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Edward Snowden Declares ‘Mission Accomplished’

Edward Snowden 2

The public hasn’t heard from Edward Snowden, at the center of what has ended up being the biggest domestic and international news story of 2013, since he gave an on-camera interview to The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald back when he was still hiding out in an undisclosed location in Hong Kong. Since then, contact between Snowden and the outside world has been through people he’s talked to, press statements released in his name, and of course the information that he has released via Greenwald and other reporters around the world in the past five months. Today, though, The Washington Post‘s Barton Gellman is out with a report based on his interview with the former NSA contractor from a location somewhere in Russia during which Snowden contends that he released the information he procured solely as a means of informing the American and world public of what the NSA was doing so they could have a public discussion of the propriety of those NSA activities and that, as he sees it, he has accomplished what he set out to do:

Snowden offered vignettes from his intelligence career and from his recent life as “an indoor cat” in Russia. But he consistently steered the conversation back to surveillance, democracy and the meaning of the documents he exposed.

“For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished,” he said. “I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”

“All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed,” he said. “That is a milestone we left a long time ago. Right now, all we are looking at are stretch goals.”

Snowden is an orderly thinker, with an engineer’s approach to problem-solving. He had come to believe that a dangerous machine of mass surveillance was growing unchecked. Closed-door oversight by Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was a “graveyard of judgment,” he said, manipulated by the agency it was supposed to keep in check. Classification rules erected walls to prevent public debate.

Toppling those walls would be a spectacular act of transgression against the norms that prevailed inside them. Someone would have to bypass security, extract the secrets, make undetected contact with journalists and provide them with enough proof to tell the stories.

The NSA’s business is “information dominance,” the use of other people’s secrets to shape events. At 29, Snowden upended the agency on its own turf.

“You recognize that you’re going in blind, that there’s no model,” Snowden said, acknowledging that he had no way to know whether the public would share his views.

“But when you weigh that against the alternative, which is not to act,” he said, “you realize that some analysis is better than no analysis. Because even if your analysis proves to be wrong, the marketplace of ideas will bear that out. If you look at it from an engineering perspective, an iterative perspective, it’s clear that you have to try something rather than do nothing.”

By his own terms, Snowden succeeded beyond plausible ambition. The NSA, accustomed to watching without being watched, faces scrutiny it has not endured since the 1970s, or perhaps ever.

The cascading effects have made themselves felt in Congress, the courts, popular culture, Silicon Valley and world capitals. The basic structure of the Internet itself is now in question, as Brazil and members of the European Union consider measures to keep their data away from U.S. territory and U.S. technology giants including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo take extraordinary steps to block the collection of data by their government.

In response to the charges that have been raised against him by the Obama Administration, NSA officials, law enforcement, those in charge of Congressional oversight of the intelligence community, Snowden remains defiant and argues that it was the failure of others to properly oversee the NSA that made his actions both inevitable and justified:

In his interview with The Post, Snowden noted matter-of-factly that Standard Form 312, the ­classified-information nondisclosure agreement, is a civil contract. He signed it, but he pledged his fealty elsewhere.

“The oath of allegiance is not an oath of secrecy,” he said. “That is an oath to the Constitution. That is the oath that I kept that Keith Alexander and James Clapper did not.”

People who accuse him of disloyalty, he said, mistake his purpose.

“I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA,” he said. “I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it.”

What entitled Snowden, now 30, to take on that responsibility?

“That whole question — who elected you? — inverts the model,” he said. “They elected me. The overseers.”

He named the chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees.

“Dianne Feinstein elected me when she asked softball questions” in committee hearings, he said. “Mike Rogers elected me when he kept these programs hidden. . . .The FISA court elected me when they decided to legislate from the bench on things that were far beyond the mandate of what that court was ever intended to do. The system failed comprehensively, and each level of oversight, each level of responsibility that should have addressed this, abdicated their responsibility.”

“It wasn’t that they put it on me as an individual — that I’m uniquely qualified, an angel descending from the heavens — as that they put it on someone, somewhere,” he said. “You have the capability, and you realize every other [person] sitting around the table has the same capability but they don’t do it. So somebody has to be the first.”

There is much, much more to the interview, including some discussion of the specifics of the programs that were revealed to the public by Snowden’s revelations and Snowden’s reaction to the recent decision by Judge Richard Leon declaring the NSA’s metadata program to be unconstitutional, which he quite obviously sees as some form of vindication of his actions. On the whole, though, it’s clear that Snowden believes his actions to be the only acceptable means by which information about these controversial NSA programs could have ultimately been become known to the public, dismissing the suggestion that he should have taken the issue to the Oversight Committees in Congress rather than violating the law be absconding with classified information, an attitude that isn’t surprising given his disdain for those committees and what he sees as their failure to properly oversee what the NSA is doing. Given the fact that its unlikely that any of the information that has become public this year would have ever been revealed had it been left up to either Senator Feinstein or Congressman Rogers, it’s hard to argue with Snowden on that point.

Gellman’s colleague Max Fisher writes fairly positively about Snowden’s comments and places him within the tradition of American nationalists who see a distinction between the American government and “America” as a nation:

Snowden returned several times to this distinction, between the U.S. government and its public, to argue that if he had worked against the former, it was only in service of the latter and the higher ideals it represents. On its face, this is a reasonable position and certainly consistent with how Snowden has framed his decision to leak U.S. secrets to the world.

At a deeper level, though, Snowden’s language and his description of his mission echo a worldview that is unique neither to him nor even to Americans. These ideas, that the government has strayed far enough from the public interest that it must be brought back into check, and more fundamentally that a person can and perhaps should be loyal to the nation over its government, is a worldview that in any other national context we would call nationalism.

Leaks of the NSA’s surveillance programs by Snowden, which the Obama administration has at times portrayed as traitorous, were actually, in Snowden’s telling, acts of patriotic loyalty — something that he suggests administration officials can’t see because they themselves have lost that sense of loyalty.

(…)

“I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA,” he told Gellman. “I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it.”

In the nationalist’s worldview, when a government strays from its primary duty of serving the nation, it becomes not just justifiable but near compulsory to challenge that government on behalf of the nation. Working against the government, in this view, isn’t an act of treachery, but is in fact the highest level of patriotism, for it demonstrates an allegiance to the nation itself and calls attention to the enemies within.

Nationalist movements like these are typically right-wing, such as in the streets and the social networks of contemporary China or in much of 1980s Latin America. But not always. The Egyptian protesters who toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, for example, could be called left-wing nationalists, having decried Mubarak for failing both liberal values and the national ideal of the Egyptian nation. So it would not be outlandish for Snowden to be both a left-leaning libertarian and a nationalist.

Snowden positions himself, in this interview, as working on behalf of the nation rather than on behalf of — and, perhaps, in opposition to — the government. This is a defining feature of many a nationalist movement, this idea that the government no longer truly represents the nation (used interchangeably in the United States with “the people”) and must thus be challenged from the outside.

Whether one finds Snowden’s rhetoric powerful or nonsFor ensical, and whether one considers his actions justifiable or not, is going to depend on many factors, but much of it strikes me as depending on where one sits on the “nationalism” debate that Fisher describes here. For those who believe that the law must be followed and that the government must be given deference in its efforts to protect the nation from outside threats, Snowden’s arguments are nonsense, perhaps even dangerous nonsense. For those who contend that there is often something higher than the strict letter of the law, and that a government that acts in contravention of Constitution or in a manner that violates the rights of its citizens does not deserve the degree of loyalty that the oath Snowden agreed to calls for, or, alternatively, that the ultimately loyalty is to the Constitution rather than the government. Both attitudes seem to exist on both sides of the political aisle so it’s hard to call it a left v. right or Republican v. Democratic debate. Indeed, in many ways, it’s a debate that we’ve been having for a long time and one that the Snowden revelations have only served to move to the top of the agenda with new information.

As I’ve said on here before, my own opinion of Snowden is mixed. While I agree that he broke the law and ought to face some kind of punishment for that, I think it’s important to recognize that but for his action we would not be having the conversations about intelligence gathering of massive amounts of information, NSA surveillance of both domestic and international phone and Internet metadata, the appropriateness of the NSA programs that have been justified in the name of the “War On Terror,” and the proper role of the 4th Amendment in an era where so many of us live our lives online and store information in the cloud. But for Snowden, we wouldn’t be having any of those conversations today. We also wouldn’t have one of the first rulings ever from a Federal Judge in a publicly released opinion declaring those same NSA programs unconstitutional. For that, I’d say owe Edward Snowden if not a “Thank you” or amnesty then at least acknowledgment and some degree of appreciation for setting off a publi debate on a very important issue.

Whichever side of the debate you fall on, though, I’d suggest reading the interview in full for yourself.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    Without reading beyond the headline … it strikes me that Mr. Snowden has made a fair assessment.

    [and reading, yeah, good interview]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. dennis says:

    This is what bugs me about Snowden. He did what he did, in what is my opinion, out of some self-righteous, self-imposed obligation. Whether anyone believes it or not, there were several ways he could have exposed this without resorting to a crime to do it. If you’re willing to stick out your crank on the floor, you gotta know somebody is gonna step on it. I’ve done it three times in my 19+ years in government service (military, Border Patrol) and paid the consequences. I’m still around to talk about it.

    Snowden, by his own admission, went into this with every intention of doing what he did. Now, we have to feel sorry for him? That’s bull. He should come back and face his accusers and those he accused with the same self-righteous intent with which he got into this mess.

    By the way, this is no commentary on the heinous stomping the NSA is giving the Constitution and us.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 4

  3. HarvardLaw92 says:

    The self-righteous can, and do, always excuse what they do in the name of their cause, however heinous.

    Enjoy exile and de facto imprisonment. It drove Philby to more or less drink himself to death. We’ll see how worthwhile you still think it is 40 years from now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 7

  4. john personna says:

    To answer both dennis and Harvard, I’ve always taken it as a given that Snowden was unbalanced. “Sane” people never take this kind of risk.

    I mean he had a good job, and a girlfriend, and lived in Hawaii. Sane people don’t give that up.

    Of course, for an unbalanced person taking a very, very, great risk, he hasn’t done badly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  5. Argon says:

    I don’t consider his crimes heinous. I really don’t see a great alternative path for getting this information out, and I think it was essential information to divulge. Unless you can nail government propaganda six separate ways with hard facts, they’ll continue to spin and lie. What Snowden has shown, they can’t lie about anymore.

    I agree that Snowden has to be a strange dude to have done this but I think we’re better off for him divulged the information. I also think it would be far better to have him back in the US with a slight wrist slap than leaving him out. Certainly no ticket tape parades but no exile either.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  6. rudderpedals says:

    “Was it necessary to dump all of the documents related to US activities against non-US targets? You don’t think it’s legitimate for the USG to spy internationally at all, do you?”

    Softbally interview. One could wish for better questions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  7. Tylerh says:

    “Whichever side of the debate you fall of….”

    This is a very, very old debate: at least 2,500 years old.

    Sophocles completely understood Snowden’s position, and is smiling on Edward from across the millennia.

    Those who unthinkingly observe the laws of the state will get a piece of Creon’s fate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  8. -Mona- says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I thought I’d find you here.

    You may recall interacting with me and that I cited Justice Sotomayor’s call to reassess Smith v. Maryland in her Jones concurrence — Judge Richard Leon just did as well in the NSA case almost certainly on appeal now to the DC Cir. Moreover, the reasoning in the White House Review Panel’s Report on the NSA is similar. (You didn’t find her reasoning persuasive and preferred to stand on Smith.)

    We have Edward Snowden to thank that the case Leon is hearing — and others in federal courts around the country — has not been dismissed for lack of standing and/or the State Secrets privilege.

    Justice Sotmayor’s argument that Smith is wholly inadequate to the digital age will now be litigated. (As Leon notes, Smith is also of dubious precedential value vis-a-vis the surveillance apparatus the NSA is erecting.) As a citizen, I am immensely grateful that Edward Snowden has allowed this critical 4th Amendment issue to be addressed in open court.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  9. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @-Mona-:

    I recall you being somewhat nasty about it and going for the ad hominem, so I’ll be less than engaged here.

    I still don’t find her reasoning, or Leon’s, persuasive. They amount to “I am offended by this, so I am going invent a way to recapture privacy after it has been ceded.”

    There is no instance in which you can willingly reveal information to a third party and expect to retain 4th Amendment protection. Statutory protections, sure, by all means legislate away. I wouldn’t be offended in the least, but the Constitution offers no protection here.

    “I do not like this” does not equate to “this is unconstitutional”.

    Sotomayor’s position on the issue is entirely predictable, but as I noted, she won’t be the deciding vote. She was never going to be.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  10. de stijl says:

    Snowden offered vignettes from his intelligence career and from his recent life as “an indoor cat” in Russia.

    I believe that what Snowden did was important and his revelations about what the NSA was, and is, doing needed to happen. I’m glad that he released the information.

    He also believes that nations should not spy on one another as well as spy on their own citizens.

    Dashing off to Hong Kong and Russia? As one who believes that countries should not spy on one another? What does he think that China and Russia do? I don’t remember previous American whistleblowers hopping on a plane to Cuba when things got tight.

    Foolish, brave, naive, stout-hearted, myopic, cowardly, idealist, self-absorbed. Holy crap! He’s a psychoanalysts dream case!

    We need to have a strong and healthy debate on information privacy and national security. But this belief that countries should not try to figure out what other countries are thinking, or doing, or thinking about doing is just foolish and naive.

    A world without spies is a much bloodier one. People make really bad decisions in the absence of correct information. Especially when one layers it with nationalism / tribalism.

    Knowing what our friends and enemies are doing and planning to do is an absolute good thing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  11. stonetools says:

    Mission accomplished, eh?

    Wonder if Al-Queada’s heard of this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  12. john personna says:

    @de stijl:

    We need to have a strong and healthy debate on information privacy and national security. But this belief that countries should not try to figure out what other countries are thinking, or doing, or thinking about doing is just foolish and naive.

    Snowden:

    “I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA,” he said. “I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it.”

    Glad you two could agree.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  13. john personna says:

    You know, early on in the Snowden affair we had threads where skeptics could not believe that the NSA could or would collect as much as rumor said they did. It turned out that pessimists were optimists, and government was collecting a bit more.

    The idea that we might roll back warrantless cellphone location (metadata) tracking is pretty amazing to me (pessimist?).

    But I think it’s a good thing. We do not need warrantless surveillance to be safe. We just need surveillance with due process.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  14. de stijl says:

    @-Mona-:

    I thought I’d find you here.

    You may recall interacting with me

    then

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I recall you being somewhat nasty about it and going for the ad hominem, so I’ll be less than engaged here.

    I have no dog in this fight, and no idea who is right or wrong.

    But HarvardLaw92 just rewrote the definition of retort. Taut. Concise.

    Awesome is an overused word. Not in this case.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  15. -Mona- says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I still don’t find her reasoning, or Leon’s, persuasive. They amount to “I am offended by this, so I am going invent a way to recapture privacy after it has been ceded.”

    No, actually it amounts to a realistic assessment of the Internet, wired age vis-a-vis the Founders’ intent in providing the protections of the 4th Amendment.

    As Scalia has observed (see, Kyllo), the High Court is not going to allow technological advances to swallow the 4th. Neither should the practicalities of the digital age when the NSA can map your life with your Internet and telephone metadata — including tracking your movements.

    Judge Leon gets that, the WH Review Panel does, I do, and so do many, many others. As Sotomayor wrote in Jones:

    …it may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties. This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks.

    Indeed.

    And again, it is thanks to Edward Snowden that this incredibly important constitutional matter can now be litigated in open court.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  16. de stijl says:

    @john personna:

    Glad you two could agree.

    I don’t understand your comment. Not being snarky. Snowden has clearly stated that countries should not spy on another, as well as their own citizens.

    Why would a person like that even work for, much less try to improve, a spy shop? Who else are they going to spy on?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  17. john personna says:

    @de stijl:

    Do you have a reference for that?

    I thought his thing was that spying went beyond Constitutional mandate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. john personna says:

    Reading a bit, I think Snowden’s thing is that surveillance should not be universal and omnipresent.

    As I say, I agree with that. I’d much rather have warrant-based information requests.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  19. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @-Mona-:

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  20. de stijl says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    LOL is another overused word. Unjustifiably in this case.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. dazedandconfused says:

    He means well, and maybe it’s better for mankind if the inter-tubes are spread much more equitably around the world, and if Snowden has affected things in a far-reaching way, that may prove to be the one. Bad news for the US ISP’s, and US dominance of the tech world, but it is what it is. The tax rates on the wealthy in the EU are pretty tough compared to ours, and there isn’t even a FISA anywhere else.

    Ironically, ’tis the anniversary of a similar counter-intelligence blunder, naifs unwisely receiving only part of the picture. Three knuckleheads moseyed right into Herod the Great’s chambers and asked to see the “newborn king of the Jews”. Got every kid in the town under two killed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  22. Mikey says:

    Self-righteous twaddle from a self-righteous twatwaffle. He wants to hurt America and benefit our adversaries, period. His actions are not consistent with any other motive. If this were just about our government’s gathering of data on Americans and how it might be used relevant to Americans, then he would not have given China the information he did. He would not be offering to help Brazil fight American intel gathering. He would not be offering the same to Germany. And he would not have offered himself up in a way that allowed a journalist-murdering quasi-gangster thug like Vladimir fucking Putin take the moral high ground.

    And I expected much better of Bart Gellman than this fellating softball farce of an interview. Good Lord.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 5

  23. Mikey says:

    Well, that one’s gone to comment purgatory. I should have put the little asterisks in between the f and k…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  24. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @john personna: I’m not sure that I can see where the Constitution mandates spying at all (it appears to be silent on the question).

    Same request: Do you have a reference for that?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. Mikey says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:

    I’m not sure that I can see where the Constitution mandates spying at all (it appears to be silent on the question).

    I think “provide for the common Defence” covers it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  26. Michelle says:

    @john personna: A blanket rejection of surveillance is not the answer. There are many instances of cameras catching both crooks and the police doing wrong.

    Mona is a Greenwald clinger. I wonder if she keeps defending him in hopes of latching on to some of those millions he has finally gotten. He has always been looking for a payday. She has always been looking for a payday as well — mostly through him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  27. Barry says:

    @dennis: “Whether anyone believes it or not, there were several ways he could have exposed this without resorting to a crime to do it. If you’re willing to stick out your crank on the floor, you gotta know somebody is gonna step on it. I’ve done it three times in my 19+ years in government service (military, Border Patrol) and paid the consequences. I’m still around to talk about it.”

    Bullsh*. This isn’t a run-of-the-mill deal; it’s exposing the actions of the elite deep state, people who see Presidents, Senators and SCOTUS justices com and go.

    And given the level of classification, and the courts’ unwillingness to touch this, there was no other way.

    I notice that you yourself don’t mention a way, let alone a realistic one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. Barry says:

    @HarvardLaw92: “Enjoy exile and de facto imprisonment. It drove Philby to more or less drink himself to death. We’ll see how worthwhile you still think it is 40 years from now. ”

    I’m sure that that files of the KGB contain lots of detail on the break-down of many, many dissidents, after decades of punishment took their toll.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. dennis says:

    @Barry:

    Well, Barry, maybe I shouldn’t have thrown that out there without providing the ways. Don’t really have a lot of time; I’m already late on my thesis paper. But to put it succinctly, it was a chickens*** move by Snowden to grab the goods, haul ass, then start talking sh** outside the clutches of those he accused. It’s not like he applied for the job, got hired and then discovered all this nefarious sh** was going on. He, like the rest of us, knew it was already occurring.

    So he created this grand scheme where he would “infiltrate” and expose, with every intention of hauling ass out of U.S. reach. So, if the “mission” was so righteous, he should have stayed here to see it through. And all this conspiracy theory, no-one-is-touchable state of play you have going on in your head is just that – a conspiracy theory. Anybody and everybody can be touched.

    That still is not to say that I agree with the NSA’s behavior. Which I stated was heinous, not Snowden’s actions. That was cowardly. Own your sh** if you’re gonna do something.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  30. dennis says:

    @Barry:

    Now, I’m kind of pissed. Apart from the theft of government property, everything Snowden did was a selfish act. He left his folks, friends and girlfriend (wasn’t she actually his fiance? I don’t know.) in the lurch, not knowing what the hell was going on. All this talk about bravery and sacrifice is bulls***. You wanna be brave? Come walk the line at 0300 — alone — waiting for armed drug smugglers to cross into the country and apprehend them. Don’t give me this crap about how brave Snowden was. He ran, all the while talking about he was doing the right thing. I never ran off the line.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  31. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Barry:

    I’m sure that that files of the KGB contain lots of detail on the break-down of many, many dissidents, after decades of punishment took their toll.

    Snowden, like Philby, made his own bed through his own choices. He chose to ferry state secrets to foreign powers. I feel absolutely zero sympathy for whatever tribulations he may have to endure.

    Because he brought them on himself.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  32. Grewgills says:

    @dennis: @Barry:

    He, like the rest of us, knew it was already occurring.

    We all suspected it was going on, but since we couldn’t prove it was going on no one had standing to sue over the invasion of privacy and there were still vociferous arguments over whether it was going on. After he released the information the debate shifted to should they be doing what they are doing. He did accomplish something positive with that.

    Had he limited what he released to what the government was doing to spy on US citizens and either remained anonymous (ala Deepthroat) or stayed and faced trial I would respect him. As it is, he is a deeply flawed, attention seeking coward, that managed one positive act in an otherwise shameful episode.

    What he did after, running to China, then Russia, and offering help to foreign powers to aid them in counter espionage against us, all of that was cowardly and depending on what information he has now passed on to China and Russia potentially treasonous.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  33. dennis says:

    @Grewgills:

    Okay. I can accept that opinion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. john personna says:

    @Michelle:

    I don’t know why I can repeatedly call for constitutional, warranted, surveillance, and then be told:

    A blanket rejection of surveillance is not the answer.

    Is this confusion? Meant to imply that constitutionality and due process are too great of burdens?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  35. john personna says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:

    Dumb question. Spying long predates the Constitution.

    The Constitution actually could have been written to endorse universal search, right. It did not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  36. Console says:

    The fact that a person like Snowden could exist is an indictment of the NSA in and of itself, no matter how you feel about Snowden. The reality is that Snowden actually could have been an agent of a foreign government. And this is on top of Snowden exposing outright lies and unconstitutional actions.

    Not to mention, america didn’t have this type of thing happening before 9/11 and we got by just fine. I have no problem with forcing the NSA to explain its actual value to the world. What makes now different from the past? How can you show that you’ll actually protect such a valuable database? People don’t even trust Obamacare to protect their info, but magically the NSA’s info can’t be used for wrong doing?

    Snowden is a hero, period. I don’t care how self-absorbed or self-righteous he is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  37. James Pearce says:

    I read the whole thing. It’s the product of a guy with an inflated sense of self-importance who is now living almost entirely in a bubble, and I don’t mean some undisclosed location in Russia, but I mean an intellectual bubble. I’m sure he’s read some of what the critics have said about him, but he’s literally working hand-in-hand with Gellman and Greenwald not only to dribble these leaks out but to improve the Snowden brand.

    Listen to him:

    For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished. I already won.

    Did you, Snowden? Let’s see….you blew the lid off a significant spy program, messing things up operationally for the short term and institutionally for the long term. You’ve got a few non-binding recommendations that are entirely devoted not to dismantling the spy program but making it more palatable to a skeptical public. You’ve got people so worried their phones being tapped that they cannot stop joking about it. And you have those espionage charges you’ll either have to face or evade forever.

    But you already won?

    “All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed.”

    We already do. It’s not perfect, but don’t tell me that all you wanted was something you already had.

    “The oath of allegiance is not an oath of secrecy.”

    Says the guy who worked for the N(o) S(uch) A(gency). Pretty sure the guys who gave you your security clearance were pretty adamant on the secrecy stuff. They might have even mentioned the relevant sections in the United States Code by number.

    “I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA.”

    From Russia? Does Greenwald know you’re working to improve the NSA?

    “They elected me. The overseers.”

    Um, I don’t think that is how an election actually works….

    I guess the upside of all this is that it seems like many business interests (Yahoo, Google, etc) are finally getting serious about data encryption. Which is nice. After all, the scope of the NSA’s spying effort has been greatly assisted by the scope of the private sector’s ravenous appetite for data collection.

    Maybe someday in the near future we’ll stop asking the NSA why they’re doing their job and start asking Facebook and Google if they really need to know everything about me.

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  38. Mikey says:

    @Console:

    Not to mention, america didn’t have this type of thing happening before 9/11 and we got by just fine.

    Except for, well, 9/11…

    We have “this type of thing happening” now because the American people demanded it. Now that we’ve gone 12 years without another attack of that kind and scale, we have the luxury of complaining about what the government implemented in response to our demands.

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  39. dazedandconfused says:

    @James Pearce:

    …and start asking Facebook and Google if they really need to know everything about me.

    “If you aren’t the customer, you’re the product.”

    They won’t cease gathering until we start paying their bills.

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  40. dennis says:

    @Mikey:

    Mikey is so right. We are, collectively, such a spoiled bunch.

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  41. john personna says:

    @Mikey:

    Now that we’ve gone 12 years without another attack of that kind and scale, we have the luxury of complaining about what the government implemented in response to our demands.

    Don’t forget the Gonzales Hospital Episode.

    On the night of March 10, 2004, as Attorney General John D. Ashcroft lay ill in an intensive-care unit, his deputy, James B. Comey, received an urgent call.

    White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and President Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., were on their way to the hospital to persuade Ashcroft to reauthorize Bush’s domestic surveillance program, which the Justice Department had just determined was illegal.

    In vivid testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Comey said he alerted FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and raced, sirens blaring, to join Ashcroft in his hospital room, arriving minutes before Gonzales and Card. Ashcroft, summoning the strength to lift his head and speak, refused to sign the papers they had brought …

    It is a little bit of “scene fitting” to say that we knew and approved of these things, when many in the corridors of power were not even buying in.

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  42. john personna says:

    @this:

    Dear idiot downvioter,

    Sir Francis Walsingham (c. 1532 – 6 April 1590) was principal secretary to Queen Elizabeth I of England from 20 December 1573 until his death, and is popularly remembered as her “spymaster”.

    The idea that the Founders did not know of spying, when their wrote limitations on search and seizure, is preposterous.

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  43. al-Ameda says:

    @Console:

    Not to mention, america didn’t have this type of thing happening before 9/11 and we got by just fine.

    My recollection is that, in the aftermath of September 11th, Americans wanted a security program like this.

    We, The People, are extremely hypocritical on this subject. It is a kabuki of the highest order for Americans to now pretend to be shocked that the NSA is using advanced data mining methods to review electronic and digital communication data. Also, the most prominent critics, our tech companies, are big hypocrites in this too. They aggressively are mining (often without direct user consent) customer data of hundreds of millions of users to advance their business profitability.

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  44. Mikey says:

    @john personna:

    It is a little bit of “scene fitting” to say that we knew and approved of these things, when many in the corridors of power were not even buying in.

    Well, I wasn’t meaning to assert we knew and approved of every detail, but we demanded “never again” and that doesn’t get done without a non-trivial amount of fine line walking. Disagreements among those charged with implementation are therefore not too surprising.

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  45. john personna says:

    @Mikey:

    I get you, but the problem with these “we wanted” things is that it tries to rope in me, when I did not want or ask for warrantless surveillance.

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  46. Mikey says:

    @john personna: There were other voices back in 2001 speaking against provisions of the Patriot Act, of course, so it wasn’t a unanimous call. But when it came down to it, most Americans’ position was “Never again, and the details of how are up to the government.”

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  47. dennis says:

    @Mikey:

    I have to admit, Mikey and john, that I was one of the stupid ones thinking it’d be okay, despite a friend telling me the Patriot Act is invasive and will morph into a chimera of civil liberties violations. Boy, was he right and I was wrong.

    Of course, I’ve stopped believing in all kinds of myths and fairy tales lately . . .

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  48. Grewgills says:

    @Mikey:
    True enough, but the American people were reacting emotionally to a terrorist attack, rather than logically weighing a very loosely defined and mostly unknown loss of liberty against irrational fears of something that would likely never directly effect them. That there were people ready to play on those fears to increase the reach of government spying on its own citizens or that people were then willing to give up a measure of their freedom for an uncertain measure of increased safety does not mean that it was a good idea. Neither does it mean that we shouldn’t be working to counteract much of what the inappropriately named Patriot Act did and continues to do. I have opposed most of the increased security measures from the start. The real loss of liberty is not worth the questionable gain in safety. That it has taken the American people this long to come around, does not make those of us who have opposed it from the start hypocrites. That it may or may not make the Americans that have changed their mind after seeing what the increased security actually means hypocrites is entirely irrelevant.

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  49. Mikey says:

    @Grewgills: The problem those on your side of the debate have is pretty simple: most Americans just don’t care very much. They don’t perceive a loss of liberty, except maybe at the airport and most of them just accept it as necessary in that context.

    You say

    The real loss of liberty is not worth the questionable gain in safety.

    but most Americans don’t feel there has been a loss of liberty (or if they do, they don’t really care). And if Snowden didn’t move the needle, I’m pretty sure nothing will.

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  50. ElisaNsusie says:

    Snowden your mission is NOT accomplished yet..if your originals idea was to expose the illegal crimes being done against humanity, then you must now expose the earthLiars, is time to expose the CIA crimes now, if you really want to contribute for a better world. IAM a victim of one of the most inhumane crimes ever done to the human race…the CIA MK-ULTRA and there are entire communities in the Southern Brazil being used right now for terrible things, ALL under the CIA Mind Control technology that was developed in the past 60 years by using innocent Brazilian citizens for testing. IS THE TRUTH and this crime must stop.http://lefrangls4vr.wix.com/elisansusie

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  51. john personna says:

    @Mikey:

    The problem those on your side of the debate have is pretty simple: most Americans just don’t care very much.

    How do I know that this claim is not just that, a claim?

    Isn’t the NSA spying report released this week progress for civil libertarians?

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  52. Mikey says:

    @john personna:

    How do I know that this claim is not just that, a claim?

    How much outcry have you heard lately about the NSA compared to, say, Duck Dynasty?

    But that’s just anecdotal, so there’s also this October poll from Gallup that indicates Americans are less concerned about government surveillance of the internet and e-mail than they were in 2000:

    U.S. Internet Users Less Concerned About Gov’t Snooping
    Fewer Americans very concerned, even after 9/11 and Snowden revelations

    And specifically referring to the PRISM program revealed by Snowden: “only 35% said they were “very concerned” about their privacy rights being potentially violated as part of such a program.”

    Isn’t the NSA spying report released this week progress for civil libertarians?

    Do you think it will lead to substantive change? I have my doubts.

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  53. Grewgills says:

    @Mikey:
    That most Americans tend to the apathetic and rarely engage for any length of time with complex political topics doesn’t make it a good thing. It does make it intractable and I am skeptical that we will have any material roll back of the liberties we have lost. That doesn’t make me happy about the situation.

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  54. Mikey says:

    @Grewgills: It’s not really a complex political topic. People engage with what they care about, and they stay engaged with what they care about. Most don’t care about NSA surveillance. They’ve either made a calculation and accepted it as necessary, or they consider it an inevitable byproduct of the information age, or most likely both.

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  55. Grewgills says:

    @Mikey:
    Weighing the benefits of an NSA program that we know precious little about against its cost to our personal liberties is a complicated issue.
    You have more faith in how the average American engages in politics than I do. I don’t think the average Joe has made any such calculation. More likely they have set it and most politics aside as something that they can’t really effect and so ignore almost all politics outside of a few hot button issues that have some visceral appeal to them. Even those they don’t generally give more than lip service to and about 2/3s of them go as far as to vote every 2-4 years.
    We have a largely disengaged electorate that by and large don’t educate themselves on the issues for one reason or another.

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  56. Console says:

    @Mikey:

    What does tapping Angela Merkel’s phone have to do with preventing terrorist attacks? Granting this massive secret power to a bureaucracy doesn’t result in contained sensible policy. It metastasizes.

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  57. john personna says:

    @Mikey:

    I guess the striking thing is that by denying that anyone wants change, you are fighting change.

    Rather transparently.

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  58. James Pearce says:

    @john personna:

    Isn’t the NSA spying report released this week progress for civil libertarians?

    Not really.

    The recommendations in that report are rather mild, don’t have the force of law, and have not been embraced by the Administration. If even half of them are implemented, I would be very surprised.

    From your link:

    The highest-profile recommendation from the panel involves the handling of the database the NSA currently maintains with five-years-worth of data on telephone calls made to, from, or within the U.S. The report proposes ending the NSA’s collection of that information, with investigators relying in the future on similar information in the private sector.

    And this:

    It urges that the government make a voluntary pact with technology companies to store the data, but also discusses the possibility of legislation to force storage of call records, perhaps by a private organization that could pool the data.

    Which civil libertarian is this supposed to impress?

    Or this?

    Sunstein acknowledged in a brief interview Wednesday that the legal standard wouldn’t change for queries on particular telephone numbers and would not increase to the “probable cause” needed to obtain the content of communications, but he said the fact that requests would have to go to judge might cause the authorities to re-think some of their requests.

    Can the objections of civil libertarians can be assuaged so easily? Should they?

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  59. Mikey says:

    @Console:

    What does tapping Angela Merkel’s phone have to do with preventing terrorist attacks?

    Probably not very much, but then preventing terrorist attacks is not the sole mission of the NSA, and as a foreign leader, the Bundeskanzler is a valid intel target.

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  60. Mikey says:

    @john personna: That’s a total strawman, John. Nowhere have I ever said nobody wants change. I think it’s quite obvious some people do want change. I just believe most of Americans either support these programs or don’t care enough to demand change, and the polling, FWIW, supports my position.

    I personally don’t believe the programs are illegal, but at the same time it is certainly worthwhile to examine them more closely and push for statutory protections in areas where the Constitution is not implicated.

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  61. Mikey says:

    @Grewgills:

    You have more faith in how the average American engages in politics than I do.

    Perhaps I do. Or perhaps I’ve just realized people put more thought into things than I used to think they did. That people make a quick calculation on an issue doesn’t necessarily reduce the validity of their conclusion, and I think we should avoid falling into the trap of thinking “whoever doesn’t agree with me must not have given the issue sufficient consideration.”

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  62. john personna says:

    @Mikey:

    So, you answer people who demand change by saying “but no one demands change!”

    That gets old fast, in my humble opinion.

    [especially given that the NSA report went "our way."]

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  63. john personna says:

    Really that’s the worst part. Despite the improvement and change that we’ve seen, you repeat to us “but no one wants change.”

    Stuff that.

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  64. john personna says:

    Related:’

    A New Twist in International Relations: The Corporate Keep-My-Data-Out-of-the-U.S. Clause

    “but no one wants change.”

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  65. Mikey says:

    @john personna: Sigh. You’re just repeating the same strawman.

    I say:

    I think it’s quite obvious some people do want change.

    Then you say:

    you repeat to us “but no one wants change.”

    Seriously?

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  66. Mikey says:

    @john personna: And of course I also said this:

    I personally don’t believe the programs are illegal, but at the same time it is certainly worthwhile to examine them more closely and push for statutory protections in areas where the Constitution is not implicated.

    Which would be, of course, change.

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  67. Grewgills says:

    @Mikey:

    That people make a quick calculation on an issue doesn’t necessarily reduce the validity of their conclusion,

    Some things don’t lend themselves to snap decisions and without attention one does not know enough to make an informed decision.

    and I think we should avoid falling into the trap of thinking “whoever doesn’t agree with me must not have given the issue sufficient consideration.”

    I think most people don’t give the issues sufficient consideration period, regardless of which side they come down on. I don’t think people that agree with me are immune to making emotional decisions based on too little information.

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  68. john personna says:

    @Mikey:

    Obviously your game yesterday was to present those who wanted change as a powerless minority.

    Wear it.

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  69. Mikey says:

    @john personna: Moving the goalposts, I see. At least you’re not beating the strawman again.

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  70. Mikey says:

    @Grewgills:

    Some things don’t lend themselves to snap decisions and without attention one does not know enough to make an informed decision.

    It seems to me I’ve been asserting my side of this discussion without really knowing how much thought people have actually put into their decisions. Maybe they’ve put even less in than I think they have. It might be difficult to figure that out, though. So I’ll have to concede it’s quite possible they’ve been too “snap” in their judgment.

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  71. Mikey says:

    @john personna: Then again, saying “there aren’t enough Americans agitated about this to reach a critical mass” doesn’t equate to “those who want change are a powerless minority.” Those who want change could very well have enough influence to push the less-than-agitated to action and create that critical mass. They’re not powerless, their power is just in a different area right now.

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  72. john personna says:

    @Mikey:

    This morning I, with irritation, replied to the strawman argument.

    It’s double BS to say “your calling out my strawman is a strawman.”

    At this point we should probably just see what happens next, if the NSA recommendations go down the memory hole, as you claim(*), because no one cares, or whether it works.

    * – “Do you think it will lead to substantive change? I have my doubts.”

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  73. Mikey says:

    @john personna: I was referring specifically to the NSA committee recommendations document, which I don’t believe will lead to substantive change (@James Pearce gives a good run-down why). So, given the rather weak recommendations, and the general tendency for this stuff to, as you say, “go down the memory hole,” yes, I have my doubts.

    That does not mean nobody wants change, or that change is not possible down the road, or that I may even change my mind should more detailed information come to light.

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  74. john personna says:

    @Mikey:

    Yeah, we got your flat assurances yesterday.

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  75. Mikey says:

    @john personna: Jesus, man. Did I piss in your cornflakes this morning or something?

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  76. Mikey says:

    @john personna: Look, dude, I’m not sure why you are so grumpy, but nothing I wrote yesterday or today precludes further discussion. Certainly, saying I have my doubts the NSA committee report will lead to substantive change doesn’t mean it absolutely won’t. It just means I have my doubts, and I think I explained why, albeit briefly. And saying most Americans aren’t agitated about NSA surveillance doesn’t mean “nobody wants change” or that it’s impossible for a sufficiently motivated minority to move the needle in a different direction. I may think it unlikely, but then I could be mistaken, you know? It’s happened.

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  77. rudderpedals says:

    David Brin has a good, controversial take on this. He concentrates more on watching the watchers and on what the watchers can do with the info they’ve gathered than on attempts to circumscribe the watchers. I believe he’s right.

    http://davidbrin.blogspot.com.au/2013/12/a-blue-ribbon-panel-recommends-fixing.html

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  78. Mikey says:

    @rudderpedals: Interesting stuff. One point, though: my conversations with people who have actually submitted warrant requests to the FISA court have led me to believe it is far less a “rubber stamp” than Brin thinks it is. Still, his suggestion that there be another party present to act as a civil liberties advocate strikes me as a good one.

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  79. Mikey says:

    @Mikey: Oops…

    Still, his suggestion that there be another party present to act as a civil liberties advocate strikes me as a good one.

    should read:

    Still, his the suggestion that there be another party present to act as a civil liberties advocate strikes me as a good one.

    Sloppy reading on my part.

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  80. rudderpedals says:

    @Mikey: I believe you. Another credible commenter here on OTB in another article shared his non-rubber stamp experience.

    I thought Brin’s take was helpful in that his recommendations assume that networks have so many possible tap points it’s not at all helpful to expect more than short term tactical secrecy and we should be expecting and demanding independent, trustworthy monitors to be observing the people doing the monitoring and the disposition of the info gathered. He states it much more comprehensively and artfully – and hopefully and optimistically if you believe his Transparent Society could be implemented – than I can do justice in a short comment.

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  81. Mikey says:

    @rudderpedals: My position on this issue, overall, has generally been similar to Brin’s. We’re not going to stop the data being gathered, so we need statutory protections and monitoring of how it’s being used.

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