Snowden’s “Trap” for Putin Misses Its Mark

Vlad Snowden Snowdens Trap for Putin Misses Its Mark

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden is raising questions about state-sponsored citizen surveillance. No, this is not a repeat from last May. The former National Security Agency contractor, whose classified disclosures exposed a host of US global surveillance programs, is proving himself to be an equal opportunity agitator by taking aim at his homeland-in-exile, Russia, and his putative host, Vladimir Putin.

In what was widely dismissed as a propaganda stunt for the Russian president, Snowden showed up on Russian television on Putin’s annual call-in meeting with the nation. Appearing via a video link, Snowden asked Putin whether Russia spies on its citizens like the US does. The former KGB agent responded that Russia’s “special services are strictly controlled by the state and society, and their activity is regulated by law.” He added, for good measure, that Russia has neither the money nor the “technical devices” the US has.

Snowden himself followed up with a newspaper column to explain the ulterior motive for his appearance: He was hoping to trap Putin with a question that “cannot credibly be answered in the negative by any leader who runs a modern, intrusive surveillance program.” His motive, he said, was to spark a debate over Russia’s own surveillance programs. Fat chance of that happening in his adopted land.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Edward Snowden, whose naïve idealism could be his undoing.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Don’t believe your own hype. Edward Snowden wants to expand his crusade, doubtless fortified by world reaction to date. Whether hero or traitor, though, his stature in either capacity doesn’t travel well, nor might it live long. His disclosures of US spying did, in fact, ignite an international debate. No chance of that same scrutiny happening in Russia. Nor is Putin likely to care much if Snowden’s “trap” sparks global condemnation. Just ask Ukraine.

Steamed Facebook CEO Complains to President Obama

mark zuckerberg Steamed Facebook CEO Complains to President Obama

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has had just about enough of the government meddling with his website and spying on his users. So last week he called a pal to complain – President Obama.

Zuck casually mentioned the call in a Facebook page post responding to the latest revelation from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden (via activist journalist Glenn Greenwald). The story, which the NSA flatly denies, described how government computers masqueraded as Facebook servers to send malware that infected Facebook users’ machines in order to spy on them. The automated process meant the NSA could target millions of users.

In his post, Zuckerberg said he was “confused and frustrated” by the continuing reports of  government surveillance. “When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform.”

The White House confirmed the conversation took place but offered nothing more, and nothing will really come of it. Zuck and his tech pals are in the right, of course, but powerless to do anything other than complain – loudly and visibly.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Zuckerberg, who, if immobilized, at least needs to show he’s good and steamed.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Talk the walk. In this matter, there seems to be little else that Facebook and other Tech Titans can do, at least publicly. With each new damning revelation, the public trust in sites like Facebook dies a little more, and that directly and dramatically affects the bottom line. When Snowden’s leaks first hit the press, the implication was that Facebook et al were complicit in the spying. That taint has never quite dissipated from the  seemingly interminable storyline. Zuck reached out in an necessary symbolic gesture with his phone call to the President – but it probably ended with, “Thanks, Obama.”

 

 

Obama’s Proposed NSA Reforms Fall Flat

 

 Obamas Proposed NSA Reforms Fall Flat

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for President Obama for his NSA speech.

Bold change seldom comes from modest action; just ask President Barack Obama. The proposed reforms he announced last week for how the National Security Agency goes about collecting data are hardly the stuff of decisive, game-changing leadership. But that was probably never the Administration’s intent.

Granted, fixing the White House’s PR mess over citizen eavesdropping is a tall order. The President’s speech in the Great Hall of the Justice Department follows months of the dripping faucet of leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, not to mention a particularly bad month for the intelligence community in general, with a critical judicial ruling and a tough review from a White House-appointed panel. In announcing the modest reforms, Obama spent a good portion of time defending the NSA’s most controversial programs as necessary measures in the ongoing battle against terrorists.

What irony, then, that Obama’s speech came on the same day another US President, Dwight Eisenhower, warned Americans about the “military-industrial complex” that threatened American democracy from within. “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” Eisenhower said back in 1961. “We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.” Against that standard, the verdict for Obama’s effort suffers.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for President Obama, who tried to walk the middle road, to no one’s benefit.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Be mindful of history. Obama might not have channelled Eisenhower specifically, but he could have relied on more than modest reforms and a good speech to answer all the criticism over spying dropped on his doorstep. He surprised and satisfied no one with his tepid response to spying – not Congress, not tech companies who were obliging or grudging accomplices, not the American public. Pleasing no one with a middle-of the-road approach might be a somewhat effective strategy for governing, but not so much for PR.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Prince Harry, who will join a team of war veterans trekking to the South Pole to raise awareness for wounded soldiers. The 200-mile race for Walking With the Wounded features three teams comprised of military veterans and a celebrity; Harry is the only celeb who has served in combat. At a reception at Buckingham Palace, the prince introduced the team participants to Queen Elizabeth, addressing her as “Granny.” A charitable effort within character and down-to-earth charm have taken Harry further than the South Pole from the embarrassment of those nude Vegas photos and drunken escapades.

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Bloomberg News, which found the journalistic shoe on the other foot courtesy of The New York Times. Quoting at least four employee sources, the Times alleged that Bloomberg intentionally killed provocative news stories about China because the organization feared retribution by the Chinese government. The story continues to percolate despite a vehement denial from Matthew Winkler, Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief, whose refutation essentially claims the stories aren’t dead – they’re just sleeping. The well-sourced and detailed Times account gives an impression of veracity, while Winkler’s quasi repudiation rings hollow. Sometimes “no comment” is the right comment.

NSA The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO the National Security Agency, whose top lawyer told Congress this week the spy agency can’t determine how often it spies on Americans without spying on them more. Robert Litt, general counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy that it would be “very resource-intensive” for the NSA to identify the nationality of people whose data is collected indirectly – for example, the recipients of a surveillance target’s email. Doing so “would perversely require a greater invasion of that person’s privacy,” he said. That prompted Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota to observe: “Isn’t it a bad thing that the NSA doesn’t even have a rough sense of how many Americans have had their information collected under a law … that specifically prohibits targeting Americans?”

NSA’s Defense On Ally Spying: We Didn’t. But We Would

Merkel NSA 150x150 NSAs Defense On Ally Spying: We Didnt. But We Would

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (“PR Problematic”) for the NSA. (Pictured: German Chancellor Angela Merkel)

The National Security Agency (NSA) this week defended itself against explosive charges that it has spied for years on top world leaders, including US allies. The accusations, which have infuriated Europe, come courtesy of Edward Snowden, the US citizen holed up in Russia who continues to dole out incriminating and deeply embarrassing tidbits about what the US has been up to since the Cold War ended.

Appearing before the US House Intelligence Committee, the NSA’s top brass responded to the charges in a way befitting a spy shop, both denying and acknowledging the accusations. To paraphrase: No, they did not spy on France and Spain; France and Spain did that themselves, and sent the information over to the US. However, they do think spying on one’s allies is perfectly fine.

It is? Yes, according to the Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., who said snooping on other countries’ leaders has gone on for decades. “It is one of the first things I learned in intelligence school in 1963. It’s a fundamental given.”

It may be a given in spy school, but it comes as a bit of a shock to everyone else, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is livid over claims the US has been tapping her mobile phone for years. President Obama has left his intelligence chiefs to fend for themselves, intimating he was unaware of their overzealous eavesdropping.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (“PR Problematic”) for the NSA. The revelations, and embarrassment, just keep on coming.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Sometimes stating the obvious isn’t, well, so obvious. Industries besides espionage – think medicine or technology – operate in ways that aren’t easily understood or accessible by those outside. That makes PR tricky when matters spill over into the outside world. Good PRs invest time in educating journalists about their clients. Those regular lunches or “meet-and-greets” with senior personnel don’t always yield stories, but they do give reporters a basic knowledge of how companies or industries work. It works well with technical industries; perhaps “PR 101” should be added to the intelligence school’s curriculum too.

Obama Administration’s Epic Tech Fails

 Obama Administrations Epic Tech Fails

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the Obama administration’s technical advisors. (Pictured: NSA leaker Edward Snowden)

Earlier this week, President Obama had to call French President Francois Hollande and explain, if he could, why the US was spying on the phone records of over 70 million French citizens. The issue was brought to light by former US National Security Administration contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed NSA secrets to several news agencies months ago. Now more than ever, it is imperative that President Obama’s technical administration locate the fugitive tech expert. Not just to save face; they could actually use his help.

Aside from being unable to locate Snowden, a man of Bourne-movie level abilities to erase every trace of his movements, the Obama administration has lost credibility over the technical glitches on Healthcare.gov, the main portal to signing up for mandatory Obamacare. Yesterday, another gaffe: a Twitter feed that has been revealing embarrassing inside information about foreign policy for the past two years was traced back to Jofi Joseph, an official in the White House’s National Security Staff. #howembarrassing.

Americans have grown uncomfortably accustomed to government failures. A lack of regulations allowed the collapse of the economy. Bipartisanship led to a shutdown. Now the website to register for healthcare doesn’t work, prompting the president to record a video encouraging people to sign up “the old fashioned way,” via phone or in person. Presumably, this video was made around the time of the  call to the French president about the tech guy the CIA can’t find, and before the Twitter revelation.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the Obama administration’s technical advisors.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: If you want to do your best, surround yourself with the best. America is not exactly short on technical excellence, yet the president’s cabinet signed off on using ten-year-old technology for Healthcare.gov. The military stands by the accuracy of its drones, yet the US can’t find one guy who’s talked to several major international newspapers, or another guy dissing the White House from inside the White House. The PR solution would be obtaining the best and the brightest to fix the glitches and increase security. Maybe Snowden could provide a reference.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Pope Francis for continuing to stoke the ardor of the Catholic faithful on the first official papal trip abroad. In stark contrast with Pope Benedict’s drop-by in 2007, the pope was met by rapturous crowds in Rio de Janeiro on this week’s trip to Brazil for World Youth Day, which attracts hundreds of thousands of young Catholics from around the world. Seen carrying his own bag onto the plane in Italy and cruising around Rio in a mini-van with the windows rolled down and a limited security detail, Francis’ humble nature has charmed and reinvigorated his 1.2 billion-strong flock.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & Losers

PR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Anthony Weiner, who had to admit to and apologize for more sex-related emails again. The ones that most recently came to light show that Weiner – excuse us, “Carlos Danger,” his online handle – continued sexting even after such activity forced him to step down from his congressional seat, and while posing for glossy redemption stories in People and the New York Times Magazine. One would think that the hopeful mayoral candidate would have put down the keyboard and pulled up the zipper if only to avoid headlines by the New York Post such as WEINER: I’LL STICK IT OUT.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO THE US National Security Agency, whose Orwellian ability to eavesdrop on electronic correspondence practically anywhere in the world apparently doesn’t extend to its own email system. ProPublica, the non-profit investigative news organization, filed a Freedom of Information request for emails between NSA staff and a film crew working on a TV documentary on the superspy agency. NSA’s response? We don’t have the technology to do that. The system is “a little antiquated and archaic,” a spokeswoman said. Forget for a moment that this is borderline preposterous. If in fact true, a detailed explanation is decidedly merited. Financial services firms, among others, routinely search companywide email systems in response to subpoenas. If the NSA can’t do the same, it needs to explain why. Or maybe that’s classified.

Department of Defense In De Facto Denial

dod computer1 Department of Defense In De Facto Denial

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the Department of Defense.

While NSA secret-leaker Edward Snowden apparently bides his time in the transit zone of Moscow’s airport, the repercussions of his actions continue to confound US officialdom – and their PR teams, it seems. The latest questionable move comes from the Department of Defense.

Last week, The Herald of Monterey County, California learned that internet access to UK newspaper The Guardian, which first broke Snowden’s revelations, had been restricted at a nearby army base. Except it wasn’t just at the base, and it wasn’t just the Guardian’s site: The DoD was blocking all articles about the NSA leaks from millions of government owned computers. Automated filters were installed to censor any article containing information still deemed classified – even though details have been spread to the four corners of the known Interwebs.

Spokespeople for the US Army and DoD cited the need for “network hygiene” to keep the once-secret information from further unauthorized disclosure. A primary concern was money: According to one military flack, it takes “a lot of time” to remove classified material viewed online by news-reading military personnel on government computers. The flack generously noted that DoD “is also not going to block websites from the American public in general.” Just those serving in uniform, apparently.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the Department of Defense, for sticking to a rulebook that no longer makes sense.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When events are moving fast, be ready to improvise. How does it look to go by the book when no one else is following the rules? This applies especially in the lightning-fast realm of information technology. The Defense Department’s PR team sought to spin the site-censoring as a cost issue. But why spend money at all on what seems an absurd exercise to begin with? DOD’s policy, and its PR positioning, make as much as sense as – ahem – keeping your head in the sand when the horse has already left the barn.

Edward Snowden Keeps His PR Cool

 Edward Snowden Keeps His PR Cool

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Edward Snowden.

He’s an international hero, a whistleblower fighting the good fight against Big Brother! He’s a villain, a spy, a traitor exposing US secrets to those who would harm the nation! Whichever you believe, apparently Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA who has been exposing intelligence gathering secrets for the US National Security Agency, isn’t embracing any role that the media, government officials, or his supporters are creating for him. “I don’t want the story to be about me,” Snowden has said. “My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”

The media frenzy about Snowden, and whether he’s good or evil, has been fueled by no shortage of people willing to pick sides. Even Snowden’s own father appeared on Fox News asking his son to stop leaking sensitive information about the government’s spying practices.

Yet, despite his nearly folkloric status, as well as the US’s embarrassment at not being able to find him, Snowden hasn’t taken any opportunity to boast to his supporters or to taunt his detractors. His contact with the media has been limited to staying on-brand with a simple message: I am not a traitor and I am not a hero.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Edward Snowden, holding PR steady in a media environment that wants him to take sides.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Stay true to your message. When that message is volatile, don’t get bogged down in public, or political, opinion. Ideas about what Snowden is doing vary wildly, and he’s had every opportunity to get lost in that spaghetti sauce – which would only dilute his message. By standing firm on his purpose, Snowden’s motives stay unquestioned sans vainglory.  That’s one secret definitely worth sharing.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners and Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) TO Fran and Jane Murnaghan, the parents of a 10-year-old girl, Sarah, who was dying of cystic fibrosis. Because she is under 12, Sarah was not eligible to be put on the adult national organ donor list for the lung transplant that could save her life. (Children are not eligible because most adult-sized organs simply won’t fit inside their smaller bodies.) “Sarah is being left to die,” her parents told the media, causing outrage and a debate. Was this about ethics, politics, or medical practicality? No answer there, but speedy congressional review resulted in doctors being able to request exceptions to the ruling. Sarah was bumped to the top of the donor list within days of launching their effort.  The media had been mobilized. Her transplant was successful. PR can sometimes work miracles.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) TO James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence, for his explanation of why he lied to Congress about wide-ranging surveillance programs. In March, when asked by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) if the National Security Agency was collecting data on millions of Americans, Clapper responded “No, sir…not wittingly.” As we now know, the NSA was very wittingly doing so. This week, Clapper said he felt trapped by the question so gave the “least untruthful” response. As a general rule, truth is pretty binary – something is either true or it’s not. He also said he misinterpreted the word “collect.” Who knew the Director of Intelligence had such comprehension problems? Interestingly, while Clapper’s inability to understand basic English may sink him from a PR perspective, it may also protect him from perjury charges. Perhaps the director is smarter than he seems.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Kanye West, whose interview this week with The New York Times sets a new standard for unintended self-satire. His narcissistic ramblings on his own “awesomeness” could have appeared, unedited, in The Onion. The self-styled “Michael Jordan of music” has won “the most Grammys of anyone my age” and is “so credible and so influential and so relevant that I will change things” – like maybe how to conduct an interview? After earning a brief moment of pathos at the mention of his deceased mother, he notes that the “idea of Kanye and vanity are like, synonymous,” and inserts himself in a pantheon of visionaries that includes Miles Davis, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs. Of the latter, he notes: “I am undoubtedly, you know, Steve of Internet, downtown, fashion, culture. Period. By a long jump.” After more than 4,000 words of Kanye, mostly from his own mouth, one sort of hopes that will be a long jump off a short pier.