The Snowden Saga

06.28.14

Too Late To 'Pologize For NSA Revenge Porn Leak

A former NSA officer was shamed by his anonymous mistress on Twitter—and her lame apology doesn't hide the fact that this is classic revenge porn.

Defenders of NSA leaker Edward Snowden insist there’s no evidence his revelations have weakened America’s intelligence capabilities or harmed agents in the field.

Well, they’ve certainly been detrimental to John Schindler, a former NSA officer, academic, intelligence specialist, and stalwart Snowden critic. Schindler, better known by his Twitter handle @20committee, has seen his life and career upended—not because of his past affiliation with the NSA, but because of a leaked picture of his slumbering penis.

Earlier this week, screenshots of suggestive text and Twitter messages—including a dick pic—between Schindler and an online paramour circulated on social media before being republished by Gawker. Schindler, who has legions of critics on Twitter—where he has described Snowden as possessing a “sense of self-importance mixed with delusion” and claimed that the leaker is “very likely” a Russian intelligence agent—was initially accused of sending an unsolicited penis photo and harassing messages. He was suspended from his job as a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, which launched an investigation into his creation of “inappropriate content.” His online critics shamed him into shutting down his Twitter account and taking a hiatus from his blog.

This is Clinton-era outrage: political motivations masquerading as moral opprobrium.

While his critics gleefully proclaimed that the messages Schindler sent were predatory, his unnamed correspondent later apologized for disseminating them, admitting she had “wanted to inform his wife & embarrass him.”

“I’m not a victim,” the woman, known only as Leslie, tweeted, clarifying that she was a “willing participant” in their exchanges “even after I found out that he was married.” After clarifying that she wasn’t involved in a “Greenwald/Putin/Snowden conspiracy,” she offered a shame-faced apology: “To Dr. Schindler & his Wife, I am truly sorry. If I could go back and change this, I would do so immediately.”

Too late for that. And there can be no public shaming for the unnamed. But Schindler too apologized, issuing a mea culpa on his blog (this is expected of all public and semi-public figures, regardless of whether or not they did something “wrong”). This despite having done nothing illegal. His only offense was a moral one, though none of his critics could possibly know the terms and nuances of his marriage. (Schindler claimed in one message to his online paramour that his relationship with his wife is “not a marriage in a ‘normal’ or conventional sense.”)

But the inevitable cult of apology is of course provoked by the cult of outrage. Schindler’s persecutors have been relentless, accusing him of wanting to violate the privacy of others through his support of NSA snooping programs while objecting to having his intimate digital secrets shared with the world. As his allies formed a Twitter mob, Glenn Greenwald took to the social media platform to agitate in Schindler’s defense: “I'm 100 percent against punishing—or judging—adults for private, consensual sexual behavior.”

As we all should be. But this is Clinton-era outrage: political motivations masquerading as moral opprobrium. Try to find someone on Twitter shocked, outraged, appalled by Schindler’s behavior—enough to devote multiple tweets to the “scandal”—who shares the former NSA-man’s politics.

And the methods of shaming—revenge porn, though the media has largely avoided calling it that—are vicious. If we are so ready to attack men for disseminating nude photos of ex-girlfriends, why should women be held to a different standard? Indeed, Schindler’s online mistress acknowledged that she did so to hurt him, enlisting his political enemies to stoke the outrage. It wasn’t just revenge porn, but political revenge porn.

Schindler might be advised to keep his dick in his pants, but he should keep his apology between him and his wife. Because his enemies—and his online mistress—don't deserve one.