Ever since Edward Snowden blew the whistle on their illegal and unethical activities, top level members of the national security establishment have regularly taken to national media outlets to complain, without a hint of irony, that journalists are unfriendly to spies. They should take a look at the February 2014 issue of Amtrak’s magazine for northeast travelers, “Arrive”, because it would surely make them feel much better.
As independent journalist Kevin Gosztola pointed out on Twitter, the Amtrak magazine—which features a cover story about “The Americans” star Keri Russell, screaming “Keri Russell is Spying on You”—contains the following graphic:
— Ben Wizner (@benwizner) February 24, 2014
Written by Peter Earnest, “a former senior operations officer with the CIA and [the current] executive director of the International Spy Museum in Washington,” the graphic insert smears Edward Snowden by including him among a list of mostly “infamous spies” who worked in the service of foreign, enemy governments while pretending to serve the US or UK.
Snowden, Earnest writes, “is widely considered to have caused one of the most detrimental breaches of national security in the history of intelligence, with consequences that will be felt for years to come.”
Perhaps Snowden is “widely considered” to have done damage to national security in the corridors of the CIA and the NSA. But the public largely disagrees, and sees this courageous young man as the truth-telling whistleblower he is.
Pity that Amtrak’s magazine provided space for a former spy to smear Snowden by including him among a list of traitors. In so doing, the magazine did a great disservice to the country, to Edward Snowden, and to its readers. By inaccurately insinuating that Snowden is a Russian plant—something the US government itself denies—Earnest and Amtrak make it seem as if the NSA is the real victim here, not the innocent people the agency spies on, day in and day out.
It's strange that amidst all the stories about how today’s NSA, CIA, and FBI are spying on hundreds of millions of completely innocent people world and nationwide, the magazine chose to profile a show about KGB spying in the 1980s. It seems as if some people would like for Americans to focus on the past bad actions of foreign governments, instead of the current disastrous policies of our own.
The “Look over there!” propaganda strategy might have worked well for the FBI and CIA during the height of the cold war, but it’s pretty transparently silly today. Let’s hope Amtrak readers see through it.