelt Administration and a considerable portion of the British scientific and leftist political establishment into the bargain.
The decoded Russian messages made no bones about the fact that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were dedicated communist spies. Not only were they instrumental in ushering in the dawn of the Soviet nuclear age, they succeeded also in handing over top military data on sonar and radar used by the Russians to shoot down American planes and track American submarines in the Korean and Vietnam wars. And thus, despite outcries of protest from an American public so propagandized by the soviet voices in our own media as to suppose innocent citizens were being framed by the nefarious FBI in a demonic alliance with scaremongers on the political right, even the often-phlegmatic Eisenhower refused to stay the Rosenbergs’ executions and the couple that gave Russia the atom bomb died in the electric chair on June 19, 1953.
All of this is worth mentioning because it is practically the last time The United States did very much about the crime of treason. True, we threw the Walker family in the brig, and we jailed Aldrich Ames, the counter-intelligence expert at the CIA who admitted selling out every American and allied operative he knew to the Soviet Union (of whom at least ten were killed by the KGB and countless others imprisoned). But what sort of example did this set? What sort of country watches an Aldrich Ames play his nation and his agency for fools, setting up brave operatives abroad for capture or execution, and offers him three hots and a cot instead of a cigarette and a blindfold? And this level of namby-pambyness pales to insignificance compared to the new spectacle of popular treason featuring the far more bizarre cases of celebrity traitors whose depredations against the national security are simply shrugged off because the perpetrators lay claim to righteousness!
The rise of the noble traitor
Remember Dan Ellsberg? Perhaps you’d prefer not to…but Daniel Ellsberg is important because he is the first instance of the noble American traitor –perhaps what should be called the “new traitor” on the American scene–the Prince Hamlet of the sociopolitical set who ponders the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in the still and quiet places of the academy, or maybe the RAND Corporation, and assigns himself the quintessentially existential role of self-constructed ethicist. Characters like Ellsberg are not to be confused with men like Whittaker Chambers, or women like Elisabeth Bentley who found themselves in connivance with a luciferian evil seeking global domination and who broke fiercely from those ranks, confessing their pasts and pointing out the traitors in our midst. People like Chambers and Bentley are dismissed by the manufacturers of accepted opinion as liars, or psychos, or malcontents, while the Daniel Ellsbergs in our midst are portrayed as heroic adherents to loftier virtues that oblige them in their sensitivity to turn their coats for the good of mankind. As such they are always forgivable—even laudable to the chattering classes.
In Ellsberg’s case, he was a long-time Vietnam analyst who reported to the execrable Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (excoriated routinely in these pages) and did two years in Vietnam on the staff of General Lansdale. Afterwards, Ellsberg resumed working at RAND where he helped assemble a top secret study of the conduct of the war commissioned by McNamara. Ellsberg’s high-level security clearance made him privy to the entire report. But around this time (1968) Ellsberg began attending anti-war rallies and insists that after one particularly compelling rally, he “left the auditorium and found a deserted men’s room [where he] sat on the floor and cried for over an hour, just sobbing,” the rest room, it seems, remaining preternaturally deserted. And at some point during this abreaction it occurred to him that a fine idea would be leaking the entire super secret Vietnam report (subsequently called “the Pentagon Papers”) to the New York Times and to Senator Teddy Kennedy who was, even then, unstintingly devoted to promoting a communist victory in Southeast Asia.
The result of this was that Ellsberg became a secular saint to the American Left—a darling of the radical-chic sets in LA and New York, a guest on Dick Cavett’s program, and a major player in the anti-war movement. But whether Ellsberg’s conscience served him well or falsely is a moot point. The remarkable thing about Ellsberg’s treasonable release of top secret American military material was that it had no perceptible effect on the man–ultimately–other than to accord him celebrity. Given that the Pentagon Papers revealed more of Lyndon Johnson’s cynical mendacity and Secretary McNamara’s moronic mismanagement and misrepresentation of the Vietnamese conflict than anything of material consequence to the enemy, perhaps this was understandable. But even if so, how are we to understand America’s suspension of outrage in other, considerably less defensible instances of sedition?
Jane Fonda visited Hanoi in July 1972. During her tour she made at least ten propaganda broadcasts for the communists. She “visited” with American prisoners of war in the infamously brutal “Hanoi Hilton” (allegedly turning over information she learned from our men to their Communist captors) and capped off her visit by posing for photos in a Russian army helmet, perched at the controls of a communist anti-aircraft gun, giggling and applauding to the delight of the actual communist gunners. She returned stateside to organize a show troupe of like-minded Hollywood actors (including Peter Boyle and Donald Sutherland) into the “F*ck the Army” tour (only without the asterisk) specifically intended to play west-coast military towns in hopes of demoralizing soldiers about to deploy to Vietnam.
As the truth emerged about the systematic, brutal tortures experienced by American POWs at the hands of the North Vietnamese, Fonda rose to the occasion, denouncing the POWs as “hypocrites and liars,” adding that our captured pilots were “military careerists and professional killers…trying to make themselves look self-righteous, but they are war criminals according to the law.”
Now, rather obviously, Jane Fonda is a traitor “according to the law,” and just as obviously this fact has in no real degree obstructed her from fame, fortune, and acclaim. Besides her successful film career and all the awards lavished on her in that conjunction, the United Nations Population Fund named her its Goodwill Ambassador in 1994. She was among the winners of the “Women’s eNews 21 Leaders for the 21st Century” Award (we don’t know what it is either) and was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2008. On the opposite coast, Jane received the “New York Women’s Agenda Lifetime Achievement Award” shortly thereafter…possibly for divorcing Ted Turner. Throughout the 1980s Fonda relentlessly whipped newly flabby baby boomers into shape. Her first exercise video, Jane Fonda’s Workout, sold well over a million copies and was quickly followed by 23 additional workout videos, five workout books and thirteen audio programs. In order to fully appreciate the surreal nature of these achievements, try to imagine Benedict Arnold promoting a cookbook in post-revolutionary America, or Axis Sally broadcasting advice for the lovelorn over the post-war BBC…and enjoying phenomenal popular success.
For decades, the moral relativists of the political Left have enjoyed telling us that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter!” It seems increasingly obvious that nowadays one man’s traitor may be another man’s patriot—that our national bifurcation is so extreme that the behavior of Jane Fonda is extolled in some quarters as courageous and principled– whereas the most charitable interpretation that can be realistically applied is giddy and stupid. A fascinating characteristic of “the new treason” is that people like Fonda can autograph autobiographies and deliver campus lectures detailing behaviors for which they also, occasionally, apologize. And now, into this increasingly postmodern level of casuistic disorder, comes—Edward Snowden!
You could hire a major think tank to put together the perfect composite drawing of the modern metro-sexual American folk hero and if they did their job right, you’d get Edward Snowden. Take a bit of Dustin Hoffman from Marathon Man, add a bit of Robert Redford from Three Days of the Condor—a hint of Donnie Darko, a pinch of Holden Caulfield and stir in all the clichéd contradictions requisite to a manufactured mystique. Make him a Buddhist, naturally, and a geek—but let him be a martial artist and a former CIA employee. Let him convey his bitterness because he “believed in Obama’s promises,” but make plain the fact that he contributed to Ron Paul’s presidential campaign. Let it be known that he pursued his master’s degree at Liverpool University—but didn’t quite get one; volunteered for the Green Berets (but didn’t show up for training) and often posted to high-tech chat rooms as “TheTrueHOOHA,” a self-described computer wizard who once declared that Americans who leaked classified information “should be shot in the balls.” Ouch.
The CIA flew Snowden to Switzerland under diplomatic cover and assigned him to computer security. He served the agency in various computer-related capacities until 2009 when he was sent home after his supervisors expressed concerns that he repeatedly attempted to break into classified computer files he lacked clearances to access. No problem–he grabbed a job at the National Security Agency where his technical brilliance dazzled his handlers into overlooking numerous warning signs including faked academic credentials, and a tendency of Snowden’s to discuss his CIA experiences all too openly. Ironically, it was during his subsequent employment at Booz Allen that he was let go “for violations of the firm’s code of ethics…”.It also seems to be at this point that his determination to unburden himself of conventional responsibilities and oaths in order to go public with his purloined NSA data solidified.
Crossfires, left and right!
Of all the developments that followed Snowden’s revelations, perhaps none is more comment-worthy than the manner in which his actions have led to internecine squabbling both Left and Right. Beyond merely becoming a wedge issue between liberalism and conservatism, Snowden’s espionage has peeled Obamans away from anti-establishment Leftists while setting defense conservatives at odds with libertarians and strict Constitutionalists. For this reason, WOOF will conclude this screed with a suggestion as to how free societies, increasingly stricken with ambivalence in the face of these sorts of incidents, may express appreciation for the insights gained, even while deploring the treasonable behavior that provided them.
In Edward Snowden we have a leaker for our time– a fugitive who brings domestic espionage into the 21st Century; a shy yet assertive anti-hero–an ill-shaven sallow-featured man-boy in Sarah Palin glasses with clear, plaintive eyes that seem to call out, “Namaste!” A lad whose Miami Vice whiskers charm us on one level as his nobility entices us to glimpse the poet, the artiste, beneath the veneer of the CIA operative who, yes, once believed in Obama’s promises but finally grasped their falsity whereupon he comprehended the horror! The horror! So carefully has the man-boy cast himself it seems, we are invited to see him as Hugh Jackman, the computer hacker in the thriller “Swordfish,” finally, reluctantly recruited by super spy John Travolta to fight terrorists in the realm of cyberspace—but at such a price… such a price!
So not only is our hero a kind of Frankenstein assemblage of viscerally appealing factors and attributes out of America’s current pop cultural unconscious, he is also Prometheus, for he revealed to us the horrible truth about unconstitutional machinations perpetrated upon us by our own federal government…a bestowal of knowledge so revelatory that the gods of political darkness are now arrayed against young Snowden and seek to punish him.
And make no mistake, gentle readers, it is the nature of those revelations that now has an irregular conglomerate of libertarians and conservatives joining liberals and the broad populations of “uninformed voters” pondering clemency for our young beau ideal…our jeuene–primier godlet, our James Dean without the switchblades; our national Billy Jack who despite the lack of any (actual) martial arts or special-forces background….reminds us that “When policeman break the law–there is no law!”
But what if Snowden’s crime was handing over the names of personnel involved in hyper-secret assassinations in Mogadishu? What if he simply sold submarine technologies to the North Koreans? What if he’d unilaterally decided, as did President Clinton’s energy secretary, Hazel R. O’Leary, back in the’90s, that giving away all our nuclear secrets at the Los Alamos facility to the Communist Chinese was a sensible approach to building good will because the silly old cold war was over anyway? Weelll, obviously, many of Snowden’s defenders on the left would be more reticent, his defenders in the middle would be significantly few and much dumber, and his defenders on the right would not exist. No, Snowden’s genius was matching the right persona to the right kind of leak. And he approached this point the way David Bowie seems to have approached rock super-stardom…finally moving when every last jot and tittle were in place, and the stars positively aligned.
Was our lad set up?
And yet today we also hear the voices of the 4th estate raised in great and utterly disingenuous concern that some churlish renegade among them may willfully have incited such disloyalty. Many such stewards of the media are shocked—shocked to suppose that our young computer whiz fell into the clutches of press felons that, indeed, our chivalrous young gallant may have been set up—hustled– in the sensationalist British press. Say it ain’t so, Snow’! But it’s all just thinly disguised jealousy. And no, in fact it was clearly Snowden who made the decision to leak. Snowden. who after being bounced from his job with Booz Allen located some fairly subversive rabble rousers in the persons of Glenn Greenwald and his comely éminence grise, Laura Poitras…the types of globe-trotting journalists who look constantly for awful stuff to leak about the British or American governments because it seems to them the patriotic thing to do. Consequently, they show up on Salon a lot, and clog the pages of the ultra-left-wing Guardian newspaper in England. Apparently Greenwald and Poitras share a journalistic common ground in their urge to blow the whistle on government surveillance, and this leads them to share a bohemian-though-highly computerized flat on the Copacabana Beach in Brazil–an ideal location for spying on the Brits and the Yanks, (who are all that they wish to spy on) and which also sports the 11th highest human development index in Rio and is thus a good spot from which to keep a weather eye on one-percenters in general. But these two cannot be blamed for ferreting out Edward Snowden. Quite the contrary.
Snowden noticed an article Greenwald wrote about his (Greenwald’s) girl Friday getting held up by extreme searches and interrogation at U.S. airports (which worked well enough that the harassment ceased for a while). Snowden also knew from the publicity that Poitras was making a film about the government’s surveillance programs; and he had also seen one of her documentaries and noticed her in he New York Times Op-Docs now and then. He assumed she would be interested in the programs he wanted to leak about and would know how to communicate in a secure way. So it was Snowden who reached out to La Poitras, ultimately explaining to the NY TIMES that “Laura and Glenn are among the few who reported fearlessly on controversial topics throughout this period, even in the face of withering personal criticism, [which] resulted in Laura specifically becoming targeted by the very programs involved in the recent disclosures. She had demonstrated the courage, personal experience and skill needed to handle what is probably the most dangerous assignment any journalist can be given — reporting on the secret misdeeds of the most powerful government in the world — making her an obvious choice.”
And to make contact, Snowden turned to the dopiest of trade-craft mythologems, the rubrics cube—an idea he got from Bourne series screenwriter and director Tony Gilroy (now a big fan) who wrote the rubrics cube idea into Duplicity for Clive Owen and Julia Roberts. The way Snowden worked it, he had everybody fly to Hong Kong—and then he had LaPoitras and Greenwald wait around the Kowloon district loitering outside a restaurant that was in a mall connected to the Mira Hotel. After a while, Snowden, armed with the aforementioned cube, shambled by and was thus identified, prompting Poitras to ask, as planned, if the restaurant in the adjacent mall would open soon. Snowden, by previous agreement, replied that it would open soon but the food was lousy.
And yes, if you are reading this at Camp Peary you are within your rights to point out that Snowden’s “tradecraft” is subject to the “Eric Ambler” criticism, to wit, none of it lay sufficiently outside the realm of chance as to proof it against an accidental conjoinment in which some nitwit with a rubric’s cube and a low opinion of the local cuisine is suddenly bollixed by ebullient greetings from two wild-eyed, expectant journalists. But in the event, the ploy worked perfectly, permitting La Poitras the opportunity to scribble the requisite chestnut in her notebook that she and Greenwald “…almost fell over when we saw how young he [Snowden] was, I assumed I was dealing with somebody who was really high-level and therefore older.” The additional hokum that typically accompanies this part of the melodrama goes something like, “Ah, but Monsieur DiCaprio, zoot alors, you must pardon mon astonishment, but you zee, you are zooo much younger zen one expects an ultra-sophisticated international folk hero and super spy to be!”
But enough of the blarney, on which glossy pages will be lavished by Der Spiegel, Paris Match, and by TIME (probably with those vintage commercial-art drawings showing how stuff got done and in what order by the adroit placement of cartoon arrows and time signatures)…rather, let us turn our attention to the kinds of information that Snowden proceeded to leak or remains likely to leak. They fall into four basic categories. And each category invites us to perceive Snowden in an entirely distinct way, too—which is what makes them so interesting and for many of us so frustrating!
First we have Snowden as Prometheus—the light bringer who cast open the forbidden vaults of the NSA and demonstrated, shockingly, that every American telephone conversation, e-mail, text and “selfie” was stored somewhere in the vast bowls of the NSA’s massive new twenty-building headquarters at Camp Williams Military Reservation in Utah County, Utah. The Snowden leaks revealed that NSA analysts are equipped to snoop internet traffic, emails, chat-room logs, Facebook pages, and yes, even lovable, patriotic and uplifting websites like the one you are currently reading! By cross-referencing phone and e-mail metadata with insights gained from accessing bank codes, insurance information, user profiles, voter registration rolls, GPS location information, property records and IRS data—which last, bear in mind, will soon include health data, a targeted individual can become naked before the curious superstate in a matter of minutes. That this places the NSA’s inexhaustible appetite for knowledge in stark contrast to 4th Amendment proscription of unreasonable searches as well as the 5th Amendment’s provisions against self-incrimination seems not to have particularly concerned anyone at NSA or in the administration. Indeed, the sign at the entrance to the new NSA complex reads: “Welcome to the Utah Data Center: If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear!” You don’t have to be Ed Snowden to sense instinctually that this sleazy reversal of the 5th Amendment’s intent is simply Un-American. Who doesn’t have something to hide? Perhaps simply some small personal detail, unthreatening to the security of the country? But the tyrant will harness any means of coercion to ensure obedience. This is the stuff of police states. And even if we were each as pure as the driven snow, does that make it okay for the government to know everything it wants to know about us? (You’re right, we intended that rhetorically.) And this makes Snowden appear to be the guardian angel of our liberty—this is his best persona, his strongest suit, and he knows it.
Next we have leaks about America’s foreign policy and spying —leaks that reveal espionage projects ongoing against U.S. adversaries and rivals. When the beautiful and talented Michelle Bachmann and the seriously curmudgeonly Peter King of New York raise their hackles over this stuff, it isn’t because they’re too unhip to revel gleefully with their libertarian brethren—the fact is that Snowden, whatever his motives, blew the lid off an amazing number of intelligence gathering mechanisms that were of huge benefit to the United States in the so called war on terror…and perhaps even more important, in the struggle to keep tabs on the evolving purposes of the Russians, Chinese, and North Koreans. “These were important tools,” Bachmann stormed, “that we had at our ready to be able to use to thwart terror attacks. We need to focus on the fact that we cannot allow people to be in positions of sensitive information and to be able to betray the American trust the way that Snowden did. He’s clearly a traitor,” Peter King pointed out that reporter Greenwald (who is also American despite his foreign addresses and associations) has threatened to release the names of American intelligence agents in sensitive stations around the world—information that he would not possess had Snowden not supplied him with it. This month (January, 2014) The Hill cited a classified Pentagon report to the effect that Snowden’s leaks put U.S. troops at risk and tipped off various terror networks to U.S. surveillance methods, leading the terrorists to change their tactics. The Hill also asserted that “most files copied” were related to current US military operations. All of this is not only tantamount to treason…it is easily seen as such by a great many Americans.
To millions of millennials and their TV patronizers (professional mimpers of the Stephen Colbert variety), Bachmann and King are just old fuddy duds who can’t see the beauty in this much “truthiness” getting spoken to this much power—but in fact they are grown-ups who’ve seen the game played enough times to realize Snowden’s excellent adventure is seriously damaging the nation’s security and placing the lives of countless loyal, patriotic operatives at severe risk. In this sense, King’s and Bachmann’s critiques represent a hard nosed view of a cold, viperous underworld of high-stakes espionage that preening fops like Colbert cannot imagine exists. Indeed, a solipsist like Snowden envisions this world only as an abstract. Thus, old intelligence hands in particular are going to be more likely to judge Snowden harshly for his caprices, and they will demand to see him judged harshly.
Everybody who has ever been connected to espionage knows that a lot of secrets are kept secret because they are simply embarrassing. Snowden succeeded in uncovering and leaking a vast array of such secrets, and the result is at once tantalizing, entertaining, and amusing—especially, it must be acknowledged, to those of us who enjoy seeing the current administration’s follies exposed. Getting caught monitoring the cell phone conversations of German Chancellor Angela Merkel was a major faux pas—especially since Merkel grew up in East Germany where having one’s phone monitored was an intensely-loathed fact of life. In the same week, French president Francois Hollande learned from press reports that the NSA accessed the phone records of somewhere around 100 French citizens per month, and that Hollande was almost certainly one of them– as well as every senior official of the European Union. It was further revealed that the NSA monitored the phone calls of any world leader whose phone number it acquired— and that almost no useful intelligence had been garnered in this fashion (a tidbit that fuming world leaders found in no respect reassuring). Watching Jay Carney and Caitlin Hayden, the White House’s National Security Council spokeswoman, playing diplomatic “Twister” as they bravely contrived to double-talk their way around these matters was certainly fun—but let’s face it: Intelligence agencies spy on friendly governments all the time. Obama’s real mortification was getting caught at it and having to make all those apologetic phone calls to world leaders, most of whom already regarded him as a flyweight and the majority of whom probably enjoyed the occasion a bit more than they let on. Is it any wonder Obama wants Snowden in irons?
And finally and most fascinatingly in some respects, there is the information Snowden presumably accessed, but has yet to reveal to the world. The funny part about this category is that only Snowden and the NSA (and affiliated intelligence services) have any idea what that info is, unless he has already handed it to the Russians or the Chinese. Rumors, therefore, run rampant, involving everything from crashed flying saucers to alien contact with our government to weather control weaponry to time travel technology, to the master plans of the Illuminati for world domination. Obviously, hidden knowledge is always more exciting than exposed knowledge, because we can fit its contents to our wildest fears and fantasies. What has our young Prometheus yet to reveal? The NSA obviously knows what Snowden took, and Snowden obviously knows too, but so far we the people have no clue—and the Obama administration obviously wishes it kept that way.
The inept escape artist
Snowden fled Hawaii on May 20, landing in Hong Kong. There may be some irony to be savored in the fact that Wikileaks snitched on his desire to seek asylum in Iceland because of unspecified “shared values.” Iceland pointed out that applications for asylum in Iceland have to be filled out in Iceland. Snowden explained that because leaking state secrets and stealing gigantic amounts of classified data made travel difficult, he should be seen as exceptional, but Iceland disagreed. Snowden at that juncture declared his intention to remain in Hong Kong unless “asked to leave,” and ingratiated himself by exposing a few NSA secrets in the local papers. The Chinese asked him to leave anyway, so he moved into the Russian consulate. On June 23, 2013, Snowden flew to Moscow with the intention of proceeding to Ecuador “for purposes of asylum,” but while in Moscow the Obama administration yanked his passport, stranding him in Moscow. This made Snowden vociferously unhappy and he made it public knowledge that he didn’t want to live in Russia, preferring asylum in a Western Country. While complaining that the Obama Administration was “using citizenship as a weapon,” which comment is ironic on more than a few levels, Snowden applied for asylum in Norway, Finland, Germany, India, Poland, Austria, Italy, and the Netherlands, all of which declined. Ecuador chimed in at this point, announcing that its initial willingness to grant asylum had been “a mistake.” The unkindest cut of all may have been when Vladimir Putin called Snowden “an unwanted Christmas gift” and made it known that Snowden could not be considered for asylum in Russia unless he stopped “his work aimed at harming our American partners.” Et tu, Vladimir? Well…Snowden was finally granted “temporary” asylum in Russia, renewable on a per-annum basis, despite which Snowden continued to seek asylum elsewhere, pleading with Brazil to take him in. Brazil regards Snowden favorably because of his revelations that the NSA was spying on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, as well as her senior staff members and advisers, not to mention executives of Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras. As of this posting, however, Snowden remains in Russia.
What is to be done?
As everyone who has read or heard of The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer is aware, there is, from antiquity, the long-standing tradition of the sacrificial king, or dying god—indeed, Frazer’s chief hypothesis (to be absurdly synoptic) expressed his belief that ancient fertility cults and rituals all entailed the worship and the subsequent sacrifice of a “sacred” or sacrificial king. Frazer theorized that these practices eventually melded into a kind of universal pagan lore and symbolism. It is not WOOF’s purpose here to support or rebut Frazer’s argument, but merely to remark on its possible utility in Snowden-style impasses. Consider:
Frazer’s basal example of the sacrificial king idea derived from his study of the pre-Roman “fane of Nemi,” a ritually installed king who was, in due course, ritually murdered by his successor—and the fane (king) wasn’t initially regal, he came from the slave class and was awarded his royal office only until the time of his sacrifice. A derivative of the sacrificial tradition is found in the John Barleycorn mythos, or what Celtic pagans refer to as the sacrifice of the corn king, or the Ivy King, the royal figure who sacrifices himself in exchange for the good harvest of the coming year.
The village idiot…? This idea, as Frazer maintains in protracted detail, spread through many cultures in many forms, but the mythologem is always pretty much the same: A king is declared, gets treated for a span of time to all the glories and pleasures to which his office entitles him, and then gets sacrificed—for the good of the land. An important element of the narrative is that the king is not derived from regal circumstances, but rather from common stock—in fact, in some iterations of the mythology, he is the village idiot, promoted by the townspeople to the loftiest estate—to be denied nothing—until the appointed time of his ritual slaying and replacement by the next idiot, to put it bluffly. You can see where we’re going with this, right? No, WOOF is not suggesting anything so bizarre as the institutionalization of paganism on a national basis. First, this would offend millions of Americans, and while WOOF has expressed its disapproval of the anti-pagan bigotry evident in the Democrat party (click here if you don’t believe us), we certainly uphold and defend the Judeo-Christian principles on which this nation was founded. However, on an ad hoc basis, given the national predicament of how to handle Snowden and his ilk—the traditions of antiquity may provide guidance. Consider: The “new treason” presents the new problem of how to mete out punishment to popular public figures whose popularity and public personae derive from acts that are categorically treasonable. The problem seems to have first evinced itself with Daniel Ellsberg, but has only intensified since—and the problem is solvable by application of a secular version of the ancient ritual of the sacrificial king—one that satisfies our schizoid national psyche by providing lionization and praise on the one hand, and retribution on the other. (And was originally intended to celebrate Mother Gaia, which should inspire liberals!) No constitutional concerns seem evident, since the 8th Amendment precludes cruel and unusual punishment, but says nothing against creating unusually enjoyable preludes to execution. Those wearisome 1st Amendment arguments against state sponsored religious practices are easily circumvented by deleting all references to gods, goddesses, alters, reincarnation, sacred daggers, chalices, seasons, spirals, trees, cauldrons, or anything else that seems even remotely faith-based, heathen or otherwise.
Simple plan… The overall idea is simple, and bridges the seemingly unbridgeable gap between even the most dichotomous views. Former CIA director James Woolsey recently declared that Edward Snowden “should be prosecuted for treason [and] hanged by his neck until he is dead,” which is a solid point. On the other hand, Manhattanville College student Daniel Raphael undoubtedly spoke for millions when he asserted (albeit in the subversive Huffington Post) that Edward Snowden “is beyond all else a hero,” who “revealed the workings of an illegal government program…” and once again, WOOF considers this a solid point. But now we have a means of addressing both points fairly while revitalizing those disincentives to the commission of treason established in Article III of the Constitution. Since congress is granted the power to “declare the punishment for treason,” congress need only establish some version of the Frazer mythologem by which to penalize the guilty, and the means will be at hand to proceed expeditiously, even in the ambivalent era of the hero-traitor.
The basic idea…
To generalize, when any hero-traitor is found guilty of treason (a necessary prerequisite to punishment, naturally), he would enjoy a year of sumptuous accommodations and acclaim—a time of conferred privilege, especially given that sacrificial kings (and people like Asange and Snowden) hold no august offices at the time of their elevation to pop cultural royalty, or however one describes their new circumstances. For the convicted “righteous traitor,” this would be a time during which supporters would be encouraged to write applausive editorials and magazine articles, rock bands and rap composers would apotheosize him in song and verse, movies would be produced portraying him as an heroic champion of the commonweal, and wannabe Norman Mailers and Truman Capotes would write “nonfiction novels” about him. Naturally he would be presented with every imaginable variety of humanitarian award, while major universities would bestow honorific doctorates and invite him to make commencement speeches. Praise would be lavished upon him on the floor of the House and Senate by any members so inclined. A government budget would be established to keep the guilty party in the lap of luxury for a full twelve months during which no effort would be spared to ensure his creature comforts– our readers can undoubtedly fill in the details more creatively than we. Finally, of course, precisely a year from the date of sentencing, the convicted traitor would be hanged, or dispatched by whichever alternative means was currently held to be least cruel and unusual—and buried. WOOF advocates burial at sea, but that’s just our thinking on the matter. The fact is, within a year, the public attention will have turned completely elsewhere—perhaps to the next hero traitor’s revelations, apprehension and trial, perhaps to the latest wardrobe malfunction, oil spill or teacher/student sex scandal—leaving only a faithful few to keep alive the embers of the executed party’s martyrdom. Sic transit gloria mundi—especially in the age of the 24-hour news cycle.
Still, Snowden walks…?
All right, WOOF admits this probably will not solve the Snowden problem per se—for one thing, no such congressional action is likely to prove retroactive, and for another, we can’t get our hands on Snowden unless he makes it to Brazil where we could presumably encourage the Mossad to kidnap him for us—they having done the same with Eichmann when he fled to Argentina—but this would make the Brazilians even angrier at us that Obama has already made them, and the Mossad might interrogate and shoot Ed before he’d had his scheduled year of accolades and delights—oops!–so we may have to accept Snowden as on ongoing perplexity—and why not, really? He thoroughly exposed the creeping Orwellianism in our shadow government and he obviously drives the president crazy and amuses Putin—which, God help us, we’ve come to enjoy–so we might as well write him off as a keeper; but, the next example of the noble traitor who comes along should be caught, tried, and, if convicted, go straight into the Frazer treatment—a year at the top, and then—bang!—instantaneous transfer to that Highest Court, where non-secularism is still the rage, and then ultimate judgment will be rendered by One Whom traitors, heroic or otherwise, fear far more than they do Eric Holder.