Previous posts in this discussion:
PostEdward Snowden Update (Boris Volodarsky, Austria, 07/18/13 6:22 am)
I believe all WAISers know by now that Ed Snowden asked Russia for a political asylum. After a well-organized and quite an unprecedented press conference at the transit zone a few days ago, everybody still pretends that Snowden is hiding somewhere between the Sheremetyevo gates. In the meantime, the British Foreign Secretary William Hague, commenting on the statement by the Intelligence and Security Committee on "GCHQ's alleged interception of communications under the US PRISM Programme," has just made the following statement:
"The Intelligence and Security Committee has today cleared GCHQ of the allegations of illegal activity made against it.
"The Committee has concluded that these allegations are 'unfounded.' I welcome these findings.
"I see daily evidence of the integrity and high standards of the men and women of GCHQ. The ISC's findings are further testament to their professionalism and values.
"I have written to Sir Malcolm Rifkind to thank him for the Committee's prompt and thorough investigation.
"The Intelligence and Security Committee is a vital part of the strong framework of democratic accountability and oversight governing the use of secret intelligence in the UK. It will continue to have the full cooperation of the Government and the security and intelligence agencies."
(BV): To my mind, the above statement is a good evidence that Snowden is just a tool in the Kremlin's hands and his so-called revelations must not be taken for granted. And his supporters' recent claims about "explosive material in Snowden's possession" are an obvious bluff.
JE comments: A week or so ago, Venezuela offered to grant asylum to Snowden. My thought? The US public has already forgotten about him. Few things are briefer than the American attention span.
Snowden News Updates
(Bienvenido Macario, USA
07/18/13 6:45 AM)
I thought WAISers might be interested in the following items:
Edward Snowden Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
July 15th, 2013
Ex-Russian spy Anna Chapman proposes marriage to Edward Snowden
Claudine Zap, July 4th, 2013
Yahoo! News Politics Arts & Entertainment National Security Agency Russia
JE comments: You cannot really "nominate" for the Nobel Peace Prize, but anyone is free to propose marriage. How about a Chapman-Snowden union--the Power Couple of espionage for the 2010s? They would cut quite a profile in Moscow.
Edward Snowden Update
(Massoud Malek, USA
08/02/13 6:08 AM)
In May 2010, the Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was arrested on suspicion of having passed classified material to the website WikiLeaks. One of the documents was a video of the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike, showing an American helicopter firing on a group of men in Baghdad. One of the men was a journalist, and two others were Reuters employees carrying cameras that the pilots mistook for an anti-tank grenade launcher (RPG-7). The helicopter also fired on a van that stopped to help the injured members of the first group; two children in the van were wounded and their father killed.
One day after Manning was convicted on 19 of 21 charges, including 6 counts of espionage, the FBI asked Edward Snowden's father to fly to Moscow to convince his son to return home, in order to be charged for espionage which carries the death penalty. Edward Snowden said the following to The Guardian and Der Spiegel:
"NSA uses a tool, called XKeyscore, to collect nearly everything a user does on the Internet. NSA not only conducted online surveillance of European citizens, but also targeted buildings housing European Union institutions. The European Union representation's computer network was also infiltrated. In this way, the Americans were able to access discussions in EU rooms as well as emails and internal documents on computers. NSA has paid at least £100m to the UK spy agency GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) over the last three years for access to Britain's intelligence gathering programs."
Last Friday, the NSA director attended the annual hacker conference in Las Vegas to recruit warriors for battles being fought on the Internet. During a keynote speech, he said: "I am absolutely impressed with some of the stuff going on here, this is the world's best cyber community. We need great talent; we don't pay as high as some of the others, but we are fun to be around." By the way, Snowden, who did not complete course work at a community college in Maryland, and ended up earning nothing but a GED, was making $122,000 a year. 85% of university professors dream of making as much as he was making in a fun place.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden a "traitor" in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America." Defending human rights, Mr. Boehner, does not make you a traitor. Snowden is telling the world that the basic human rights of Americans and Europeans are violated by the US government. He told us that there is a striking similarity between what Orwell described in 1984 and what is going on in the United States today. Every single website that we view is watched by the government. Google reads our emails, to sell us products; NSA reads our emails, to control our minds. Is NSA changing the United States of America into a land called North Korea?
JE comments: I've been out of the Snowden loop for the last fortnight; is he still holed up in Moscow?
Note that the NSA is now using "fun" as a way to lure new talent. Somehow I don't think this was a recruiting strategy before the age of video games.
Great to hear from Massoud Malek, by the way. Hope your summer is going well, Massoud! Any recent travels (and photos) to share with WAISdom?
Thoughts on the NSA
(Alan Levine, USA
08/04/13 4:15 AM)
Massoud Malek wrote on 2 August: "NSA reads our emails, to control our minds. Is NSA changing the United States of America into a land called North Korea?"
I'm not quite sure yet what to think of what the NSA does, because I'm not quite sure yet what it does. I'm waiting to form an opinion.
But even if everything Massoud reports is completely accurate, how is spying and recording what you do--even if it is every single keystroke -- "control[ling] our mind"? There is a huge difference between these. Nor is spying close to the consciously chosen policy of mass starvation as done in North Korea. This kind of hyperbole is most irresponsible and regrettable. JE usually catches and comments on such stretches, but since he missed these I felt compelled to note them.
JE comments: Yes, I should have caught the North Korea comparison, but I took Massoud's phrasing as a rhetorical question to make his point on NSA surveillance. North Koreans would be overjoyed "only" to be monitored on computer or cell phone usage--if they had computers or cell phones.
- Edward Snowden Update (Istvan Simon, USA 08/05/13 4:10 AM)
This week the Snowden affair has come to a tentative conclusion, when Russia gave him temporary asylum for a year. I had predicted in the pages of WAIS that Russia would not extradite him to the United States, and my prediction has now turned out to be correct.
Four countries have offered Snowden asylum: Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and now Russia. None of the four is known for respecting human rights, which makes this all really ironic, as Mr. Snowden has been trying to sell his act as a "service" in the interest of human rights. It is a claim that I never subscribed to.
In any case, all this means that Mr. Snowden now will have to live in a situation that he is unlikely to enjoy that much. Russian spy Anna Chapman has reportedly offered to marry him, so perhaps she will be able to ease his existence to a more tolerable one than is likely to be otherwise. Russia has made a condition of his asylum that he stop his anti-American political activities, and if that is to be really the case, there is not much else that Mr. Snowden will enjoy in Russia.
Russia tried to present its decision as "insignificant" in its overall relations with the United States, which according to Putin, should not be damaged. But it seems likely to me that it will be far more damaging to bilateral relations than Mr. Putin hopes. The fact is that Mr. Putin rarely acts like a friend of the United States. So we should treat him the same way. It is reported that President Obama is considering canceling his summit with Mr. Putin scheduled for later this year, and I think that would be the correct decision. This is not only because of the Snowden affair, but because there is nothing that seems would be worthwhile for us that we could hope to achieve in these talks. Not only has Mr. Putin ignored our request to return Mr. Snowden to the United States to be tried for his crimes, but Putin is also on the wrong side in the Syrian conflict and is unlikely to be of any help with Iran. Therefore President Obama should indeed cancel the summit, and we should reassess our entire relationship with Russia, including our commercial ties, which are currently highly favorable to Russia.
Will Mr. Snowden be able to escape his day in court in the United States? I think not. In the long run this is highly unlikely. I predicted that Mr. Snowden will not be extradited by Russia. I now venture another prediction: Mr. Snowden will eventually be prosecuted and convicted in a court of law of the United States, and he will spend time in jail for his actions.
JE comments: I sense that Snowden feels safer in Russia than he would in Venezuela, Bolivia, or Nicaragua, any of which could conceivably see a change in government that would immediately extradite him to the US. Otherwise, in Snowden's quivering shoes, I'd pick the Pacific coast region of Nicaragua, or the gorgeous city of Granada.
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
08/05/13 11:28 AM)
It doesn't seem to me, from his comments, that Istvan Simon (5 August) knows very much about the theory or practice of extradition. It is not and has never been the norm that one country will render a foreigner to another country for crimes the foreigner is accused of there. The exception is when the two countries involved are close enough to have entered into an extradition treaty, and where the alleged crime is recognized by the rendering country as a crime, and where the potential penalty is acceptable to the rendering country, and where the requesting country has presented prima facie evidence of the crime satisfactory to the rendering country. Thus even America's closest friend and ally the UK, which has virtually the same legal system as we do to boot, nevertheless does not render to the US accused persons if there is any chance that they could be subject to the death penalty, and often refuses extradition to the US for other reasons. France has refused for 20 years to extradite Roman Polanski to the US.
Thus there was never any question that Russia would extradite Edward Snowden to the US.
And would the US have extradited to Russia a Russian citizen accused of revealing mass electronic spying by FAPSI on Russian citizens and citizens of countries friendly to Russia? How does one imagine that? The US wouldn't do that in a million years, so how could anyone ever expect the Russians to do it? But actually one does not need to get to the possible whistle-blowing aspects of such a case--the US never extradites anyone to Russia at all, even murderers, a sore spot with Russia for 20 years. Why? Simply because US law forbids the extradition of anyone in the absence of an extradition treaty, except only in cases where the accused is accused of crimes of violence against US citizens. That's in 18 USC 3181 and 3184. Why anyone expects Russia to behave differently, I can't understand--it's a blatant double standard.
Let's move on to the possible whistle-blowing aspects of the Snowden case. I have been offline for a month sailing, with only sporadic and very limited Internet access, and I have not expressed an opinion on the Snowden case since I was not able to adequately inform myself. I will still have to do a lot of reading before I allow myself to form a firm opinion about the case, but I think for purposes of discussing extradition from Russia we can already discern that the case is controversial enough that many, perhaps most countries, even countries very friendly to the US, might not readily agree to extradition of Snowden.
Snowden's revelations--good summary here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_mass_surveillance_disclosures --reveal that the NSA and other US agencies have been reading our emails and analyzing our browsing activities on a scale far in excess to what was previously known. The revelations forced the US Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, to apologize for denying, under oath, before the US Congress, that such activities were taking place. See: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/07/02/198118060/clapper-apologizes-for-answer-on-nsas-data-collection . So it seems that our intelligence services have been lying not only to us, but to the US Congress, about the extent of their surveillance of ordinary Americans, and without warrants. Whether this is legal or not under the Patriot Act, I cannot say, but this certainly runs counter to American traditions of privacy and historic limitations on spying on our own citizens. Should we have the right to know that this is going on?
This part of the story is strikingly reminiscent of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. It turns out that four administrations had systematically lied to the American public about the purposes of the Vietnam War, our prospects there, and the plans for continuing it. Ellsberg disseminated a top-secret internal study of the war revealing this information--undoubtedly committing a crime, the same crime as Snowden undoubtedly committed--and was aggressively pursued for this security breach, by both legal and illegal means, including some banally sordid acts of the so-called "White House Plumbers," the revelation of which played a large role in the downfall of President Richard Nixon.
The US government also attempted to restrain the New York Times from publishing excerpts of the illegally leaked Pentagon Papers, which resulted in the famous New York Times v. The United States, a seminal First Amendment case decided by the US Supreme Court in 1971 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_Times_Co._v._United_States ). This ober dictum of Chief Justice Warren Burger is chilling: "[T]he imperative of a free and unfettered press comes into collision with another imperative, the effective functioning of a complex modern government . . . ," indeed showing a very basic misunderstanding of how the Constitution works. It reminds us of the debate today about civil liberties versus security in the aftermath of 9/11. But even Burger did not argue that the government was entitled to its restraining order, and the case was decided in favor of the Times by 6 to 3, and after that, the contents of the top-secret Pentagon Papers were published freely for all Americans to read.
Snowden's revelations have cause widespread outrage, both inside and outside the US. Americans are fairly evenly divided on the question of whether Snowden was performing a public service, or not. In most surveys, a narrow majority of Americans support Snowden's actions. In Germany, one survey revealed that 35% of Germans would even "hide Snowden in their homes," if they could (!)--http://www.balaton-zeitung.info/vermischtes/umfrage-jeder-dritte-wuerde-snowden-bei-sich-unterschlupf-bieten-12565/ . Half of Germans consider Snowden to be a hero; only 20% consider him to be a criminal. A Reuters poll showed that more Americans consider Snowden to be a "patriot," than a "traitor"--http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/12/us-usa-security-poll-idUSBRE95B1AF20130612 . Russians have similar views: http://en.rian.ru/russia/20130801/182518591/Most-Russians-Positive-About-Snowden---Survey.html .
Actually, I find it quite striking that Russians and Germans--our close NATO allies--have almost exactly the same opinions about Snowden. 51% of Russians (50% of Germans) approve of Snowden's actions, while 17% of Russians (20% of Germans) disapprove of or condemn Snowden's actions.
So why should Russia extradite Snowden, to be prosecuted for blowing the whistle on on activities which our intelligence agencies lied to our own Congress about? Why should the Russian government assist the US government in prosecuting activities which Americans themselves don't condemn, by any significant margin? Much less Russians, and even our close allies in Germany? Why should the Russians allow themselves to be a tool for this kind of controversial prosecution? Would anyone honestly expect Putin to go so much against the opinions and values of his own people, just to show loyalty to the US? The US who don't even extradite murderers to Russia, because we have no extradition treaty with Russia?
As I said, I have not yet allowed myself to form a firm opinion about Snowden--more learning and more reading is required for this. I do not like the fact that Snowden went to the Chinese with his information--how could that serve the purpose of blowing the whistle? On the other hand, the activities Snowden has revealed are horrifying, presenting the biggest threat to civil liberties we face in our age--the State becoming a truly Orwellian entity with its tentacles in every nook and cranny of our lives.
That problem is a really sticky one, without any obvious answers. Technology directly threatens privacy, and maybe privacy altogether will go the way of the dinosaurs. Soon technology will give us microscopic drones, capable of being mass produced at minimal cost, which will make it possible to maintain visual surveillance on anyone, anytime, and anywhere (see: http://cleantechnica.com/2012/02/07/johns-hopkins-researchers-develop-mav-the-size-of-a-bug/ ). How do you prevent governments from using these tools, once they exist? I'm not sure it's possible to prevent governments from reading our emails without a warrant. But by the same token, I'm not sure it's not worth trying.
I appreciate and respect Istvan's incredible enthusiasm for his adopted homeland. I might, however, respectfully suggest that he has not yet managed to absorb one key American value--the State is not identical with the People, and we do not worship or bow down to our own government, the way most other peoples do. The State has its own life, and its own interests, which are sometimes but not always aligned with the interests of the People. When the State fails to serve the interests of the People, and especially when the State lies to us, as it did about Vietnam, as it did about Iraq, and as it did and does about the extent to which it reads our emails and studies our browsing habits, then we Americans reserve the right to condemn what the State is doing in our name. We do not assign any holy significance to what the State has made a crime--we reserve the right to make up our own minds about what is right and wrong, even if this runs counter to our own laws. That is because we believe that sovereignty resides in the people, and is not imposed from above, even if this idea has become largely mythological and is not actually very true in practice.
Therefore, we have a special place in our society for people who break the law to reveal what the State is doing in our name but without our consent, especially when it is lying to us about it. People like Daniel Ellsberg. Whether Snowden deserves to be ranked alongside Ellsberg I can't say, and probably no one can say yet. Surely, I am troubled by the Chinese angle of his story. But there is enough evidence that he might, to doubt that many countries would readily extradite him. And certainly to expect that Russia would expedite him, is crazy. I'm sure that our allies, like Germany, where half the people consider Snowden to be a "held"--a "hero"--must be very grateful that the extradition request has gone to the Russians, rather to them.
JE comments: There must be many nations that are glad to have dodged the "Snowden question," and let the Russians take the heat.
Be that as it may, I'd like to assign Cameron Sawyer's post as mandatory WAIS reading, for it raises very important issues on the role of the citizen and/in the State. I hope this essay gets a good conversation started.
(Istvan Simon, USA
08/06/13 4:36 AM)
Cameron Sawyer (5 August) raised a number of issues specifically directed at me, about the Edward Snowden case.
On the issue of extradition by Russia, Cameron misinterpreted my post: I did not expect Russia to extradite him, and I have said so explicitly on WAIS. So it is a little disingenuous for Cameron to argue that I do not understand the theory or practice of extradition. But even if he were right on this question, that is, even if I were fully ignorant of the theory and practice of extradition, I think all this is hardly relevant in the Snowden case, because Russia did not base its decision on extradition law. Rather it was obviously a political decision.
If this were not the case, why would Mr. Snowden be holed up at the Moscow airport for over two months? Clearly Russia could have just told the United States two months ago: "Sorry Pal, we have no extradition treaty with you, so Mr. Snowden is welcome to stay. Besides, you do not even extradite murderers to us, so how can you expect us to extradite a mere traitor?" Case closed, and even better, from Russia's view, a clear propaganda point scored by Mr. Putin against the evil United States.
But we all know that this is not what happened, and Russia did not do any of that. So Cameron's legal considerations on extradition, while quite interesting, are largely irrelevant in the Snowden case.
Second, Cameron says that he admires my loyalty to my adopted country but that I appear not to have fully mastered American traditions about distrust of government. I am afraid I have to correct him on this, because I am in fact a great admirer of this American tradition. I have been against the Patriot Act from the start, and I have publicly argued in WAIS several times that I thought Congress ought not to have passed it, and ought to not have renewed it. Had Congress done so, the NSA perhaps could not have done legally the intelligence gathering that was at the heart of the Snowden case.
But Congress did not repeal the Patriot Act, and authorized the NSA to do the things that it has done. Given this fact, now I ask Cameron: who the hell is Mr. Snowden to unilaterally decide that the Congress of the United States is wrong, and that he is going to make public the methods by which the NSA gathers intelligence, even though he took an oath that he would not do so? This is the crime of Mr. Snowden, and irrespective of my opinion on the Patriot Act, he ought to be imprisoned for that. Period.
Third, Cameron misrepresents the "horrific massive surveillance" that Snowden supposedly revealed. What the NSA used were billing records of mobile communication companies. It is absurd to argue that what is routinely available to Verizon, is suddenly a "horrific massive evil surveillance" in the hands of the United States government. Much before mobile phones even existed, and certainly much before the Patriot Act was ever passed, it has been ruled by the United States Supreme Court that it was legal for the government to gather data available on the envelope of postal correspondence. That is, for example, that I am the sender, and I have sent a first-class letter to Cameron with such and such postage on it, on such and such a date. The contents of what I have written in the letter to Cameron is not legal for the government to read. But the envelope information is. What the NSA used in the "horrific massive evil surveillance" revealed by Snowden is exactly the digital analogue of that for phone conversations. It is explicitly legal under the Patriot Act, and one could argue that it might be considered legal even by analogy to the envelope information that I just stated.
JE comments: Cameron Sawyer was careful to stress that he had not (yet) formed an opinion on the morality of Snowden's act.
on Snowden's Revelations
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
08/08/13 4:51 AM)
Istvan Simon wrote on 6 August: "Cameron [Sawyer] misrepresents the 'horrific massive surveillance' that Snowden supposedly revealed. What the NSA used were billing records of mobile communication companies. It is absurd to argue that what is routinely available to Verizon, is suddenly a 'horrific massive evil surveillance' in the hands of the United States government."
Istvan is talking about so-called "telephone metadata" which is provided by US telephone companies to the NSA. But telephone metadata is hardly a significant part of Snowden's revelations. In fact, the collection of telephone metadata is the least controversial of the NSA's mass surveillance programs. The Supreme Court ruled way back in 1979 that telephone metadata is not subject to Fourth Amendment protection at all--that means that Americans have no "reasonable expectation of privacy" with regard to their telephone metadata. So the use of telephone metadata by the NSA, although we may not agree with it, is undoubtedly legal, and the NSA has followed proper procedure to get it. And the world knew about this long before Snowden.
It would be useful, I think, to review what we have learned from Snowden:
1. The NSA has been collecting not only telephone metadata, but telephone calls themselves--recordings of telephone conversations--on a massive scale and without any kind of warrants. As one example, one of Snowden's documents show that the agency records and stores one billion (!) mobile phone calls every day (!)--the entire calls, not just the metadata. This is something new. These stored telephone conversations can be accessed and searched in all kinds of different ways with different sophisticated tools, and low-level analysts can listen to them at will, subject only to the heretofore secret "minimization" procedures promulgated by the NISC. The NSA has been lying about this to Congress for years. And under pressure from the Snowden revelations, they have now admitted it, sort of: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-57589495-38/nsa-spying-flap-extends-to-contents-of-u.s-phone-calls/ . The NSA has come up with various rationalizations of the way they deal with this content--instructions and procedures which may or may not be followed by the low-level analysts who have access to the content of our phone calls, which may or may not filter out calls--but I would say that this is unlikely to withstand Fourth Amendment challenges (1).
2. The very same thing concerning the content of email messages and text messages, plus financial transactions and Internet browsing history. Not metadata--that is, the identity of sender and recipient, date, size, etc.--but the content itself. Including encrypted text in some cases, as the NSA has aggressively sought backdoors to encrypted channels. The totally indiscriminate collection of emails was started under the Bush administration, continued for two years under Obama, was scaled back, then scaled up again, apparently.
3. According to secret procedures approved by the NISC (the National Intelligence Surveillance Court, by the way--the secret court set up under the FISA in 1979 to basically rubber-stamp--only 00.03% of requests have ever been denied; see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Foreign_Intelligence_Surveillance_Court on requests for warrants to carry out surveillance, perform wiretaps, etc.), data "inadvertently collected" on US citizens without any kind of warrant at all, including the contents of their telephone calls and texts of their emails, etc., can be kept and used for up to five years, although the US citizen is not even suspected to have committed any crime. See: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/20/fisa-court-nsa-without-warrant . The data can even be handed over to foreign governments (!) provided only that the name is redacted. The concept of "inadvertently collected" is extremely troubling--since they collect everything indiscriminately anyway, it's all "inadvertent." In my opinion, this is an outrageous violation of the Fourth Amendment. Interestingly, any encrypted communication is automatically retained regardless of circumstances--take note, users of PGP.
4. We have been lied to systematically by both Bush and Obama and their respective administrations, not to mention by the NSA. Both Presidents have repeatedly stated that no phone conversations of US citizens are listened to and no email messages of US citizens are read without a warrant. The NSA has now admitted that this is not the case. Now will the President make the same admission? Both Bush and Obama administrations have repeatedly assured the US public that there are "robust procedures" in place to protect the privacy of Americans from the surveillance capabilities of the NSA. Now that Snowden has disclosed original documents outlining the exact procedures, we can all judge for ourselves, but I can't imagine that any honest person would call them "robust." They depend on the discretion and judgment not of judges or courts or even policemen, but of cubicle-dwelling line analysts with no more qualification or training than, say, census takers or IRS inspectors. The secret court which issues warrants for real surveillance (mass surveillance I have been discussing doesn't count and doesn't require a warrant) is a pure rubber stamp. This is all quite new, and it is profoundly disturbing.
5. The NSA has the physical infrastructure to monitor and sift through nearly the entire world's electronic communications in full text and in real time. Not metadata, I say again, but the contents of messages and voice conversations. In order to build this infrastructure, the NSA has installed equipment in the servers of nearly all of the US major telecommunications and data providers, and has obtained the cooperation (under pressure?) of Microsoft, Apple, Google, AT&T, Verizon, Global Crossing, and many, many other companies. These companies have been given immunity from prosecution and from civil suits for giving away their client's private data (that last fact was known before Snowden and I give only for context). I knew that the Russians install such equipment at the facilities of Russian mobile phone and Internet providers--which would surprise no one--but I did not know that the NSA was doing the same thing in America, at least not on such a scale.
6. Electronic services providers have been lying to us for years. Skype has repeatedly assured the public that it does not wiretap its users. Snowden's materials show that Skype has actively cooperated with the NSA, giving the agency unfettered access to Skype traffic, cooperating even to the extent even of secretly installing keyword databases on all users' machines. See: http://blogs.computerworld.com/privacy/22477/new-snowden-revelation-shows-skype-may-be-privacys-biggest-enemy
These are a few examples--the extent of the revelations is astonishing, and it is quite a job to read through all of them. There's a lot more than what I have summarized, and WAISers should do their own reading. I have not even touched the revelations concerning our activities abroad.
As to Snowden himself, I am still reserving judgment--still thinking about it. On the one hand, reading all of this stuff makes me wonder how I would have felt in Snowden's place--knowing all of these terrible secrets. WAISers should really read through the PowerPoint slides Snowden released (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_mass_surveillance_scandal ). Our government has programs called "TrafficThief" (!), "Scissors," "Nucleon," "Protocol Exploitation," "Stellar Wind," "Boundless Informant" (!!)--this is like something from a bad science fiction novel, inspired by George Orwell, with the nation run by a gang of evil 20-year old geeks with pimples, making up these absurd names, as if they were playing a video game, with the game, however, our nation, and the pawns, us. I find it plausible that Snowden simply couldn't live with this knowledge and decided it would be worth ruining his life (end up as a life-long fugitive, or assassinated). Plausible, although I don't know and can't know, of course, what he was really thinking. Surely, however, one cannot approve of his methods. Along with information which was shocking and useful to Americans concerning their own privacy, he released information which is simply damaging to US interests. It seems to me that Snowden could have achieved his purposes simply by releasing all the data to all the members of the US Congress, without making any of it public. Still illegal, but vastly less damaging.
I found it extremely telling that none other than the principle author of the Patriot Act himself, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who introduced the Patriot Act on the floor of the House in 2001, and who currently serves as Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, stated that Snowden's revelations show that the NSA has gone far beyond what is allowed by the Patriot Act. When asked whether he agreed with those who call Snowden a "traitor," he answered: "No, I don't agree." Sensenbrenner went on to say that if it had not been for Snowden's revelations, he himself would not have known the extent of abuse by the NSA. The Chairman of the subcommittee responsible for Homeland Security himself, entirely in the dark about an operation of this scale! How terrifying is that? http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/350854/sensenbrenner-obama-administrations-nsa-assurances-bunch-bunk-lindsey-grudnicki
On the other side of the aisle, Daniel Ellsberg himself--mentioned in my last post on this subject--has also come out in support of Snowden's revelations. See "Snowden is a Hero, and We Need More Whistle-Blowers," by Daniel Ellsberg http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/06/10/daniel-ellsberg-edward-snowden-is-a-hero-and-we-need-more-whistleblowers.html . "But I identify . . . with Snowden . . . His life was like mine. It's very easy for me to identify with his choice, his decision, his performance." It may well be that Snowden is no Ellsberg (I tend to this opinion myself), but there are striking parallels between their cases. Today there is no doubt that Ellsberg is an American hero, but we have mostly forgotten that among the reams of top secret material Ellsberg leaked was much which was, at the time, embarrassing and damaging to US interests. We have mostly forgotten it, but at the time Ellsberg was considered a traitor by many, and a criminal.
As to the Russians--the situation is ironic in the extreme--Snowden asking for asylum from an old KGB colonel after protesting against abuses of our services against our freedom. It's really very funny if you think about it. Imagine how uncomfortable Putin must have felt--every fiber of his body wanting to punish or eliminate this betrayer of intelligence secrets. At this moment, Putin must have keenly felt his brotherhood with his NSA counterparts, and reading through Snowden's documents, he must have felt admiration and envy towards them, and fellowship with them and their mentality. Who can doubt that Putin's surveillance of his own people is limited only by his technical and manpower resources, not by any scruples (I would bet that those technical capabilities are pretty good, actually--see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SORM ), but Putin lacks one key advantage which the NSA has, which is that most of the world's electronic communications are routed through the US.
As to the Russians extraditing Snowden, or not--people, please! Don't be so naïve! This whole affair was, of course, pure theater, as such things always are. Of course Putin could have simply said: "Sorry, we don't have an extradition treaty, despite our requesting one for years. And you don't ever fulfill our extradition requests. So--sorry, but no. Maybe you'll put that draft extradition treaty which we sent you back on the agenda, hmm?" No, Putin preferred to be seen tweaking Obama's nose and provoking a tweak in return. He reveled in Obama's anger. This is for domestic consumption--Putin imagines that by appearing to be a tough guy, unintimidated by the world's most powerful man, he will score points with some demographic or another in his desperate domestic position. He has been doing such things for a long time now--showing Russians that he doesn't care what people think about him. Feel sorry for Russians--it's a reflection of the awful state of Russian politics today.
Keeping Snowden, a symbol of standing up against an oppressive surveillance culture, is of course very dangerous for Putin, since he maintains an oppressive surveillance culture himself. One can be sure that Putin will rid himself of Snowden at the earliest seemly opportunity. We cannot know what will happen to him, but I don't exclude that as the scandal works itself out, and a certain mass of US legislators mobilize against the NSA, a deal will be cut which will allow him to return to the US with a slap on the wrist, or perhaps, immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony. We shall see.
There is so much of interest to read on the subject that I wouldn't dream of attempting to make a "further reading" list, but I can't refrain from pointing out the superb article by James Bamford--http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/aug/15/nsa-they-know-much-more-you-think/?pagination=false --in the current issue of my favorite journal, the New York Review of Books.
(1) One should distinguish the policy question from the legal question, although they are intertwined. The legal question is complicated--the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (not the Patriot Act, incidentally) allows certain kinds of mass electronic surveillance provided certain procedures are followed with respect to, for example, "minimization"--the filtering of irrelevant data. The NSA argues that this permits them to record and sift through all of our telephone calls and emails in the way we now know they do. But if NSA procedures do comply with the FISA law, then the FISA law itself is not going to stand up to a serious Fourth Amendment challenge, I think. Fourth Amendment jurisprudence is fairly harsh on domestic spying. The policy question is simpler--do we want the State to listen to everyone's telephone and email conversations, subject only to the judgment of some callow junior NSA analyst picking his nose in a cubicle somewhere, and without the slightest even suspicion of any criminal activity, much less probable cause?
JE comments: Another masterful analysis from Cameron Sawyer. I especially appreciate Cameron's comments on Putin granting asylum to an individual who blew the whistle on excessive government surveillance. This may turn out to be the greatest irony of the decade.
In the meantime, I'll underscore the title of the James Banford NYRB essay: "They Know Much More than You Think." Yes, they do: "He knows when you've been WAISing; he knows with whom you chat; he knows if you've been bad or good..."
on Snowden's Revelations
(Istvan Simon, USA
08/09/13 4:06 AM)
I agree with Cameron Sawyer (8 August) that the NSA listening to domestic phone conversations without a warrant is likely to be against the Fourth Amendment, though this seems less certain in the case of mobile communications. As citizens, both Cameron and I have a right to have an opinion on such matters, and I would even go farther and say an obligation to think about these issues and have an opinion. Nonetheless, our opinions have no legal value. There are also proper authorities to decide these questions according to the Constitution. And I think that this is an important point in the Snowden case.
Though to me, because of the way that Snowden went about his business, it looks doubtful that his motivation was respectable, let us assume for the sake of argument that I am wrong and that Snowden was indeed horrified about NSA surveillance and wanted to save us from the NSA. That is let us assume that his motivation was a good and honorable one. Does it then follow that what he did was right? I think not.
Sowden's actions show a troublesome disdain for the law, an immature and oversized ego, a lack of proper modesty. For Snowden, as any citizen, may and should have an opinion, but nonetheless he is not qualified to say whether the surveillance of the NSA was legal or not. He does not have a university education, nor a law degree to make sound judgments about subtle issues involving constitutional law. There are conflicts inherent in the Constitution between privacy and security. Any untrained individual like Snowden, or I for that matter, should have enough common sense to be reluctant and hesitant about deciding unilaterally that the law of the land is against the Constitution. Snowden's actions show that even under the benign assumption that he was well-intentioned, he did not have this healthy hesitation that he should have had. It is the United States Congress and the President of the United States who pass laws in this country, and the Courts that decide whether these laws violate or not the Constitution. So if he believed that the NSA was acting illegally, his first steps should have been to contact the proper authorities. Because they were not, this shows a troublesome arrogance, a disdain for Congress, the President, and also the courts. Because the first two are elected, his actions also imply a disdain for the people of the United States.
Cameron alleges that the NSA lied to Congress. In this regard, I would like to note that if I were to testify in a public hearing of Congress and I was asked a question that involved classified information, I would be also quite understandably reluctant to be absolutely candid about it. That is because once again there clearly is a conflict in such a situation: (1) Congress is entitled to hear the truth in testimony, but on the other hand, (2) I am not at liberty to reveal classified information without proper safeguards even to Congress in a public hearing. Now, I actually doubt that Congress did not know about the NSA activities--the loaded question that was asked of General Clapper, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_R._Clapper#False_testimony_to_Congress_on_NSA_surveillance_programs
seems to indicate that Congress in fact knew about it. This is important, because if Congress knew about it and yet did not attempt to pass specific legislation prohibiting it, then in effect Congress sanctioned the NSA activities as legal. Which once again has implications about what Snowden should have done but did not. And on the other hand, if we assume that Congress did not know about it, then still Snowden should have tried to inform Congress, not the whole world about it.
For all the above reasons, even though I am sympathetic to the idea of prohibiting the NSA from listening indiscriminately to phone conversations, I think that Mr. Snowden committed a serious crime, for which he should be prosecuted and go to jail. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, so if he had good intentions, that may be a mitigating factor in his eventual sentencing, but he still needs to be prosecuted.
JE comments: I'd welcome Istvan Simon's thoughts on the claim of Patriot Act sponsor Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-WI, that he was unaware of the breadth of NSA surveillance activities. (On this, see Cameron Sawyer's post of 8 August.)
- Snowden's Revelations; Comment from William Kyburz (John Eipper, USA 08/10/13 6:43 AM)
Reader William Kyburz (Rochester, New York) has sent this response to Cameron Sawyer's post of 8 August. I publish it with Mr. Kyburz's permission:
I liked Cameron Sawyer's WAIS post on Edward Snowden. Thank you for thinking about this very important subject.
Too many are confused here in this nation.
We speak of "We the People" and "Rights."
"The People" 200 years ago only included white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
Many worked hard and some died to include themselves in "We the People"; I just mention one of my heroes, Susan B. Anthony.
There is a difference between a right and a privilege. They are often confused.
We have privileges, not rights.
These privileges are protected by our Constitution, but if someone threatens to destroy this nation, our precious Constitution goes with it.
Hence, we have a dozen of them locked up, who have not seen a day in court.
On the NSA: They are protecting our privileges we hold dear.
One day, some poor misguided individual out of the slums of Pakistan is going to drive a truck into Chicago with a dirty A-Bomb, making Sept. 11 look like a picnic.
The NSA is trying to protect against that.
what is the conclusion?
I guess it is this: we must define our terms and make it clear what we are talking about.
Just food for thought.
I'd like to know what other readers think.
Artificial Intelligence Researcher
PS. My past credentials: consultant for many, many organizations, including IBM, ATT, Microsoft, NASA, NIH, NSA, Department of Defense, etc. Now, I am writing a textbook for a graduate-level course in Artificial Intelligence.
JE comments: Best WAIS wishes to William Kyburz, and my thanks for his comment. I believe William is in favor of the NSA's recent surveillance programs. But what's this about "rights" and "privileges"? Driving is a privilege (although for a Michigander it's considered a right); Amendments 1-10 of the US Constitution are not called the Bill of Privileges...
- Snowden Case (Bienvenido Macario, USA 08/06/13 4:50 AM)
Cameron Sawyer wrote on 6 August:
"Actually, I find it quite striking that Russians and Germans--our close NATO allies--have almost exactly the same opinions about Snowden. 51% of Russians (50% of Germans) approve of Snowden's actions, while 17% of Russians (20% of Germans) disapprove of or condemn Snowden's actions."
Snowden believed "Americans should know what the government is doing" in name of national security. By this he meant the whole world, including Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, should also know how terrorist attacks in the US are prevented.
So Al-Qaeda smartened up and decided to focus and re-direct all their resources outside the US. For now the Al-Qaeda threat alert is focused on the Middle East.
I wonder if the 50% of Germans would still approve of Snowden's actions when Al-Qaeda and other terror groups re-focus their efforts on Europe, even perhaps using Germany as a staging ground for such attacks across Europe.
I don't think Russia will turn Snowden over to the US. But after a year, when his disclosures are no longer relevant, maybe he'll be allowed to leave Russia for other than the US. Snowden was allowed to enter Russia and stay there for just one year. It may or may not be extended.
What he did as an employee of a government contractor was wrong. This does not make lying to Congress right or that our system has an effective check and balance over Congress, the mother of all too big to fail and too big to blame.
JE comments: I'm not sure I see any connection between Snowden's revelations and the present threats from Al-Qaeda. In any case, several US embassies in risky Middle Eastern nations are on lock-down this week.
Can anyone provide some clarity on this question: is Snowden a voluntary guest of Moscow? Meaning, if he chose to leave for, say, Venezuela, would he be free to do so?
- Snowden's Revelations; Comment from William Kyburz (John Eipper, USA 08/10/13 6:43 AM)
- on Snowden's Revelations (Istvan Simon, USA 08/09/13 4:06 AM)
- on Snowden's Revelations (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 08/08/13 4:51 AM)
- on Extradition (Istvan Simon, USA 08/06/13 4:36 AM)
- Edward Snowden Update (Istvan Simon, USA 08/05/13 4:10 AM)
- Thoughts on the NSA (Alan Levine, USA 08/04/13 4:15 AM)
- Edward Snowden Update (Massoud Malek, USA 08/02/13 6:08 AM)