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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Moscow has always been hard on idealists. So it’s no surprise to find the world-renowned civil libertarian Edward Snowden feeling shaky midway through his first Russian winter. In a televised Christmas message recorded by Britain’s Channel 4, Snowden waxed alternately as grandiose and apocalyptic as a Dostoyevsky character.

On one hand, the former NSA analyst who stole a hoard of classified documents from the spy agency and passed them around to selected journalists sees himself as a world historical figure.

“The mission’s already accomplished,” he told the Washington Post. “I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated … I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”

On the other hand, we’re all doomed. Even George Orwell had no clue. Snowden insists that government surveillance has far outstripped anything dreamed of in the dystopian novel 1984.

“The types of collection in the book — microphones and video cameras, TVs that watch us — are nothing compared to what we have available today. We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go,” Snowden said. “Think about what this means for the privacy of the average person.”

“A child born today,” he lamented, “will … never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves (or) an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought.”

Probably not, because they’ll post it on Facebook, along with kitten videos and photos of their lunch.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Frankly, I wonder if Snowden actually read 1984, which is less about surveillance techniques than the police state mentality: Big Brother, “War is Peace,” the Two Minutes Hate, children informing on their parents, etc.

Indeed, Snowden himself appears to exhibit a classic case of what Orwell called “doublethink.”

“To know and not to know,” Orwell wrote, “to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic … to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy.”

Or, to put it another way, to flee the totalitarian excesses of the U.S. government while taking refuge in countries where the concept of “privacy” scarcely exists. To condemn NSA snooping while handing its secrets to China, the world’s leading practitioner of computerized military and commercial espionage.

This is “mission accomplished”?

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