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Brief Snowden Thoughts

[ 260 ] June 23, 2013 |

Because I feel like I should have an opinion…

  • The likely legality of the NSA programs notwithstanding, I think that the Snowden’s leaks about the programs can be treated as genuine, socially productive whistle-blowing; if the judiciary and the legislature and the executive can’t be counted on to sufficiently monitor one another, then surely the media has some responsibility, and the reaction of both the public and state suggests that these programs are something that should have been discussed at greater length.
  • I’m rather less impressed by the leaks regarding U.S. cyber-warfare targeting plans and U.S. hacking efforts against China. This seems to me to be classic intelligence/defense statecraft, something that lies firmly within the prerogative of the executive, and an area in which secrecy is appropriate and entirely defensible.  Regardless of Snowden’s motives, I’m reasonably comfortable calling his leaks on these points “espionage,” without endorsing any specific legal approach or punishment.
  • On the other hand, I’m also not particularly impressed by arguments that Snowden’s “civil disobedience” regarding the first set of leaks requires that he throw himself upon the pointy-end of the national security state. If he can make his point and run, that doesn’t diminish his point, even if we can imagine some sort of “Tumblr from a Birmingham Jail” arising from his prosecution and imprisonment.
  • That said, the manner of his avoidance of U.S. state apprehension matters, and it’s frankly troubling that he’s seen fit to accept (tacit) assistance from at least a couple of states (Russia and the PRC, setting aside Venezuela and Ecuador), that operate domestic security services that are considerably more vile on a day-by-day basis than the worst behavior of the NSA and the FBI.  If Snowden had run down a family of four while escaping unjust FBI pursuit, he’d be held to account; it’s entirely reasonable to assess his principled objection to NSA surveillance in context of his willingness to accept the  (tacit) assistance of the Russian and Chinese security services.
  • The “War on Leakers” is a dreadful failure, and to the extent that the modern national security state can be taken to task by low level employees such as Snowden and Bradley Manning, it cannot maintain its current stance towards secrecy. There will always be discontents, there will always be people willing to listen to them, and given the decentralized structure of modern media and communications these people will always be able to find one another.  The national security state needs to develop an entirely different paradigm (there, I said it) for managing secrecy, or else these incidents will recur, and recur, and recur.
  • I can’t see what Glenn Greenwald et al are supposed to have done wrong in this case.  As far as I can tell the worst sins that Greenwald can possibly have committed involve an excessive sense of self-importance and an exaggerated sense of indignation.  Every big journalist has the former, and every committed activist requires the latter.
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  1. Amanda in the South Bay says:

    If he tried to go to a more democratic country, there’s a good chance he’d eventually be extradited or denied asylum.

    • wengler says:

      I’m pretty sure politically he’d be all right in a country like Iceland, but it looks like he wanted a place with lots of people in it to hide out.

      • Random says:

        I think I said this down below as well. In my opinion, speculation that involves attributing intelligent, informed motives to an individual who has already demonstrated that he is neither is probably pointless.

        He’s just following the advice of people who do have some inkling what’s going on in the world, so it’s probably better to look at their motives and reasoning instead.

        • DocAmazing says:

          Which people are those?

          • Random says:

            Wikileaks folks apparently. According to this genius, he fled to Hong Kong thinking he’d be safe there, back before he had anyone to tell him what to do. Now he’s apparently rethought the wisdom of seeking refuge in a protectorate who’s political independence from the mainland is partially based on the US being a counterbalance in the region.

      • ChrisTS says:

        Yeaaahhh, but if you were in his situation, would you go with ‘pretty sure’?

      • Green Caboose says:

        If he’d gone to Iceland he’d have been extraorinarily rendered and flown to the US from the Narvik air base by now.

        • Random says:

          In his own words, he originally fled to Hong Kong thinking he’d be safe from extradition there. Now that he’s in with the Wikileaks folks he apparently changed his mind. You do the math.

        • Johnny Sack says:

          If he were flown back to the US, it wouldn’t be an extraordinary rendition, just a regular extradition. An extraordinary rendition would be sending him to some black site in, say, the middle east to torture him.

          • Anon21 says:

            No, “rendition” only refers to the process of moving him from one jurisdiction to another, not what happens to him when he gets there. If he were simply grabbed (kidnapped) off a street in Moscow, then flown to the U.S. and put on trial, that would be an “extraordinary rendition,” in contrast to a simple extradition.

      • Rhino says:

        The us didn’t hesitate to raid into a sovereign state without permission to get Bin Laden, and that state had an actual standing army.

        Two military policemen with batons could collect someone from Iceland. And I doubt the us would hesitate.

    • BarrY says:

      Yes. Robert. Pleasenote that your points contradict each other on that matter.

  2. Dana Houle says:

    RE the last item, it’s too soon to come to any tentative conclusions on that. I don’t think there was anything wrong with Gregory’s question this morning, I think what’s wrong is that it would never have occurred to someone like him to pose it to Robert Novak, and that there are probably people who wanted it posed to Robert Novak among those in high dudgeon that it was posed to Greenwald. I think it’s a reasonable question because there are legit questions about Greenwald’s legal status on this, as it appears from his own comments that he was working with Snowden before Snowden took the job at Booz Allen Hamilton, and it’s his publication that’s leaked not just the initial stuff about Verizon and Prism, but also the stuff about China. So, I’m not saying Greenwald has done something worse than the common vices you mention, just that it’s premature to conclude he did not.

    Everything else, I think I agree with 100%. I haven’t seen anything else that so succinctly sums up thoughts and reactions pretty much identical to mine.

    • Andrew says:

      I likewise agree with the first points and think the last is a subject for debate.

      I think it depends on whether you mean “wrong” as in “illegal.” If so, then probably not. And one can agree that publishing the leaks was the right thing to do while questioning how they’ve been published. The slow rollout has definitely made it easier for security hawks to push back against it. For example, how quickly the debate got sidetracked into discussions about which servers were referred to in the slides.

      • Dana Houle says:

        It also casts doubt on his integrity, as they sat on the minimization stuff for so long.

        I accept that the Obama administration has been pushing in to some nasty directions in how they’re trying to use journalists to get to leakers. But I’m not sure, if the facts come out on this, that it will look like as much like a standard leak within the mainstream of journalistic ethics as is generally being assumed.

        • Andrew says:

          I’m not sure I follow the last claim. Can you elaborate on it?

          • Dana Houle says:

            There’s a difference between dealing with someone who has something they’re willing to show you and working with someone who has access to something and then working with them on how to take it. The fact that GG has admitted to working with Snowden prior to Snowden taking the job at BAH opens up the possibility that they discussed how Snowden might be able to acquire documents by misrepresenting himself in order to get a job at BAH.

            There’s a big difference between someone coming to a journalist and saying “I have X, I’d like to share it with you” and, say, coming to a journalist and saying “I can get access to all kinds of things, if I do what kinds of things should I get?” I think it’s plausible GG’s involvement was akin to the latter. I’m not asking Greenwald to prove his innocence, to prove he didn’t break the law or at least what I think would be journalistic ethics. But I am saying it wouldn’t shock me if the gov’t makes such a case, and if so, I don’t think the same freedom of the press arguments would apply to GG as they typically do/should in whistleblower cases or even cases where what’s being leaked doesn’t expose any illegalities and was acquired by the journalist after the leaker had broken the law.

            • Andrew says:

              There’s a big difference between someone coming to a journalist and saying “I have X, I’d like to share it with you” and, say, coming to a journalist and saying “I can get access to all kinds of things, if I do what kinds of things should I get?”

              I’m not sure I agree. It would be interesting to get a take on that from someone like Prof. Jay Rosen.

              It’s certainly more gonzo/new journalism than straight reporting. But it’s not clear how much it strays from Woodward & Bernstein’s investigative journalism or straight reporting into pure activism.

            • MD Rackham says:

              The fact that you think there’s a “possibility” that something might have happened doesn’t really carry much weight. Either here or in a court of law.

              There’s a possibility that you’re doing all sorts of nefarious things right now. See how much you care about my speculation?

              • Anonymous says:

                People on a blog comment thread speculating? How dare they!!!

                • Dana Houle says:

                  The outrage!

                • Rhino says:

                  The problem is treating that speculation as grounds for arrest and imprisonment. It needs to be proven, or they can shut the hell up and take their lumps.

                  I don’t think we, the people, should be cutting authority one single sliver o slack any more. It seems pretty obvious they cannot be trusted with what they already have.

                • Dana Houle says:

                  WTF, where did I say or imply my speculation was grounds for imprisonment?

                  You’re entitled to disagree, but its a problem when your response kills puppies and launches nuclear missiles.

                • basement cat says:

                  it would be irresponsible not to!

            • witless chum says:

              The difference doesn’t mean shit to me, personally. I don’t care if Greenwald broke the law, frankly. It’s not Greenwald who’s blowing my tax dollars to pay useless jackals to read my email.

        • cpinva says:

          “It also casts doubt on his integrity, as they sat on the minimization stuff for so long.”

          who cares about his “integrity”? he could be mother Teresa, and if he lied, he still lied. he could be satan, and if what he leaked is the truth, it’s still the truth, his integrity, or lack of, has exactly zero to do with it.

          further, where is it written, that in order for your actions to be deemed legitimate, you’re required to martyr yourself? if it were me, i’d be finding myself a nice, non-extradition treaty country to hole up in.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      Ok, I just watched the clip. Interesting.

      I find it very odd, if characteristic, that Greenwald would go after Gregory personally. (Esp. afterwards!) A perfectly reasonable move to have made would be to have taken Gregory’s question as an opening (i.e., as Gregory giving him a chance to bash journalist prosecution noises).

      Indeed, given this article by Greenwald, that question seems like a perfect opening.

      This article seems to suggest that Greenwald is unlikely to be prosecuted even as a conspirator so long as no money changed hands and he didn’t help Snowden flee. I’m not sure what limits there are to helping someone flee, but I think it would have been very prudent to keep a firewall between anything related to publication and anything related to Snowden’s situation.

      • Jeffrey Beaumont says:

        That article by GG was vitriolic nonsense, implying that the DOJ was indicting a journalist when nothing of the sort was going on. That is exactly the issue with Glenn.

  3. Robert,
    For this: “Tumblr from a Birmingham Jail” – get your tux ready.

    Internet HOF worthy!!!

  4. MacGyver says:

    Wider access to information within the intel community is a direct result of recommendations from the 9/11 Commission to prevent the stove-piping of data. Previous leaks have already resulted in intel being held closer to those with a need-to-know. For example, State Dept cables are no longer discoverable via previous means after Manning gave them to Wikileaks. I imagine more intel will be restricted in the wake of this affair and before too long, likely after an event of violence against the US, some will decry the intel community for not sharing intel with each other. Reminds me of the ending of the South Park Wal-Mary episode. Burn down Wal-Mart because its too powerful, build up a local business, it gets too big and powerful so then burn it down and repeat.

  5. Remfin says:

    The civil disobedience stuff is obvious nonsense – purposefully causing an incident that can put a human face on an actual violation of rights has an obvious path to creating the impetus for change; going to jail when what you’re leaking has nothing at all to do with why you’ll go to jail does nothing to advance the cause.

    RE: Greenwald, I’m pretty sure the story has completed changed since the original version with no apology for having gotten it wrong or even an acknowledgement that is has changed; the original version was “NSA has direct access to provider networks!”, whereas what the documents seem to actually say is 1.) they have co-located servers to get the information into their hands quicker and 2.) there may or may not be an expansion in surveillance through the traditional subpoena/provider-compliance model. The two things aren’t even mentioned together in the documents as related, but when stories were published they were turned into a hybrid monster of a privacy-sucking black hole that is examining the entire Internet.

    Since then, he has done his best to continue the discussion along the path of “don’t you think it’s bad the NSA is reading everything on the Internet?!” when the rationale for granting that premise has gone up in smoke. It’s essentially the dishonesty of the War on Terror’s “why do you love the terrorists?!” argument from the other side.

    • Dana Houle says:

      Furthermore, part of the story’s force, once Snowden came out, was the charge of unlimited access to pretty much anything any schulb at the NSA wanted to snoop at. I mean, remember the “I could spy on the president” stuff? Well, that’s why I call bullshit when people assert it doesn’t matter what Snowden’s motives are, or whether he’s trustworthy, because, these folks say, “the documents speak for themselves.” Well, no, they don’t, at least not in a language and in enough detail that we can really know the meaning of what they say. And the reality of things often has little to do with the formation and persistence of people’s beliefs. About 7-10 days ago a lot of people’s minds were made up on this in part because of Snowden’s claims. But now, after almost everything he’s said about himself seems dubious or worse, we’re able to look back and say that a guy who was most likely lying or at least just talking out his ass like a narcissist relishing the attention led people to believe the NSA was spying on them in ways that the documents DON’T say is happening. And Greenwald appears to have been and continues to be an active participant in all of it.

      • DocAmazing says:

        Well, no, they don’t, at least not in a language and in enough detail that we can really know the meaning of what they say.

        The solution would be to release enough information, in enough detail, that we do know the meaning. But the information isn’t going to be released; that’s the whole point of its classification.

        That’s some catch.

        • Dana Houle says:

          But he said he could get pretty much anything. Why didn’t he get enough to make clear what the power points conveyed?

          Are he and GG sitting on it, or was he spewing some self-aggrandizing bullshit?

          • DocAmazing says:

            So you want him to release more documents?

            • Dana Houle says:

              I’d like to know the truth about surveillance of Americans and collection of so much personal data. But even if I didn’t, it’s still noteworthy that there’s no consensus on the significance and meaning of what they’ve released. If they really cared about the truth, and this program really was violating people’s privacy and was out of control, AND Snowden actually had access to whatever he wanted, then why didn’t Snowwald release enough to make it 100% clear what was going on and why it’s bad?

              • DocAmazing says:

                We’re up to three “if”s. We’ll never know, of course, but I suspect that G & S released what they had and ran with it; the people who are most interested in covering for the intelligence folks fanned the various non-controversies into smoky life; and the surveillance goes on.

                • Dana Houle says:

                  Translation: there’s no way to know anything, so I’ll just accept the story it’s easiest for me to believe.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Faith is nice in a church. I prefer more skepticism in the public sphere. Your faith in the NSA and the various corporate spy outfits is all very nice, but not much to base conclusions on.

                • Dana Houle says:

                  If you’re going to interact with me, don’t attribute positions to me that my previous comments completely contradict.

                  [I’m being generous and assuming you’re sloppy or dim rather than dishonest. Also, “skepticism” doesn’t mean either “my belief is better than the other person’s” or “if they doubt what I believe there’s only one possible alternative thing they could believe.]

                • Faith is nice in a church. I prefer more skepticism in the public sphere. Your faith in the NSA and the various corporate spy outfits is all very nice, but not much to base conclusions on.

                  That’s a lot of fail for three sentences.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Your current comments don’t support your previous ones. Concentrating on G & S’s myriad failings is not a response to the information that they brought forth–and the new information that keeps coming out.

                • Andrew says:

                  I think Donald Rumsfeld summed this up when he said that you go to war with the embedded journalists you have.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Faith is nice in a church. I prefer more skepticism in the public sphere.

                  Then start showing some, instead of obediently accepting everything that comes out proven liars’ mouths.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  Joe:

                  The proven liars are obama and the NSA. And you.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Proven?

                  Link?

                  Just one.

                  Come on, if it’s been proven that I lie, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding examples.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Dilan sure is demolishing my charge that people like him subvert the truth to momentary convenience.

                  He just knows I’m a liar – a proven liar – because DAMN I’ve been on the other side of a lot of arguments from him.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  Joe, you are lying right now about Greenwald’s honesty.

                  You are a Goebbels figure. You just say whatever the party line requires. And right now it’s attack Greenwald to derail and troll the discussion of Obama’s invasions of our privacy and his and the NSA’s lies about it.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  So the best you can do, when asked for evidence that I’m lying, is to explain that I have motive to lie, and call me a Nazi.

                  Game over, man. If you have the slightest shred of regard for your credibility, just stop.

                • Immanuel Kant says:

                  Whether or not Greenwald is a proven liar, can one really claim in good faith that it’s impossible that Joe genuinely believes him to be one?

                  Isn’t this pretty clearly a difference of opinion, or a question of definitions? Greenwald is fucking slippery – he purposefully misleads his readers all the time, but he is usually pretty careful to do so in a way that doesn’t involve direct statements that are untrue. If Joe wants to call that “lying,” I think that’s a reasonable judgment call, and certainly not grounds for accusing him of being a liar.

      • cpinva says:

        “Well, that’s why I call bullshit when people assert it doesn’t matter what Snowden’s motives are, or whether he’s trustworthy, because, these folks say, “the documents speak for themselves.”

        and that’s why I call bullshit, on people who call bullshit on those who assert snowden’s motives are irrelevant. the documents released, do speak for themselves. they either support his assertions or they don’t, regardless of what his “motives” are. if you don’t feel the documents released so far are substantive enough to support the claims made by both snowden & greenwald, fine, it doesn’t matter if their motives were pure as the driven snow, they aren’t supported. on the other, if the documents do support the allegations, then it doesn’t matter if all he wanted to do was injure the US, the truth is there.

        geez, I get so tired of people claiming that, somehow, the truth of the matter is dependent on a persons “motivations” or “integrity”, it isn’t.

    • Andrew says:

      While this is certainly an apt description of Greenwald’s original story and Prism in particular, that’s neither where the story started nor stopped. It begins with what we learned from Mark Klein’s and Thomas Drake’s leaks, then continues with the fact that there are more spy programs in operation than just Prism.

      The secrecy around all of it, including authorized FISA warrants, makes the hysteria possible.

      • Remfin says:

        I don’t want to minimize the stories, I’m just focusing on how Greenwald had been built up as the linchpin of the entire story, and how he is really not suited to such a position. Granted, Snowden has essentially jumped in that spot, but for a while there things were looking a lot different.

        I just don’t want to see a repeat of what happened in recent memory like when all the anti-torture momentum was handed to John McCain personally, or how all the energy behind Two Americas was left to John Edwards personally.

        • Andrew says:

          I’m just focusing on how Greenwald had been built up as the linchpin of the entire story and how he is really not suited to such a position.

          That’s much narrower than and almost tangential to your original argument. I agree there are good critiques about how Greenwald approached publishing the story. But I don’t agree that you’ve made such a case or even accurately characterized it.

    • Chatham says:

      RE: Greenwald, I’m pretty sure the story has completed changed since the original version with no apology for having gotten it wrong or even an acknowledgement that is has changed; the original version was “NSA has direct access to provider networks!”

      For PRISM, the slide says “Collection directly from the servers of these US service providers.” Not sure how that’s completely different or what Greenwald would apologize for.

      • janastas359 says:

        One more time:

        Original story: The NSA has direct access to the information of several tech companies and can take that information whenever they want, without oversight (e.g., the NSA can decide they want your google searches, and so they just jump into google’s data, without a warrant, and grab it).

        The current story: The NSA, if they want some kind of information from a tech company, must show cause and obtain a warrant for that information. Once they have obtained the warrant, the tech companies, if they decided not to contest, take the specific information asked for and place it onto a secure server, akin to a dropbox, where the NSA can retrieve it (e.g., the NSA wants your google searches. They take their evidence to a judge, who reviews it and determine if it’s a valid request. If the warrant is granted, they take the warrant to google, who then places the information about your searches into a secure server for pickup).

        This is how I understand the story to be. These are very different scenarios, and Greenwald tried to blow up the first take because it’s much more sinister than the second. You may think the focus on Greenwald is wrong sighted, but it’s silly to pretend that the details of the story haven’t changed at all since they were originally reported.

        • janastas359 says:

          And if I’m wrong on my interpretation, please let me know. I am not an expert on this – this is just how I have had it explained to me.

          • DocAmazing says:

            By whom?

            • janastas359 says:

              http://www.thenation.com/blog/174816/response-glenn-greenwald

              Mainly that, though there are others. Not allowed to do too many links in one comment.

              • DocAmazing says:

                So what are these “servers” the famous NSA slide refers to? The explanation that is most consistent with everything we’ve seen so far is that they are servers that exist for the purpose of requesting and transferring data. They probably have a user interface whereby the NSA submits a request, the company sees the request, the company handles it (and accesses their servers to do so, except in the presumably rare cases where they push back on the request), and the requested information goes back to the NSA. The NSA staffer never speaks directly to a human at the company, consistent with what Bart Gellman reported, but that has nothing to do with Greenwald’s misinterpretation of “direct collection,” which is what this is about.

                So we’ve got “most consistent” and “probably”. Don’t get me wrong: Greenwald can be (hell, usually is) a thin-skinned tool, and Rick Perlstein is very little short of a genius–but we’re still getting distracted by minutiae. The slide says what the slide says. Next move is the NSA’s–address the issue, and clarify or reduce the scope of the program.

                • janastas359 says:

                  But it doesn’t “say what it says,” and it is NOT minutiae.

                  It’s the difference between the police claiming they have the power to search any house, at any time, for any reason, and the police claiming they have the power to search a house if they have just cause and obtain a warrant after independent review by a judge.

                  The former claim is outrageous and beyond the pale. The latter claim is consistent with decades of jurisprudence. Greenwald’s original story claimed the former. The truth appears closer to the latter.

                • gmack says:

                  FWIW, I think this is a useful analysis of what we know so far.

                  My own take is that (a) Greenwald’s initial characterization and reporting of the story was at least somewhat misleading, and (b) that there is plenty of reason for citizens of the U.S. and the world to be angry about.

                • FlipYrWhig says:

                  To go along with what janastas said, there’s another line of argument that flares up from time to time, and it’s something like this: the police _could_ disregard the law at any time and just barge into your house and mess with you. But, from my perspective, that’s both hypothetically true… and impossible to prevent. What restrains The Government is the law. Utter arbitrary lawlessness is always a possibility, I suppose, but if that’s what you’re worried about, you might as well never leave your bed. Or the womb. So I don’t see how it makes sense to spend a lot of time figuring out a way to prevent evil rogue cop-spies from throwing you in jail for no reason. No law can entirely eliminate that possibility, can it?

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  You can’t rely on the law when Obama and Holder resist every challenge on secrecy or standing grounds

                • liberalrob says:

                  So I don’t see how it makes sense to spend a lot of time figuring out a way to prevent evil rogue cop-spies from throwing you in jail for no reason. No law can entirely eliminate that possibility, can it?

                  Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean we should just accept the situation.

              • liberalrob says:

                The former claim is outrageous and beyond the pale. The latter claim is consistent with decades of jurisprudence. Greenwald’s original story claimed the former. The truth appears closer to the latter.

                You have no way to know what the truth is, because the information that would allow you to know that truth is secret. Perlstein merely asserts that his expert is more authoritative than Greenwald’s; but he provides no proof beyond his own endorsement that his source isn’t feeding him a line (or is simply misinformed- experts can be fooled as well).

                Greenwald and Snowden have not given us the whole picture, and they themselves may not have it; but they have pointed out that the truth may be other than we have been led to believe by the information we have been given.

                • Consumatopia says:

                  You have no way to know what the truth is, because the information that would allow you to know that truth is secret.

                  This is important. It’s probably the case that Greenwald’s original spin on the story was wrong. But none of us, including Greenwald, know that for sure–it’s all still classified. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for Greenwald to think that there was still a significant chance the original story was right. If it were correct, and Greenwald came out and said it wasn’t, they he would be helping the government conceal information.

                  You can counter that rationale with “what a journalist alleged that a private citizen had committed murder, then more evidence appeared later indicating that they were probably though not certainly innocent?” But I think the extreme information asymmetry between NSA/CIA and journalists justifies a different set of behavior–it’s better to encourage leaks wherever possible and let others sort them out later.

                  There is a larger problem others refer to above in that if Snowden knows as much as he’s implying, he should have been able to provide enough evidence to determine which of these were the case. But I’m not sure it makes sense for a journalist to start calling their source ignorant, even if said source is exaggerating their knowledge. It’s not uncommon (or categorically wrong) for a journalist to portray a promising source in a more flattering light. In a situation like this, in which the government is well-positioned to refute any error coming from Snowden and Greenwald,

                  My guess is that Snowden doesn’t know as much as he thought, or he’s exaggerating somewhat. People should definitely point that out, but I don’t think it’s necessarily Greenwald’s job to be the one to point that out–Snowden’s leaks are still useful for better understanding the NSA, even he might not entirely understand what he’s leaking.

          • Chatham says:

            Out of curiosity – in this version of things, what exactly is PRISM? The slides talk about how many reports have relied on information collected by PRISM, how PRISM collects data directly from the servers of these companies, how some companies have agreed to be part of the program and others have not. It doesn’t, from what I’ve seen, say anything about a secure server.

            So if PRISM is merely a way to securely transfer files, why does the slide talk about data collection and not transfer security? Why have companies resisted this or decided not to be part of it?

            I’m not saying your wrong, but there seems to be much more evidence to back up what Greenwald reported than the alternatives.

            • Dana Houle says:

              Free wales most recent post pretty much conceded much of what his original post claimed. And the tech companies all denied the original accusations but haven’t afaik objected to this later interpretation

              As for why the ppt slide says what it says…well, ppt isn’t known as a particularly effective means of communicating complicated information.

              • Dana Houle says:

                Damn autocorrect. Somehow Greenwald’s became free wales.

              • Chatham says:

                Huh. For some reason I don’t find “The NSA’s documents were wrong” to be a particularly compelling argument.

                Again I ask – according to this interpretation, what is PRISM? Just a secure way to transfer files that the NSA was falsely characterizing as a data collection program, and that tech companies were resisting being part of because they didn’t want to transfer those files securely? And we know this because we can assume that the PPT presentation found “secure file transfer” to be too complicated an idea so they said “data collection instead”?

                • Dana Houle says:

                  You have to conclude something is wrong because what Snowwald have released is contrary. I guess if you want to believe the worst you can go with the more cryptic ppt.

                • Cody says:

                  I don’t see the problem. Having the servers there to “collect the data” sent by Google is a perfectly reasonable way to describe it.

                  I imagine companies were resisting the program because it made it easier for the government to collect data. It’s like adding an express lane to death row.

                • Chatham says:

                  I guess if you want to believe the worst you can go with the more cryptic ppt.

                  There’s nothing about the PPT that’s cryptic. It only becomes cryptic when people claim – based on little or no evidence – that it’s not saying what it’s saying. Again, I don’t find “well, let’s just assume the NSA documents are wrong” to be a terribly compelling argument.

            • Remfin says:

              The most obvious one is a datacenter-within-a-datacenter implies physical access, which means your own physical security plan is essentially worthless if people like Snowden can wander around because you have no authority to veto the NSA.

              It’s essentially an open-ended service contract that’s involuntary. Just look up any complaint you can find about unfunded mandates and I’m sure it would apply (I understand the government does pay, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t just as disruptive)

        • Travis says:

          “They take their evidence to a judge” – in a secret, completely-unaccountable court which has rejected .000000001 percent of all requests ever made by the NSA. Pardon me, but the FISA Court is a rubber-stamp, not any sort of meaningful oversight mechanism.

          • Thlayli says:

            Republican-appointed Federal judges, who in their own courtrooms do things like declare ACA unconstitutional. But the FISA courtroom has some magical forcefield which renders them incapable of saying anything other than “Yes, Mr. Holder, sir. Whatever you want, sir.”

            OK.

            • witless chum says:

              If there were powerful interests who pay for the Republican Party worried about the NSA reading my google searches, then this would be a more compelling argument.

            • Travis says:

              In what universe are mainstream Republicans interested in curtailing government surveillance power? You’re trying to fit this issue into a neat partisan box which it absolutely does not, and therefore your argument is entirely worthless.

          • drkrick says:

            In a strictly legal sense, the fact that they’re going to a properly constituted court to get a warrant is better than what went on under Nixon and Bush II. In a substantive sense, the fact that approval of a warrant is all-but-automatic in that court makes the difference largely semantic.

            There is talk that some requests are modified before approval, and it’s possible that the existence of the court has discouraged the submission of requests so outrageous that even they would balk. Is there any good information out there about that kind of minimal moderation by the FISA court?

        • liberalrob says:

          The current story: The NSA, if they want some kind of information from a tech company, must show cause and obtain a warrant for that information.

          From a secret court that is staffed with Republican/”conservative” judges (appointed by the sitting Chief Justice) and has only rejected a handful of such requests in 40+ years.

          Also, that’s not how FISA works. They don’t need to go to the FISA court until up to 72 hours later.

          Once they have obtained the warrant, the tech companies, if they decided not to contest, take the specific information asked for and place it onto a secure server, akin to a dropbox, where the NSA can retrieve it (e.g., the NSA wants your google searches. They take their evidence to a judge, who reviews it and determine if it’s a valid request. If the warrant is granted, they take the warrant to google, who then places the information about your searches into a secure server for pickup).

          That’s why they need a multi-billion-dollar NOC in Utah with petabytes of storage capacity, to store these narrowly-tailored datasets acquired by court order. Please.

          Also, Google search data is just one small part of the data they collect. They collect (or intend to collect) all electronic communications.

          You seem to be a bit uneducated about this whole issue. That is not surprising; extreme measures have been taken to keep us all in the dark as much as possible. You might start here: Total Information Awareness

          • Consumatopia says:

            (appointed by the sitting Chief Justice)

            This part is a real problem. Not only the last couple of Chief Justices have been Republican, but Chief Justice is a lifetime appointment–so only Roberts dies an untimely death, he gets to decide who gets to pick the next Chief Justice. That means FISC is going to be all Republican appointees, perhaps for decades.

            I’m not sure whether that’s for good or for ill when a Dem is president, but eventually we’ll have another Republican.

  6. tt says:

    Which nation do you think he should have fled to?

  7. jon says:

    Who knows, Hong kong might have been Snowden’s best travel option when he needed to get out of town. And he’s be an idiot to travel on a plane that might be diverted to a US territory or ally, where he might be detained.

    It would be more heroic if Snowden had stayed in the US and said he was willing to go to jail forever for what he’s done. He chose not to do that. What may be important for the rest of us, is that by staying free, he’s able to continue speaking and releasing information. If he was in jail, it is unlikely that he would be seen or heard from very much for the indefinite future.

    US intelligence services are better than those of the PRC and Russia, and others, only in degree. Our boys happily tortured detainees, we kill people, and we outsource to folks far less scrupulous than ourselves. Revealing what the US is doing against other states does have national secrets implications. But an important part of what he has documented is the interrelated operation of the US and its allies, by which they distribute tasks and help to preserve each others plausible deniability. This has been SOP since the end of WWII, and is deeply injurious to the rights of citizens within their own borders.

    • Dana Houle says:

      I kill bugs. Jeffrey Dahmer killed dozens of people. I’m better than Dahmer, but only in degree.

      As shitty as some things we’ve done and continue to do may be, the difference between the US covert/intel operations and those of Russia and the PRC are so vast as to make the “only in degree” claim ridiculous. And ridiculous claims like that make it easier to blow off or not engage serious criticism of what actually IS happening w NSA et al.

      • DocAmazing says:

        Again, we’ll never know, will we? It’s secret. The stuff we do know is decades old, in the main, with a few more recent revelations from Li’l George Bush’s tenure.

        In these gray-zone activities, it’s pretty clear that the good guys/bad guys approach fall apart. That’s one of the things so damaging about the compulsive recourse to secrecy.

      • jon says:

        Right, our guys wear white hats and do things in our name, so we know they’re good. And even if they are saints, that doesn’t excuse inappropriate collection of information from the general citizenry, which is the present topic. But when you think of what US intelligence has responsibility for, violence that has claimed thousands of innocent civilian lives, consider disappearances in Argentina and Chile, death squads in Central America, death squads in Iraq, drone strikes, and a few dozen other examples all over the world.

    • cpinva says:

      “It would be more heroic if Snowden had stayed in the US and said he was willing to go to jail forever for what he’s done.”

      most heroes are celebrated posthumously.

  8. Jon Davies says:

    As you say it does seem a bit rich to be worried about the NSA snooping and then go to one of the biggest culprits for state sponsored monitoring.

    I have to question his motives.

    • Glenn says:

      I have to say I’m not sure I get this criticism. Once he exposed the US security apparatus, he immediately eliminated a large portion of the “free world” as possible refuge. Sure, maybe there is some country out there that is pure on this issue and won’t extradite him to the US, but I’m pretty sure that list is pretty small.

      But I’ll say the one thing I’m completely sure of, is that this argument — that one should never accept assistance from unsavory characters or ally with those with ulterior motives — is one that our government has no business making. It’s laughable.

      • Dana Houle says:

        I think the charges of hypocrisy and muddled-headed nitwittery wouldn’t be as tempting had he not lauded HK’s “spirited dissent” or whatever the heck he said. You know, Hong Kong, with it’s “partially free” media.

        And I’m not sure where things would be legally, but I suspect that if nothing else that politically it would have been a tad harder to unload on Snowden if he’d just released the Verizon and maybe Prism stuff. Note that the charges weren’t filed against him until after he started divulging the tactical stuff about China, for which there’s no good reason to leak if what you really care about is the Constitution and the privacy of Americans. At least not unless you’re a complete fool who thinks states shouldn’t have any secrets and that we shouldn’t be engaging in any espionage, despite the fact that the Chinese and Russians (and plenty of other states) are engaging in it against us.

      • Gregor Sansa says:

        But it’s not the government making that argument. It’s private citizens who happen to work for the government and generally never criticize it.

        Oh, wait.

      • Random says:

        The criticism is pretty valid. Going to China and telling them “I’m really concerned that the NSA is spying on your civilians” is equivalent to going to Japan after Pearl Harbor and complaining about how US imperialism has diverted Japanese industry into producing too many Zero fighters. It’s like going to the 3rd Reich to complain about how anti-Semitism in the US is out of control. It’s like going to China in 1989 to complain about US laws limiting public protests. It’s like eating a diet of Haagen-Daaz to lose weight, or trying to cure lung cancer by smoking 3 packs of cigarettes a day and inhaling asbestos.

        China is very well-known around the globe for being the single worst actor on the entire planet for hacking civilian computers. Their primary target is the US, where they’ve hacked presidential campaigns and research universities, stolen civilian trade secrets, monitored financial institutions, driven whole companies out of business, and planted malware on millions of home and personal computers.

        If you’ve had your emails read by a state-backed actor it is vastly more likely that it was a Chinese-backed hacker than anyone from the US. If you’re angry with the NSA for their surveillance practices, you should be ready to go to war with China.

        Going there to complain about hacking, spying, and surveillance of civilians is just as morally backwards and wrong as you can possibly get.

        • Dana Houle says:

          Snowwald are heroes with everyone who likes to pay for anti-virus software.

        • DocAmazing says:

          None of which in any way contradicts the information G & S published.

          • Random says:

            The information they published directly contradicts the claims they’ve made about what that information say, pretty much systematically in fact. I don’t think they’re evil or liars, so much as just irrational and not terribly bright.

        • Glenn says:

          Well, sorry but color me unconvinced by your arguments. I don’t see that he went to HK in order to hold it up as an exemplar of respect for privacy, he went there to escape the reaches of US law enforcement.

          • Dana Houle says:

            So what you’re saying is you’re willing to believe some things he says and put great faith in those but you’re willing to disbelieve other things he’s said and not be bothered by those.

            That’s OK, it can be sound and it can be accurate. But be aware you’re picking and choosing what you believe by him and don’t seem bothered by the contradictions or motivated to explain why.

            • DocAmazing says:

              Is it possible that he said something nice about his hosts to curry favor with them?

              • Random says:

                I’ll say it again, the guy has provided ample evidence that he’s just not big on the whole ‘awareness of world events’ and ‘thinking about what you’re reading and doing’ departments. No point in trying to rationalize his motives.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  You just can’t get past the messenger to look as the message, can you?

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  The messenger keeps asking us to take his word for things.

                  I’m left to decide whether I want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

                • To say nothing of the fact that, in 99% of instances in which “focus on the message” is employed it’s total bullshit.

                • Andrew says:

                  The messenger keeps asking us to take his word for things.

                  I’m left to decide whether I want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

                  Members of the security community also ask us to take their word that everything’s kosher.

                  You don’t only have to take Snowden’s word for it. While he may be the leaker in this instance, Sen. Wyden and others have been pushing for more transparency and debate about this since 2010. So scrutinizing one particular messenger seems disingenuous.

                  We can also situate the claims within the larger context including other published revelations about NSA programs since 2006.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Andrew, don’t bother. There’s nothing to worry about; the intelligence services and their private contractors are honorable people and can be trusted. Just ask joe and Mr. Jackson.

                • DocLame says:

                  You have to take everything I say on faith, or that means you’re one of those baaaaaaaaaad people who take everything the government says on faith.

                  There are no other possibilities. None.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  I’ve written comment after comment since this story came out discussing what I see as the problems with these programs.

                  I just don’t buy your bullshit.

    • Slocum says:

      Yes, he should have gone to one of those countries that don’t engage in large-scale monitoring or make use of the American capacity for it. Oh, wait.

    • Warren Terra says:

      There was some claim that Snowden’s status required preclearing of travel destinations, and that this meant he could visit Hong Kong more easily than, say, Venezuela – or Iceland.

      I’m not sure I buy it – Iceland is a beautiful country and popular tourist destination with which so far as I know we have excellent relations – but I hadn’t noticed it mentioned in the comments, so I thought I’d throw it out there.

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        Yeah, I don’t know why not Iceland in the first instance.

        • Slocum says:

          Because America could bring a lot of pressure to bear on Iceland. They’re thinking of offering asylum now, I think, I read, but he wouldn’t necessarily think of that possibility. And there’s no guarantee they will do it.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            I’m certainly no expert in evading US law enforcement or political asylum, and I’m perfectly happy to acknowledge that it was probably very difficult to formulate an optimal plan in Snowden’s circumstances.

            But, HK? Really? I mean, on the one hand, part of China so more evil state and the risk of morphing into a spy. In the other, are they really much better for avoiding extradition?

            I don’t want to over second guess, but it does look odd.

            • Dana Houle says:

              In fact, there was a lot of speculation that HK often extradites people wanted by the US. Beijing can overrule HK’s decisions but they seldom do.

              Now that I think about it, that could be why Snowden released the China/HK stuff, to keep himself from getting extradited.

              • JoyfulA says:

                I figure he went to Hong Kong because he was in Honolulu. Wouldn’t he have to fly toward Asia to avoid landing in the U.S. if he headed toward, say, Iceland?

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  I don’t have the timeline down…but didn’t he flee before the revelations?

                  (Again, there could be all sorts of reason he didn’t go to Iceland including a brainfart.)

      • Random says:

        All of this presumes that Snowden is a rational, informed actor who has some clue what he’s doing or talking about. Based on what we’ve seen so far, this seems extremely unlikely.

    • Andrew says:

      Do his travel logistics really have any relevance about the content of his leaks? As Rob pointed out above, it’s possible to distinguish between the actions he took which constitute a leak and those which might qualify as espionage. Each can be weighed separately and irrespective of the source.

  9. Slocum says:

    I left this a reply above, but it might be missed by someone who finds the story interesting. Here:

    http://www.thenation.com/article/174851/strange-case-barrett-brown#axzz2Wm1jk9Ys

    • Anna in PDX says:

      Thanks. It was indeed very convoluted, but it was also very interesting. I hope that Dana, who i normally see as a thoughtful commenter here, tries it again and makes it to the end, as i would appreciate a reaction to the content.

      It is weird how on this issue it seems that commenters here have become a lot more polarized and personal towards each other than I think is the case on other issues. I have actually refrained from getting into any discussions of Snowden for the most part because everyone seems so sure about the category that everyone else falls into. I really do feel torn on the whole issue (and, for what it is worth, appreciated the OP because he sounded sort of conflicted too).

      • JoyfulA says:

        It’s a dreadful story, worse than NSA, PRISM, and Snowden by a long shot.

        • DocAmazing says:

          The scary part: the increasing role of the private sector–HBGary, Palantir, Booz Allen Hamilton.

          The scarier part: The administration is either uninterested in or supportive of the situation.

          • witless chum says:

            If I’m to get spyed on, I’d rather it be by a federal employee. At least I won’t be being robbed by four layers of subcontracting and skimming along with being spyed on. Insult to injury.

      • rea says:

        WTF? It’s hard to see much basis for sympathy with someone who publishes threats to ruin the lives of an FBI agent and his children, and who is then caught with a bunch of hacked credit card information.

        • Anna in PDX says:

          Well to be fair, that was after the FBI agent went after his mother. It is easier to understand his reaction than their action in the first place, isn’t it?

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            This video doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence, I must say. At the end, he says that since Mexican drug cartels sometimes send hit men as police officers (or who are police officers), he’s got to assume that FBI agents coming to his house are possible hit men and to shoot them. (And then go on to say that they would be hit men on behalf of the US govt.)

            Also,

            More recently, he has been misrepresented in the media as a spokesperson for the hacktivist collective known as Anonymous, a group he took a special interest in with whom he acted more as an embedded journalist.

            This suggests that he may have crossed some lines into illegal activity.

            In general, he doesn’t seem too stable or careful. That, of course, doesn’t mean he should be persecuted, but it may shift the story a bit.

    • wengler says:

      The article documents what has become SOP: focus like a laser on one guy, stack charges, go after friends and relatives, and attempt to ice out anyone else that may have a passing interest.

      The government and its cash cow affiliates are scared as hell about losing the ability to control information dissemination. Especially when that information reveals the crooked game that is the modern security state. People have been making fun of Snowden here and claiming that he has been extremely erratic, but he probably has some idea about the capabilities and possible counteractions to his disclosures.

  10. KatWillow says:

    …he’s seen fit to accept (tacit) assistance from at least a couple of states (Russia and the PRC, setting aside Venezuela and Ecuador), that operate domestic security services that are considerably more vile on a day-by-day basis than the worst behavior of the NSA and the FBO…

    You really don’t know that they’re “worse” than our security agencies, do you? I’m betting Snowdon can make a better comparison between them.

    • Random says:

      We do actually know that China and Russia are worse in this regard by a country mile, yes. In fact PRC does more surveillance of the content of American civilian communications than the US government does, and we’re not even their own country.

      And no, the guy who didn’t know the NSA spied on other countries, couldn’t correctly interpret any of the documents that he stole, and claimed that there are no technical restrictions on access to raw SIGINT databases and that access to those databases is directly shared with every federal investigative agency isn’t someone who you should rely on for information.

      • DocAmazing says:

        We know, do we? Care to point us to the information about the NSA’s actions in detail and a comparison with the actions of its PRC counterpart? Last I checked, that was all unavailable.

        Your faith, however, is sweet.

        • Finer walrus fucking I have never seen.

        • Dana Houle says:

          There’s no way we could know if we’re as bad or worse than the PRC.

          Thanks for that. Were you on the Republican legal team for the Florida recount?

          • At best, this is like arguing whether Dennis Miller or Dane Cook is more not-funny. Regardless of which state is “worse,” China is unquestionably quite bad on the whole hacking the interwebs and spying on people front that it really makes no difference if the U.S. is somehow even worse than they are.

            • Dana Houle says:

              Corporations, news organizations, NGO etc from all over the world complain that the Chinese (and Russians) engage in massive hacking and cybercrime activities against their operations both within China and outside China’s territory. Except for a very small group of countries like Iran and NK, here are only a tiny, tiny fraction of similar complaints leveled against the US government.

        • Random says:

          It’s not faith dude. I had my RSA token re-issued, I have *physical* evidence of the extent of their hacking.

          • Random says:

            Also, we just had a bunch of docs leaked that the NSA didn’t want leaked. And it said that the NSA is getting warrants for their domestic surveillance and making its policies with due regard for existing law.

            The other country is ranked by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters without Borders as one of the most totalitarian and oppressive regimes anywhere on Earth. Which one do you think is more concerned with civil liberty?

            • janastas359 says:

              Look, I’m not going to let your “facts” and “evidence” get in the way of my rampant paranoia.

              • DocAmazing says:

                That’s exactly the point: we don’t have facts and evidence. We have secrets, and we have presupmptions. China spies and gets caught. The US spies, and is just now getting caught.

                Do you have some evidence, or are you just off-gassing?

                • janastas359 says:

                  Well, as random said in the comment I was replying to, the most damning thing that Snowden released was evidence that the NSA follows established law by getting a warrant before obtaining information. Someone working inside the NSA tried to get the most damning thing he could, and this was it.

                  Compare to China, which cracks down on much of the use of the internet, free speech, causes citizens to disappear, etc. I looked over the Amnesty international reports for last year for Russia, China, and the USA. Feel free to have a look yourself here:

                  http://www.amnesty.org/en/human-rights

                  Now, it COULD be that the lack of evidence of nefariousness of the NSA is in itself evidence of how good the NSA is at hiding its sinister nature. Or, it could be that the lack of evidence of the NSA is evidence that there isn’t as much there as you think.

                • janastas359 says:

                  Put another way, that fact that you and I can freely hold this conversation about the national security apparatus, unrestricted, on the internet, is evidence that we’re better on these issues than China.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  We can compare repression. China’s more repressive.

                  We can’t compare surveillance. We have no way of knowing. We have some clues as to what the PRC government does with its intelligence, given its behavior. Our own government? Apart from leaks, we don’t know.

                • And this must mean something!!!!

                • Cody says:

                  Okay.

                  Take this approach to everything in your life. We’ll see you in the mental asylum.

    • Bitter Scribe says:

      Oh please. China is run by tyrants who deal out death sentences by the tens of thousands and routinely abuse their own people in every other conceivable way. I cannot take seriously anyone who suggests there is any sort of moral equivalence between the USA (or any other Western nation) and China.

  11. Slocum says:

    It would be good if Scott’s penultimate point (“The “War on Leakers” is a dreadful failure… for managing secrecy, or else these incidents will recur, and recur, and recur”)were more the focus of discussion, or better, the pernicious effects of allowing the so-called national security state to even exist, rather than pointy-headed discussion of the legalities of Snowden (and Greenwald’s) acts and speculations about Snowden’s deliberation and choice of asylum.

  12. steeleweed says:

    So much ad hominem here and elsewhere in MSM. Arguments over why or how; too much, too little; wrong reasons; wrong escape route; wrong sanctuary, etc. Just another way to conceal the important issues.

    Everybody’s looking at Snowden instead of looking at the NSA – and the NSA & Administration want it that way. Frankly, I don’t give a damn who he is, why he spoke up or where he goes. I care about what he revealed.

    • Random says:

      I agree, it’s just that the evidence he’s leaked shows that the US government is obeying the law and acting well within the confines of existing 4th Amendment jurisprudence.

      • Dana Houle says:

        Plus he’s made claims even more salacious without offering any evidence, in particular the claim that anyone can just listen in on whatever they want, with the example he used being his supposed ability to listen in on the President.

        Anyone who wants to complain about this story being about Snowden should direct their primary complaints to Snowden himself.

      • witless chum says:

        Legal doesn’t mean okay. And the so-called FISA court is obviously rubber stamping warrants that have nothing the damn hell to do with terrorism, by the sheer volume and the pieces of shit who shill for the program can’t even come up with plausible lies about the good it’s done.

        But they’re following the letter of the law!

        • Cody says:

          That’s great, but no one is talking about it.

          Reading my Facebook feed I’ve learned that we should impeach Obama so he can stop spying one everything we do on the internet!

          Not a single peep about WHY it’s legal. Because no one cares.

          • witless chum says:

            Good? Why do I want people to be concerned about the legal niceties? At least they’re pissed about this, rather than not caring like your Facebook feed does about most abuses.

            • sibusisodan says:

              Why do I want people to be concerned about the legal niceties?

              Because you want to solve the problem? And the legal niceties _are_ the problem. Specifically, that we need better and more robust niceties.

              There is no solution to these problems that doesn’t involve legislation. I’m not sure how people being riled gets us to that. I hope it will, but I can’t see a path to it. Any ideas?

              • witless chum says:

                I guess the conventional view would be that generalized public outrage might give the few in congress who give a shit a chance to rewrite the rules to make it more difficult for the NSA to do this. I know my congressman doesn’t give a shit, but my senators might, a little.

                • sibusisodan says:

                  I guess the conventional view would be that generalized public outrage might give the few in congress who give a shit a chance to rewrite the rules to make it more difficult for the NSA to do this.

                  I would judge that likelihood as slim-to-none. Much larger outrage in the past decade – on different issues, to be sure (I’m thinking largely of gun issues, but also Occupy, given how big that was) – have accomplished nothing much in the way of legislative changes.

                  The levers of public outrage don’t seem to move legislative opinion. I’m a bit nonplussed as to which levers actually do, to be honest.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  ATTENTION! ATTENTION!

                  WE HAVE IDENTIFIED AN EXAMPLE OF THE CORRECT USE OF “NONPLUSSED.”

                  This is like Haley’s Comet. We might not live to see it again.

            • joe from Lowell says:

              Why do I want people to be concerned about the legal niceties? At least they’re pissed about this, rather than not caring like your Facebook feed does about most abuses.

              Houses of cards fall down. It’s only a matter of time.

              If your cause is built on bullshit, your cause will collapse eventually, and you’ll end up bemoaning the way the very important issues didn’t get addressed, because everyone turned away when they realized they were being bullshitted.

              • witless chum says:

                Whatever the details of this particular case, the case that the security state in this country is too powerful and too unaccountable and, thus, needs to be brought to heel isn’t going to collapse for being bullshit because it’s a simple fact of modern life.

                If you demand the public to rigorously informed about things before we can do anything, you’re going to wait a long time on almost every issue. Seems to me that those of us who are against the current state of affairs need to take yes for an answer on this. I’m not clear if that’s you or not, but it’s for sure me.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  I’d settle for “not rigorously misinformed.”

                  I, and a whole lot of people, developed a habit in the run-up to the Iraq War: when you catch the car salesman in his second or third lie, you walk away from the deal. Maybe there’s an off chance that the lying care salesman is actually attempting to sell you a cream puff at a great price, but probably not.

                  You do your cause, whatever it is, active harm when you push false information, when you refuse to acknowledge what you’ve gotten wrong and – especially – when you respond to being caught getting something wrong by insisting that it just doesn’t matter if your information is false, because your cause is so very important that you’re allowed to misinform people for their own good.

                • witless chum says:

                  You do your cause, whatever it is, active harm when you push false information, when you refuse to acknowledge what you’ve gotten wrong and – especially – when you respond to being caught getting something wrong by insisting that it just doesn’t matter if your information is false, because your cause is so very important that you’re allowed to misinform people for their own good.

                  This is the kind of thing that we’d like to be true, but isn’t true. Our public affairs for the time I’ve been old enough to pay attention are pretty much the story of exact opposite happening, repeatedly.

        • janastas359 says:

          I feel as though I need more context before I can get on board with the claim that FISA courts are a rubber stamp. For example, I have heard the claim that FISA courts approve 99% of warrants. For those of you who work in the legal system, do you have any information as to the rate of approval for non-FISA warrants? Is it nearly as high? If it is, that would suggest that either FISA isn’t a rubber stamp court, or that ALL warrant hearings are rubber stamps, in which case the problem is a lot more broad than this one specific area of the judiciary. If FISA courts approve an abnormally high number of warrants compared to other courts, then we have something to talk about. A high approval rate alone isn’t evidence that it’s a rubber stamp.

  13. brandon says:

    I just wanted to chime in to say that I completely agree with Farley’s post here.

    • Random says:

      Right on, between “Snowden is a traitor who must be executed” and “Snowden is a genius hero and America is the most vicious and totalitarian regime on Earth”, this is one of the few objective, balanced posts on the topic. Kudos Robert.

  14. brad says:

    One thing I really don’t think I’ve seen anywhere is mention that Snowden was in Hawaii, meaning Hong Kong was a lot easier for him to get to than Hawaii, and didn’t require any stopovers in the US mainland.
    Granted, he could have waited to leak (huh-huh, I said leak), but it’s also entirely possible that he did things in gathering the data he took that raised red flags and required him to flee fast and Hawaii to HK was his best option.

    I say this only as a devil’s advocate, it’s not a theory I’ve come up with to fit my biases, just something I haven’t seen much considered. I’m still not sure what to make of all this, but Snowden has upset the right people on both sides, you have to give him that. Dick Cheney and Naomi Wolf are the right critics to have.

  15. dollared says:

    I am completely perplexed by Dana Houle and the other commenters flaying Snowden alive here. In what concept of the US as a constitutional democracy is it defensible to have a national security apparatus spying on the people with unlimited reach save for a 1) secret set of rules; 2) a secret court with a record of approving over 99% of all requests; 3) a recent history of secret torture and murder of dozens of suspects under the control of this security apparatus; the involvement of literally thousands of private enterprise contractors whose roles are not disclosed and 5) near absolute secrecy over the entire edifice’s actual operation and results, and every aspect of its administration?

    Any of you insisting Snowden is some sort of idiot or monster, feel free to explain how this massive secret police edifice is defensible. And also explain how on God’s earth this lack of transparency is at the very least a completely bald opportunity to steal billions of dollars from the Treasury.

    I cannot understand how any of you see these disclosures as bad.

    • Dana Houle says:

      Care to quote anything I said that demonstrates your characterization of my position isn’t complete bullshit?

      • dollared says:

        Here’s a brief sample of your unending criticisms of GG and Snowden. Here you are suggesting that GG and Snowden engaged in an immoral conspiracy based on your fantasies about what might have occurred:

        There’s a difference between dealing with someone who has something they’re willing to show you and working with someone who has access to something and then working with them on how to take it. The fact that GG has admitted to working with Snowden prior to Snowden taking the job at BAH opens up the possibility that they discussed how Snowden might be able to acquire documents by misrepresenting himself in order to get a job at BAH.

        There’s a big difference between someone coming to a journalist and saying “I have X, I’d like to share it with you” and, say, coming to a journalist and saying “I can get access to all kinds of things, if I do what kinds of things should I get?” I think it’s plausible GG’s involvement was akin to the latter. I’m not asking Greenwald to prove his innocence, to prove he didn’t break the law or at least what I think would be journalistic ethics. But I am saying it wouldn’t shock me if the gov’t makes such a case, and if so, I don’t think the same freedom of the press arguments would apply to GG as they typically do/should in whistleblower cases or even cases where what’s being leaked doesn’t expose any illegalities and was acquired by the journalist after the leaker had broken the law.

        Let’s see, later in that comment thread you complain he didn’t disclose enough data, then you complain that he and GG absolutely got the description of the program wrong, then you critique Snowden for taking refuge in HK. That’s enough for now.

        We’re deeply sorry if you like your security apparatus secret and completely unaccountable. Some of us old folks happen to think that’s inconsistent with a democracy.

        • It’s almost as though we should be having a conversation about the surveillance state instead of trying to deify Greenwald and Snowden, the great martyrs to ego journamalism.

          • dollared says:

            We keep trying to have that conversation. But for some reason people keep trying to attack the messengers. Oh look, like you just did.

            • 1. Who is this that’s trying to have that conversation?

              2. That’s a rather good example of why Greenwald has actually been a rather terrible standard bearer for these issues over the past few years.

              • dollared says:

                I understand what you’re saying. However, I think this is a pretty common problem: most people who break the rules to make change in the world have flaws. GG’s sense of mission turns him into a conflict prone adrenaline junkie. Many, many revolutionaries end up consorting with gangsters because they are the other inhabitants of the social exclusion zone – think of Winnie Mandela. I urge you to tolerate them a bit more and remind yourself that if they had good social skills and more “common sense” they’d be living quiet, prosperous lives somewhere – doing nothing all that important.

                • Immanuel Kant says:

                  Greenwald is an outrage hustler. I suppose he samples the product, but I don’t really believe in his sense of his mission. His mission is to promote himself.

              • Andrew says:

                Well. Rob devoted about 50% of his post to the security issues, 40% to clarifying that we should focus on the content of the leaks, and 10% to dismissing overbroad critiques of Greenwald.

                The comments largely invert that. For whatever reason.

                • dollared says:

                  True dat. The left does love policing its own. Amazingly counterproductive.

                • Dana Houle says:

                  A. Nothing you quoted addresses any of your points 1–5. Maybe you’re dishonest, maybe you’re flummoxed by logical inference. The answer doesn’t interest me.

                  B. Anyone who says they’re open to supporting radical Randian/Kochian Gary Johnson–who’s rabidly antilabor, anti-progressive taxation, anti-regulation, and rejects any role for the state in regulating the excesses of capitalism while also opposing same sex marriage and reproductive rights–as Greenwald did, is not of the left. He’s either of the civil libertarian right-Bob Barr/Ron Paul–or simply a blithering fucking idiot.

                  Well. I suppose he could be both.

                • Andrew says:

                  Dana Houle says: [a] and [b]

                  This seems like it should be placed as a direct response to dollared’s comment, but.

                  a) Dollared’s points 1-5 were context about the security apparatus, making a case for why it, rather than the leaker and journalist, should be the conversation’s focus. The argument would seem to be that most critiques like the one blockquoted, distract from the more important issue.

                  I’d agree.

                  b) That’s basically an ad hominem logical fallacy. Their political allies and position on the ideological spectrum don’t preclude them from providing legit reporting or insight on all issues. Likewise, them providing legit reporting and insight doesn’t mean we should ignore their allies and ideology when evaluating what action to take about the revelations.

                • Dana Houle says:

                  Uh, it’s not a logical fallacy, it’s a refutation of his claim that this is a case of the left eating its own.

                  I don’t know why Andrew defends dollared’a argument about me. In what concept of the world is it OK to 1) Tortue puppies? 2) have sex with wombats 3) BBQ Girl Scouts. 4) donate to North Korea’s military 5) Like Nickleback?

              • Andrew says:

                Because he didn’t make a case in that post about Greenwald or Snowden being on the left. You’re projecting that.

                His argument was that we shouldn’t be focusing on either one of them but debating what kind of security apparatus we want in place.

                So yes, it’s an ad hominem fallacy to use Greenwald’s political ideology as a way of dismissing his articles.

                You’re also just trolling at this point.

          • DocAmazing says:

            It’s almost as if we should be having a conversation about the surveillance state without regard to Snowden or Greenwald. Somehow, though, the conversation keeps coming back to Greenwald’s ego, Snowden’s travel plans, or excuses for the administration’s surveillance and whistleblower policies.

            Hopefully we can do better.

  16. Joseph Nobles says:

    Great post. I disagree only with Snowden throwing himself on the pointy end here. The quickest way to make this not be about him and about what he was revealing would be to make his connections to his chosen journalists and then as enough stories came out (along with a story about his identity ready to go), show up at the FBI headquarters and surrender immediately. Instant martyr. Further, instant Socrates. And with his identity public, media would be vigilant to make sure he was OK. After all, he’s the patriot that turned himself in, right? Meanwhile, the revelations keep coming from what he’s already given to the journalists.

    And there again: on journalists, I wish Snowden had chosen more wisely. I’m cool with Barton Gellman, but the janitor at McClatchy’s DC offices would have been more appropriate than the brittle Glenn Greenwald. McClatchy got the Iraq War right. They were due a scoop of this magnitude.

    • witless chum says:

      Great post. I disagree only with Snowden throwing himself on the pointy end here. The quickest way to make this not be about him and about what he was revealing would be to make his connections to his chosen journalists and then as enough stories came out (along with a story about his identity ready to go), show up at the FBI headquarters and surrender immediately. Instant martyr. Further, instant Socrates. And with his identity public, media would be vigilant to make sure he was OK. After all, he’s the patriot that turned himself in, right? Meanwhile, the revelations keep coming from what he’s already given to the journalists.

      This is pretty much what Bradley Manning did. It hasn’t really played out that way.

      • Joseph Nobles says:

        If Manning had done the kind of targeted release of important information Snowden did, I think his admirable acceptance of his punishment thus far would have been much more effective at drawing attention to his issues.

        • witless chum says:

          Why didn’t Manning reveal war crimes in a much more thoughtful way that would have been pleasing to your delicate feelings? This is the kind of thing that just makes me despair of people.

          • joe from Lowell says:

            Why didn’t Manning reveal war crimes in a much more thoughtful way that would have been pleasing to your delicate feelings?

            Because he was too busy dumping hundreds of thousands of documents that had nothing to do with war crimes or wrong doing, to make some esoteric point and get back at his employer.

            • witless chum says:

              Given what his employer was up to during the relevant period, they deserved every bit of Manning/wikileaks’ monkeywrenching that came along with the war crimes disclosures.

              • joe from Lowell says:

                Oh, well, then that makes it a super-awesome idea to handle himself in a way that destroyed his credibility.

                • witless chum says:

                  Why do you care about Manning’s credibility? The stuff he dumped pretty much speaks for itself. Are you thinking about Snowden, cause his claims involve much more believing his interpretation of what they mean.

                • The Wrath of Oliver Kahn says:

                  Yeah, I honestly do not get the focus on Manning’s or Snowden’s credibility here. I agree, neither seems like the most stable of people, but how is that important? Shouldn’t the value of what they’ve done be judged on the importance of the information they released?

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Why do you care about Manning’s credibility?

                  Because, as with the NSA story, there were legitimate issues that needed a hearing, and they ended up getting buried and discounted because of his and Wikileaks’ irresponsible handling of them.

                • sibusisodan says:

                  Yeah, I honestly do not get the focus on Manning’s or Snowden’s credibility here.

                  Two reasons, I think:

                  1. Given that the general public does not have full access to all info about the subject at hand – and will never have complete info, irrespective of security considerations, because of life and complexity – the probity, credibility and stance of the characters involved is part of the determination as to the significance of the info.

                  Like it or not, we’re being asked to trust this person a little. Contra witless chum, their info does not speak for itself. It speaks within the interpretation they themselves give it. And their character is a small part of the info I use to decide whether their interpretation makes sense.

                  2. Building on (1): change, restitution or justice generally requires a figurehead, in order to give something to draw attention to . The moral character of the figurehead is actually important to getting the goal of whatever accomplished. Because defects therein distract from the goal.

                  e.g. Rosa Parks was not the first person who had to give up her seat on the bus. But, IIRC, at least one earlier individual was passed over by the guys bringing the lawsuit because she was pregnant and unmarried. Bad optics.

                  Now, I wish (1) and (2) were otherwise. But they’re not. This is the world we live in.

                • Andrew says:

                  Because, as with the NSA story, there were legitimate issues that needed a hearing, and they ended up getting buried and discounted because of his and Wikileaks’ irresponsible handling of them.

                  That’s still not a reason to either invalidate the content of what’s published or critique the actors involved.

                  Washington Post, Greenwald, and Snowden have all made clear that what happened with WikiLeaks is why information was filtered through journalists rather than an online database. Yet we still see the same backlash.

                  No doubt their articles haven’t been perfect, but what’s the ideal way to roll out this information? And if there isn’t a perfect way to do it, does that mean no leaks should get published?

                • Medicine Man says:

                  Replying to Oliver Khan’s Wrath: I think sibusisodan does a fair job of explaining this, but I’ll add my 2 cents.

                  As others have pointed out, the leaked data isn’t self-explanatory. Even if I am sympathetic to the larger issue of creeping domestic surveillance, I am still being asked to accept the judgments of the source and journalist on the severity and scope of the issue(s) exposed. Under those circumstances the credibility of the expose’s authors is invariably part of the story.

                  With this in mind, finding out that the source and author are both not really clear on how the system they are exposing works makes it harder to take their apocalyptic pronouncements about its scope/purpose seriously. At this point it is entirely rational to come to your own conclusions about the significance of the leak(s) rather than accept Greenwald’s at face value.

                  I will agree there is a bit of “blaming the messenger” going on, particularly with speculation about Snowden/Greenwald’s motives. I just don’t see all disagreements with Greenwald’s POV as being 100% based on dislike of Greenwald himself or sympathy with the Executive branch.

                • Andrew says:

                  change, restitution or justice generally requires a figurehead, in order to give something to draw attention to…
                  e.g. Rosa Parks

                  What it really requires is organizing and a movement. Rosa Parks didn’t spontaneously refuse to stand up one day. She was part of a group of people with a plan which included the cop, boycotters, and a bunch of people willing to form a carpool network to sustain the boycott.

                  If there’s an obvious failure here it’s that there isn’t much of a movement behind the pro-privacy agenda.

    • jon says:

      The problem with your heroic approach (aside from none of us being in Snowdon’s shoes) is that he would likely be held incommunicado. The government could then claim that all those documents are fabrications and distortions, and perfectly legitimate. We haven’t heard very much from Bradley Manning since he went into the brig.

      Greenwald has fallen into the trap that snares too many journalists – he’s painted himself into the picture, and that obscures the story; makes himself the story. And, yes, journalism is under siege by the security state. As for others criticism of Greenwald as not being a journalist or handling sensitive material inappropriately – if journalists and the media in general were doing their jobs, instead of sucking up to power, then Greenwald would have to go back to lawyering.

      • Ed says:

        Greenwald has fallen into the trap that snares too many journalists – he’s painted himself into the picture, and that obscures the story; makes himself the story.

        GG has his issues but it’s mainly others who seem to be wielding the paintbrush on this occasion.

      • Joseph Nobles says:

        My heroic approach? It’s not original with me. It started with Socrates and has worked its way into modern life with Gandhi, MLK, and others. And they managed to work their will on society quite well, one and all.

        Your notion that the government would be able to have swept Snowden’s revelations under the rug had they been able to imprison him immediately is not something I’m buying. Not the level of stuff he’s revealed.

        Greenwald ALWAYS paints himself into the picture. When you go to Greenwald to spread your story, you should know that’s part of the deal.

    • janastas359 says:

      I read that Snowden took the story first to the WP and said he would only give them the information on the condition that they publish it immediately, in the form that he wanted. The WP balked at the request, because they wanted to vet the information, to confirm it was accurate, and this would take time.

      Upon hearing this, Snowden then took it to Greenwald knowing that he would likely have less of a problem publishing exactly what Snowden said without the vetting, because Greenwald has an axe to grind. Upon hearing this the WP, fearing they’d lose the scoop, agreed to simultaneously publish the information. This is why so much of the initial reporting was misinformed. After the initial report, other reporters got in on it and vetted the whole story.

      I will try and dig up the link today and post it if I find it.

      • Joseph Nobles says:

        That was the Washington Post’s first account of the timeline. I think Snowden has been the prime move throughout, at least through his unmasking, so I put this down to Gellman and the Post not knowing anyone else was involved.

        Greenwald was involved since February, he says, although my impression was the first month or so, Greenwald was simply brushing Snowden off. It took a while (and consultation with Laura Poitras who Snowden contacted first in January) to even get Greenwald to download the necessary security to set Snowden at ease. I think that frustration is what sent Snowden to the WaPo, and getting pushback from them as well caused him to use both. That’s my current reading of the timeline right now.

    • Everythings Jake says:

      Jonathan Landay would have been a great choice. McClatchy’s “Insider Threat” scoop has unfortunately gotten somewhat lost in the shuffle.

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  18. houseboatonstyx says:

    If Snowden had run down a family of four while escaping unjust FBI pursuit, he’d be held to account; it’s entirely reasonable to assess his principled objection to NSA surveillance in context of his willingness to accept the (tacit) assistance of the Russian and Chinese security services.

    Uh, choosing a route that takes him past cops who close their eyes, is hardly running down a family of four.

    Honestly — such a ridiculous comparison does not help your own credibility. Snowden IS running for his own life. Any bad effect from him accepting “tacit” assistance from other governments, is way up in the clouds of abstract speculation.

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  20. […] central argument excised for some reason. My own views on Snowden more or less track the views that Rob expressed the other day, specifically: The likely legality of the NSA programs notwithstanding, I think that the […]

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