Tim Crook

Useful idiots or Big Brother's antidote? Analysing the ethical role of the state, Guardian and Edward Snowden in the controversy over surveillance and whistle-blowing

This paper takes a critical approach to the Guardian's coverage and the British secret state's position on the revelations by Edward Snowden of global surveillance by the NSA and GCHQ. It contextualises the issues and events with reference to intelligence conflicts from the past. How does the position of the Guardian, its former journalist Glenn Greenwald and the source Edward Snowden compare to the 'useful idiot' syndrome of the 1930s? This was the tendency of some British journalists and public figures to not recognise the true nature of Joseph Stalin's regime in the Soviet Union. The analysis focuses on the trend for state surveillance bodies, whistle-blowers, and their receiving journalists and publishers to each claim the moral high ground of public interest. The tension remains a struggle between those who claim to be protecting national security and those who claim to be protecting individual privacy and seeking to expose alleged abuse of state power through excessive surveillance and electronic intrusion. The opposite sides in this debate appear to delegitimise each other's ethical authority. The paper concludes that in the absence of clear evidence of impact it is difficult to prove which side has been responsible for damaging or indeed improving the public good.

Keywords: Edward Snowden, useful idiots, surveillance, interception, bugging, Guardian


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Note on the contributor

Tim Crook is Professor of Media and Communication at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Visiting Professor of Broadcast Journalism at Birmingham City University. He has authored six books on media law, journalism and radio.