The operations of secret intelligence agencies aiming at the manipulation of public opinion generally involve a combination of cynical deception with the pathetic gullibility of the targeted populations.
There is ample reason to believe that the case of Edward Joseph Snowden fits into this pattern. We are likely dealing here with a limited hangout operation, in which carefully selected and falsified documents and other materials are deliberately revealed by an insider who pretends to be a fugitive rebelling against the excesses of some oppressive or dangerous government agency.
But the revelations turn out to have been prepared with a view to shaping the public consciousness in a way which is advantageous to the intelligence agency involved. At the same time, gullible young people can be duped into supporting a personality cult of the leaker, more commonly referred to as a “whistleblower.” A further variation on the theme can be the attempt of the sponsoring intelligence agency to introduce their chosen conduit, now posing as a defector, into the intelligence apparatus of a targeted foreign government. In this case, the leaker or whistleblower attains the status of a triple agent.
Any attempt to educate public opinion about the dynamics of limited hangout operations inevitably collides with the residue left in the minds of millions by recent successful examples of this technique. It will be hard for many to understand Snowden, precisely because they will insist on seeing him as the latest courageous example in a line of development which includes Daniel Ellsberg and Julian Assange, both still viewed by large swaths of naïve opinion as authentic challengers of oppressive government.
This is because the landmark limited hangout operation at the beginning of the current post-Cold War era was that of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon papers, which laid the groundwork for the CIA’s Watergate attack on the Nixon administration, and more broadly, on the office of the presidency itself. More recently, we have had the case of Assange and Wikileaks. Using these two cases primarily, we can develop a simple typology of the limited hangout operation which can be of significant value to those striving to avoid the role of useful idiots amidst the current cascade of whistleblowers and limited hangout artists.
In this analysis, we should also recall that limited hangouts have been around for a very long time. In 1620 Fra Paolo Sarpi, the dominant figure of the Venetian intelligence establishment of his time, advised the Venetian senate that the best way to defeat anti-Venetian propaganda was indirectly. He recommended the method of saying something good about a person or institution while pretending to say something bad. An example might be criticizing a bloody dictator for beating his dog – the real dimensions of his crimes are thus totally underplayed.
Limited hangout artists are instant media darlings
The most obvious characteristic of the limited hangout operative is that he or she immediately becomes the darling of the controlled corporate media. In the case of Daniel Ellsberg, his doctored set of Pentagon papers were published by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and eventually by a consortium totaling seventeen corporate newspapers. These press organs successfully argued the case for publication all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where they prevailed against the Nixon administration.
Needless to say, surviving critics of the Warren Commission, and more recent veterans of the 9/11 truth movement, and know very well that this is emphatically not the treatment reserved for messengers whose revelations are genuinely unwelcome to the Wall Street centered US ruling class. These latter are more likely to be slandered, vilified and dragged through the mud, or, even more likely, passed over in complete silence and blacked out. In extreme cases, they can be kidnapped, renditioned or liquidated.