Snowden, Spies, and Network (1976)

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“I want Snowden here by noon. Have Lester cover the CIA hearings. And give the White House to Doris.” This bit of dialogue in Network, the black comedy written by Paddy Chayefsky, appears about 9 minutes and 45 seconds into the movie. This introduces us to the working day of a news team of a television network. Chayefsky was the greatest television screenwriter in the golden age of television. With Network, he became the greatest screenwriter in anti-television history. There has never been anything like it in terms of dialogue. The movie won four Oscars: best original screenplay, best actor, best actress, and best supporting actress for the shortest scene that ever won an Oscar. It should also have won best supporting actor: Ned Beatty’s “Mr. Beale” speech, which I regard as the greatest dialog scene in the history of the movies. Beatty got a nomination for the scene. But in terms of prophetic accuracy, nothing matches this: “I want Snowden here by noon. Have Lester cover the CIA hearings. And give the White House to Doris.” The movie was about the audience ratings for a network news department, and what a news department was willing to do to get higher ratings. The Obama White House now faces the possibility that by extraditing Edward Snowden and putting him on trial for espionage, it will create a network news sensation: a media circus that will keep this story in front of the public for months. The White House does not want that. But America needs it.

Snowden keeps upping the ante.

The Guardian newspaper says the British eavesdropping agency GCHQ repeatedly hacked into foreign diplomats’ phones and emails when the U.K. hosted international conferences, even going so far as to set up a bugged Internet cafe in an effort to get an edge in high-stakes negotiations. The report – the latest in a series of revelations which have ignited a worldwide debate over the scope of Western intelligence gathering – came just hours before Britain was due to open the G8 summit Monday, a meeting of the seven biggest economies plus Russia, in Northern Ireland. The allegation that the United Kingdom has previously used its position as host to spy on its allies and other attendees could make for awkward conversation as the delegates arrive for talks. “The diplomatic fallout from this could be considerable,” said British academic Richard J. Aldrich, whose book GCHQ charts the agency’s history. GCHQ declined to comment on the report.

“No comment” is the preferred agency response these days to each new revelation by Snowden. The story is here. Matt Drudge made it his lead story early on June 17: “Snowstorm.”


Indeed, it is exactly that. Snowden has let the cat out of the bag. He is not threatening America’s security, contrary to Attorney General Holder, whorefused to name him. But he is surely threatening the White House’s security from public scrutiny. The White House is waiting for the Snowden story to die down. But Snowden keeps letting more cats out of bags. He is keeping the surveillance community in the spotlight. Now he has broadened it to Great Britain. The United States government has yet to demand that Hong Kong extradite him. To demand his extradition, the government must accuse him of a crime. It must then try him. If it tries him, an international media feeding frenzy will begin. How much does Snowden know? No one in high places knows. He knows a lot more than any other whistleblower on the spy network who has gone public before. He has already become a worldwide phenomenon. The government cannot get this toothpaste back into the tube. But if it extradites him, it will have to try him. It is sure to get a lot more toothpaste out of the tube. Edward Snowden is the equivalent of John Dean. The more he talks, the worse it gets for the White House. The story will die down eventually, but the White House does not know when. It is to the advantage of the White House that it die down soon. But Snowden is keeping it alive with new revelations. Now he is getting the story to new audiences. He is causing great embarrassment to the spies. He is showing that domestic populations are the main target, not foreign terrorists. He is showing that the agencies are unleashing their digital tracking technologies on their own populations, or — in the case of Great Britain — the international diplomatic services. This will pit agencies against agencies. So far, the government has refused to ask for his extradition. The White House is trapped: he will not shut up. But giving him new opportunities to tell more of his story to the public is a real threat to the government’s credibility. How much toothpaste is still in the tube? Continue Reading on

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