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Meet your new martyr: Edward Snowden

PRISM whistleblower's not the new Assange, not even a very naughty boy

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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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