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More fallout from NSA revelations

It looks like Edward Snowden is settling in to life in Russia, learning the language and the culture. He may well decide to stay on there if the Russian government lets him. Although he apparently travels freely and is unrecognized by people, he is living incognito at a secret location with security, presumably just in case the US government gets an insane idea to kidnap or even kill him. They are less likely to do that in Russia than in some smaller country like Venezuela or Ecuador because the US government, like all bullies, only picks on people that cannot fight back.

The impact of Snowden’s work continues to reverberate around the world. The Brazilian president postponed a state visit to the US in reaction to reports of the US spying on her communications. The country is also considering projects that will enable their internet communications to bypass the US. Although many in the US may think this is not a major issue, thinking of Brazil as just another insignificant third world country, they are mistaken. It is one of the biggest countries in the world, with an area almost equal to that of the US and a population of 200 millions and an economy that is growing rapidly. It is one of the so-called BRICS consortium (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) that seeks to balance out the US-European dominance of the global economy.

Meanwhile in the US, the Snowden revelations have sparked more openness. The FISA court judges, smarting from accusations that they have become accomplices in the secret government spying program by rubber-stamping the spying requests it receives is arguing for more openness of its proceedings.

The court that oversees US surveillance has ordered the government to review for declassification a set of secret rulings about the National Security Agency’s bulk trawls of Americans’ phone records, acknowledging that disclosures by the whistleblower Edward Snowden had triggered an important public debate.

The Fisa court ordered the Justice Department to identify the court’s own rulings after May 2011 that concern a section of the Patriot Act used by the NSA to justify its mass database of American phone data. The ruling was a significant step towards their publication.

It is the second time in a week that a US court has ordered the disclosure of secret intelligence rulings. On Tuesday, a federal court in New York compelled the government to declassify numerous documents that revealed substantial tension between federal authorities and the surveillance court over the years.

Meanwhile, conflicting reports are emerging about the extent to which the government knows what documents were taken by Snowden. Earlier reports on August 20 said that they had little idea but later reports on September 18 said that the reason Edward Snowden had access to such a large cache of documents was because it was his job to move the documents to more secure locations and that was why he was able to take them without detection but that they knew what he had taken. As is usually the case, some of this information is given to reporters by anonymous government sources so one has to factor in the fact that they are pushing an agenda. It may well be that they have decided that acting like they know what information is out there makes them look more in control than giving the impression that they are like the rest of us, waiting to see what bombshell will explode next.

David Kravets lists the six ‘biggest whoppers’ put out by the NSA and its supporters in the wake of the NSA revelations, made by senator Diane Feinstein (a person with one of the worst records on civil liberties), Director of National Intelligence and admitted liar who still has his job James Clapper, head of the NSA Keith Alexander, attorney general Eric Holder, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, and president Obama. Isn’t it comforting to know that the people at the highest levels of government are such brazen liars?

There is no question that Edward Snowden has emerged as a heroic figure to many in the internet technology world, in which technical skill and commitment to openness are highly valued. What Snowden has revealed shows that the government works completely against that goal. In an open letter to the next unknown whistleblower, Tom Englehardt argues that the secretive system that the government has created is what will guarantee the generation of future whistleblowers who will be repulsed by it.

Dear Whistleblower,

I don’t know who you are or what you do or how old you may be. I just know that you exist somewhere in our future as surely as does tomorrow or next year. You may be young and computer-savvy or a career federal employee well along in years. You might be someone who entered government service filled with idealism or who signed on to “the bureaucracy” just to make a living. You may be a libertarian, a closet left-winger, or as mainstream and down-the-center as it’s possible to be.

I don’t know much, but I know one thing that you may not yet know yourself. I know that you’re there. I know that, just as Edward Snowden and Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning did, you will, for reasons of your own, feel compelled to take radical action, to put yourself in danger. When the time comes, you will know that this is what you must do, that this is why you find yourself where you are, and then you’re going to tell us plenty that has been kept from us about how our government really operates. You are going to shock us to the core.

And how exactly do I know this? Because despite our striking inability to predict the future, it’s a no-brainer that the national security state is already building you into its labyrinthine systems. In the urge of its officials to control all of us and every situation, in their mania for all-encompassing secrecy, in their classification not just of the millions of documents they generate, but essentially all their operations as “secret” or “top secret,” in their all-encompassing urge to shut off the most essential workings of the government from the eyes of its citizenry, in their escalating urge to punish anyone who would bring their secret activities to light, in their urge to see or read or listen in on or peer into the lives of you (every “you” on the planet), in their urge to build a global surveillance state and a military that will dominate everything in or out of its path, in their urge to drop bombs on Pakistan and fire missiles at Syria, in their urge to be able to assassinate just about anyone just about anywhere robotically, they are birthing you.

I hope he is right. I think he is right. Just as surely as authoritarian governments try to control their populations, courageous individuals fight back and rally opposition.

Snowden, Manning, Thomas Drake, William Binney, Jessalyn Radack, John Kiriakou, and others have blazed a trail for what one form of anti-authoritarian activism looks like in the information world, just as Occupy Wall Street created another form for the financial world.

There will be others.

Comments

  1. says

    Is it unfair to point out that Snowden is an extreme right Libertarian and follower of Ron Paul? Or that Manning is a very troubled young person who released gigabytes of sensitive information, but revealed no horrendous scandal?

    Some years ago, The Onion ran a piece on the secret 10-lane NAFTA superhighway. The thing appeared suddenly in people’s back yards and they were complaining about the location of the off ramps and the new McDonalds next door.

    There is a similar tin-foil hat character to much of the outrage over the NSA programs. Sorry to shout, but :

    TO INTIMIDATE PEOPLE, YOU HAVE TO TELL THEM YOU ARE WATCHING.

    ‘The Government’ already has massive information about us: The IRS, the SSA, the census. Employees of Verizon, Google, Apple, et al already know our phone records, our internet searches, our text messages.

    Police agencies at many levels have free access to individual phone records. Prosecutors have sufficient power to destroy the life of anybody they choose to target.

    We accept these things because there are legal, cultural, procedural safeguards that reduce the chance of abuse. And because the police power is a necessary part of a civilized society

    There are legitimate concerns with NSA programs, and the safeguards set up under the Bush administration are surely inadequate. BUT, there really are people out there who will cheerfully murder as many of us as they can obtain the means to do.

    The excesses of the Patriot Act are there because of 911. What excesses would we see if a nuclear bomb were detonated in the center of NYC?

  2. trucreep says

    It absolutely will happen. The problem with these fools in our government is that they do not learn from history.

    I always think of Princess Leia in A New Hope, speaking to Grand Moff Tarkin:

    “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”

    His response of course is that after he builds his super-weapon, none will dare oppose the Empire.

    Hopefully we all know how that ends ;]

    Seems like you can draw a lot of comparisons here, USG thinks they can “collect it all,” and if they just build enough infrastructure, they’ll be unstoppable.

  3. Chiroptera says

    Is it unfair to point out that Snowden is an extreme right Libertarian and follower of Ron Paul? Or that Manning is a very troubled young person who released gigabytes of sensitive information…

    Well, I don’t know whether it’s unfair, but it certainly is irrelevant.

    …but revealed no horrendous scandal?

    And untrue as well.

    TO INTIMIDATE PEOPLE, YOU HAVE TO TELL THEM YOU ARE WATCHING.

    First of all, the government wasn’t telling anyone about this — in fact, they were trying to keep it a secret and are punishing the whistle blowers for telling people, so “initimidation” couldn’t have been their motivation.

    Second of all, they weren’t watching terrorists — they were collecting information on all citizens. So if intimidation were the motivation, then they’re purpose would have been to intimidate ordinary citizens — intimidating ordinary citizens used to be called “reign of terror.”

    We accept these things because there are legal, cultural, procedural safeguards that reduce the chance of abuse.

    Except the whistle blowers like Snowden have shown that either the safeguards were inadequate or were deliberately circumvented, so you’re statement here is also untrue.

  4. says

    —-
    but it certainly is irrelevant
    ——

    It is relevant if we are going to rely upon his and Greenwald’s interpretation and . It’s also relevant if we are going make the fellow into a liberal hero.

    —-
    …but revealed no horrendous scandal?

    And untrue as well.
    —-
    Please identify the horrendous scandal that Manning revealed.
    Manning revealed a few embarrassing details, but nothing really new. He gathered up every file he could get hold of and dumped them all onto the internet. That’s vandalism, not principled action. Snowden has been more selective in releases, but running off to China and Russia with a trove of secret files is, again, not a principled action.

    ——–
    …the government wasn’t telling anyone about this — in fact, they were trying to keep it a secret and are punishing the whistle blowers for telling people, so “initimidation” couldn’t have been their motivation.
    ———
    Ok. Then what WAS the motivation? A general inclination to do dastardly deeds?
    This is where the tinfoil hats come in and the Libertarian BS comes in. Collecting and analyzing that data requires budget and staff. I can easily believe the money and people are wasted on useless effort. That’s a common outcome of bureaucratic efforts.

    But unless you see “The Government” as a monolithic evil of supernatural powers, as Snowden does, we should inquire as to the actual purposes and motives.

    ——————–
    …they weren’t watching terrorists — they were collecting information on all citizens.
    ———————-
    What evidence have you that they were NOT watching terrorists? By -all- accounts, the primary goal was to intercept communications related to terrorism. The question is whether the interception of innocent communications was excessive, necessary and legal.

    ———————-
    So if intimidation were the motivation, then they’re purpose would have been to intimidate ordinary citizens — intimidating ordinary citizens used to be called “reign of terror.”
    ———————–
    I don’t follow your logic. But, (sorry to shout again): TO INTIMIDATE PEOPLE, YOU HAVE TO TELL THEM YOU ARE WATCHING. If some dastardly agency wants to collect information and suppress dissent, there are easier and cheaper ways to get information on individuals than sorting through terrabytes of data.

    Calling this a ‘reign of terror’ is ridiculous. In Russia and China, people go to prison for criticism of the authorities. THAT’S intimidation. Putting your phone records into a database of terrabytes is……something.

    —————————–

    Except the whistle blowers like Snowden have shown that either the safeguards were inadequate or were deliberately circumvented, so you’re statement here is also untrue.
    —————————————
    What substantive harm has Snowden revealed?
    His first revelation was that the NSA had…………….(wait for it)…..——->OBTAINED A WARRANT!!!!

    I agree that the program needed better supervision. And, I wish I had more faith in the current Federal Judiciary. But, we’re not talking Big Brother here.

    The police power is inherently dangerous, but it is necessary. Again, outside of the world of Libertarians wearing tinfoil hats, there is nothing fundamentally new here.

    ————–
    FINALLY, and this is definitely an unfair argument,
    WHAT WILL YOU SAY IF NSA IS SHUT DOWN AND SOME TERRORIST BLOWS UP NYC WITH A NUKE?

    There is a real danger out there. The reason Snowden’s (and Greenwald’s and Manning’s) libertarian views are relevant is that they appear intent on stopping -all- surveillance and revealing -all- secrets. That’s just a juvenile and nonsensical position. As is all Libertarian ideology.

  5. Mano Singham says

    Ah, the ultimate mushroom cloud fearmongering rhetorical move popularized by Bush/Rice to excuse any and all government over-reach. If you realize that it is an unfair argument, why make it except to generate fear? So let me indulge in a similar exercise (in all caps just to maintain the parallel, though that is not my style):

    WHAT WILL YOU SAY IF THE US GOVERNMENT USES THE SURVEILLANCE, TORTURE, INDEFINITE DETENTION, MURDER, AND OTHER POWERS IT HAS AMASSED TO DECLARE MARTIAL LAW, ROUND UP AND EXECUTE ALL THOSE IT HAS IDENTIFIED AS POTENTIAL TROUBLEMAKERS, AND ESTABLISH A DICTATORSHIP IN WHICH ALL DUE PROCESS AND CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTIONS ARE ELIMINATED?

    All civil and democratic societies require taking some risks. We cannot eliminate all risk even if we eliminate all freedoms.

  6. says

    The fact that Bush/Cheney abused the public’s fear after 911 does not change the fact that there is a very real danger that we must deal with.

    ————————————Quote————–

    WHAT WILL YOU SAY IF THE US GOVERNMENT USES THE SURVEILLANCE, TORTURE, INDEFINITE DETENTION, MURDER, AND OTHER POWERS IT HAS AMASSED TO DECLARE MARTIAL LAW, ROUND UP AND EXECUTE ALL THOSE IT HAS IDENTIFIED AS POTENTIAL TROUBLEMAKERS, AND ESTABLISH A DICTATORSHIP IN WHICH ALL DUE PROCESS AND CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTIONS ARE ELIMINATED?

    ———————End Quote————–

    You’re sounding like the NRA here:
    IF “The Government” registers our assault rifles, we won’t be able to defend ourselves when “They” come to take us to FEMA camps.

    IF “The Government” ever starts using torture, detention, etc, WE WILL KNOW ABOUT IT !!!
    It’s like that that secret 10 lane NAFTA superhighway—it’s not going to plop down in our back yards all of a sudden.

    Various agencies of “The Government” already know all about us. And there are thousands of police agencies and prosecutors at various levels who can ruin the life of any individual they choose to target. The police power is inherently dangerous.

    The defense against abuse is not the absolutist nonsense of the Libertarians. It’s the institutions and cultural norms and civil society that has been built over several centuries by those dull, compromising Liberals.

    Sadly, the possibility of a terrorist with a nuke is very real. The nuclear explosion, or even another attack comparable to 911, would push us very quickly toward that police state we all fear. The NSA claims the monitoring programs are helpful in catching mad bombers. I have no good way to evaluate that claim; but, it’s not unreasonable.

    The benefit of the program must be -balanced- (that mushy liberal stuff again) against the (to my perception) relatively low risk of abuse. There -is- oversight. Not good enough, but it can be improved. Ultimately, we must depend on our institutions–the courts and the congress–to regulate the Executive. That’s frightening with Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, but it’s reality.

    We can debate what programs are reasonable and necessary. What we -cannot- do is allow those decisions to be made by a 20-something dropouts with delusions of grandeur.

  7. Chiroptera says

    We can debate what programs are reasonable and necessary.

    No, we can’t if the government is keeping the extent and even the existence of its surveilance programs a secret from the public. That is what the government thinks is so dangerous: it doesn’t want a discussion or debate, but that is what those “20 something dropouts with delusions of grandeur” have done. They have given us the information we need to have the debate that the government and its apologists are trying so hard to prevent and derail.

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