Bonsai Kitten Democracy: The Snowden “Leak” Everyone Missed?

Cold war story time.

Somewhere in the literature there’s a most illuminating story about Bill Clinton and the KGB, from an interview with a former KGB officer and a journalist. As the KGB man puts it, Clinton toured Moscow when he was 23. Was the KGB watching at the time? Most certainly. What did they find?

Well — and I’m going from memory here — the officer pointed out, “I would not respect him as a man if he did not appreciate Russian women.”

The journalist pressed for more, but the officer declined to elaborate. The KGB kept this kind of information for a reason, he explained, and the Russians felt Clinton remaining in office — this interview was during that time — was in their interest. But, the officer noted, if the Russians had believed Clinton’s presidency would not be conducive to their interests, “he would never have become President.”

Regardless of what you think of Mr. Clinton’s personal life —
seriously? in France his extramarital behavior would have GOTTEN him elected, and the Germans don’t care about sex scandals but regularly boot out politicians who plagiarized their PhD dissertations — it’s telling about the modus operandi of intelligence types.

After all, intelligence agencies are both the sword and the shield of whomever they consider themselves to be working for.

This is true also in the West, even if it’s less well advertised. Read through the history, and you come to the conclusion that “anything the Russians do, the West does too, but they’re subtler about it.”

For example, in the latest Snowden releases[1] there’s a point everybody (that I’ve seen) completely missed. The news focused on the point that GCHQ’s “SQUEAKY DOLPHIN” snooped on YouTube and Facebook…

…but absolutely nobody pointed out why. So let me point it out to you:

page 7: “Strategic Influence”

page 35: “Optimising Influence”

page 40: “Influence at Scale”

page 44: “Deliver messages [to use a less kind word, “propaganda”] and multimedia content across Web 2.0″ “Crafting messaging [propaganda] campaigns to go ‘viral'”

It’s **** NOT **** just about “gathering information.” It’s about influencing broad trends in ways that serve the national interests of the influencers.

Consider the effects of KGB style espio-meddling on a political system. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Clinton was not the only politician on the KGB’s radar, and that they were able to gather similar dirt on any politician the KGB didn’t like.

Applied over time and at scale, the result is sort of a “Bonsai Kitten democracy.”

In other words, a democracy whose growth in “undesirable” directions is halted by invisible glass walls, as politicians find their careers cut short or find their opponents aided by the “invisible hand” when they cross certain “red” lines.

This is obviously only practical in certain respects, with the achievable effect growing exponentially with the degree of surveillance available.

In a country like the US, with a strong internal security presence/Orwellian tradiation — as one Eastern commentator put it, “in most countries the secret police are hated. It is a testament to American propaganda methods that the FBI and CIA are seen almost as folk heroes.” — the degree of possible effect is limited.

But what happens when the adversarial intelligence agency has the run of the place?

We don’t know, for sure. No provable case of this has come to light, yet.

But, in this context, it’s disturbing to look back at Snowden’s interview on German television. Despite his statements that he wouldn’t release any new information, and many commentator’s opinions that there was “nothing new,” Snowden said one thing that could be considered the national-security-leaking equivalent of a hydrogen bomb.

Well, not “said.” If he’s said it outright he would have made headlines and pissed off Putin. So he made like a spy and implied it. Here’s the quote:

“…there’s information that I very strongly believe is in the public interest, however as I said before I prefer for journalists to make those decisions, in advance, review the material themselves, and decide whether or not the public value of this information outweighs the sort of reptutational cost to the officials that ordered the surveillance.

What I can say is we know Angela Merkel was monitored by the National Security Agency. The question is, how reasonable is it to assume that she is the only German official that was monitored. How reasonable is it to believe that she is the only prominent German face who the National Security Agency has watched.

I would suggest it seems unreasonable that if anyone was concerned about the intentions of German leadership that they would only watch Merkel and not her aides, not other prominent officials, not heads of ministries, or even local government officials.” [2]

(Like the GCHQ “influence” thing, absolutely nobody commented on this… even if it’s smack dab in the middle of the interview that was seen by 2 million Germans who tuned in at 11pm on a Sunday night to watch it.)

If I read Snowden’s subtext right, the US military-intelligence complex has been surveilling all levels of German politics, down to the local. Presumably for decades.

In other words, they’ve deliberately sought out and maintained the capability to turn Germany into a “Bonsai Kitten democracy” — the ability to pick out which politicians are favorable to US interests, and apply intelligence techniques to smooth their path to the top. Or to add “friction” to the careers of figures who were judged “not someone we want.”

Did they use this capability? We don’t know.

If so, Germany is faced with the spectre of almost its entire official structure (minus the bits from the former East?) having been “bonsai engineered” to be completely incapable of dealing with well, exactly this kind of situation with the NSA leaks.

I suspect Snowden would be more than happy to elaborate. “Information I very strongly believe is in the public interest” isn’t too hard to read as “stuff I would absolutely LOVE to tell you about except for Mr. Putin’s condition…”

On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure if German officialdom is currently ready to even consider the possibility. They currently seem to be stuck at the first stage of the Kübler-Ross model[3], and it’s hard to blame them.

After all, if someone came up to you and told you, “according to documents released by someone with a suspicious past, you have cancer. AIDS, too. Plus, your dog just died. But all we really have to go on are the documents, all the traces have long since been erased” — well, how would YOU react?


[2] Snowden interview in English on


%d bloggers like this: