Per SOP, since Edward Snowden began revealing the details of the NSA's Orwellian surveillance program, establishment pundits have been doing their best to denounce his actions and denigrate the man personally. This is an easy task for the reflexively authoritarian segments of the American audience, for whom denunciations from the likes of Peter King, John Boehner, or Dick Cheney will do. For the large audience of those who think of themselves of an educated, liberal mind, with serious concern for issues of rights and privacy, a somewhat more complex assault on Snowden's actions or his person is necessary — something that rings of those same concerns, and gleams with the patina of an intellectual exercise.
Thus, out come the big intellectual-ish guns, loaded up with some logical-ish ammunition, in order to oh-so-complexly critique what Snowden has done. For example, we hear from Geoffrey Stone, Professor at the University of Chicago Law School, who hired Barack Obama to teach constitutional law:
[I]t’s extremely important to understand that if you want to protect civil liberties in this country, you not only have to protect civil liberties, you also have to protect against terrorism, because what will destroy civil liberties in this country more effectively than anything else is another 9/11 attack. … So it’s very complicated, asking what’s the best way to protect civil liberties in the United States.
And we hear a similar critique of Snowden's actions from New York Times's favorite superficially liberal-ish commentator, Thomas Friedman, speaking in remarkably identical terms — whether because they are scripted talking points or because mediocre minds think alike, it's hard to know:
I worry about that [another 9/11] even more, not because I don’t care about civil liberties, but because what I cherish most about America is our open society, and I believe that if there is one more 9/11 … it could lead to the end of the open society as we know it.
Mmm. It's because I care about civil liberties that I'm telling you we must give up our civil liberties, using your fear of a panopticon surveillance system to get you to accept a panopticon surveillance system. Wow, that sounds like some kind of syllogism or something. You can tell these guys went to college, not like that loser Snowden. This isn't some simple-minded reactionary argument, but a well-thought-out logical one of a kind we don't often hear. We have to destroy the village our open society in order to save it.
We can mark this as what has unfortunately become the typical argument so-called moderate liberal pundits make, to those who like to think of themselves as liberal citizens, about the necessity for pre-emptive capitulation to the programs of the right (war, austerity, dragnet surveillance): "It's not because I'm reactionary that I urge you to adopt this reactionary/authoritarian program, but because we're all moderate liberals, all concerned about peace, rights, and justice, and we have to realize that: If we don't accept (admittedly terrible) reactionary/authoritarian program A, it will lead us to a situation in which we're forced to accept (even worse) reactionary/authoritarian program B. Therefore, you see, it is not I and my confrères who want to prosecute Snowden (and maybe Glenn Greenwald) as a 'traitor' who pose the danger to liberal democracy, but Snowden and those who support him and his criminality.
The logic — the political logic — is ironclad and, recently, all too effective: only reactionary programs can save us from reactionary programs.
My parentheses above indicate, on the one hand, my desire to include, in fairness, the elements that such speakers would insist are crucial to their argument, and, on the other, my sense that these elements are diversionary and should be discounted. "Terrible reactionary program A" usually turns out to be "even worse reactionary program B." At the very least, it provides the indispensable, and often unprecedented, legal and political foundation that makes program B inevitable. I mean, you can't wiretap any more persons than everyone.
It's astounding how thoroughly the politics of fear has permeated liberal as well as conservative American political discourse. For liberals, the fear of the right requires capitulation to the right. For everyone, the fear or of the Big Bad Wolf "terrorist" destroying our freedom requires us to pre-emptively destroy it ourselves.
Of course, great establishment minds can't seem to follow the course of this logic of absolute fear and prevention. Wasn't Ariel Castro's kidnapping, imprisonment, and rape of three women for over ten years [pick your favorite outrage] a horrible crime that we never want to see happen again? Couldn't we minimize the chances of "another Ariel Castro" if we allowed random searches of everyone's house weekly? Don't you want to stop these kinds of horrors? Do you have something to hide? Really.
It's important to note, given the constant playing of this "another 9/11" trump card, that, before 9/11, without these unconstitutional, dragnet programs, the NSA did have the information to stop the actual 9/11, and did not do so only because of bureaucratic politics. In fact, the NSA, and the Justice Department at its behest, went after those of its own senior executives who were most infuriated about the failures related to the actual 9/11 and most concerned about the utterly unnecessary and unconstitutional surveillance regime instituted by the NSA after 9/11. It is they who best understand the use of 9/11 as a pretext. Here's Thomas Drake:
I can't say fully, because it's classified. But I showed that NSA knew a great deal about the 9/11 threats and Al Qaeda, electronically tracking various people and organizations for years… The problem is, it wasn't sharing all of the data. If it had, other parts of government could have acted on it, and more than likely, NSA could have stopped, I say stopped 9/11. Later, it could have located Al Qaeda — at the very time the U.S. was scouring Afghanistan. [Bolding mine. Italic emphasis in original.]
Never mind, also, that the Freidmanesque fear of monsters may be an argument for the NSA program, but it is not an argument against making that program's existence known, as it also mistakenly takes itself to be. After all, Edward Snowden has not revealed any specific, classified, technical information that would enable anyone, using any of the means of communication the NSA surveils, to stop or evade that surveillance, or that allows any other person or power to replicate it. For the past ten years at least, no self-respecting "terrorist" has been unaware of the need to avoid those means of communication. Al-Qaeda is not going to plan its next big action in a Google Hangout.
(Greg Sargent makes a similar point about this non-sequitur for hiding the legal rationale for these programs.)
Furthermore, it's not that Snowden is "the one" who the first revealed the existence of this surveillance regime. As I've shown in a previous post, the information has been out there for some time. What he has done — and it's a lot — is to make it impossible for Americans to ignore the radical scope and depth of the surveillance operated on them, and to make it more likely that there would be at least the pretense of a debate about the legality, constitutionality, and democratic political propriety of these programs.
In that sense, Snowden's disclosures may have made it politically more difficult — and I and others would hope, impossible — to continue these programs as they are. That is why, despite the fact that one could very well be both for the programs and supportive of Snowden's whistleblowing (as those who claim to "welcome the debate" should be), Friedman and his ilk are firmly against both — not because they want to protect an "open society," or because they want to protect us from "another 9/11," but because they want to protect the prerogative of the political elite to do whatever they want in secret.
While we're at it, let's put the whole "he broke the law" issue in its proper context. There is only one way to argue for prosecuting Edward Snowden because he "broke the law," and previous NSA whistleblower William Binney spells it out exactly:
I believe he should be prosecuted, in order. He should fall in line after the previous administration, the President, Vice-President, all the leaders of.. all the Chiefs and Deputies of the NSA — all of them, all the people in the intelligence communities that approved this. They should all be prosecuted. And he should come after all of them.
Anything else is rank hypocrisy. If George Bush, Dick Cheney, José Rodriguez, et. al., can run free and prosper because we have to Look Forward Not Back, then we can thank Ed Snowden for enabling the debate we all wanted, and move forward from there.
The superficiality of the logic underlying these attacks on what Snowden has done requires that there be a parallel, supplementary set of attacks on Snowden personally. And if these personal attacks are going to be effective beyond the anybody-who-disturbs-the-military-intelligence-complex-is-a-traitor crowd, they are will need a dash of political-psychological complexity. It's going to have to be a little better than calling him "a cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood," the kind of vulgar, invented insult that doesn't go down too well with a liberal-minded audience.
Thus enter official "moderate Republican" David Brooks, who, in his inimitable compassionately conservative way, portrays Edward Snowden as an example of the "growing share of young men in their 20s who are living .. in the fuzzy land between their childhood institutions and adult family commitments," young men who, amidst "the atomization of society, the loosening of social bonds, .. live a life unshaped by the mediating institutions of civil society." Unable to "successfully work his way through the institution[s]" of high school and college, Snowden is one of these misguided wanderers who, though admirably "morally engaged and deeply committed to his beliefs," are hampered by "the deep suspicion of authority, the strong belief that hierarchies and organizations are suspect, the fervent devotion to transparency, [and] the assumption that individual preference should be supreme." These are, for Brooks, "the distinct strands of libertarianism… in this fragmenting age." As Brooks reminds us, Snowden contributed to Ron Paul's presidential campaign. QED.
Wow, David Brooks on the hunt for Ayn-Randian American-Republican hyper-individualism! Not, of course, a critique of individualism and alienation from the perspective of a liberatory democratic social perspective, but a steadfast defense of traditional RepubloCrat hierarchical and managerial authoritarianism. And Brooks is an official Republican (you know, PBS's designated antithesis to the commonplace hierarchical-managerial "moderate" Democrat, Mark Shields), so his known "conservative" voice may not suffice for persuading liberals that Snowden "is making everything worse."
So, cut to the official outlet of television liberalism, MSNBC, where we find Lawrence O'Donnell, in another curiously exact echo, taking up all the memes of the Brooks approach to denigrating Snowden: high school dropout, no college or other "maturing" institution, and — the pièce de résistance again — Ron Paul campaign contributor.
O'Donnell has given Glenn Greenwald a fair showing, albeit interspersed with O'Donnell's own demeaning, "He's just an IT guy" comments. Generally, O'Donnell has been relatively careful about how far he can go in denigrating Snowden, but there's no question that he's continually reinforcing the suggesting that, as Roger Snowden put it more bluntly, Snowden is “the slacker who came in from the cold” with “all the qualifications to become a grocery bagger.”
It's of a piece with O'Donnell's project of assuring liberals that the whole NSA scandal is of little importance, that there's nothing to see here, let's move along, as on his June 11th show: "Every phone call I've ever made in my life left a record in a company somewhere, it always has, always will, I am so far still not yet scared by what the NSA is up to." (I've addressed the irrelevance and vacuity of this personally dismissive argument here.)
O'Donnell's show last Wednesday (June 12th, video, transcript), however, was a unique and wondrous thing to behold. It was certainly one of the more strained, scurrilous, and telling moments in — perhaps the apotheosis of — the ongoing media campaign against Snowden. His awkward, flailing attempts — for twenty minutes, with no commercial break — to elicit something, anything, negative or derogatory about Edward Snowden from his interviewee made his determination to discredit the man in the eyes of his liberal audience all too obvious. His utter failure confirmed how difficult it is going to be for conservative or liberal pundits to dismiss Snowden's actions on the basis of his personality, and it was a scene that ended up discrediting nothing more than the whole media theater of derogation itself.
O'Donnell's guest was Mavanee Anderson, a personal friend of Snowden, who had worked with him in Geneva, where she also had a top-secret clearance. She had written an op-ed in the Chattanooga Times Free Press "to show support for Ed any way I can." Though she explicitly does not endorse his release of classified information, and "would have counseled him to fight his fight in a different way," she acknowledges that "his approach has been an effective catalyst for a much-needed dialogue about issues of privacy and security in this country and beyond," and she ends by saying to him: "I'm proud of you."
Lawrence must have thought that, with his finely-honed interrogative skill, he could surely extract some information from this young woman that would cast Snowden in a bad light for his viewers. What he actually had was an incredibly poised, articulate, and controlled young attorney, who would absolutely not allow herself to be dragged into that irrelevant and pernicious game.
After some Interrogation 101 rapport establishment, O'Donnell started fishing more determinedly. He asked Mavanee if she didn't think Snowden was "astonishingly naïve." Paraphrasing Snowden's interview with The Guardian, O'Donnell says that Snowden joined the army:
"based on the desire to go to Iraq and do good. And then he was very surprised in military training and this is what I found … astonishingly naïve. He was surprised that the military training concentrated so much on killing people. Did he really not know that that is what the military is actually there to do, is actually kill people in war? Could he be that naïve?"
Mavanee's answer turned that right around:
"I don't think he was questioning whether or not you are trying to kill people when you join the military…. I don't know, perhaps he is naïve, or perhaps he is just a patriot who wants to do his part for the country."
Like a million other young Americans, that is. Is not O'Donnell suggesting here that most young American soldiers joined the armed forces with no "naïve" intention of "doing good," but with the well-formed intention of being a killer? Nice.
O'Donnell then presses Anderson on the fact that Snowden returned to intelligence work after he had expressed a "crisis of confidence":
"Do you think he may have gotten back in with the intent of actually doing something like this from within the system?"
Anderson again responded quite calmly:
"I am doubtful that that is the case…I don't know why he decided to work for the NSA after being disillusioned, but it could be that he has a certain skill set. And he had experience on his resume. And he already knows a great deal about that world. And that is what he knows how to do. So –."
In other words, because that was the available job he was good at. Make of that what you will.
O'Donnell then tries to see if there was some hidden political agenda fueling Snowden's "disillusionment":
"[D]id he ever say you know, we shouldn't be doing this, and we should be doing X instead?"
Mavanee again refuses to speculate, and returns to what she knows, giving an even more positive take on Snowden's character:
"No, …we were friends and…I don't remember having a lot of political discussions with him. So, this is not really something I can speak to. I can speak to his character. I can speak to the fact that in my opinion, he was always a loyal friend and a good guy. He was very introspective. He thought long and hard about things — he thought long and hard about the consequences of things before doing things, in my experience with him."
Early in the interview, Lawrence was blocked in his attempt to discount dropout Snowden's digital expertise by Mavanee's reminder that: "You know, someone such as Bill Gates, for example, I don't think he ever graduated from college." In fact, Mavanee calls Showden an "IT genius." So, later on, following the line of David Brooks's bloviations about Snowden's fuzzy-land immaturity, O'Donnell tried to get Mavanee to agree on some other derogatory, invented, point about college and "maturation":
"Well, I guess the final point that I want to raise about him as a person … His sense of balance, his ability to balance things and his ability to balance conflicting things at the same time, which is an intellectual maturation process — which, by the way, we hope occurs to some degree in college….
And what I'm wondering is — is this personality, has it developed that kind of maturity that can balance these kinds of things and look at certain things and have a perspective on them? Or is it a personality that allows certain aspects of things to get exaggerated, and he can look at the United States government and think of it as the architecture of oppression?"
Mavanee again quietly shuts down this vacuous line of attack:
"You know, I'm thinking back on my own college experience and my own law school experience, as well. And I'm not sure that attending the classes that I attended necessarily contributed to that sort of maturation process."
Seeing where this is going, O'Donnell interrupts her — stepping on her words "that sort of maturation process" — before the audience is inevitably reminded of the relationship between the concepts of "party" and "college" in the United States, which is not going to help his whole "maturity" thing. Yes, Lawrence, you can grow up without going to college.
He then tries to get at the "balance" and "maturity" point another way — by construing Snowden's use of the phrase "architecture of oppression" as symptom of a deep "imbalance." Mavanee had said the phrase was "perhaps…an overstatement" — though she demurred that she's "not privy to all the information that he was privy to," and "generally speak[s] of things in a more measured way." O'Donnell persists:
"What do you think is the difference between you and your friend, Ed, when you look at the American government and he sees the architecture of oppression, and you don`t? What do you think is the difference between the two of you there?"
Unfortunately for O'Donnell, Mavanee responds in a way that sounds more like Ed Snowden than David Brooks:
"I think that there has, perhaps because some executive overreach. And it could maybe be scaled back.
"I'm a big advocate for judges and for search warrants and I definitely think that there needs to be oversight, especially in an area such as this, in the intelligence world when there are not journalists who necessarily have access, who can sort of bring things to the light of day. I think it's so much more important, perhaps to have — to make sure that we have the appropriate amount of oversight."
Across the board, Mavanee's answers give Lawrence none of what he was looking for. Just the opposite. The more he pushes her, the more sympathetic to Snowden she sounds. Her general sense of him is:
"He was always a loyal friend and a good guy. He was very introspective. He thought long and hard about things — he thought long and hard about the consequences of things before doing things, in my experience with him."
So much for imbalance and immaturity.
The strange, high-low point of the interview finds O'Donnell resorting to a bizarre, contrived, out-of-left-field attempt to play the Ron Paul and Osama Bin Laden cards at the same time. He's got a video set up, and he explains his reasons for showing it with this convoluted logic:
"[W]e now know, Ed Snowden contributed to Ron Paul's campaign, and presumably, if he voted, possibly, voted for him. So let's listen what to he said about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, which was a specific interest, obviously, of Ed Snowden's."
Lawrence then plays for Mavanee the following clip (It's about 40 seconds. You've got to see it.):
O'Donnell's predictable question: "Did Ed Snowden say that, for example, like Ron Paul, that he thought that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were provoked in their actions by actions of the United States?"
It's that transitive property of guilt by suggested association again. This is just a painfully awkward, way too obvious, attempt to plant the question — just the itty bitty question — in viewers' minds that, since Snowden contributed to the Ron Paul campaign, and therefore "presumably" (or "possibly") voted for him, and since Ron Paul quoted from Osama and al-Qaeda — "obviously" a "specific interest" of Ed Snowden (Says who?) — therefore Did Ed Snowden channel Ron Paul channeling Osama Bin Laden blaming the United States for 9/11? O'Donnell didn't exactly say that, of course, he just showed images that suggested it.
Anderson again refused the bait, saying simply: "I don't remember having conversations about that. So I really can't speak to that."
But Lawrence O'Donnell well knows that images are more powerful than words, and he was working these OBL→RP→ES blaming the United States images to make sure that the question, just the question, would ring in viewers' minds. You know: Don't think of a blue elephant!
I want to use these images to suggest something else. O'Donnell, I think, played it a little too close to the edge here. After all, he showed a clip of a Republican Presidential debate, in which Ron Paul was booed, and looked at as if he were a creature from another planet, because he was telling the audience to pay attention to (not necessarily to agree with) the explicitly-expressed motivations of the "terrorists." For that audience, any such suggestion is anathema, crazy. But I, and I think many of O'Donnell's viewers, find nothing objectionable in what Ron Paul was doing there — in that place, and in that moving image.
On the other hand, in showing this clip as he did, O'Donnell was implicitly placing himself, and trying to place his viewers, in the same subject-position occupied in that image by… Rick Santorum — mouth and empty mind agape at the incomprehensible spectacle of a man trying actually to suggest that we should pay some attention to anything our designated enemies might tell us about why they do what they do. With this image, O'Donnell implicitly valorizes and shares the Santorum gaze.
Sorry, Lawrence, but being Rick Santorum is not a political subject position that's very attractive to me — or, I suspect, to most of your viewers.
This, of course, is part of an ongoing effort by many MSNBC liberals to demonize Ron Paul, "libertarianism," and, by guilty association, everybody who touches any of it. They spend so much of their time demonizing, because there's not much in their favored Obamican Democratic liberalism to sanctify.
I do mean demonize as opposed to criticize. I reject Ron Paul's Ayn-Randian "libertarian" social theory. I find it theoretically ludicrous and practically destructive, in ways that are different from the ludicrous and destructive imperialist neo-liberalism of so many Democrats and Republicans. So, sure, serious criticism is warranted. This is not it.
I also recognize why so many Americans, and especially young Americans, who haven't thought it all through, are attracted to libertarian ideas and positions — which are not limited to the silly blather of Republican "Randians" (like, say, Rick Santorum) but extend to a wide array of "anarchist" theories, whose resonance can be found, for example, in the work of Noam Chomsky (and here).
It's also quite easy to understand how a young American like Snowden could be attracted to the Ron Paul campaign in 2012, since it was at least anti-imperialist. Perhaps he saw Paul's quite effective anti-war, anti-imperialist campaign ad. It's the attractiveness of ads like that to young Americans like Snowden that makes Ron Paul's libertarianism so annoying to "moderate," consensus imperialists among Republicans and Democrats — like David Brooks and Lawrence O'Donnell.
So Lawrence's Ron-Paul/Bin-Laden gambit went over as badly as the others. Mavanee Anderson shut down all O'Donnell's attempts to extract some nugget of derogatory information, with admirable cool and precision. Far from advancing the trashing of Edward Snowden, O'Donnell's interview only succeeded in exposing his own underhanded agenda all too clearly.
There was "just one more detail" of this interview that we should mention. As if Ron Paul and Osama Bin Laden weren't desperate enough ploys, O'Donnell goes yet another bridge too far, and pops a question that seems to have come from Mars:
Anderson: Sorry, I wouldn't — again, that's not something I would know.
Anything about Israel? Where the hell did that come from?
Well, I think we all know: Please, please, tell me that Snowden agrees with Ron Paul that we have to end aid to Israel. Please say that he's critical of Israel in any way. 'Cause I know that's a taboo, and it will make Snowden seem like a nut.
Again, I think (and hope) O'Donnell is misunderstanding much of his audience, and revealing too much about his own entrapment in elite common wisdom. Criticism — even radical criticism — of Israel is, unfortunately, still taboo in elite American political and media circles, but it's becoming more than acceptable among the increasing number of Americans who are learning about Israel and Zionism outside of those circles. So, really, all this question has done is emphasize again how desperate O'Donnell is to find some tar with which to smear Edward Snowden.
And yet…Lawrence has, as the lawyers say, opened the door. And quite an interesting door it is, in this context. I will be walking through that door in a subsequent post.
For now, I want to make some further reflections on what O'Donnell called Edward Snowden's "astonishing naïveté."
One needs to be careful about the word "naïve." It's a word that is taken to mean something like "ignorance plus innocence," and, just so, is frequently used to imbue American foreign and military policy with an air of innocence, You know: "We got drawn into in Vietnam, Iraq, [your-invaded-country-here] because we're so naïve," implying that we had an excess of good intentions, and are just too innocent for our own good.
This is hogwash. The most powerful capitalist country on the planet, through its political and military leadership, does not carefully plan and execute military attacks with the most deadly weaponry and with tens or hundreds of thousands of soldiers in order to "do good"; It does so to force compliance. There's no "innocence" involved. American leadership may act with some degree of ignorance, to be sure, but that's an ignorance derived from, and in support of, arrogance, not innocence. And ignorance plus arrogance does not equal naïveté.
On the level of the young men and women who are educated and recruited by the imperial state, however, young citizens like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, "naïve" can be an appropriate description.
So, yes, it's fair to say that Snowden was naïve in a very important sense. Maybe, along with the tens of thousands of other young American men living in the "fuzzy land" between childhood and adulthood, men who had just enough formal education to be a "grocery bagger" or imperial soldier/killer/cannon fodder, he believed all that fuzzy stuff he was taught about America's role in the world — you know, that we invade other countries to "do good," and that to join in that enterprise is to be "patriotic." I wonder whether Lawrence O'Donnell might question the part he might have played in encouraging such naïveté, and I welcome his new effort, which I am sure will be ongoing, to disabuse America's young men of that dishonest and deadly fantasy.
On the other hand, I do not share what seems to be O'Donnell's belief that most young American soldiers had no such "naïve" intentions, but rather joined the army to fully embrace their career as killers. I also know that, exactly as Mavanee Anderson suggests, there is nothing in what Snowden said that was naïve, in the sense of "questioning whether or not you are trying to kill people when you join the military." What he actually expressed to The Guardian was his disappointment and disillusionment in finding that “Most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone." [my emphasis] How naïve was Snowden about the army and his fellow soldiers? How unfair is O'Donnell's characterization of his thinking?
We should by all means notice the similarities between Snowden's and Bradley Manning's trajectories from naïveté to disillusionment to active whistleblowing. As many American soldiers do, both joined the military-intelligence forces partly to fill some lack in their lives. Both entered with mistaken ideas and insufficient understanding about what they would be doing, and both were disillusioned by the unexpected cruelty and criminality they did end up witnessing and being part of — which they did not expect and did not think the American people expected, or knew about, or would accept if they did know.
As Bradley Manning's lawyer, David E. Coombs, tells us, Manning was troubled by seeing "how [little] we valued human life in Iraq. He was troubled by that. And he believed that if the American public saw it, they too would be troubled and maybe things would change.” Thus, both describe their motivations in very similar terms: "I wanted to start a debate" (Manning), and "I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe" (Snowden).
They were hoping that debate would not be about Ron Paul or their sexual preferences. How naïve they were about that is in direct correlation to how little good faith there is in media pundits like Lawrence O'Donnell and David Brooks.
So they were naïve, alright, and that's not a psychological, but a social condition. It is not the product of (although it can contribute to) psychological confusion. It is the product of a deliberate social miseducation, propagated by compulsory schools and elective but ubiquitous media, that disappears from young minds the discrepancy between America's narcissistic self-image and both America's real history and its deadly role in today's world. It's a result of the fact that we are, as G.B. Shaw wrote: "taught wrong on purpose."
So, certainly, let's encourage more young Americans to make the same journey that Snowden and Manning did out of inculcated naïveté. The final "innocence" of soldiers of the imperial army, as well as citizens of the imperial state, is determined by what they do when they lose their ignorance.
There's also a point here about how that hollow American youthful naïveté is both an indispensable underpinning and the Achilles heel of the 21st-century American empire. It is revealed inadvertently in the exchange where O'Donnell — not unreasonably, it may seem — asks Anderson whether the fact that two young people like her and Anderson got top security clearances means "they are easier to obtain than we out here, outside of the intelligence community, realized?" Anderson, however, disabuses him of that idea, saying: "They're actually rather difficult to obtain."
In fact, one has to pass a thorough background check to get a top-secret clearance. For that very reason, it's young people, who have less ground to go back over, who may find it easier to qualify. If you've got the skills, the NSA is not going to care if you smoked a joint in high school. It's also precisely because of the American-exceptionalist historical curriculum and the increasingly concentrated and conservative media diet they have been fed — certainly those young people who are pursuing military-intelligence jobs — that they will be less likely to have a record of dissent or politically problematic behavior. They will also tend, indeed, to be more naïve about what they will actually be doing in the military-intelligence complex. In other words, their political and historical education lies in front of them. These are the cadres that the fast-expanding intelligence and surveillance apparatus needs, and needs a lot of, to function. (As many as 4 million people hold top-secret clearances at the moment.)
But they are smart, and digitally savvy, and there's that pesky internet, and every day they work they will see and understand more clearly what they are doing. The same youth, political miseducation, and induced naïveté that made it easier for them to get top-secret clearances make them susceptible to future disillusionment.
This is why there will be many more Edward Snowdens and Bradley Mannings — not because there are a lot of confused young men who haven't figured out how to grow up, but because there are real discrepancies between what American says it does and what it does, and a lot of smart young people who will learn about that labyrinth of lies and want to find new ways, for themselves and for all of us, out of it.