Snowden, the NSA, Heroism and China

Everyone seems to have a post up today about whether Edward Snowden, the high-school dropout who became a contractor for the NSA and leaked a copious amount of secret data this week, is a saint or sinner. I say we still can’t say for sure, but, knowing it will cost me some friends, I lean toward the latter. But before I explain why I am suspicious and wary of Snowden, let me say that I’ve found the whole dust-up in the media the past few days to be somewhat head-scratching. I mean, how many of us really had no idea the NSA was chronicling our online and telecom data? That’s what they are there for, for better or worse — to accumulate vast amounts of data and comb through it. Do I like that? No, and it opens the door to abuse. But did America sign off on it and give it its blessing? Of course we did. It’s all permitted under the vile Patriot Act, it’s all legal. Watch movies like the 1998 Enemy of the State or the Jason Bourne series or read Ron Suskind’s books like The One Percent Solution and it’s all spelled out, it is no secret: the NSA knows everything you’re saying, emailing, surfing, etc. How can anyone actually be surprised? Americans went hysterical after 911 and accepted — no, celebrated — a new lack of privacy. I remember the polls that came out after Bush decided to circumvent the FISA court and allow authorities to listen in on any phone conversations. The overwhelming number of Americans were in favor of it. Bush said, “If someone’s calling Al Qaeda I want to know about it,” and the public lapped it up. We accepted it. Today’s NSA and all its power to watch over us is a product of our own making.

Let me make another point before I get to Snowden. One of the most appallingly irresponsible acts performed by the media as this story broke was the Washington Post’s reporting that the big Internet companies like Google and Facebook had agreed to give the NSA “direct access” to their servers, allowing them to pore over the personal data of millions of users. Only problem was that it was false — soon the WaPo backpedaled on the story and took back the line about “direct access.” You can read all about this bad journalism here — one of the best analysis of how the media screwed up this story. Snip:

Has our collective attention span become so ridiculously short that we’re suddenly shocked by news of the NSA attaining data about Americans as a means of fighting evildoers? Has everyone been asleep for the last 12 years?

To summarize, yes, the NSA routinely requests information from the tech giants. But the NSA doesn’t have “direct access” to servers nor is it randomly collecting information about you personally. Yet rending of garments and general apoplexy has ruled the day, complete with predictable invective about the president being “worse than Bush” and that anyone who reported on the new information debunking the initial report was and is an Obamabot apologist.

Speaking for myself on that front, I’m not apologizing for anyone. I’m merely noting that Greenwald and the Washington Post reported inaccurate information.

The Daily Beast adds:

But even in the past few days, some aspects of the program originally reported as terrifying and incontrovertible fact have changed. For instance, the Post claimed that the NSA was “tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies” with the express consent of the companies involved. The Guardian made similar claims. But as one intelligence source told CNET, the program is “not as described in the histrionics in the Washington Post or the Guardian. None of it’s true. It’s a very formalized legal process that companies are obliged to do.” The Post updated its story, no longer claiming that major tech companies such as Google and Facebook provided the NSA with direct access to their servers. As tech journalist Ed Bott wrote, “Almost no one who reacted to the story initially did so with any skepticism about the Post’s sources or its conclusions.”

This was one of the worst rushes to judgment I’d ever seen. The rush to canonize Snowden by the likes of Ron Paul, Glenn Beck and, of course, Glenn Greenwald and others on both the left and right seems to me altogether misguided. I urge you all to see Jeffrey Toobin’s piece in The New Yorker, maybe the most sensible piece I’ve seen on Snowden yet.

[S]ome, including my colleague John Cassidy, are hailing him as a hero and a whistle-blower. He is neither. He is, rather, a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison….And what of his decision to leak the documents? Doing so was, as he more or less acknowledges, a crime. Any government employee or contractor is warned repeatedly that the unauthorized disclosure of classified information is a crime. But Snowden, apparently, was answering to a higher calling. “When you see everything you realize that some of these things are abusive,” he said. “The awareness of wrongdoing builds up. There was not one morning when I woke up. It was a natural process.” These were legally authorized programs; in the case of Verizon Business’s phone records, Snowden certainly knew this, because he leaked the very court order that approved the continuation of the project. So he wasn’t blowing the whistle on anything illegal; he was exposing something that failed to meet his own standards of propriety. The question, of course, is whether the government can function when all of its employees (and contractors) can take it upon themselves to sabotage the programs they don’t like. That’s what Snowden has done.

So, finally, how is this all being received over in China? I predicted in an earlier thread that the story would have little to no resonance there, and so far that seems to be the case. From the Atlantic:

And if you head over to Xinhua, a state-run paper, you’ll notice that there’s no mention of Snowden in the top 10 stories on the site’s front page. There’s not even really a Xinhua report to be had on Snowden — there’s something on the NSA as a “spy agency” categorized as a video report. In that category, which isn’t advertised on Xinhua’s front page, it’s at least the top story (pictured at right). Whether that’s a conscious news/propaganda decision to order to avoid sparking a conversation that might come back to China — well, it’s hard to tell, and it’s still a bit early in the news cycle. But remember this is the United States and digital intelligence and, the Chinese government has accused the U.S. of hacking its sites, and this Snowden thing is the biggest hacking leak story in U.S. history, apparently, so you’d think China’s papers wouldn’t shy away from the opportunity to make this a bigger deal.

The hand-wringing will continue and self-righteous blowhards like Greenwald (who I used to love and used to link to until he became so cloyingly moralistic) will continue to leak out more bad stories about the NSA — he’s already promised, “More to come!” — and Snowden will continue to be consecrated by the likes of Michael Moore and Ron Paul, but I say let’s take a step back and look at what he’s really all about, and whether this was an act of selfless defiance of an evil authority or an act of narcissism, and a criminal one at that. I mean, as much as I may sympathize with the message that the NSA has too much power and control, we remain a nation of laws, and should every contractor who has agreed to keep the data they deal with confidential split his gut and reveal the nation’s secrets? I’m a big supporter of Daniel Ellsberg and believed what he did was a pure act of conscience, and whose revelations — and this is important — caused no harm to anyone but instead awakened the nation to the bright shining lie that was Vietnam. I don’t put Snowden in that category. He is relishing the publicity, and has done no one any service except those who want to see America in turmoil.

Update: My former nemesis Charles Johnson is doing a remarkable job chronicling this story and revealing how shaky Snowden’s foundation is. Just keep scrolling.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 171 Comments

This is a very concise and clear analysis of what’s going on in this case so far. Amazing that I have to read it on a China-centric blog. Thanks!

The more I learn about this Snowden, the more I am leaning on the side that he was basically a loser with many issues and not a righteous “whistle blower”. Yes, your use of narcissistic is very apt.

June 11, 2013 @ 3:20 pm | Comment

Another OT.

Recall this one a few years ago:

http://threatpost.com/glass-dragon-chinas-cyber-offense-obscures-woeful-defense-042711/

June 11, 2013 @ 5:19 pm | Comment

Your tone suggests that Americans, in a 9/11 panic, allowed intrusive programs to be established, and therefore understood all along that this was happening and should be obliged to live within its constructs. But surely it is worth spelling out what has happened, we are not all so prescient.

Also, I see no need to presume that Snowden is “relishing the publicity”. I doubt anyone would want to be in his position right now.

But I agree that the reported work seems to be somewhat flawed, and does need further scrutiny.

June 11, 2013 @ 5:30 pm | Comment

I like this article, it gave me another perspective into this matter.

And just a word, the book by Ron Suskind is called “The one percent doctrine: deep inside America’s pursuit of its enemies since 9/11″

http://www.worldcat.org/title/one-percent-doctrine-deep-inside-americas-pursuit-of-its-enemies-since-911/oclc/70055568

June 11, 2013 @ 5:51 pm | Comment

Have to be honest, there’s an element of character assassination to this. Yeah, I get that this is not a surprise – it wasn’t much of a surprise when we heard about renditions and torture, not in the end it wasn’t, but that still doesn’t make it not a scandal.

Richard, I really have to ask:

1) Do you think we are better or worse off knowing this?

2) If we were talking about someone who leaked similar data about Golden Shield (AKA The GFW – which is really just Prism with teeth) and then fled to Puerto Rico or somewhere, would you be calling for them to be deported back?

3) Do you think Snowden should be sent back to the US to stand trial?

June 11, 2013 @ 6:50 pm | Comment

I think the clarification re service provider involvement is important. That doesn’t change anything about the problem, but it may correct the picture when it comes to suggestions that there is a public-private complex at work.

As for the problem itself, I believe that people have become far too afraid of terrorism, and that they are not afraid enough of state intrusion. Frankly, I experienced two life-dangerous situations in road traffic during the past two years, and chances to die under a truck are much better than getting killed by a bomb.

There are two aspects in my view, when it comes to Manning, for example, or (probably) to Snowden in future. One is that we shouldn’t need martyrs to start thinking. Another is that we don’t need Wikileaks to get smarter.

But: I have no reason to believe that Manning’s rights as a defendant have been duly respected in the past years. There would be a lot of latitude between building him a monument and treating him in a degrading way as has been done by U.S. authorities. That’s not justice; that’s anticipated revenge. That’s food for thought for me. Others may get similar impressions. And that seems to suggests that these martyrs have a role to play, after all.

Authorities want to hire intelligent people who are up to the jobs they are meant to fill. They need to understand that intelligent thinking may not stop exactly where the service regulations do. Even when a majority among the public has no issues with the NSA activities, they might stop for a moment and think about this: why would Snowden want to get himself into harm’s way? Just for fun? For a self-serving attitude?

That looks unlikely to me.

June 11, 2013 @ 7:33 pm | Comment

Apol for another.

Putting aside questions about Snowden’s motives, and that fact that he pissed off to HK – a really dim move given present China-US relations – the American people should be asking what sort of value are they getting from corporations like Booz Allen and Hamilton.

Talk about a privatised Homeland Security gravy train. Booz Allen, Blackwater and all the rest have been making out like robbers dogs since 9/11. And with minimal to nil public accountability on the way they chew thru a truly massive chunk of tax revenue each year.

June 11, 2013 @ 8:08 pm | Comment

I personally think these are great points, and have been having similar feelings and thoughts about this entire story.
I would have loved to see the reactions of some of these pundits like beck in the bush years- likely the exact opposite of their response today. And as for snowden, who, after leaking info, then leaks their own name? And to seek refuge in Hong Kong I demonstrates a real misunderstanding of law and international relations.
I feel like someone wanted to play the hero, but did not exactly have the mental or emotional capacity for this role.

June 11, 2013 @ 8:53 pm | Comment

Greenwald’s article was VERY clear that NSA documents claimed ‘direct access’ AND that the Internet providers denied that claim. He reported the discrepancy between the two assertions. It is a fair inference, based on the similarly worded public statements from Facebook, et al, that ‘direct access’ is a term of art among the tech companies.

June 11, 2013 @ 10:02 pm | Comment

Bravo, Richard.

June 11, 2013 @ 10:22 pm | Comment

@Richard

The reason why Snowden is acting the way he is has more to do with the nature of civil disobedience as a member of the America’s natsec apparatus than anything else.

Think about what Snowden has seen happen to the prior examples of big leaks:

Stay in America? End up like Manning, with an 11-month stint in solitary before charges are even pressed.

Stay in a nominally free, but US-aligned nation? Get stuck in an embassy while you get blindsided by rape charges.

The only place Snowden would feel safe in would have:

1) A reasonably high degree of international exposure and cosmopolitan atmosphere, with some degree of implied territorial neutrality

2) A recalcitrance towards US interests, and a knee-jerk distaste towards cooperating with the US natsec apparatus

3) Pervasive counterintelligence capabilities to check the US natsec apparatus

The only place on Earth that ticks off all three boxes is Hong Kong, and even so, Snowden knows that his personal safety is only reasonably guaranteed if he has the media limelight asking where he is every three or four days.

As for your studied opposition towards the nature of Snowden’s act, Richard, I have to say it measures poorly against your bashing of Yahoo after the Shi Tao email mess in 2005.

Remember these posts?

http://www.pekingduck.org/2005/09/chinese-law-prof-challenges-yahoos-claims-on-shi-tao-emails/
http://www.pekingduck.org/2007/07/yahoo-lied/

You were surprised and outraged because Yahoo allowed Chinese state security access into one journalist’s email account. Now Snowden exposes NSA tapping of the billions of email accounts straight from the server (even if it was not direct access facilitated by the email companies themselves), and you somehow are trying to downplay the nature of the leak?

June 11, 2013 @ 10:24 pm | Comment

I mean, as much as I may sympathize with the message that the NSA has too much power and control, we remain a nation of laws, and should every contractor who has agreed to keep the data they deal with confidential split his gut and reveal the nation’s secrets?

Richard, you sound like the Global Times in this quote. You’re constructing a huge strawman here – how does support for Snowden in any way imply that “every contractor who has agreed to keep the data they deal with confidential split his gut and reveal the sacrosanct secrets of our sacred nation?”

June 11, 2013 @ 10:27 pm | Comment

Richard Burger complaining about somebody else being cloyingly moralistic. That is rich.

Yes, we knew NSA was involved in surveillance. Snowden provides the proof that was lacking. Is it in the public interest to have information about how our government behaves? Or should we simply believe the lies we are told about the NSA by the people who run it. (See John Cassidy’s New Yorker column, the one that has it right about Snowden – http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/johncassidy/2013/06/why-edward-snowden-is-a-hero.html)

When Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, many Americans were already aware that the Viet Nam war was a hopeless debacle, that we were losing. Ellsberg provided mountains of documentation proving that we were indeed losing and that our leaders – so called – knew it. Not only did they know it, they had systematically and deliberately lied about what was going on in Viet Nam to the American people. These same “leaders” and their mouthpieces were enraged when Ellsberg exposed them. They called him a traitor and engaged in character assassination of the worst sort. Many “love it or leave it” Americans bought into this vituperative attack. Your piece about Snowden suggests you would have been among the buyers had you been there at the time.

The issue here is not Snowden’s qualities as a human being – who cares if he relishes the publicity (though one wonders how exactly you know that is the case) or dropped out of high school. What about Bradley Manning, Richard? This is a guy with some serious issues about his sexual identity. Should this be cause for condemning his whistle blowing?

How exactly do Snowden’s revelations harm anyone? Do they compromise the national security of the United States? No they do not. He didn’t release any specifics or technical data and, as you point out, people already suspected/knew the surveillance was going on. Could any of the information made public by Snowden aid or abet an attack on the US? Difficult to see how that would work. It seems by “harm” you mean that Snowden has made the United States, and especially its leaders, look bad to people who are not our friends. In this case maybe we deserve to look bad.

The issue is whether Snowden acted in the public interest. And like Ellsberg and Manning, he did. Americans have a right to know and should know what our government is doing (supposedly) on our behalf. If Snowden’s revelations cause a turmoil, all the better. We should be debating, loudly, raucously and publicly, the pervasive, secretive security state we have created since 9/11. Daniel Ellsberg’s words, which Cassidy quotes at the end of his piece, could not say it better: “Snowden did what he did because he recognized the NSA’s surveillance programs for what they are: dangerous, unconstitutional activity. This wholesale invasion of Americans’ and foreign citizens’ privacy does not contribute to our security; it puts in danger the very liberties we’re trying to protect.”

June 11, 2013 @ 10:39 pm | Comment

Whoa, t-co is still on this site? A blast from the past!
I’m only speaking for myself here, but there is a clear distinction between yahoo’s compliance and the nsa program in my eyes, insofar as there has been no prosecution of individuals for speech crimes in the latter case.
Remember, shi Tao was imprisoned for sharing a government order forbidding media discussion of June fourth. If snowden was revealing such an order in the us case, my response would be quite different. Yet such an order does not exist. Such silly comparisons only hinder and do not help understanding of this case.

June 11, 2013 @ 10:39 pm | Comment

Also, one other thing, Richard -

So, finally, how is this all being received over in China? I predicted in an earlier thread that the story would have little to no resonance there, and so far that seems to be the case.

That statement appears to have exceeded its half-life.

http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2013/06/10/mixed-emotions-online-as-hero-snowden-shows-up-in-hong-kong/?mod=WSJBlog

Chinese Internet users, some of the world’s most experienced victims of state surveillance, hailed the man responsible for exposing U.S. government data-gathering programs as a hero, but were less sure how to respond to news that he was camping out on their doorstep.

Snowden is trending on Weibo.

June 11, 2013 @ 10:47 pm | Comment

Agree with what a lot of what Steve Barru said above: Snowden’s personality is not important to the subject of whether PRISM should have been leaked, bringing it into the discussion of whether this information should have been leaked stinks of an attempt to change the subject and muddy the waters.

Does it matter whether this guy should be considered a hero? Like JR says, there’s a lot of open space between being a hero and being a crook. Not being a hero doesn’t make you a crook. Again, trying to prove the case of Snowden not being a hero is just another attempt to change the subject.

I don’t know if t_co’s comparison with Yahoo and Shi Tao above is relavent. Just as not being a hero doesn’t make you a crook, not being as bad as China doesn’t make what you’re doing something that shouldn’t be known by the public.

The comparison which seems more relevant to me, Richard, is your exposure of Global Times’s astroturfing and their responding to that by trying to slag you off. Global Times weren’t doing anything illegal, and I don’t think many people were surprised to find out that they were astroturfing websites with pro-government propaganda. Your disclosures were important, though, as solid proof of the character of that publication. Snowden’s dislosures are important in much the same way, and the attempt to discredit the source by character assasination is also reprehensible in this case.

June 11, 2013 @ 11:00 pm | Comment

I’m not sure why stating your opinion on your own blog would cause you to lose friends. I neither agree nor disagree, but I think it is a bit early to be jumping to such conclusions.

On the other side of the coin, Daniel Ellsberg seems to think Snowden is the real deal: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/10/edward-snowden-united-stasi-america Furthermore, Senators Wyden and Udall both seem relieved that someone has finally leaked this information they had both been hinting at for a few years. They were in the minority on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and they are both clearly uncomfortable with what NSA has been doing.

At a minimum, this is a debate that needs to be had, and to the degree Snowden’s revelations facilitate that, America will benefit (though Snowden himself most likely will not).

June 11, 2013 @ 11:40 pm | Comment

Once we set aside the many ill-conceived equivalence arguments and intentional conflation of issues proffered above, I think it is pretty clear that Snowden’s personality is not the issue here, but his claims, and by extension those of the regularly “way, way more” Greenwald, very much are. If this “leak” amounts to little more than already known facts portrayed with hyperbole and mischaracterization, as it does appear thus far, it is unsurprising people question motive and accuracy. Perhaps by not publishing the rest of the slides, the Post and the Guardian have done Snowden a disservice, but the information provided is insufficiently compelling and doesn’t even support many of the claims Snowden made on camera. That coupled with the improbable rapidity of Snowden’s advancement, the difficulty for any operative, particularly one who started as a security guard, to receive a coveted post in Geneva, or to have the kind of power he asserts he held, provokes suspicion toward the validity of the leak. As does the very peculiar fact that his speech patterns seem to belie the possibility that he was an uneducated computer geek who progressed through the system on technical merit alone. If there is an element of character-assassination in that, I regret it. I’ll defer judgment until more significant information has been presented.

June 12, 2013 @ 12:54 am | Comment

I see no need to presume that Snowden is “relishing the publicity”. Have you been watching his videos?

T_co: You were surprised and outraged because Yahoo allowed Chinese state security access into one journalist’s email account.
I was absolutely never surprised. I expect this of a police state. More than anything I was outraged at the sentencing of Shi Tao and of Yahoo’s willingness to divulge his email information. But we have different legal systems. China was clearly abusing its power and acting against human rights in the Shi Tao case. It still outrages me. I know of no similar abuse of the system in the US where a relatively free media and the right to appeal would make such a case a media bombshell and destroy trust in the government. We all know the government has the apparatus to do to its citizens what China did to Shi Tao. But it’s also a nation of laws and I know of no similar case of persecuting a man through his email for breaking a news story and then putting him in jail for ten years. As I said, our system is ripe for abuse but we wanted it. Most Americans, I believe, like nearly all of Congress, will defend these rights as helping the nation stay “safe,” whether they’re right or wrong.

To me, as to nearly all the journalists I trust, this is a scandalette. I might be more indignant and surprised if there were actual instances of abuse – not an anecdote of contractors reading people’s email, but of actual abuse along the lines of Shi Tao. of illegalities performed against Americans by those abusing the NSA’s tools. Maybe that will come later, and I may look at it differently. So far, I see business as usual.

FOARP, like the NSA’s snooping, everyone knows about the GFW in China, and a whistleblower about it would find himself blowing his whistle at deaf ears. He wouldn’t need to flee, he would be ignored. People complain about it on Weibo all the time.

As to the “direct access” points, read the article I link to at the Daily Banter (you must read it all), and the snip up above from the Daily Beast. Reminder of the latter:

To summarize, yes, the NSA routinely requests information from the tech giants. But the NSA doesn’t have “direct access” to servers nor is it randomly collecting information about you personally. Yet rending of garments and general apoplexy has ruled the day.

.

As I said, this post may lose me some friends but it’s how I feel. Nothing surprising has been revealed to people who’ve been watching. And the way it’s been handled by many media has been fear mongering, as though the NSA is watching your every keystroke, as opposed to holding all Internet activity in a database, which we should all know it does.

As Toobin says:

These were legally authorized programs; in the case of Verizon Business’s phone records, Snowden certainly knew this, because he leaked the very court order that approved the continuation of the project. So he wasn’t blowing the whistle on anything illegal; he was exposing something that failed to meet his own standards of propriety. The question, of course, is whether the government can function when all of its employees (and contractors) can take it upon themselves to sabotage the programs they don’t like. That’s what Snowden has done.

Maye Snowden is a hero and there’s something about his revelations I don’t know yet. This post is based on what I know so far.

June 12, 2013 @ 2:36 am | Comment

Even with this draconian PRISM program, the US has failed it’s mission of protecting innocent people from Muslim extremists eg Boston bombing: knowing the exchanges between the mother and Tamerlan Tsarnaev about jihad from Russia’s wiretap program.

June 12, 2013 @ 3:23 am | Comment

Between a responsible human being and responsible employer, what should come first? Being a good employer should not override one’s conscience. When the government is committing crimes against the nation and its citizens, why anyone should help to keep government’s dirty secrets?

June 12, 2013 @ 4:11 am | Comment

Richard, let me put this simply:

Do you really think we would be better off without this leak, a leak which directly contradicts statements that high-level officials have given to congress and which has allowed two US senators to openly state their concerns about a system they could only hint at?

Do you think Snowden should be punished for what he’s done?

Forget the nonsense about Snowden’s background, whether or not he’s a hero or “media martyr”, what his motivations are etc., the above two questions are the only things worth talking about on this.

June 12, 2013 @ 4:14 am | Comment

blind: When the government is committing crimes against the nation and its citizens, why anyone should help to keep government’s dirty secrets?

What crimes? Everything Snowden has alleged the NSA does is perfectly legal, unfortunately. I say that in my post, and call the Patriot Act that allows it “vile.”

FOARP, from what I’ve seen so far, yes, Snowden should be punished, at least for breach of contract. As I said, for me the leak revealed nothing new or particularly surprising, and I see no advantage to making it public, at least not the way Snowden did it. As Toobin says in his article that I highly recommend you read:

The American government, and its democracy, are flawed institutions. But our system offers legal options to disgruntled government employees and contractors. They can take advantage of federal whistle-blower laws; they can bring their complaints to Congress; they can try to protest within the institutions where they work. But Snowden did none of this. Instead, in an act that speaks more to his ego than his conscience, he threw the secrets he knew up in the air—and trusted, somehow, that good would come of it. We all now have to hope that he’s right.

June 12, 2013 @ 4:22 am | Comment

Richard, breach of contract is not a criminal matter – it’s a civil matter with a monetary remedy. No-one gets extradicted on breach of contract.

If it wasn’t new or particularly surprising, then why had what he said already been denied? Why has it sparked a massive debate on the wisdom of these measures? Something doesn’t have to be illegal to be a scandal. Sometimes that the fact that something is legal is a scandal enough by itself.

Do you really think we’re better off not knowing this?

June 12, 2013 @ 4:41 am | Comment

“They can take advantage of federal whistle-blower laws”.

@Richard, are you serious on this one?

Can you identify any western country with half-reasonable whistle-blower legislation, where those doing the leaking are not vilified, hounded and generally have their lives destroyed post-disclosure. This generally involves loss of job, savings, house, marriage and all manner of Nixon CREEP type intrusions.

A laughable legalism.

June 12, 2013 @ 4:45 am | Comment

Richard, look at what has happened to past NSA/CIA/FBI whistleblowers – even those using those very laws you’ve cited. Then look at the outcomes for Manning and Assange. Snowden likely took one look at likely outcomes and booked a one-way ticket on the next flight to Hong Kong.

June 12, 2013 @ 5:19 am | Comment

I would like to second FOARP’s point here: do you honestly the think the world and America would be a better place if no one knew the NSA was using 9 of the largest US internet firms to gather online data on basically everybody, in the [i]off chance[/i] it could be pulled by a warrant issued via secret court?

June 12, 2013 @ 5:21 am | Comment

One important aspect, in my view: one of the reasons many, certainly not all people, elected Obama was to get the security bureaucracy back under public control. Richard, if that was one of your reasons to vote for Obama, don’t call Snowden a sinner. Don’t even lean towards calling him a sinner.

There is no reason to endorse him whole-heartedly, unless you feel you should. But all that stuff – high-school dropout, take advantage of federal whistle-blower laws, etc. is part of the injustices you deplore on other occasions. America – and Europe, too – have to deal with a leviathan here, and some of the lines you write seem to suggest that you know it.

The real question isn’t if “America is like China”, or if Snowden is a hero or a villain. The question is if you want to keep the security bureaucracy as is.

If not, give Snowden some credit. Whichever way his decision may be rated in the future, reactions to his “leaks” suggest that he has served a wake-up call.

June 12, 2013 @ 5:40 am | Comment

I’ll buy that, JR, that he served as a wake-up call. Though he could have done it in other ways. As for Obama, I didn’t vote for him to get the security bureaucracy off our backs; that was way down on my list. Nonetheless, I am extremely disappointed that Obama didn’t do this, and even more disappointed that he never went after the lawbreakers who caused our depression, and other things I’d hoped he would do. I voted for him to end the 8 years of malaise under Bush and to help end the wars we were in.

About whistle blowers: First, I was quoting Jeffrey Toobin who said this was one way to get the story out. Very true that some of the most important whistle blowers lost their jobs. But Snowden had already known he was losing his job by going public with this so he had absolutely nothing to lose going the whistle blower route, as opposed to having to flee the country. I admit, I don’t know enough about the whistle-blowing procedure to know how Snowden might have used it, and again, I was quoting Jeffrey Toobin whose legal expertise I highly respect.

Should he be punished? I’m going to wait and see the charges against him. If he broke the law, even if I sympathize with him, he has to be charged and maybe extradited. I strongly sympathize with Bradley Manning, but he had to be arrested after stealing and releasing confidential information — but if it were up to me he would be released right now for having been punished enough. The way the military has treated him is shameful. Charges of “aiding and abetting the enemy” are nonsense.

June 12, 2013 @ 6:11 am | Comment

Re: this digital surveillance “leviathan” coming under the Homeland Security bureaucracy umbrella has no expenditure limits.

Try these figures:
http://nationalpriorities.org/analysis/2011/us-security-spending-since-911/

A perfect gravy train for consultants, retired govt types, entrepreneurs, opportunists, lobbyists, fixers and others.

The costs are obvious: US in serious debt and with a creaking social infrastructure.

The benefits: “We don’t publicise our successes” or some such drivel.

June 12, 2013 @ 6:43 am | Comment

I think there’s a lot more we still have to learn about this story. Maybe it’s not as easy as Snowden made it sound to peep on American citizens.

But analysts said that Snowden seems to have greatly exaggerated the amount of information available to him and people like him.

Any NSA analyst “at any time can target anyone, any selector, anywhere,” Snowden told the Guardian. “I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal email.”

Robert Deitz, a former top lawyer at the NSA and CIA, called the claim a “complete and utter” falsehood.

“First of all it’s illegal,” he said. “There is enormous oversight. They have keystroke auditing. There are, from time to time, cases in which some analyst is [angry] at his ex-wife and looks at the wrong thing and he is caught and fired,” he said.

NSA analysts who have the authority to query databases of metadata such as phone records — or Internet content, such as emails, videos or chat logs — are subject to stringent internal supervision and also the external oversight of the foreign surveillance court, former NSA officials said.

“It’s actually very difficult to do your job,” said a former senior NSA operator, who also declined be quoted by name because of the sensitive nature of the case. “There are all these checks that don’t allow you to move agilely enough.”

For example, the former operator said, he had go through an arduous process to obtain FISA court permission to gather Internet data on a foreign nuclear weapons proliferator living abroad because some of the data was passing through U.S. wires.

“When he’s saying he could just put any phone number in and look at phone calls, it just doesn’t work that way,” he said. ” It’s absurd. There are technical limits, and then there are people who review these sorts of queries.”

It will be interesting to see how this story evolves. I’m predicting he’ll be extradited and charged with espionage. I’m not saying that’s what I want to see, only that I think that’s how it will be played out. If it’s true that he misrepresented the facts, as this article indicates he might have, then I don’t see what he did as whistle blowing as much as I see it as recklessness.

Update: Ueber-liberal Al Franken speak up about the NSA kerfuffle:

— US Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., says he’s not surprised by revelations that federal security agencies collect phone and computer data on American citizens.

The National Security Agency secretly gathered personal data on Americans since 2007, including their internet use and cell phone service. It’s something Franken says he “was very well aware of.”

“I can assure you, this is not about spying on the American people,” Franken said.

Franken, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he got secret security briefings on the program and he says it prevented unspecified terrorist acts.

“I have a high level of confidence that this is used to protect us and I know that it has been successful in preventing terrorism,” Franken said.

June 12, 2013 @ 7:49 am | Comment

FOARP

“a leak which directly contradicts statements that high-level officials have given to congress and which has allowed two US senators to openly state their concerns about a system they could only hint at?”

I’m not sure this is accurate. The leak doesn’t directly contradict Keith Alexander’s testimony, which clearly indicated the NSA’s inability to vacuum up information without legal permission. It does contradict Clapper’s testimony, so that’s one. Who else?

“If it wasn’t new or particularly surprising, then why had what he said already been denied? Why has it sparked a massive debate on the wisdom of these measures? Something doesn’t have to be illegal to be a scandal. Sometimes that the fact that something is legal is a scandal enough by itself.”

Again, most of the “denials” cited on the web right now are not directly contradicted by this information. Most of them are obliquely related. Moreover, I don’t see much debate on the wisdom of these measures–rather, I see rediscovered and demonstrably agitated naivete, faux outrage, political opportunism, and a great deal of exaggeration. I think Richard’s point is in partial agreement with yours: namely, that the scandal may have been making it legal in the first place. But I fail to see how collecting *metadata* (which is all that we know thus far), even of millions of people, constitutes a scandal, particularly in a country that can still remember when Ma Bell’s operators physically linked and had content-access to every call through a switchboard. Should information be revealed that the NSA regularly delved into the content of millions of people, I’ll be the first to change my tune.

“Forget the nonsense about Snowden’s background, whether or not he’s a hero or “media martyr”, what his motivations are etc., the above two questions are the only things worth talking about on this.”

While I largely agree with you that it is irrelevant whether people call him a martyr or hero, I don’t think his motivation or background is unimportant, for they help us to ascertain the validity of the leak absent other, more relevant information. If he grossly exaggerated his capability and access, then that is certainly relevant and speaks not only to his understanding of the information he presented, but perhaps also to his level of awareness and his psychological state.

BTW, what did you think of his comments on China? Any impressions?

June 12, 2013 @ 11:49 am | Comment

I’m still sorting through this whole thing. Bad reporting aside, and not making any judgments on his character (I don’t know enough), I don’t think what he did was treasonous, or criminal. Yeah, breach of contract, but that’s a civil matter. Maybe he exaggerated/distorted the nature of the program and what it can do. But treasonous?

I’m still sort of at a loss as to why his revelations about the NSA got traction and earlier ones did not. But it’s a discussion we need to be having. And we need to be asking WHY so much information has been classified. That’s the thing about the Bradley Manning case, too — the things that he revealed, the vast majority of them, maybe they were embarrassing. But did they deserve to be secret?

The whole point of having a government “of, by and for the people” is that citizens are entitled to oversight of its functions. And we’ve ceded far too much of that to a security apparatus that represents a fusion of state and corporate power. IMO it’s the latter element that’s pulling the strings of the former, and the lack of accountability inherent in that arrangement should frighten us all.

Otherwise, I think his fleeing to Hong Kong was odd. I really have to wonder what the motivation there was.

June 12, 2013 @ 3:21 pm | Comment

“of, by and for the people”

@ Other Lisa. My point made a number of times above. Hijacked by so-called security consultant corporations, populated by fixers, scumbags, opportunists, lobbyists, ex defence/govt types etc, and you are paying their inflated salaries and getting bugger all in return for your tax dollar.

Gore Vidal must be turning over in his grave.

So much for the US ideal of the exceptional Republic of the New World.

#You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.#

A brothel metaphor would be more appropriate.

June 12, 2013 @ 4:06 pm | Comment

A light of the world or not – America has shown an ability to address its problems in the past. Steinbeck described times and places in America where things were unsustainable. People realized that they were unsustainable.

History should make nobody overly confident – corrections won’t come without the demand for them. But some of the current debate looks more encouraging to me now, than a year ago.

But there are individuals who pay the price for this. They shouldn’t be vilified.

June 12, 2013 @ 4:26 pm | Comment

One of the biggest problems to overcome is thirty plus years of anti-government propaganda. I know that sounds strange in the context of this discussion. But there has been a deliberated, concerted effort to devalue any of the positive roles of government — those that serve people — which has made it easier for the oligarchy to rig regulations and oversight in its favor. Thus, the privatization of everything. Thus the devaluing of all government functions except for the security state and the military/industrial complex.

June 13, 2013 @ 2:06 am | Comment

Lisa, you are absolutely correct. Maybe I’m cynical, because I can’t see it changing after all these years. Instead they’ll give Snowden a harsh sentence if/when they find him and make it harder, and more risky, for others to come forward.

It’s interesting to see the liberals and moderates like Diane Feinstein and Al Franken defend the NSA’s methodologies, Feinstein going so far as to call Snowden a “traitor.” That’s partly why I see this as an issue that won’t stick. The outrage is coming from the libertarian/left corner and they don’t have a lot of sway. The establishment is not concerned about Snowden’s revelations. I think this story would have far more impact if it could have pointed to an actual abuse of the system, like a jealous lover listening in on an American’s calls and then ruining his life. Without smoking guns the majority of people will just decide the NSA apparatus is something we need to live with, as we’ve been doing for ten years with no abuse that we know of. See no evil. Greenwald says he has more to come. If he does have that smoking gun it could alter the debate.

June 13, 2013 @ 2:39 am | Comment

“The establishment is not concerned about Snowden’s revelations.”

Ummm. I’m just guessing here. Is that possibly because they know they are true and think you won’t care?

Again – do you think these are things we’re better off not knowing? Should Snowden be punished?

I guess Snowden should have killed himself so he could be mourned as a martyr the same way Schwartz was. Or is it only cool to re-post character assasination when then subject hasn’t committed suicide yet?

June 13, 2013 @ 4:10 am | Comment

Lisa, Richard, it seems to me that social cohesion – a major term in Chinese nation-building, might be your concern.

This is no try to put you into the same boat with the CCP – it is a challenge that democracies and dictatorships alike may face when public trust is waning.

I don’t know about the U.S., but in Germany, trust in television went down rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s, by several dozen percent, if I remember that right. That has continued. Similar trends can be seen in public trust in state institutions, and in my view, you don’t need to be a conspiracy theorists to see many peoples’ points in losing trust.

It doesn’t matter fundamentally to me what people of my political party say, when it comes to core values. I do listen – as I would to different political colors, but it can only add to my information. It can’t replace my own judgment.

To regain that public trust should be possible in a democracy. But trust won’t come back by declaring the times of doubt in government or political systems to be “over”. Trust needs to be regained – and while every citizen can do his or her share, trust starts at the top.

We wouldn’t be discussing China’s problems so intensely on these pages if we believed that it took different people, rather than a different kind of leadership, would we?

And make no mistake: many of those who condone the NSA approach aren’t trusting. They are afraid. That’s a big difference.

June 13, 2013 @ 4:14 am | Comment

Weird – am I in the same boat as Foarp and KT here? Not sure if that has ever happened before.

June 13, 2013 @ 4:23 am | Comment

@JR

And me, too.

<3

June 13, 2013 @ 4:30 am | Comment

# 38. Totally with Other Lisa on the devaluation of the role of positive govt.

Katrina could have been such a positive example, but was more like a security in overdrive population management issue.

Where I hang out, we have truly massive bushfires and floods and, if anything, besides having incredibly efficient emergency services (paid and volunteer), social cohesion always goes up quite a few notches.

I think the first outside organisation to enter New Orleans was Blackwater armed to the teeth and hoping to blow away some of the poorer Black residents.

June 13, 2013 @ 4:58 am | Comment

JR:

To regain that public trust should be possible in a democracy. But trust won’t come back by declaring the times of doubt in government or political systems to be “over”. Trust needs to be regained – and while every citizen can do his or her share, trust starts at the top….
And make no mistake: many of those who condone the NSA approach aren’t trusting. They are afraid. That’s a big difference.

But what if the government hasn’t lost the public’s trust to begin with? What if the public believes this kind of government meta-data mining is the right thing to do? As the NYT reported today:

A new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll found that a majority of Americans are untroubled by revelations about the National Security Agency’s dragnet collection of the phone records of millions of citizens, without any individual suspicion and regardless of any connection to a counterterrorism investigation.

Center-left Tom Friedman writes,

…. I’ll reluctantly, very reluctantly, trade off the government using data mining to look for suspicious patterns in phone numbers called and e-mail addresses — and then have to go to a judge to get a warrant to actually look at the content under guidelines set by Congress — to prevent a day where, out of fear, we give government a license to look at anyone, any e-mail, any phone call, anywhere, anytime.

Finally, David Simon, creator of HBO’s incredibly popular series The Wire writes:

Is it just me or does the entire news media — as well as all the agitators and self-righteous bloviators on both sides of the aisle — not understand even the rudiments of electronic intercepts and the manner in which law enforcement actually uses such intercepts? It would seem so.

Because the national eruption over the rather inevitable and understandable collection of all raw data involving telephonic and internet traffic by Americans would suggest that much of our political commentariat, many of our news gatherers and a lot of average folk are entirely without a clue.

You would think that the government was listening in to the secrets of 200 million Americans from the reaction and the hyperbole being tossed about. And you would think that rather than a legal court order which is an inevitable consequence of legislation that we drafted and passed, something illegal had been discovered to the government’s shame.

Nope. Nothing of the kind. Though apparently, the U.K.’s Guardian, which broke this faux-scandal, is unrelenting in its desire to scale the heights of self-congratulatory hyperbole.

Don’t get me wrong. I am as fearful as any of you about government overreach, abuse and arbitrary surveillance. But we have to keep things in perspective. As Simon writes, you’d think by some of the hype that the government is listening into all of our phone calls or reading all our emails. They’ve always had the apparatus to do that, of course, but there are laws and procedures that make it hard to do. As I said before, this kerfuffle will only have legs when we learn of systematic abuse of this system. Until then, people will simply believe the government needs this power and can be trusted to wield it properly.

June 13, 2013 @ 5:16 am | Comment

@ Richard. Your role model Ellsberg.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/10/edward-snowden-united-stasi-america

He identifies all the issues at stake, but I take exception to his reference to a Kangaroo Court.

You either have a Constitution or you don’t. Simple!

June 13, 2013 @ 5:32 am | Comment

@Richard – Again:

1) If Snowden’s revelations are not a revelation or not troubling then why should he face criminal charges?

2) Regardless of whether his revelations should be a surprise, they clearly have been a surprise to many.

3) Do you really think we would be better off not knowing this?

June 13, 2013 @ 5:55 am | Comment

FOARP, I never said his revelations aren’t troubling. And I’m somewhat playing devil’s advocate as I try to see the issue from all perspectives — I am still ambivalent about some aspects of this story, and hope to learn more as it unfolds. Especially the question as to whether Snowden should be punished. If he does face criminal charges it will be, probably, for revealing secrets (even if a lot of people already know them) that could harm US security. We’ll see how that plays out.

Would we be better off not knowing this? No. But anyone who cares about the topic of government surveillance already knows it anyway, which is in part why I see this as a faux scandal.

June 13, 2013 @ 6:21 am | Comment

@ Richard.

Lets pass over this really big picture whistle blowing event for the moment.

Would you like to bet on the outcome of the following:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/06/12/state-department-whistle-blower/2413265/

Note: threatening behaviour to the teenage children. Shades of CREEP.

I would have preferred the BBC report of last night as it was more succinct.

Since I’m enjoying a moment of commenting respectability, some additional points.

The Snowden “revelations” are but *one aspect* of a strong technological trend in US society (and it’s not the only country).

The US is a surveil and punish society par excellence. More custodial officers than teachers. Prison construction a growth industry benefitting Wackenhut and similar for profit corporations. A high percentage of the population located somewhere in the criminal justice system: probation or in the big house, and it is beyond question that minorities, the poor and gormless etc are on the receiving end here.

Gated communities with armed guards. The list of examples are endless and none of them are news flashes.

I should dress this up with a bit of Foucault, but I’m sure most readers get the theoretical point and empirical examples.

June 13, 2013 @ 6:35 am | Comment

yes, there’s a lot that’s fucked up about America. We still aren’t equal with China and England as far a surveillance goes (they have CCTV cameras everywhere) but we might catch up. It’s extremely disturbing.

June 13, 2013 @ 6:47 am | Comment

This Atlantic article nails it, for me: a nation of men, not laws.

June 13, 2013 @ 7:24 am | Comment

Garrr…obviously I am no longer used to making my own hyperlinks:

a nation of men, not laws.

June 13, 2013 @ 7:25 am | Comment

@OtherLisa

Seconded. China – a nation where rights like privacy literally are for sale to the highest bidder, no matter whether that bid comes via guanxi or cash – is most definitely not the model the United States should be inching towards. Unfortunately, the security apparatus America has constructed since 9/11 makes this all but inevitable.

June 13, 2013 @ 7:48 am | Comment

But what if the government hasn’t lost the public’s trust to begin with?

Right, Richard. That’s pretty much what Sobchak told Pew when they asked him abut his state of mind.
Yes, I may be wrong, and people may be trusting their government. But that’s not the picture I’m getting. Half of the respondents also said that they followed recent coverage not too closely or not at all closely.

There’s a limit to what people can take – divided government and all. My impression is that many people want to trust their government in at least this field – when it comes to combatting the enemies, and the way you leapt at the chance that the coverage might be discredited leaves the same impression on me when it comes to your own reactions. It is one thing to criticize flawed journalism – it’s another to begin to think the PRISM controversy may be a hoax as you did in a previous thread.

I think I can understand that. You need to arrive at conclusions, once at a while. But the way most of your compatriots buy into this “security” business is no different from buying into the financial products of the past decades. With the difference that this time, it’s about your constitution.

I don’t know if Thomas Friedman is center-left, Richard, but i do know that a decade ago, he wanted to vote France off the island. I seem to know that Friedman believes that America and China will both fare happily if America focuses on R&D, and China focuses on production. I do know that, if I want to know what is not going to work, I’ll read suggestions from Thomas Friedman.

And reading David Simon, I have to come back to what I wrote earlier: if we mix flaws in coverage and criticism of NSA together, we get nowhere. If David Simon believes that a critical number of people is fooled into believing that every word they speak on the phone or online is listened to will be recorded, the idea that a majority of people expresses trust in the government’s choices should scare Simon even more.

Same with coverage on terrorism itself. That is frequently overblown, too. That’s just the other side of the coin.

Which brings me back to the link I advertised on June 11, 2013 @ 7:33 pm: we shouldn’t need Wikileaks. At the time I wrote that (on my blog), I aimed it at Wikileaks/the public (and I still do), but it is just as true when it is about judging government: Only individual judgment and the preparedness to organize to accurately defined ends can be effective.

June 13, 2013 @ 10:58 am | Comment

@King Tubby

Since I’m enjoying a moment of commenting respectability, …

If this is about my surprise of us being in the same boat, this wasn’t meant to say that I don’t respect your commenting otherwise, KT. We agreed before, re Syria, and both disagreed with Foarp. My surprise is about seeing you, Foarp and me arguing into the same direction. I doubt that this has happend before. ;-)

June 13, 2013 @ 11:13 am | Comment

I see your point Richard, that these leaks should not be surprising. We’ve known for years that NSA does indeed tap directly into AT&T’s fiber optic lines (see Room 641a) and has additional black rooms around the country. There are related programs (Stellar Wind/Ragtime) which have been outed publicly by other whistleblowers and investigative journalists. PRISM and the Verizon metadata dump just represent the tip of a much larger and scarier iceberg.

I don’t have a strong opinion about Snowden’s motives or personality. But if his actions, unlike earlier leaks, result in a curtailing of NSA activities as well as additional public scrutiny and legal oversight, than he is indeed a hero.

June 13, 2013 @ 11:18 am | Comment

As imitated on thismsubjectmfrom yourmFacebook post, I think it’s too early to comment on this subject. However what do we really know about what the NSA is doing monitoring Americans with their powerful computers?

Here’s some insight: The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say) | Threat Level | Wired.com

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/

June 13, 2013 @ 11:27 am | Comment

We only hear news about China hacking the USA., When Xi Jinping 習近平 stated last week that the US hacks China, his comments are disregarded. 為什麼?

And yet another article about the NSA:

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/06/10/inside_the_nsa_s_ultra_secret_china_hacking_group?page=0,2

June 13, 2013 @ 11:38 am | Comment

So now, we read about how the NSA has been hacking China’s secured networks for several years.

http://www.zeibiz.com/2013/06/nsa-leaker-reveals-hacking-of-china-hong-kong-networks/

June 13, 2013 @ 11:45 am | Comment

James Bamford, the NSA’s Chief Chronicler : The New Yorker.

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/06/the-nsas-chief-chronicler.html

June 13, 2013 @ 12:16 pm | Comment

Snowden may be called to Legco over hacking claims, says Hong Kong lawmaker
A lawmaker familiar with security issues said he was considering inviting US whistleblower Edward Snowden to the Legislative Council to give evidence on alleged US hacking activities on Hong Kong.

“I am interested to know how vulnerable our cyber systems are, and I want to ask Mr Snowden questions and verify his claims,” said James To Kun-sun, a Democrat and vice-chairman of Legco’s security panel.

To was responding to the Post’s exclusive interview with Snowden, who has claimed that he has documents to show that US authorities had hundreds of hacking operations targeting Hong Kong and the mainland since 2009. Local targets include Chinese University, public officials, students and businesses.

Also on Thursday, Professor Simon Shen Xu-hui, co-director of Chinese University’s International Affairs Research Centre, said: “Snowden’s public statement, if true, is hard evidence to confirm Beijing’s long-held stance that there is foreign intervention in Hong Kong affairs.”

But it would be hard to say whether China would use Snowden as a chip in negotiations with the US on other issues, Shen said.

June 13, 2013 @ 12:49 pm | Comment

Well, I think that imperial powers share a lot of things in common, one of which is the abuse of power. In the case of hacking, yeah, both sides do it. In terms of the abuse of civil liberties and the throttling of civil society, both sides do it, but the gap in frequency and severity between the two is, still, pretty significant.

For example, this Hong Kong conference (the second annual) for young intellectuals in China to discuss the meaning of a “good public life” was just cancelled due to government pressure. Here was the conference’s topic:

As the globalization wave carries everything away, it becomes increasingly important to preserve local richness and uniqueness. Yet how can we preserve the value of our native land while becoming more open and pluralistic? How can we avoid becoming insular and exclusive while also establishing the recognition of [our] identity? Can we be understanding and tolerant while also facing outside ethnicities and cultures? As long as you have thought deeply about these issues, …you are welcome to join us in searching for a more open native land. [Emphasis in original].

This was a conference to discuss civil society, getting shut down because it’s seen as some sort of threat to CCP power.

I’m not mentioning this as a defense of US actions or the US security state, which as I’ve said above I have real problems with. But I don’t want to see these being used to rationalize Chinese actions or the Chinese security state, because the difference in degree is still pretty damned significant.

As t_co said above, this is no model to defend or to follow.

June 13, 2013 @ 12:52 pm | Comment

Hope people can read the two James Bamfort articles:

In 1982, long before most Americans ever had to think about warrantless eavesdropping, the journalist James Bamford published “The Puzzle Palace: A Report on N.S.A., America’s Most Secret Agency,” the first book to be written about the National Security Agency, which was started in 1952 by President Harry Truman to collect intelligence on foreign entities, and which we learned last week has been collecting the phone and Internet records of Americans and others. In the book, Bamford describes the agency as “free of legal restrictions” while wielding “technological capabilities for eavesdropping beyond imagination.” He concludes with an ominous warning: “Like an ever-widening sinkhole, N.S.A.’s surveillance technology will continue to expand, quietly pulling in more and more communications and gradually eliminating more and more privacy.” Three decades later, this pronouncement feels uncomfortably prescient: we were warned.

Bamford, who served in the Navy and studied law before becoming a journalist, published three more books after “The Puzzle Palace,” composing a tetralogy about the N.S.A.: “Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency” (2001); “A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies” (2004); and “The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret N.S.A. from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America” (2008). As the progression of subtitles indicates, Bamford has become disenchanted with the agency that he knows probably better than any other outsider. Fellow investigative journalists regard him with what can broadly be described as admiration, though, as the Times reporter Scott Shane wrote, in 2008, “His relationship with the National Security Agency might be compared to a long and rocky romance, in which fascination with his quarry’s size and capabilities has alternated with horror at its power to invade privacy.”

June 13, 2013 @ 12:55 pm | Comment

JR, I wasn’t quoting Thomas Friedman because I agree with him (I can’t stand the guy) but because he’s a barometer of how establishment America perceives the NSA meta-data vacuum cleaner — “it’s a tradeoff we’re willing to make if the NSA can help keep us safe and if it adheres to a strict procedure of checks and balances to avoid or minimize abuse.”

I don’t see the issue very differently than you, actually; I’m just more cynical, and believe most people will simply be resigned about the surveillance; so far, our government leaders have been stunning in their reaction, i.e., practically no reaction at all except to defend the status quo. What we need, I’m afraid, is a real scandal — a story of systematic, inexcusable abuse that caused serious and measurable harm. Then Congress would have to say and maybe even do something. But for now it’s all about abstractions. I’m reading some polls where people think it’s fine (Pew) and others where they say they’re worried about government overreach (Gallup), but one thing I don’t see is the kind of outrage that effects change. Maybe the next revelations from Glenn Greenwald, who has promised there’s more to come, will ignite that.

Other Richard: if his actions, unlike earlier leaks, result in a curtailing of NSA activities as well as additional public scrutiny and legal oversight, than he is indeed a hero.

Don’t hold your breath. I can see them making some gestures toward greater oversight and transparency, but not the curtailing of NSA activities. Hope I’m wrong. But I look at how my government just voted down background checks for gun owners despite the majority of Americans being in favor of them, and despite horrific tragedies that galvanized the nation, and I fear that meaningful reform is a pipe dream. And in the case of guns, there was vast national outrage, and still it was defeated. In the case of the NSA, I see far less outrage and a lot more shrugging of shoulders, like Thomas Friedman saying it’s something we can all live with if there’s some oversight.

Let’s see where this all goes. Maybe I’m wrong about everything and Snowden’s whistle-blowing will get our government to overhaul its security apparatus. At least it’s caused a lively debate and that’s a necessary first step.

June 13, 2013 @ 1:32 pm | Comment

Oh, forgot to say — Richard, you know I agree with you on most things…but Thomas Friedman, a “center-left” columnist? The left, I ain’t seeing it!

Will, have you read Jeremy Scahill? He wrote a lot of great stuff about Blackwater and the outsourcing of intelligence. (I’m familiar with Bamford, though I’ve only read articles, not his books)

June 13, 2013 @ 2:03 pm | Comment

Lisa, he’s been extremely “liberal” in regard to climate change, green energy and several social issues. Then again, he kept saying we had to give the Iraq War “six more months” so it’s hard to pigeon-hole him. Maybe the best designation is “establishment.” As I said, I can’t stand they guy.

June 13, 2013 @ 2:13 pm | Comment

@ will Lee.

You are obviously a new gunslinger in Dodge.

I’ve already provided that link and a related one at the top of the thread.

June 13, 2013 @ 2:33 pm | Comment

Scahill’s book on Blackwater and Erik Prince was where I was coming from. Great read and I also spent a lot of time on the footnotes, okay.

June 13, 2013 @ 2:38 pm | Comment

And if you want to convince Congress that every child should be locked and loaded (ie armed) before entering the school grounds, you employ these guys.

http://www.pattonboggs.com/

You will need a lot of lunch money though.

June 13, 2013 @ 2:52 pm | Comment

KT, Blackwater was one of the inspirations for my first book (novel). But so was this whole general topic about unrestrained authority acting in arbitrary, dangerous ways.

June 13, 2013 @ 2:53 pm | Comment

Categorise under: general spray.

The US has produced some of most amazing investigative reporters in the past 3 decades, and I include Peter Dale Scott (okay, Canadian, but the best reporter on the dark side of the Reagan years), Stephen Kinzer and others. Note: they reported their investigations in old fashioned paper books and provided copious footnotes.

The sort of text you had to order at your better bookshop or at the local library. It was a buzz when you picked it up, took it home and read it from end to end, and also had a pretty good look thru the footnotes. It took a couple of days to digest and then think about.

This appears to have gone by the wayside on this and similar sites. Time deficient. Bloody lazy. None too bright.

No problem. A quick scroll thru the HuPo, Slate, Quartz, The Atlantic and the rest of the digital suspects, and fuck me, I am incredibly well informed/advised, even if I don’t have the footnotes. Bright shiny opinion bites which I can cut and paste, and then inflict on the rest of the forum. You Richard and others.

And since I’m on the US lobbyist hobby horse here, how many US commenters here can tell me when the whole lobby industry gained serious traction on Pennsylvania Avenue. What was the key Congressional “democratic” decision?

Offering an all expenses paid holiday to the Caribbean, and if the correct answer is offered by a male, I will throw in a couple of incredibly attractive hooker holiday companions.

June 13, 2013 @ 4:53 pm | Comment

Snowden Showed Evidence Of US Hacking China To Hong Kong SCMP

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has told a Hong Kong newspaper that the U.S. government has been hacking Hong Kong and Chinese networks for at least four years.
The comments were made as part of the South China Morning Post’s exclusive interview with Snowden — his first since revealing himself on Sunday.

Snowden reportedly showed reporter Lana Lam documents that showed the NSA had been hacking computers in Hong Kong and on the mainland since 2009. He estimated there were hundreds of targets in Hong Kong and mainland China, including the Chinese University of Hong Kong. None of the documents revealed any information about Chinese military systems, Snowden said.

“We hack network backbones – like huge internet routers, basically – that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one,” Snowden told Lam.

China’s own online espionage efforts were put in the spotlight earlier this year after a report from U.S. security firm Mandiant that accused military-linked groups of hacking major U.S. companies. After that story, China hit back saying Washington was the “real hacking empire.”

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/snowden-us-has-been-hacking-china-2013-6#ixzz2W6Mn4UdN

June 13, 2013 @ 9:21 pm | Comment

Edward Snowden could remain in Hong Kong for years, legal experts say
Whistleblower could make case for rejecting US application for his return on grounds that alleged offence was political. Perhaps this is why he choose HK.

June 13, 2013 @ 9:46 pm | Comment

@KT, JR, OL, FOARP

Read up on the case of Joseph Nacchio. America’s Chen Guangcheng?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Nacchio

June 13, 2013 @ 9:57 pm | Comment

Pressure builds on US over Hong Kong civilian hacking allegations

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/13/hong-kong-demands-us-answer-hacking-allegations

Hong Kong politicians demand US answer allegations it hacked into targets including territory’s businesses and universities

June 13, 2013 @ 11:57 pm | Comment

Comments from The Sinocism China Newsletter dated 06.13.13:

Edward Snowden spoke to the HK South China Morning Post and claimed that US government has been hacking Hong Kong and China for years:

One of the targets in the SAR, according to Snowden, was Chinese University and public officials, businesses and students in the city. The documents also point to hacking activity by the NSA against mainland targets.

Edward Snowden believed there had been more than 61,000 NSA hacking operations globally, with hundreds of targets in Hong Kong and on the Mainland.

“We hack network backbones – like huge internet routers, basically – that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one,” he said.

China is back to work after a three day holiday and the media is on the Snowden case. His claims of NSA hacking China are getting top billing on the big Chinese news portals (Netease for example: 美“监控门”揭秘者:美长期入侵中国网络_网易新闻中心) this morning, as expected.

Wednesday’s CCTV Evening News reported on the Snowden case in 美国“监控风波”持续发酵:司法部或将对“泄密者”刑事起诉. CCTV News Thursday morning has a segment on Snowden’s claims–[视频]“棱镜”监控事件 斯诺登:美国政府曾入侵中国电脑.
Xinhua writes Thursday that the Surveillance program is a test of Sino-US ties:
The massive US global surveillance program revealed by a former CIA whistle-blower in Hong Kong is certain to stain Washington’s overseas image and test developing
Sino-US ties, analysts said.

Li Haidong, a researcher of American studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said the United States is now stuck in the awkward position of having to explain itself to its citizens and the world following the exposure of Washington’s vast Internet snooping program.

“For months, Washington has been accusing China of cyberespionage, but it turns out that the biggest threat to the pursuit of individual freedom and privacy in the US is the unbridled power of the government, “Li said.

And there is this cartoon in the China Daily, with the shadow of the Statue of Liberty holding several eavesdropping devices.

It’s Christmas in June for Beijing, and Edward Snowden is Santa Claus.

Again, it’s the old doctrine the US always tell other countries, ‘…it’s the do as we say, not as we do…’

As we get more information, have anyone changed their position from Monday?

June 14, 2013 @ 12:43 am | Comment

Mavanee Anderson, Personal friend of Snowden speaks out in support

5:58 AM 06/13/2013

As National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden hides out in Hong Kong facing potential extradition to the United States, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer who met Snowden during his time at the CIA in Geneva is speaking out in support of her estranged friend.

Detailing her friendship with Snowden, Mavanee Anderson — a 2008 alumni of Vanderbilt University Law School — authored a guest column in the Chattanooga Free Press on Wednesday that offered personal insight into Snowden’s motivations and the internal struggle he faced as far back as 2007.

Since he went into hiding after blowing his own cover in Hong Kong, Anderson wrote, the “current narrative” of Snowden, a 29-year-old former CIA employee and NSA defense contractor, “has been devoid of those close to him who know him as a person.”

The two met while on assignment in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2007, Snowden at the CIA and Anderson — according to her LinkedIn profile — a legal intern with the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and other international organizations.

She received a clearance in order to carry out her duties that summer as one of two representatives with the U.S. delegation to a diplomatic conference in Geneva.

While Snowden has said that he wants the focus to be placed on the information he leaked and not himself, Anderson says she wants to offer her support.

“Many of Ed’s friends and co-workers can’t speak out, fearful of losing their jobs, or because there’s an ongoing criminal investigation/manhunt,” she wrote.

“Some must stay quiet because they worked with him in clandestine services and can’t expose themselves,” Anderson continued.

The Obama administration and its top intelligence officials have been joined by a bipartisan chorus of lawmakers in condemning Snowden’s leaks and defending the legality of the surveillance.

The tech companies implicated in reports have also pushed back — denying any knowledge or involvement with what has turned into a PR nightmare carrying the potential to seriously derail their consumer privacy promises.

Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2013/06/13/personal-friend-of-snowden-speaks-out-in-support/#ixzz2W7ECJp39

Mavanee Anderson was interviewed at length on the Lawrence O’Donnell MSNBC “The Last Word” show last night. She said that Edward Snowden Snowden ‘thinks long and hard before coming to a decision, is he is an “IT Genius.”

June 14, 2013 @ 12:52 am | Comment

Here’s a video clip of the Lawrence O’Donnell interview with Mavanee Anderson, friend of Edward Snowden. You will notice that she chose her words carefully, when speaking about Edward.

http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/06/12/edward-snowden-is-an-it-genius-says-a-friend/

June 14, 2013 @ 12:55 am | Comment

Will, can you please stop spamming my comments with one link after another? Incorporate them in one comment if you need to share them. Don’t snip entire articles, give a link and a brief description. Thanks.

June 14, 2013 @ 1:15 am | Comment

Might be back to the discussion either tonight or tomorrow – seen your reply, Richard, but don’t want to read and reply in haste.

June 14, 2013 @ 1:33 am | Comment

Wow on Nacchio. Here’s another:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Kiriakou

June 14, 2013 @ 3:51 am | Comment

Some real food for thought here: What is the NSA doing with your metadata?

It’s about social engineering, essentially. Very interesting. In a scary, “the plutocracy rules everything” kinda way.

June 14, 2013 @ 4:24 am | Comment

@ Mr Will Lee.

Thank you for your dizzy updates. Since you are new to this forum, please note that the chatterati here do have basic pc skills and are perfectly capable of using a google new search to keep them updated on Snowden’s excellent Hong Kong adventure. And I’m quite sure the majority have zero interest in his girl friend’s assessment of his character.

I for one look forward to your continued participation, but you will have to go beyond reporting on reports

Yours sincerely
KT

June 14, 2013 @ 6:02 am | Comment

Lisa, that Atlantic link is great, thanks for that. KT, thanks for your response to Will; I couldn’t have said it better.

Part of my problem with the coverage of Snowden is that I have major issues with Glenn Greenwald, who has been as moralistic and shrill as ever with his “scoop.” I remember his nasty attitude toward Hillary Clinton during the primaries of 2008, and afterwards, and more recently his contempt for Obama and I plain don’t trust him. He has been hellbent on embarrassing Obama (and Clinton) for a couple of years now, and I think that is his intention now. The story is a valid one, it’s big news. But I wish Snowden had chosen a more responsible medium for getting it out.

Good twitter exchange about whether Snowden is the next Ellsberg. I think it sums things up nicely: Ellsberg released papers documenting crimes and lies that led to the deaths of more than 50,000 Americans. Snowden, if his story plays out, is revealing what is unfortunately a legal operation performed with oversight from Congress and that, thus far, doesn’t seem to have victimized/hurt any American citizen, as dangerous and scary as it is. I think it’s wrong and an invitation to abuse. But as I said from the beginning, it’s a tradeoff too many Americans are content with. At least it’s now out for public debate.

June 14, 2013 @ 10:01 am | Comment

@and more recently his contempt for Obama and I plain don’t trust him.

Attacking the messiah is no-no. *eyes roll* Candidate Obama promised a most transparent administration and being opposite of Bush draconian policies and guess what…President Obama gives the “hope and change” folks even more restrictive administration than Bush and expanded on Bush’s policies and eroded freedom of information.

@Snowden, if his story plays out, is revealing what is unfortunately a legal operation performed with oversight from Congress and that, thus far, doesn’t seem to have victimized/hurt any American citizen, as dangerous and scary as it is.

Wrong. It’s harassment and being violated and can not sue the US government. Ask Icelandic Lawmaker Birgitta Jónsdóttir on the court order to obtain her posts on ‘twitter’ because she’s a wikileaks supporter.

And also this PRISM program does not work and Muslim extremists will continue to attack innocents for payback on the drones hitting their own innocents in their own home.

June 14, 2013 @ 12:02 pm | Comment

The small sample data suggests secret and illegal NSA attacks on Hong Kong computers had a success rate of more than 75 per cent, according to the documents. The information only pertains to attacks on civilian computers with no reference to Chinese military operations, Snowden said.

http://m.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1260306/edward-snowden-classified-us-data-shows-hong-kong-hacking-targets?utm_source=Sinocism+Newsletter&utm_campaign=5eaf6cbd6f-Sinocism06_14_13&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_171f237867-5eaf6cbd6f-29607857

June 14, 2013 @ 12:45 pm | Comment

Jason, it’s fine to criticise Obama. I’ve said many times on this blog I had disappointments with Obama. I just think Greenwald has an agenda and that he can be biased. As I said, this is a story worth telling. I just wish it wasn’t Greenwald doing the telling because he did not do basic fact checking. I am no Obama cheerleader by any means.

June 14, 2013 @ 12:47 pm | Comment

Evan Osnos of the New Yorker has a very thoughtful piece on why the CCP will most likely not embrace Snowden. Conclusion:

The image of Snowden and Chinese intelligence as a congenial match is hard to picture. He has talked about the “consent of the governed.” He has said, “I believe in freedom of expression,” and, “It is only right that the public form its own opinion.” These statements are not going to endear him to Chinese authorities. (As Hannah Beech at Time points out, Beijing authorities are also tied up this week detaining or sentencing at least two people in connection with free expression.)

Instead of going to Beijing any time soon, Snowden is more likely to remain in Hong Kong, using the courts and the local media to try to stall the eventual efforts to bring him back to the United States.

June 14, 2013 @ 1:10 pm | Comment

[...] this story, so I won’t give you a long list of links. However, I did want to point you to Richard Burger’s post on The Peking Duck, which I found to be blunt, fair, and devoid of bullshit. Of particular import is the discussion on [...]

June 14, 2013 @ 1:15 pm | Pingback

I can’t believe I’m agreeing with Toobin about anything. That alone makes me wonder if I’m looking at this correctly; Toobin’s judgment about just about everything is generally so awful. Notwithstanding that, what gives me serious pause about Snowden is the timing.

Snowden apparently started talking to reporters the month he started work at Booz Allen and the NSA and handed over the documents after three months. Most people can’t even find the bathrooms after three months at a new job, yet Snowden was able (a) to figure out he was working for Dr. Evil and (b) to figure out how to download oodles of documents without triggering very sophisticated detection devices. And then he seeks refuge in a special administrative region of the PRC. Color me skeptical.

June 14, 2013 @ 1:52 pm | Comment

@I just wish it wasn’t Greenwald doing the telling because he did not do basic fact checking.

Yes, Washington Post rushed it. Greenwald said that there’s discrepancies between the private companies and NSA in his original article.

Take a look on another Washington Post article that intelligence community sources confirmed the capabilities of the PRISM program: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-company-officials-internet-surveillance-does-not-indiscriminately-mine-data/2013/06/08/5b3bb234-d07d-11e2-9f1a-1a7cdee20287_story_1.html

“These executives said PRISM was created after much negotiation with federal authorities, who had pressed for easier access to data they were entitled to under previous orders granted by the secret FISA court.
One top-secret document obtained by The Post described it as “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”

Intelligence community sources said that this description, although inaccurate from a technical perspective, matches the experience of analysts at the NSA. From their workstations anywhere in the world, government employees cleared for PRISM access may “task” the system and receive results from an Internet company without further interaction with the company’s staff.”

June 14, 2013 @ 2:51 pm | Comment

I don’t see the issue very differently than you, actually; I’m just more cynical, and believe most people will simply be resigned about the surveillance;

That doesn’t mean that you need to be resigned, Richard, does it? To chime in with Toobin and his – yes, character assassination approach – isn’t a first big step into that direction, to put it mildly.

You either won’t see change if you don’t support it, or you’ll have change for worse. Even a big scandal would only become a scandal if the press picks it up – and seeing how many mainstream papers try to put the current scandalous situation into perspective makes me doubt that they would pick it up.

What is the NSA doing with your metadata?

A Turkish-born friend told me that one of the placards in the Istanbul’s Gezi park protests said that “capitalism uproots trees, because the shades they offer aren’t profitable”. Privacy isn’t profitable either, I guess.

June 14, 2013 @ 3:54 pm | Comment

Second half of my previous comment was @Otherlisa.

June 14, 2013 @ 3:56 pm | Comment

From Sinocism: 06-14-2013:

n an interview with Bloomberg Lee Kai-Fu made an important comment:

The incident “seriously discredits” the U.S. over previous claims about human rights, privacy and due process, Lee Kai-Fu, the former head of Google Inc.’s China division, said in a phone interview. Lee, who has 43.9 million Weibo followers, wrote a microblog post on June 11 saying he admires Snowden’s “principles and values.”

“Most discussion on Weibo is ‘Wow, you are are not really different from the others,’” Lee, now chairman and chief executive officer of Innovation Works, said of the U.S. in the interview. “It’s potentially a massive confidence crisis.”

It is unlikely Snowden’s leaks are revelations to Beijing. But they are now public and appear to be of significant propaganda and diplomatic value. It may also dampen any good feeling that Presidents Obama and Xi generated at the Sunnylands Summit.

Beijing is letting the story run. Here are some examples of how the Snowden story is playing in Chinese media and on the Chinese Internet:

CCTV Evening News Thursday had a segment–美国“监控风波”持续发酵–on Snowden and his claims of US hacking in China and Hong Kong, as well as a description of the Foreign Policy story Inside the NSA’s Ultra-Secret China Hacking Group (who leaked that?).

Xinhua has a special page on his revelations and how he exposed the truth about the “Hacker Empire”– “叛国者”曝美”黑客帝国”真相_寰球立方体_国际频道_新华网.

Snowden “斯诺登 ” is the top topic on Sina Weibo–斯诺登 | 微话题-一起聊聊吧!–this morning.

Sina has a special page on him–美国情报部门监视公众隐私事件曝光_新闻中心_新浪网.

QQ News has a special page on Snowden–美国情报部门监控公众隐私被曝光_腾讯新闻_腾讯网

Is there any risk to Beijing that the extensive coverage of Snowden will inspire a Great Firewall technician to offer revelations about how that works?

James Bamford, a long-time chronicler of the National Security Agency, has a long story about the NSA in the latest issue of Wired Magazine. Beijing will also find NSA Snooping Was Only the Beginning. Meet the Spy Chief Leading Us Into Cyberwar very interesting:

In its tightly controlled public relations, the NSA has focused attention on the threat of cyberattack against the US—the vulnerability of critical infrastructure like power plants and water systems, the susceptibility of the military’s command and control structure, the dependence of the economy on the Internet’s smooth functioning. Defense against these threats was the paramount mission trumpeted by NSA brass at congressional hearings and hashed over at security conferences. But there is a flip side to this equation that is rarely mentioned: The military has for years been developing offensive capabilities, giving it the power not just to defend the US but to assail its foes. Using so-called cyber-kinetic attacks, Alexander and his forces now have the capability to physically destroy an adversary’s equipment and infrastructure, and potentially even to kill.

June 14, 2013 @ 6:35 pm | Comment

Richard and King Tubby. Sorry…and will do.

June 14, 2013 @ 6:40 pm | Comment

@justrecently:

What is the NSA doing with your metadata?

A Turkish-born friend told me that one of the placards in the Istanbul’s Gezi park protests said that “capitalism uproots trees, because the shades they offer aren’t profitable”. Privacy isn’t profitable either, I guess.

Apparently not. What we are seeing here is an increasingly seamless integration of state and corporate interests, and profit is the ruling principle.

June 15, 2013 @ 5:42 am | Comment

What we are seeing here is an increasingly seamless integration of state and corporate interests, and profit is the ruling principle.

Well said. It’s an age-old story I’m afraid.

June 15, 2013 @ 5:58 am | Comment

Yes, and throw in Erik Prince’s muscular Christianity and you have a really toxic mix.

Or a seamless wealth transfer of your taxes beyond public scrutiny.

Many of these corporate interests aren’t even publicly listed companies due to buy backs.

Throw in no-bid tenders and you have a real sewer of padding, kickbacks, shoddy performance, etc.

Other Lisa: Good One.

(OMG. This new-found respectability here is proving to be burdensome.)

June 15, 2013 @ 6:05 am | Comment

Vanity Fair, no conservative bastion, has an interesting piece on the data mining that I suggest we all take a look at. I’m now reading so many pieces that directly contradict each other that it’s hard to know what to think. Also, a good article with a very different viewpoint by Daniel Drezner. So who’s right?

June 15, 2013 @ 6:28 am | Comment

@KT (OMG. This new-found respectability here is proving to be burdensome.)

YOU CAN DOOO EEET!

Off to read the Vanity Fair piece…

June 15, 2013 @ 7:48 am | Comment

(cause I already read the Drezner)

June 15, 2013 @ 7:48 am | Comment

Just to connect the dots, I think the evidence suggests that Snowden took the job with the NSA with the intention of doing what he did. Was he being paid by a foreign power to do so? I don’t know.

Does this affect how I feel about the data mining by the NSA? No, I have serious qualms about that. Even if neither President Bush nor President Obama abused this power, that is, the NSA only used the information to look for patterns indicating a possible terrorist attack, is there any assurance it won’t be abused in the future? On the contrary, the IRS targeting of conservative political groups suggests that abuse is likely. Perhaps some future NSA employees will decide to mine the data they’ve collected for evidence that the then-current Enemies of the People (the future Tea Parties) are guilty of some crimes. American law is so over broad and overreaching in so many ways, the result is that everyone is guilty of some crime, and the only reason we’re not all in jail is prosecutorial discretion. For example, if you’ve ever bought something over the internet and not paid “use” tax on it to your home state, you’re a criminal (how easy would it be for the NSA to figure that out?). Data mining would be a great way to find out lots of crimes committed by your political enemies, and then it’s just a short phone call to the FBI or state authorities telling them what to look for. It seems to me the potential for abuse is huge.

June 15, 2013 @ 9:39 am | Comment

Vanity Fair, no conservative bastion, has an interesting piece on the data mining

I haven’t read Drezner, because I don’t want to read too many opinions that will probably only confirm mine.

But Vanity Fair has it wrong. They act as if every citizen reads the mousetype carefully. People don’t even do that when they download software on their computers. What I see in Vanity Fair’s piece is the anger that opponents to paranoia and repression may have used some of the tools that should be the monopoly of the powerful: playing with an manipulating the feelings of the general population.

And I’m not saying that recent coverage on the Snowden case is manipulative. I’m saying that this aspect is the only thing Snowden’s vilifiers appear to be sensitive about. Someone pissed into their stomping ground.

June 15, 2013 @ 1:56 pm | Comment

OMG. This new-found respectability here is proving to be burdensome.

I’m confident that this is only one of those rare moments, KT. ;-)
The rocket launchers will be back before you can spell peace.

June 15, 2013 @ 1:58 pm | Comment

Richard, I’m getting the impression that you care too much about the political color of those who assess the case. It shouldn’t matter if they are conservative, left, or liberal/libertarian. They either have a point, or they haven’t.

We might all be flabbergasted if we knew what Dianne Feinstein or the other witnesses you call actually say when the cameras and recorders are off.

June 15, 2013 @ 2:01 pm | Comment

Insight on Glenn Greenwald:

Politics: some / Politics: none. Two ways to excel in political journalism. Neither dominates.
Jun.
13
“Edward Snowden’s decision to leak to Greenwald, and Glenn’s domination of newsland for several days, tells us that politics: none is not the only way of excelling in journalism. It now has to share the stage with politics: some.”

http://pressthink.org/2013/06/politics-some-politics-none-two-ways-to-excel-in-political-journalism-neither-dominates/

從Sent iPad傳出

June 15, 2013 @ 2:34 pm | Comment

justrecently

“But Vanity Fair has it wrong. They act as if every citizen reads the mousetype carefully. People don’t even do that when they download software on their computers. What I see in Vanity Fair’s piece is the anger that opponents to paranoia and repression may have used some of the tools that should be the monopoly of the powerful: playing with an manipulating the feelings of the general population.”

Granted the exasperated tone comes off a bit strong, but do you really think a thoroughly detailed correction of people’s erroneous understanding of how data-mining is carried out should really be painted as “anger” toward “opponents to paranoia and repression”, even if you are strictly referring to their tactics? That attempt to draw rather stark lines would be a pretty obvious act of manipulation itself. I see no defense of “the monopoly of the powerful” in that article, and I doubt you do.

June 15, 2013 @ 4:57 pm | Comment

First of all, I don’t believe in the sustainability of manipulation, Handler – from neither side. This is why.

The Vanity Fair article assumes that law and reality are the same thing. They are not. You won’t frequently find that in the newspapers when an issue is deemed sensitive – and the way even established “liberals” are reacting to Snowden seems to give me a clue why that is so -, but if you need the opposite number’s press (China’s, in this case), take them serious enough to follow their hints, and contact the people in question, a different picture will evolve.

I think that America and Germany aren’t very different today. The main reason as to why people here in Germany are less paranoid re terrorism is that so far, no big attack plan on German soil has been successful.

But Germany is a nation under the rule of law. Here is a description of how that can, at times, work in practice, under the rule of law, when citizens clash with – even rather small – powers within society.

Look at how the court in question apparently dealt with Huanqiu Shibao’s requests for information. I can’t confirm that Huanqiu’s rendition of the process is correct, but a German journalist covered both the Deutsche Welle story and the court proceedings. He confirmed what the judge said, according to the Huanqiu report. His report only got published in an offline publication, the Evangelischer Pressedienst, which probably has a standing among German journalists similar to Reference News’ in China.

My requests to the court (under real name, obviously) led to two replies, but neither to confirmation nor to denial. (What is said in court proceedings and what is the written verdict can be very different stories, of course.)

All papers in Germany had access to the article – about an institution that is in charge of German public diplomacy. Only Radio Berlin-Brandenburg published it online, for a limited period (and they announced in advance that they would take it down after a while). No coverage in Germany.

And this wasn’t even a “security” issue.

Do you really think that NSA is under control? Under public watch, under congressional watch, or under the watch of the establishment? I don’t think so.

June 15, 2013 @ 7:43 pm | Comment

JR – you and foarp are very polite people, or you are naive, or you don’t read EU parliament documents.

You have not even mentioned Echelon, not once.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ECHELON

rule of law – my ass!

June 15, 2013 @ 10:17 pm | Comment

That’s an unfortunate misunderstanding, Tai De. The Americans thought there was a Creative Commons on European technology. Somehow, our political and business leaders’ English hasn’t been good enough to explain to them that this is not so.

June 16, 2013 @ 12:02 am | Comment

Yes, JR, it is quite obvious that persistent manipulation is neither wise nor effective. However, you read Eichenwald’s article as a defense (represented by anger) of the government’s right to manipulation (“tools that should be”), and you further posited a contest between two imaginary camps: “opponents to paranoia and repression” vs. “the monopoly of the powerful”. Having read Eichenwald’s piece, and the much milder-toned piece which preceded it, I don’t think your rather histrionic view is remotely justified.

“The Vanity Fair article assumes that law and reality are the same thing. They are not. You won’t frequently find that in the newspapers when an issue is deemed sensitive – and the way even established “liberals” are reacting to Snowden seems to give me a clue why that is so -, but if you need the opposite number’s press (China’s, in this case), take them serious enough to follow their hints, and contact the people in question, a different picture will evolve.”

The Vanity Fair article makes no such assumption. In fact, such interpretations are the source of a lot of the unnecessary invective dominating the “debate” (a word I still don’t think applies) this event engendered, because the underlying accusation is that journalists are purposefully ignoring something to fit an agenda. The Vanity Fair article explains how the law applies, including the minimization procedures and the review process, in order to “calm the hysteria”. It addresses one of the central points of concern for many: “the F.I.S.A. courts are just rubber stamps.” The only anger shown is directed at the inaccurate reports on each of these issues. The difference between the law and reality can only be assessed by concentrating on instances of the abuse of such laws. Clearly that wasn’t the intended purview of this article, so I fail to see how your criticism applies. Also, if you wouldn’t mind explaining the last part of your paragraph above, I’d appreciate it. Do you think China’s media will explain the problems with the federal statutes under which the NSA operates? How could it do so? It seems sensible to point out that the primary reason you were able to look to Chinese media for the court case you addressed is that it wasn’t a security issue.

June 16, 2013 @ 12:26 am | Comment

D’accord, JR. Twenty-five years ago, when I was in a field exercise with our American allies, I never thought that in the present tense, I would have to undress when passing the immigration in the US, but that the authorities would check both my identity and my bank account, too.

Well – now I travel to the Indian Ocean for shopping. But it’s a shame. I would prefer to shop in the US of A.
http://dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/american-guns/photos/paige-wyatt-pictures.htm
You know why, nae?

June 16, 2013 @ 12:48 am | Comment

@Handler:

Eichenwald believes he has to go further with his explanations, at least in hopes of calming things down, Handler. That defines the task. Why, actually? Most Americans, according to the Pew Research Center, condone the NSA routine. No need to calm people down, if so. Eichenwald could stick to pointing out what he sees as bad journalism.

Then you say that Eichenwald makes no assumption that law and reality are the same thing. He does. He says that the rules are specific. He – approvingly – points out the roles of the judiciary, Congress, and the executive branch in reviewing the system. He mentions the attorney general’s and the NSA director’s role, and the role of courts established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. And he expresses confidence that the high approval rate for targeting suggests that the executive is probably not attempting to abuse the system. That’s a mere matter of choice. The other interpretation – but not his – would be that the courts are overburdened.

Here is something that should actually scare you. If there’s really a critical number of people who believe that their recipe swaps with Aunt Edith are likely to be tapped, how many of them condone that (imagined) practice, too? No questions about that?

It seems sensible to point out that the primary reason you were able to look to Chinese media for the court case you addressed is that it wasn’t a security issue.

Obviously, Handler. Which makes it all the more surprising that no German paper seemed to care about a topic that touches on my country’s image abroad, on alleged extremism in a statutory corporation, on integration issues, on industrial relations, and public-broadcasting – each of these permanent topics in Germany otherwise, even when institutions involved are less prominent. As long as the department was under suspicion of leaning towards the CCP, it was news, in 2008/2010. As I said: it was no security issue. It was there on the street, in 2011, waiting to be picked up, including that neo-Carthyism streak that reached into a court even two years after all those chicom allegations had been rejected by an independent professional opinion, commissioned by the Welle director himself.

June 16, 2013 @ 2:05 am | Comment

Twenty-five years ago,…

Sure that you aren’t leaking military secrets here, Tai De?

June 16, 2013 @ 2:08 am | Comment

JR

“Eichenwald believes he has to go further with his explanations, at least in hopes of calming things down, Handler. That defines the task. Why, actually? Most Americans, according to the Pew Research Center, condone the NSA routine. No need to calm people down, if so. ”

The logic here isn’t very sound. First of all, you assume he is calming the people down–as opposed to the febrile reporters making erroneous statements out of ignorance. Secondly, even if he is addressing the people, there is no reason to believe the minority had to remain at the same volume. That most condone the NSA routine doesn’t mean that there won’t be moments of irrational outburst over their practices any more than it means their won’t be abuses of the system. Nor does it mean that we won’t see a flood of reports with inaccurate views (the targets of Eichenwald’s piece). However, none of this suggests he is defending the government’s right to manipulation. This was your first point, right?

“Eichenwald could stick to pointing out what he sees as bad journalism.”

Which is what he does throughout the whole piece. His digressions have clear relation to aberrant reports he refutes. I can’t fathom why you would level this charge at the most detailed criticism of the bad journalism surrounding this issue.

“Then you say that Eichenwald makes no assumption that law and reality are the same thing. He does. He says that the rules are specific. He – approvingly – points out the roles of the judiciary, Congress, and the executive branch in reviewing the system. He mentions the attorney general’s and the NSA director’s role, and the role of courts established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. And he expresses confidence that the high approval rate for targeting suggests that the executive is probably not attempting to abuse the system. That’s a mere matter of choice. The other interpretation – but not his – would be that the courts are overburdened.”

Again, he doesn’t. Nothing you’ve said above indicates otherwise. Stating that there is a very detailed protocol for review and pointing out that the approval rate could be a positive sign does not mean that there cannot be abuses to the system. He is explaining how the system works (and having studied it, he states it does) and why certain criticisms of it are invalid or based on inadequate understanding. I think you mean *another* interpretation, and yours is based on a single node in the process without any elaboration of prior steps while his is based on multiple stages he analyzed. It’s more than just a choice. It’s a judgment.

“Here is something that should actually scare you. If there’s really a critical number of people who believe that their recipe swaps with Aunt Edith are likely to be tapped, how many of them condone that (imagined) practice, too? No questions about that?”

A few questions. The first being…why should a bizarre question scare me? Are you pointing to evidence that the people who believe their recipes are being intercepted are the ones who condone the practice? Why is this the question that comes to mind when you read “The NSA doesn’t get to establish the minimization procedures on its own”?

“Which makes it all the more surprising that no German paper seemed to care about a topic that touches on my country’s image abroad, on alleged extremism in a statutory corporation, on integration issues, on industrial relations, and public-broadcasting – each of these permanent topics in Germany otherwise, even when institutions involved are less prominent.”

All of which I understood the first time, but you appended this episode to your point that law and reality are not the same and suggested “if you need the opposite number’s press (China’s, in this case), take them serious enough to follow their hints, and contact the people in question, a different picture will evolve.” This clearly can’t happen in the case of the NSA, which is why I asked you to explain what you meant.

June 16, 2013 @ 4:04 am | Comment

This was your first point, right?

No. My first point was that they get angered when they perceive the use of manipulation on the side of the government’s critics.

Which is what he does throughout the whole piece. [ pointing out what he sees as bad journalism]

Neither. That would require picking up cases of such coverage. Instead, he refers to the picture that, in his view, coverage creates in the public.

Again, he doesn’t. [make an assumption that law and reality are the same thing]

I’ll leave that to those to decide who read along. I’ve pointed out how he does, and you say that what I say does not point that out.

A few questions. The first being…why should a bizarre question scare me?

If this was a survey in my country, I’d want to know how many people’s position would amount to “I’ve got nothing to hide”. If my question doesn’t bother you, that’s fine with me. It would bother me.^

All of which I understood the first time, but you appended this episode to your point that law and reality are not the same and suggested …

I picked up the Deutsche-Welle case to show that while a country may be under the rule of law, that doesn’t mean that law and reality have to be the same in practice. If that can or can’t happen in the case of the NSA, remains to be seen.

June 16, 2013 @ 4:25 am | Comment

If that can or can’t happen in the case of the NSA, remains to be seen.
This refers to details emerging in the Chinese press.

June 16, 2013 @ 4:37 am | Comment

just in,

NSA admits listening to U.S. phone calls without warrants
http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-57589495-38/nsa-admits-listening-to-u.s-phone-calls-without-warrants/

June 16, 2013 @ 8:15 am | Comment

It appears the NSA did not admit this.

June 16, 2013 @ 9:38 am | Comment

JR, no time to argue point by point, especially since you and Handler have already done this. You know, I hope, how much I respect your opinion, but in this case I’m agreeing with Handler. The Eichenwald article is quite valuable in understanding how this story got spun and how the system actually works and what data mining actually encompasses. I found the Vanity Fair piece one of the most informative, even if I disagree that data mining is as harmless as his article leads the reader to believe. Meanwhile, I tried to balance it by including in the same comment the Daniel Drezner link, which also makes valid points, because I remain on the fence about which side is right, because for now we (or at least I) just don’t have the information to make a definitive judgment. Every link we include can be contradicted, it seems. About “vilifying” Snowden – I’m sorry, I don’t trust him or his motives, or his confidant Greenwald. I spelled out why in the post. No one who is so troubled by lack of transparency and by government intrusion flees to the PRC.

June 16, 2013 @ 10:03 am | Comment

“No one who is so troubled by lack of transparency and by government intrusion flees to the PRC.”

Nor does a spook with knowledge of the clandestine practices of the US and China sound so naive on the latter that he could be a FOB English teacher. His views on an adversary shrink the pit of intelligence to a Ron Paul-on-foreign-relations-sized kernel. This observation is hardly vilification. However, if this is a case of espionage–and that doesn’t have to have been his intent–everything Snowden has done will soon be undone.

June 16, 2013 @ 12:03 pm | Comment

Richard, this is a debate, and both of us have a right to differ. But not to trust Snowden’s motives is one thing – if I wanted to buy a used car from him, I’d take a friend along who knows a thing or two about cars. But that’s what I’d do in any case, Snowden or else. I wouldn’t care if the seller is a college dropout, and I wouldn’t suggest that he’s narcissistic. I simply don’t know his motives – and I can see that he is prepared to pay a very high price for doing what he’s doing. That’s a difference, right?

The problem is that when it comes to NSA, there’s more at stake than when buying a used car. And there’s no friend to take along to look at it who can certify that this isn’t going to corrupt your privacy (or human rights, in the long run), or anyone’s privacy. And anyone’s privacy, not only our own privacy, should be our concern.

I’m not happy that China – a totalitarian country – is basking in the sun of this kind of attention. If it is indeed Wikileak’s & Cie’s idea that the more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie, I have never agreed with them. The way I see it, this will only lead to less secretive or unjust systems becoming more secretive and more unjust. The assumption that Wikileaks could work underestimates a majority’s preparedness to tolerate or accept injustices – such as those against Manning, and, probably, against Snowden, if he’s caught.

I think that your country faces a choice. It won’t be enough to convince a majority. What your security bureaucracies need to do is to convince their insiders that they are doing the right thing – and insiders are not only those who work within the system already, but also those “nerds” or “geeks” who work outside the system and who are potential recruits.

Some of them might be the the kinds of friends you’d want to take along when buying a used car. But for that, America (and Europe, and others) need to overcome the seamless integration of state and corporate interests Lisa – and KT – mentioned earlier.

China – with less magnitude, probably – will face some of these problems in future, too: their security apparently can’t do without all those potentials either.

But the challenge has come to your country, first, and as a still open society, it is particularly vulnerable. Anger and character assassination against people who follow their conscience won’t help to deal with the challenge.

June 16, 2013 @ 12:17 pm | Comment

JR

“My first point was that they get angered when they perceive the use of manipulation on the side of the government’s critics.”

I think it would be fair to say he gets angry when he perceives how much manipulation is currently occurring. There is simply no reason to insinuate he would find government manipulation acceptable. Apologies if I misunderstood your point.

“That would require picking up cases of such coverage.”

You know, he actually explains why he doesn’t name names.

“If this was a survey in my country, I’d want to know how many people’s position would amount to ‘I’ve got nothing to hide’.”

Fair enough, but I don’t find this particularly scary. It is an attitude that would have to be dealt with like any other. And while its disregard for basic liberties and potential for abuse is noted, I find people who are obsessively sure the government wants to burrow into all of their personal information (despite not having evidence to support their claim) far more disturbed and disturbing.

“If that can or can’t happen in the case of the NSA, remains to be seen.”

Possibly, but I think there really is a limit here. Prior to the Snowden affair, the Chinese media had no way of getting information on the difference between law and reality in NSA practices. Should information come from Snowden himself, it will likely not be used publicly for security (Chinese) and espionage reasons. And if it was, how could US citizens trust it? Comparatively assessing motivations of the people involved, I think the case you cited has very little to offer by way of illustration.

June 16, 2013 @ 12:58 pm | Comment

Handler, I think we can keep filling this thread with re-iterating our positions, and it won’t change a thing. This may be why – you write:

And while its disregard for basic liberties and potential for abuse is noted, I find people who are obsessively sure the government wants to burrow into all of their personal information (despite not having evidence to support their claim) far more disturbed and disturbing.

I don’t find this disturbing at all, Handler – by your standards, I’m disturbed and disturbing myself, and I’m not taking offense from this idea. After all, these are your standards, not mine.

Every bureaucracy of this size begins to live a life of its own – its stakeholders included. You may not acknowledge these dynamics, but I do. You see them come into life, they may acknowledge that every war has come to an end, but you will never arrive at a time when they say that a war has come to an end. They will find reasons to justify their existence – just as China’s one-child-policy bureaucracy will never ask if its existence is justified.

Every time, this question will boil down to what Eichenwald reportedly said on a different occasion:
And we have a choice: Do people want to step back and say that ‘If a terrorist calls the U.S., we don’t want to be able to do anything about it?’

I believe that America chose the right president in 2008 and 2012. But it would be a mistake to wait until he says that it is time to dismantle this system. When a successful candidate inherits a desk, he inherits the files in it, too. That’s the problem with renewal. Renewal depends on the people, on people like Richard and you.

June 16, 2013 @ 1:41 pm | Comment

For me, the most troubling things about this are the unasked questions. Like, has this been used against political opponents or for political purposes? Why are mosques off limits to this data gathering but not Christian or Jewish organizations?

The WaPo has not exactly covered itself in glory on this. Besides failing at basic fact checking, they pretty much outed Snowden to the White House. Snowden first offered this to the WaPo, but they checked with the WH to see if printing the info would violate security laws. Snowden’s supervisor had alerted the company that they had lost contact with him two days prior and there were security violations at his job site. His identity would have been released anyway. The only questions was just where the hell was he?

Something about this just does not sit right. Nothing specific to put your finger on – just a gut feeling. Any time Intel agencies are involved in something the only thing you can be sure of is that we are being lied to and manipulated. Snowden could be a false defector being planted in China as part of some other operation. That may be why the Chinese have sort of held him at arm’s length.

Richard, it is not only breach of contract. Snowden released classified info. That is illegal – even if the info should not have been classified in the first place. He is also apparently releasing technical details.

There have been some humorous moments too. I loved it when the Congress members howled in outrage at not having been informed. Then the NSA points out the meetings at which this was discussed and told those Congress members that if they didn’t know it was they didn’t attend the briefings or they weren’t paying attention.

June 16, 2013 @ 8:12 pm | Comment

@Goju.

Your para 3. Snowden could be a false defector being planted in China as part of some other operation.

Seriously? Is this the updated digital version of a Le Carre novel?
Some sort of reverse Manchurian Candidate thingy!

Why the Chinese have kept him at arms length?

JR points out that Beijing would have problems selling extradition back to the US to a Chinese audience. Last sentence here :http://justrecently.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/cctvs-xinwen-lianbo-edward-snowden-coverage/#comment-56397

Look at Chinese social media and that is a pretty good explanation.

Beijing also reaps a number of advantages by maintaining a degree of distance here.

Why muddy the waters too much when the US is undergoing a bit of a governmental/constitutional crisis, at least among the chattering classes, and really doing a good job going about it.

Also the possibility of a pissing contest if the US was to then give sanctuary to some disgruntled PRC operative with wide knowledge of industrial or intelligence cyber activities in the US. And I’m quite sure they already have such contacts in place.

Think back. They threw Wang Ligun to the fishes.

Okay, maybe not a good example, since Wang was clearly barking mad and ripe for a good character assassination.

And some old news. Booz Allen Hamilton is just another corporate skunk. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/14/edward-snowden-investigate-booz-allen

June 17, 2013 @ 1:05 am | Comment

Goju, I agree, something doesn’t sit right. I won’t say what he should be charged with because I still don’t know the scope of what he’s done, and am certainly not a lawyer. It will be fascinating to see how the Chinese handle him. I think it poses a big challenge to them, balancing the temptation to make him a hero and humiliate the US, and the dilemma that they are one of the least transparent regimes on earth.

Lots of BS going on in the coverage of this story. Most maddening is the false story about how a congressman said he was told in closed session that the NSA listened in on domestic calls with no warrant. The congressman has now himself debunked his own claim. Of course, the bloggers ate it right up as if it were a fact, further adding confusion to an already confusing story.

June 17, 2013 @ 3:22 am | Comment

KT, the suggestion was tongue in cheek. One possibility among many, even if a bit far fetched. Most likely the Chinese are keeping their distance because this story is just starting. If it were to blow up in their faces they could end up looking foolish. I can’t see them taking a risk like that at this point. Stranger things than false defectors have taken place in espionage operations.

Snowden has contributed to the confusion by being less than honest himself. Several of his statements have been shown to be false.

June 17, 2013 @ 9:30 am | Comment

@Goju.

I’m relieved that the suggestion was tongue in cheek, since that view has been advanced by Cheney, and there is a polecat of the first order when not shooting his personal lawyer and fixer.

Most likely the Chinese are keeping their distance because this story is just starting. If it were to blow up in their faces they could end up looking foolish. Agree.

Snowden’s alleged false statements. Come on. We all tell white lies and really big fibs on a routine basis. Its what makes us social creatures.

Anyway, I hope you’re not going to equate him with Kim Philby, who is one of my personal heroes.

All this fevered scribbling, editorialising and forensic dissection of his personality is now beyond a joke.

Personally, I think its a bad case of penis envy. Clapper, politicians and press hacks are just pissed that they didn’t get to shack up with a pole dancer.

June 17, 2013 @ 11:18 am | Comment

Cheney is saying Snowden is a Chinese agent, not a false defector. He could be right. Snowden’s personal history would make him a prime target for foreign intel agencies. He could also be just what he appears to be. Or a putz who got caught up in something he never understood in the first place. Or……..Fill in the blanks.

Yeah, we all tell tall tales. But when you end up on the World stage, you need to have your act together. His character flaws have nothing to do with the validity or seriousness of his info and it should not make any difference – but it does. It sucks, but thats the nature of the game. And he repeated the lies several times after he came out in HK.

My gut feeling is he is a wanna be Ellsberg. So far, he hasn’t released any info not already known. Prism has been running since 2004. Bush got into a big dustup over trying to endrun around the FISA courts. The Chinese may be a little pissed at being hacked, but they would hardly be unaware the US was doing the same thing they were doing to the US.

June 17, 2013 @ 12:36 pm | Comment

Well considering the focus on US-China on this website, a relevant question would be what would have happened if the expose occurred after the Xi-Obama summit. Obama would have hammered China over their “cyberterrorism” and possibly soured the whole summit. And by then China would have gladly taken Snowden to piss off the US. As it is, the “revelation” allowed a more sensible summit to prevail and with both sides keen to maintain the good relationship, Snowden might not have a safe haven after all. Makes you wonder though, what does the Chinese know?

June 17, 2013 @ 2:14 pm | Comment

@ Goju.

Whatever.

The support Snowden demos in HK have a sub-text, which is directed at Beijing in a very negative sense.

Americans look for domestic historical precedents. And they have lots of them if you have a grasp of American contemporary history, which I do.

But the interesting aspect is how Chinese netizens are taking up Snowden’s case.

The major reason why Beijing is treading very carefully.

That aside, back to my penis envy point. Here is a nerd type living with a pole dancer (not so hot, I may add), while all the power agents in DC rely on tres expensive escort services for their jollies.

And it must be stressful. Will my visa card be outed on Gawker. I suppose that adds a bit of frission to the whole commercial exchange of precious bodily fluids.

The best sex is always that which is … um … commercial.

Did you read my link on # 50. Hookers and drugs.

Even us little people aspire to such job perks.

June 17, 2013 @ 4:42 pm | Comment

Six reasons why choosing Hong Kong is a brilliant move by Edward Snowden – Hao Hao Report
http://www.haohaoreport.com/l/43269

June 17, 2013 @ 5:05 pm | Comment

@[Cheney] could be right.

Anyone who says Cheney is honest on whatever issue is putting their foot in their mouth.

It is surprising that some here would happily drink the kool-aid of the character assassination against Snowden.

June 18, 2013 @ 12:41 am | Comment

Cheney is a compulsive and habitual liar.

June 18, 2013 @ 12:49 am | Comment

Did anyone read Snowden’s interview on the Guardian today? His discussion of the nuts and bolts of NSA surveillance was frightening, in how cavalier violations of the 4th Amendment can become in the digital era.

June 18, 2013 @ 4:36 am | Comment

From the Q & A:

“Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped,” Snowden said, according to The Guardian, which held the “live chat” on its website.

He said the U.S. government “is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me.”

Everything Snowden says may be true and this is an important debate to have. But this reinforces my original sense that Snowden is a narcissist, a media whore and a sensationalist. The way he and Greenwald are leaking out the story, a little bit here, a little bit there, over several days, indicates they want to milk this story for everything it is worth. More to come. The truth is coming. Stay tuned: we have a lot more to tell you! Don’t go away. This is Greenwald’s wet dream. Think about it. He actually organized a live-blog Q & A with Snowden and whoever wanted to ask him questions. Everything to keep the story alive and burning. Snowden is Greenwald’s goose that lays golden eggs.

Again, what he says may be true. Again, it’s an important debate to have. But for now I take what Snowden says with a gigantic grain of sea salt. He’s already screwed up more than once and there are different sides to every story; this is not black and white.

June 18, 2013 @ 5:58 am | Comment

Meanwhile, there was another Q & A held today. Here’s how the official responded to Snowden’s revelations:

What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your emails … and have not. They cannot and have not, by law and by rule, and unless they — and usually it wouldn’t be “they,” it’d be the FBI — go to a court, and obtain a warrant, and seek probable cause, the same way it’s always been, the same way when we were growing up and we were watching movies, you want to go set up a wiretap, you got to go to a judge, show probable cause….

So point number one, if you’re a U.S. person, then NSA is not listening to your phone calls and it’s not targeting your emails unless it’s getting an individualized court order. That’s the existing rule. There are two programs that were revealed by Mr. Snowden, allegedly, since there’s a criminal investigation taking place, and they caused all the ruckus. Program number one, called the 2015 Program, what that does is it gets data from the service providers like a Verizon in bulk, and basically you have call pairs. You have my telephone number connecting with your telephone number. There are no names. There is no content in that database. All it is, is the number pairs, when those calls took place, how long they took place. So that database is sitting there. Now, if the NSA through some other sources, maybe through the FBI, maybe through a tip that went to the CIA, maybe through the NYPD. Get a number that where there’s a reasonable, articulable suspicion that this might involve foreign terrorist activity related to Al-Qaeda and some other international terrorist actors. Then, what the NSA can do is it can query that database to see did any of the — did this number pop up? Did they make any other calls? And if they did, those calls will be spit out. A report will be produced. It will be turned over to the FBI. At no point is any content revealed…

And on the other hand, a group of intelligence veterans are acclaiming Snowden for finally revealing the truth. As I said, different sides to the story. Hopefully we’ll be able to sort out the fact from fiction.

June 18, 2013 @ 6:33 am | Comment

@ Richard.

#138. To be sure. Greenwald.

Welcome to the new world of digital warfare.

Get with the plot.

June 18, 2013 @ 3:11 pm | Comment

Apol. To continue.
Facts. Due diligence. Whatever. If they don’t gain traction in the digital world, it is whoever is the best spin-doctor.

We are not talking about old fashioned newspapers and letters to the editor here.

Understand the medium and at least you will do better than China’s soccer team.

June 18, 2013 @ 3:36 pm | Comment

Richard, Great post and follow-ups. And a great many well argued replies pro and con. This is the best thing I’ve seen on Snowden.

June 19, 2013 @ 10:31 am | Comment

Thanks for reading, Lirelou. You’ve been missed over here.

Historian Rick Perlstein, a hero of mine, has a good piece on Glenn Greenwald and why he can’t be trusted. From the close:

“…the FIRST thing he does out of the box is accuse anybody who disagrees with him of bad faith. That not only makes him a poor advocate, it weakens one’s trust in his reporting.”

This is so true. I’m glad to see word has gotten around.

June 19, 2013 @ 11:33 am | Comment

More lies coming from NSA officials that claims PRISM program prevented NYSE plot: http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/nsa-claim-thwarted-nyse-plot-contradicted-court-documents/story?id=19436557#.UcHws_mgrRU

June 20, 2013 @ 1:58 am | Comment

The problem here is that the Snowden story has so many angles, it’s giving the media a bad case of schizophrenia.

June 20, 2013 @ 2:08 am | Comment

My problem with getting too worked up over this is that this is nothing new….so far. Everything in these stories today was covered back in 2003-2005. Bush almost had a revolt on his hands til he agreed to bring this program under FISA jurisdiction. Mueller (head of FBI then) and several senior administration officials had resignations on Bush’s desk. So why the big stink now?

So were are left to speculate about what the nature of the future revelations may be. And while that may be a good ploy to get people to keep following the story,It bores the hell out of me. Until something real comes out, I’ll just keep it on a back burner and check back once in a while.

Richard, yeah Greenwald and for that matter Snowden, Cheney and pretty much everyone connected to this have character flaws. But it ain’t like the rest of us are such perfect examples of humanity ourselves. It sucks that credibility is so tightly ties to credibility.

June 20, 2013 @ 5:50 am | Comment

That should have read…that personality is so tightly tied to credibility.”

June 20, 2013 @ 10:54 pm | Comment

One thing is certain. Snowden is being heavily scripted and coached for every public appearance.

Petting a phoenix.
The response to Cheney.

Clever dick stuff to be sure, but if it comes out in the open (ie. real evidence is provided), he is undercutting his overall argument and totally justifiable rationale.

Greenwald, in which case some journalistic boundaries have been crossed, although I disagree with Richard’s condemnation of Greenwald re bad faith.

That is a perfectly acceptable tactic in the digital media world where the reader’s attention span is pretty short to put it mildly.

June 22, 2013 @ 7:35 am | Comment

Edward Snowden leaves Hong Kong for Moscow. Flew the Coop

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/23/edward-snowden-leaves-hong-kong-moscow

June 23, 2013 @ 5:36 pm | Comment

@ Will Lee. YOU CLEARLY HAVE NOT GOT THE MESSAGE.

This is truly delicious. Julian Assange, Outstanding Global Citizen of the Decade, contributes legal advice and advisers plus some cash money.

Beijing wisely folds its hand rather than calling out the US.

Moscow. Not there is a pretty seedy stopover, and be sure Snowden’s advisers will be doing their best keeping the light-fingered locals at bay.

Cuba. Pineapple daiquiris with Raul and hopefully Snowden will dump a tranche of documents which will challenge the slimy rebuttals being peddled by the Australian and British govts.

Ecuador. Not a great life long haven. Really crap food. Lots of violence. Lousy local music scene, but it does have beach access.

He should have stuck with Iceland. Okay new age music. Lots of weekend binge drinking, attractive local women and everybody believes in pixies and dwarves.

A couple of things are missing in this media/chatterati circus.

1. A sound track, something like the Sex Pistols, but with a contemporary sound.

2. A bit of hacking support for Snowden by Lulzsec.

The only historical parallel I can think of is when the Weather Underground broke Timothy Leary out of the big house and transported him to Algeria.

The laughing stock here: Feinstein, Mueller and the rest of the political whores and bureaucratic hacks with their dire threats and chest thumping.

June 24, 2013 @ 6:46 am | Comment

My earlier speculation that Snowden took the job with Booz Allen and the NSA for the express purpose of stealing and distributing secret information was confirmed yesterday by none other than Snowden. See http://www.volokh.com/2013/06/24/edward-snowden-took-the-job-at-booz-allen-just-to-collect-and-then-release-us-government-secrets/#disqus_thread.

June 25, 2013 @ 10:04 am | Comment

A law professor’s blog. Even my cat is smirking.
Are you serious?
Just look at the (pathetic) spin emanating out of the US media at present and die laughing.
Doug. The cure for all hyper-ventilated school boys: a very cold shower.
Okay, Snowden is a pretty crummy role model, but he definitely has got the US industrial-military complex by the short and curlies.
Why. I don’t know, since nothing he has revealed is a news flash.

June 25, 2013 @ 1:27 pm | Comment

King, baby, I linked to volokh.com because I don’t have a password to the South China Morning Post and couldn’t link to the original article there. But you can find the SCPM link from the Volokh.com story if you are interested in the facts.

In any event, as you apparently concede, my speculation from a couple of weeks ago – that Snowden planned this from the get-go – has now been proven true.

The only question remaining is whether Snowden is being paid by a foreign power or is just the narcissistic asshole he appears to be.

I don’t have a firm view yet on whether the NSA surveillance program is good or not. I remain deeply worried that even if it is only being used today to ferret out information about Jihadists, which is unequivocally a good thing, it is subject to abuse, as the IRS scandal well demonstrates. My views about the NSA program are wholly separate from my views about Snowden. I hope he ends up rotting in a US cell somewhere.

June 25, 2013 @ 3:42 pm | Comment

@since nothing he has revealed is a news flash.

Violating the fourth amendment is not newsworthy?

June 25, 2013 @ 3:42 pm | Comment

@ doug. Links to links to even more links. Its getting pretty tenuous.

Paid by a foreign power. I suspect the Albanian Secret Service. You know, those swarthy types from the Balkans who nurse grudges for decades.

Really, who gives a rats about Snowden’s motives or personality.

He is *objectively* performing a global social service.

BTW. It is KT or the full honorific, okay.

I think you will find gainful employment when the HUAC reinvents itself, since you have bugger all interest in the letter or spirit of the US Constitution.

In fact, I think you are prime cannon fodder for the corporate fascist power structures which have noticeably hijacked the US in the last decade or so.

Rant on. The rest of the world is quietly sniggering.

And this doesn’t mean that smirking folk like myself don’t identify with a lot of the good things which come out of the US.

June 25, 2013 @ 5:01 pm | Comment

“the corporate fascist power structures which have noticeably hijacked the US in the last decade” – that sounds so alarming. Maybe I should be worried. How old are you? I’m 60+ and I can’t say that things seem very different now than they did 50 years ago. The US has drifted quite a bit to the left, at least culturally, and the big businesses that were so powerful 50 years ago are either no longer in existence or are mere fragments of their former selves (Kodak, Xerox, General Motors, US Steel, Pan American Airways, Lehman Brothers, Salomon Brothers, A&P, Crown Zellerbach, CBS, Honewell, RCA, etc.) and have been replaced by others (Microsoft, Dell, Google, Yahoo, Apple, Facebook, Verizon Wireless – although it’s far from clear that Microsoft, Dell or Yahoo are going to be powers for very much longer). In other words, the economy has continued to grow and churn and mix things up. How this translates into a corporate fascist power structure is not at all clear. I am reminded of the saying that the left is always complaining about the dark night of fascism falling on America, but somehow it always falls somewhere else.

June 25, 2013 @ 6:43 pm | Comment

I was referring to Halliburton, Brown and Root and the other corporations who hijacked US foreign policy during the Bush Neo Con years.

My use of the term fascist was ill advised and I withdraw it.

The problem with US intelligence agencies is that they not intelligently run nor do they produce much worthwhile intelligence, and that is despite their truly monumental budgets.
Read Tim Weimer’s Legacy of Ashes: the CIA couldn’t predict a sun set.

June 26, 2013 @ 12:15 am | Comment

“Unquestionably this will have negative impact on US-China relations’

– Whitehouse spokesperson Jay Carney.

I did not think that in my life time, I would see the day China gets protested by the US. Finally the US is doing a ‘we protest! You have hurt the feeling of the US people!’ on China.

I love it, absolutely love.

June 26, 2013 @ 9:53 am | Comment

“The problem with US intelligence agencies is that they not intelligently run nor do they produce much worthwhile intelligence” – dui, dui, dui

June 26, 2013 @ 12:43 pm | Comment

If dui means correct!

Definitely, considering the amount of tax dollars the average US citizen pays to the Inland Revenue each fortnight. And those figures are available, but I failed to save them.

I don’t know Doug. You could be using another tone and calling me something really disgusting.

June 26, 2013 @ 4:21 pm | Comment

I don’t know the proper pinyun, sorry, but dui, dui, dui seems to be what Shenzhen people use for “correctomundo.” BTW, you mean IRS, not Inland Revenue.

June 26, 2013 @ 5:03 pm | Comment

On the record, how previous whistleblowers fared and their advice to Snowden;

http://chinamatters.blogspot.sg/2013/06/snowden-and-three-wise-nsa.html?m=1

June 26, 2013 @ 11:54 pm | Comment

Doug. I definitely pick up on main point in# 157. re the churn of new winners and old losers. (I have been focusing on those corporations which congregate in a crony relationship around the defence establishment in this thread.)

Heard an interview without Ruchir Sharma author of Breakout Nations recently. It was not such the 8 or so nations he identified are future emergers, but some of his general conclusions.

You won’t find corporate creativity in countries such as China or Russia, for the simple reason that corporate success hinges of close govt relationships/cronyism. And here he pointed to the super rich lists in each of those countries and noted that the same individuals featured year in year out in non creative economies. And this in turn was related to the Gini coefficient.

When you have churn/snakes and ladders in the rich list, you also have creativity in the market place.

Sharma identified South Korea as THE successful economy today. From having to borrow overseas after the Asian meltdown in 1997, it had paid its debts off by 2,000. Furthermore, it now has the reserves required to incorporate NK should that regime collapse. This is an economy which has bugger all natural resources other than its workforce, and furthermore it doesn’t have the massive wealth divide unlike the crony states.

Lived in SK in 2000/1 and experienced his point in a couple of small ways, having been introduced to a couple of individuals whose pretty large companies went to the wall in 97. Not govt bailouts for these guys. They borrowed small sums and started again. Where: opened stalls in Seoul’s Dong Dae Mun Market.

I’ve probably missed a lot of Sharma’s nuances, but his main point is pretty convincing. I must also admit to having great admiration for Korean folk generally.

June 27, 2013 @ 7:14 am | Comment

@Clock #159

It is amazing that the US is stooping to the same level of emotional immaturity, isn’t it?

June 27, 2013 @ 2:38 pm | Comment

Snowden’s prospects of safe haven in a South American country just increased exponentially after the US diplomatic thuggery directed at Evo Morales. Esp, given this Ugly Gringo backdrop:

http://www.yachana.org/teaching/resources/interventions.html

All this must be giving Fidel a quiet chortle as he lives out his final years on the porch in his rocking chair.

How to become an object of global derision in a few easy lessons.

You can only afford to piss off so many foreign govts, before the ingrates – in this case

July 4, 2013 @ 6:52 am | Comment

Mexico and all points south – find a convenient common unifier – anti-US nationalism.

July 4, 2013 @ 6:56 am | Comment

Apol. And all these leftish type Latin American govts are pretty darn flaky.

Oh, what a lifeline, thanks to the brainiacs running US govt outreach. Times have sort of moved on… the Oliver North, Secord, Negroponte mindset just doesn’t cut it media wise in 2013.

This type of shit undercuts all the good things – music, some cinema and general libertarian values/J S Mills liberty of the subject – which the United States should be offering the world.

When a mafia kleptomaniac like Putin can take the mickey out of you, you should understand that you have morally bankrupt govt colonised by bureaucratic whores. And incompetent ones at that.
Clapper, Robert Mueller and the rest of the gaggle who are pulling big salaries, beltway limos, private dining rooms while providing bugger all real Homeland security to the mug punter US tax payer.

More like Sucker Nation.

July 4, 2013 @ 6:25 pm | Comment

Snowden. Venezuela and Nicaragua. Told you so you fat/overweight Gringos.

Recall the Somoza family and the US financed Condor death squads during the Reagan years.

You now have about as much global credibility as Turkmenistan.

Enjoy.

July 6, 2013 @ 4:54 pm | Comment

Snowden’s credibility grows with each new headline. Definitely now a candidate for a Nobel Peace prize.

Obama (who is probably totally clueless regarding the activities of his intelligence agencies), Boy Wonder Carney and whiskery James Clapper now enjoy CCTV levels of credibility.

Really, it is not a question of individuals and their credibility. Rather, it relates to the institutional nature and trajectory of a new form of state which is finally displacing democratic republicanism.

And Cameron is another weasel pushing GB towards this new model of surveillance governmentality.

All you folk who disparaged Assange. Sack cloth and ashes till you shuffle off this mortal coil.

October 25, 2013 @ 6:18 am | Comment

[...] this story, so I won’t give you a long list of links. However, I did want to point you to Richard Burger’s post on The Peking Duck, which I found to be blunt, fair, and devoid of bullshit. Of particular import is the discussion on [...]

February 9, 2014 @ 3:11 am | Pingback

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