I hate to do this, but I feel obligated to share, as the story unfolds, my creeping concern that the writer Naomi Wolf is not whom she purports to be, and that her motive in writing an article on her public Facebook page speculating about whether National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden might actually be still working for the NSA, could be to support the government’s effort to destroy him.
After all, with Snowden under vicious attack by both the government and the corporate media, being wrongly accused of treason, or portrayed as a drop-out slacker, a narcissist, a loser hoping to gain fame and even a “cross-dressing” weirdo, what defender of liberty would pile on with publication of a work of absolutely fact-free speculation as to whether he might also be a kind of “double agent” put out there by the NSA in order to discourage real potential whistleblowers from even considering leaking information about government spying on Americans.
Because that is exactly what Wolf has done on her website (the first clause at the opening of this article is a direct quote from the lead in Wolf’s Facebook piece, but with her name substituted for Snowden’s).
What basis does she offer for her wild-eyed speculation that Snowden is perhaps “not who he purports to be”?
Well, first of all she notes darkly that US spy agencies “create false identities, build fake companies, influence real media with fake stories, create distractions or demonizations in the local news that advance US policies, bug (technologically) and harass the opposition, disrupt and infiltrate the meetings and communications of factions that the US does not wish to see in power.” This, she says, touting her own now rather dated 2007 book The End of America, is “something you can’t not see if you spend time around people who are senior in both the political establishment and the intelligence and state department establishments. You also can’t avoid seeing it if you interview principled defectors from those systems, as I have done…”
Then, after having assuring us of how well-connected she is, she raises what she calls “red flags” about Snowden:
* “I was concerned about the way Snowden conveys his message. He is not struggling for words, or thinking hard, as even bright, articulate whistleblowers under stress will do. Rather he appears to be transmitting whole paragraphs smoothly, without stumbling. To me this reads as someone who has learned his talking points — again the way that political campaigns train surrogates to transmit talking points.” (Um, Naomi, you know, don’t you, that he was videotaped for that by a filmmaker, and there were, no doubt, multiple takes and edits to allow him to get it right?)
* “He keeps saying things like, ‘If you are a journalist and they think you are the transmission point of this info, they will certainly kill you.’ Or: ‘I fully expect to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act.’ He also keeps stressing what he will lose: his $200,000 salary, his girlfriend, his house in Hawaii. These are the kinds of messages that the police state would LIKE journalists to take away.” In case we miss the point, she adds, implying rather strongly that she is concluding Snowden is a fake, “A real whistleblower also does not put out potential legal penalties as options, and almost always by this point has a lawyer by his/her side who would PROHIBIT him/her from saying, ‘come get me under the Espionage Act.’ Finally in my experience, real whistleblowers are completely focused on their act of public service and trying to manage the jeopardy to themselves and their loved ones; they don’t tend ever to call attention to their own self-sacrifice.”
* “It is actually in the Police State’s interest to let everyone know that everything you write or say everywhere is being surveilled, and that awful things happen to people who challenge this. Which is why I am not surprised that now he is on UK no-fly lists – I assume the end of this story is that we will all have a lesson in terrible things that happen to whistleblowers.” She adds, in a further indictment of Snowden, “That could be because he is a real guy who gets in trouble; but it would be as useful to the police state if he is a fake guy who gets in ‘trouble.’”
* She says he talks incessantly about the beautiful “pole-dancer” girlfriend he abandoned (actually he did that for her safety, Naomi), implying his repetition process might be so that the media have a justification to keep showing her sexy photo (as though our prurient media needs a justification to do such a thing).
* The media keep saying he is in a “safe house” in Hong Kong, which according to Wolf cannot exist in the former British colony, now a part of China, “Unless you are with the one organization that can still get off the surveillance grid, because that org created it.”
* He’s not surrounded by an army of attorneys the way Wikileaks’ Julian Assange was when he traveled (and by the way, I recall that for a long time, after Wikileaks ran the Bradley Manning documents, including the horrific “Collateral Damage” war crime video, there were conspiracy theorists out there claiming baselessly that he was actually probably a Mossad asset — this on the basis that he had not been sufficiently leaking damaging information about Israel’s actions against Palestinians).
That’s it, folks! All sheer wild speculation about Snowden, with not even one shred of actual evidence against him to suggest he’s anything but what he says he is: a young man who was hired to do some really dirty work spying on Americans en masse, who decided that what was happening was the creation of a totalitarian system, and who had the courage of, instead of walking away from it, putting his life in jeopardy by publicly blowing the whistle.
I have nothing against trying to uncover conspiracies, particularly those orchestrated by a government like our own which we know has manufactured from whole cloth faked evidence to justify a war in Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people, even to the point of torturing captives to get them to make up tales that would justify that fake evidence. But when someone with Wolf’s reputation on the left sinks to this level of baseless and libelous accusations against a brave person who is under attack by that government, it cannot be allowed to pass.
Of course, I don’t really think that Wolf is acting as an agent for the government (I could only speculate about that, and I won’t). And if she were just thinking these idle thoughts, and maybe raising them in a playful discussion at home with a few friends over dinner, I would see nothing wrong in the exercise. But as a highly media-savvy public person, she’s publishing them intentionally where they will be widely circulated: on her publicly accessible Facebook page. I have to conclude she has allowed her instinct for self-promotion and grandstanding in this case to let her do something truly treacherous and unconscionable: baselessly defaming and attacking the credibility of a brave whistleblower who is under officially orchestrated attack.
As a long-time investigative reporter, I also dispute Wolf’s self-serving claim that her own experience in dealing with whistleblowers shows them to be uniformly disorganized and inarticulate. In my experience, some are very disorganized and hard to follow because of their focus on the trees in their personal forest, but some whistleblowers are intensely organized and know exactly what they want to tell you as a journalist. They are also apt, organized or not, contrary to what Wolf says, to highlight the danger they are in, and that they may be putting the reporter in. Sometimes this may be simply to make sure you are interested and recognize the seriousness of what they have to say, and sometimes it is out of genuine fear for themselves and concern for the journalist’s safety, and perhaps also to make sure you fully understand what you’re getting into and that you will not cave and reveal their identity the moment you are put under pressure yourself.
Wolf, who always makes a point of mentioning she’s a Yale grad and a Rhodes Scholar who studied at Oxford, should take care in assuming that someone with only a high school diploma speaking in whole sentences or paragraphs is probably reciting “talking points” from a script. Her assumption reeks of class-based stereotyping. I have met car mechanics, who besides working miracles on my old cars, can speak in multiple paragraphs about politics, often with more wisdom and insight than most of the ivy-league pundits on the tube.
As for Wolf’s claim of there being “no safe houses” in Hong Kong, I just have to laugh. Having lived in Hong Kong for five years, I can assure her that there are myriad urban warrens all over Hong Kong where one could hide for decades undetected, as well as vast stretches of tropical wilderness in the New Territories where people can become lost for days, even with professional rescue teams looking for them. Wolf should stick to things she has actual knowledge about (maybe vaginas, judging by the name of her latest book?), instead of trashing good people on the basis of ignorant speculation and pretend savvy.
Unless and until someone comes up with a single hard fact seriously suggesting that Snowden is a fake, this kind of fantasizing should halt. Wolf should apologize for her self-aggrandizing tripe and make a generous donation from her book sales to the Snowden defense fund — unless of course she has evidence that the Progressive Change Campaign Committee is an NSA or CIA front group.
DAVE LINDORFF, fluent and literate in Chinese, spent five years living in Hong Kong as a correspondent for Business Week, and two years living and working in China. He did not go to an Ivy undergraduate school, but did attend the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Over the years in his profession he has adhered to fundamental principles of journalism, like basing articles on facts, on being fair, and on following that old Joseph Pulitzer axiom the good journalism means “afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.”