Snowden, Phony hence Traitor?

Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Published in
6 min readAug 9, 2021


When you catch someone with a shoddy-but-carefully-curated story, Edward Snowden, producing the mother of bad faith arguments (in effect, lying) while, in addition, facilitating a character assassination (and severe cyberharassment), something very, very sinister about the person emerges that can help answer some fundamental yet still hanging questions.

Say I tell you about this well furnished institute based in Saudi Arabia (with a fridge full of fermented yoghurt drinks) that fights for women’s rights in the U.S. You do not need to be an expert on gender studies to see the incongruity and would assume the countries were mistakenly inverted. So, if I tell you that there is this fellow in Moscow organizing a freedom-from-oppression movement in California, you don’t need any expertise in espionage (or conditional probability) to realize that there is something fundamentally dubious there. Add to it a crucial piece of information: said institute gets funding in cryptocurrencies (and the runner of the institute must escape the banking system as his royalties and speaking fees get confiscated by the U.S. government).

Clearly, it is a lunacy to compare Edward Snowden to Assange, Manning and, particularly, Ellsberg — and not just on account of that strange inversion of countries. Daniel Ellsberg went to Congress, not to the Soviet Union. Snowden tried to lecture yours truly on public intellectualism while having exactly zero intellectual contribution; aside from his morals, Ellsberg is a solid intellectual with first rate contributions in decision-theory.

Now the story. Yours truly has authored the bitcoin black paper in a peer-reviewed quantitative finance journal. It irritated the bitcoin community quite a bit and I have been subjected to quite a bit of trolling on social media.

Trolling? No. Smear campaign, along with mob harassment. I mean real mob harassment — they manage to drive people off Twitter (as they did with the academic Simon De Deo who closed his account).

The Monsanto playbook used by Snowden: First they troll the person to death. Then they make sure to frame the trolled’s responses as bullying the “victims”, namely the trollers, or “narcissistic”, “cannot take criticism”, etc.

But remember that owing to my “BS busting” activities, I have had the fortune (or misfortune) to become an expert on smear campaigns and harassment thanks to 1) Monsanto (for my precautionary principle work), 2) The eugenists “race realists” alt-right (IQ work), 3) Covid and vaccine deniers (pandemics tail risk work), and now 4) Bitcoiners who strangely overlap with Covid Deniers. I also learned from my friend Ralph Nader (smeared by GM in the 1970s) who guided me through the steps.

How do you smear someone? Along with the nasty mob harassment, you make sure to demonize and prevent the person from being able to shout that he or she is being harassed [See fig.1]. Snowden called the harassers my “victims”, a category to which he subsequently identified himself, simply because I responded to him.

Historically, abusers trying to pass for victim receive extra punishment.

That episode of smear campaigning confirms that Snowden is neither bright nor distinctly innovative (now explain what do the Slavonicophones have to gain by having to carry a humorless and not particularly sharp guest who will stick around for the next few decades?) Snowden simply took my Twitter posts, showed my (colorful) responses, while hiding the identity of the people I was responding to. Elementary one-sided evidence, selective referencing, the cherry picking one gets in Charlatan-Training-101. Needless to say he did, in the process, some basement level virtue signaling and some bungled bigotteering. So, that total imbecile, Ed Snowden, didn’t realize that I came to Twitter to get corrected and collect free comments on my books and papers as evidenced below thanks to a Finnish engineer, Paavo Hietanen, who came first to bust Snowden.

Busting Snowden’s claims: Paavo Hietanen, who follows me on Twitter replicated the “other side” of Snowden’s accusations. He shows that I effectively do address critics when they come in good faith. Yes, I am not perfect, but I am interested in real criticism as per my 2014 rules of engagement. And former students came to post tweets saying that they get As for finding reasoning mistakes.

A few more comments. Snowden-the-not-so-bright tries to be an arbiter of public intellectualism (it is as if Donald Trump decided to become an arbiter of how physics articles must be written.) And there, again, he gets it backwards: crude and foul-mouthed but honest beats polite but dishonest.

Actually it is not crude but honest but crude therefore honest. Antisthenes was both known for his crudeness and admired for never hiding the truth. A lesson I would give anyone who wishes to have an intellectual life is to never ever come off as intellectual dishonest or a bullshitter. Bullshit is repellent (I can have a physical reaction to it as if I actually smelled it). I have written in numerous parts of the Incerto that foul language, while not desirable in social settings, when used properly, signals, even confirms, honesty, independence, and trust.

Snowden’s dishonesty: faults yours truly for use of the “fucking idiot” but does not seem to be bothered when it comes to his collaborator Glenn Greenwald, whom I incidentally respect. And I am not finding fault with it: I truly believe that cursing on Twitter is a sign of purity and intellectual independence.

Ad Hominem: many believe that ad hominem is actually a fallacy. Traditionally, it was syllogism. It is now more a more-or-less rigorous method of exploration. There are cases when you focus on the person, others when you focus on the argument. When we ensure that the medical doctor has a degree, it is purely ad hominem. In matters that require expertise, you look at the credibility — just look at the fights in the vetting process for expert witnesses in courts of law. In matters that require trust, you look for trustworthiness. And in matters that require empirical or mathematical proofs, you focus on the arguments — these are rare. Even in academic discussions there is an implied conditional ad hominem as we only let people with credentials participate (letting every web guru with a theory would create a mess).

To conclude, when, as is the case with Snowden, you have incomplete information and a very murky story, never go by what the person says. He has just shown he has no credibility and proved (elsewhere) a poseur’s ability to dress things up under the cover of freedom seeking and oppression fighting. So exclude all of his accounts from his story, and think like a probabilist in conditional terms: given his geolocation and intellectual dishonesty, what account on his activity is the most plausible?

Much more sinister than the whitewashed claims.


Note 1: I gave Snowden the chance to debate me, or to rebut some points. He replied “ he [me]needs help” indicating that his repertoire includes tricks used by charlatans (primitive pathologization): as Karl Popper said, when you question psychoanalysts, they accuse you of having problems with your father

Note 2: In his smear campaigning he retweeted an attack on yours truly by a Eugenist promoter whom I accused of running a hidden Neo-Nazi agenda. He subsequently reversed.


Rules of engagement

It is always a good idea to explicitly state one’s rules of engagement on who one argues against. I did so in 2014. I also checked with FB and Twitter to pre-clear what language is permissible for them (it’s their site) — mostly to stay one step ahead of Monsanto who would report my tweets. Below is the FB version. They were also posted on Twitter.