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“Edward Snowden Is No Hero”: Civil Disobedience Is, Almost By Definition, An Act Of Faith In Vindication

Mohandas Gandhi went to Yeravda Central Prison.

Martin Luther King Jr., went to Birmingham jail.

Nelson Mandela went to Robben Island.

Edward Snowden is going to Venezuela.

Or not. His destination was up in the air as these words were written. A Russian lawmaker tweeted on Tuesday that Snowden, the fugitive former U.S. contractor, had accepted asylum from Venezuela. Then the tweet was deleted and the official word was that there was no official word.

Whatever happens, one thing is obvious. Wherever Snowden goes, he has no intention of coming home to answer for what he did.

One struggles to know how to feel about that.

Many of us, after all, believe he struck a blow for freedom in leaking classified information revealing the breadth and depth of government spying on private citizens. But he seems not to have thought through the implications and likely outcomes of that act. How else to explain the fact that he has wound up trapped in the international transit zone at the Moscow airport, unable to enter the country, yet unable to leave because he has nowhere to go?

Well, that’s not quite accurate. Snowden is reported to be fielding offers of asylum from several nations, including, besides Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua. It is worth noting that these would-be benefactors all have problematic recent relations with his own country. Surely that plays a part in their eagerness to get their hands on him.

One wonders if he understood what he was getting into. Civil disobedience is never without risk and one accepts this going in. To practice civil disobedience is, after all, to break the law in the conviction that doing so serves a higher moral law.

A visitor from China once asked Dr. Bernard Lafayette with some amazement how such a thing could be justified. Was that not a recipe for chaos? If every citizen can choose for himself or herself which laws to obey and which to ignore, does that not show disrespect for the very rule of law? Lafayette, a hero of the civil rights movement, said no, because civil disobedience does not seek to evade punishment. One shows one’s respect for the rule of law, he said, by submitting to the penalties prescribed for breaking it.

Dr. Daniel Ellsberg would likely disagree; he supports Snowden’s flight to elude U.S. authorities. Ellsberg famously leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971 and faced a possible 115-year sentence for doing so. Charges were dismissed in 1973.

In an op-ed published Sunday by the Washington Post, he argued that Snowden’s situation cannot be compared to his — different circumstances, different era. Snowden, he writes, would likely be disappeared into solitary confinement if returned to these shores and have little chance to contribute to the debate on government surveillance.

Perhaps. But here’s the thing: Civil disobedience is, almost by definition, an act of faith. Not faith in government, nor even faith in law, but faith in vindication. It is an act that says, I am right, so I refuse to obey this law and will take my medicine until you see that I am right.

Snowden is not willing to do that, not willing to stand, with head held high, upon the courage of his convictions. There is something unseemly about that. It makes his action feel unfinished. And undermined.

Yes, there’s also something unseemly about some guy sitting safely behind his desk smugly advising some other guy to put the rest of his life at risk for the sake of principle. But consider the alternative. Should he go to some unfriendly nation and become a propaganda tool against his own country? No. There are no seemly options here — only a narrowing range of unseemly ones.

So Snowden should come home. You may say that is the worst possible choice, and you’d be right. It is the worst.

Except for all the rest.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., The National Memo, July 10, 2013

July 11, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Edward Snowden’s Grandiosity”: A Classic Rorschach Test, How You See It Depends On What You Bring To The Seeing.

Edward Snowden was appalled.

“They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” the then-anonymous Snowden told reporters as his leaks first emerged.

Well, so can Google. And Facebook. And most companies’ internal networks. Creepy? You bet. Calamitous? Not so clear.

Snowden hoped to go to Iraq at 19 when he joined the Army because he “felt like he had an obligation as a human being to help free other people from oppression.”

Commendable, if a bit grandiose. But Snowden’s superiors couldn’t measure up to his ideals. “Most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone,” he said in his coming-out interviews.

That doesn’t describe officers I know who spent years risking their lives trying to help Iraqis forge a better destiny.

Then even a president failed him. It was no single thing President Obama did, you understand. “It was more of a slow realization that presidents could openly lie to secure the office and then break public promises without consequence,” Snowden said.

It’s staggering to contemplate. In the old days, when the scales fell away from the eyes of one callow Rand Paul donor, the result might have been a few beers at the dorm as everyone lamented how compromised adult life really is. Today, a disappointed young libertarian contractor with a security clearance can blow the lid on lawful intelligence methods thousands of Americans spent billions of dollars developing.

The Snowden case is a classic Rorschach test. How you see it depends on what you bring to the seeing. Do you empathize more with those who govern — and who, in this case, are charged with protecting us? Or has the history of abuse of power, and the special danger from such abuses in an age in which privacy seems to be vanishing, leave you hailing any exposure of secret government methods as grounds for sainthood?

There are people I respect who say Snowden is a hero. I think they’re dead wrong.

Thinking about “big data” is a little like imagining how things look to God (assuming God exists). God may love you personally, but she’s a little too busy to worry about whether you get that raise you deserve. The National Security Agency (NSA) may have access to every bit and byte in the land, but the unfathomable river of information their algorithms must mine means no one’s focusing on the text you sent to that guy in accounting.

(To test Big Brother’s reach, my daughter and I e-mailed on how to work with a Chechnyan rebel group to develop weapons for an attack on U.S. soil, as part of a “play” we’re writing based on recent events. No knock at the door. Yet.)

Is there potential for abuse? Of course. An Internet-era J. Edgar Hoover is frightening to conjure. But what Snowden exposed was not some rogue government-inside-the-government conspiracy. It’s a program that’s legal, reviewed by Congress and subject to court oversight.

The conversation would be entirely different today if we’d had a series of attacks since Sept. 11, 2001. As the Wall Street Journal editorial page (with which I don’t usually nod in agreement) wrote, if the nation suffered another 9/11 or an attack with weapons of mass destruction, “the political responses could include biometric national ID cards, curfews, surveillance drones over the homeland, and even mass roundups of ethnic or religious groups.” Practices like data mining, the Journal added, “protect us against far greater intrusions on individual freedom.”

But because vigilance and luck have left us safe thus far from more massive attacks, Snowden felt entitled to indulge the call of his precious conscience. Has any leaker ever been armed with more perfectly crafted sound bites as “the architecture of oppression” and “turnkey tyranny”?

I’ve been spied on continuously by private-sector firms as I’ve written this column. As I typed “Snowden” on Gmail, I got ads for new mortgage rates. My search for “secrets” drew ads for Secret deodorant. My behavior has been fed into algorithms and sold to advertisers. At least the NSA isn’t getting rich tracking my every move.

Daniel Ellsberg says Snowden is a “hero.” Let me suggest a different prism through which to view that term. Somewhere in the intelligence community is another 29-year-old computer whiz whose name we’ll never know. That person joined the government after 9/11 because she felt inspired to serve the nation in its hour of need. For years she’s sweated to perfect programs that can sort through epic reams of data to identify potential threats. Some Americans are alive today because of her work.

As one security analyst put it this week, to find a needle in a haystack, you need the haystack. If we’re going to romanticize a young nerd in the intelligence world, my Unknown Coder trumps the celebrity waiting in Hong Kong for Diane Sawyer’s call any day.

 

By: Matt Miller, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 11, 2013

June 14, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There’s A New Santa Claus”: The National Security Agency Is Doing What Google Does

An old journalism saw goes like this: Dog bites man, no story. Man bites dog, story. Allow me to update it. Government monitors e-mail and telephone calls for national security, no story. Government doesn’t do anything of the kind — now, that’s a story.

Clearly some awfully good newspapers and some awfully good reporters disagree. In the past week, it’s been raining stories about what the busybody government has been up to. The National Security Agency has been monitoring telephone calls and e-mails — and even social media stuff of the sort you shouldn’t have been doing anyway. To this, a whole lot of people have expressed shock. Oaths to the Fourth Amendment have filled the air. Unreasonable searches are simply unconstitutional, they assert — without asserting that anything has in fact been searched or seized. It has merely been noted and, if suspicious, referred to a court for the appropriate warrant.

The programs certainly can be abused. (So can local police powers.) But oddly enough, proof that this has not happened comes from the self-proclaimed martyr for our civil liberties, Edward Snowden, late of Booz Allen Hamilton, the government contractor that ever-so-recently employed him. (I assume he’ll be summoned to HR.)

In a remarkably overwrought interview conducted by the vainglorious Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian, Snowden cited not one example of the programs being abused. Greenwald wrote that Snowden “lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping” and that “he puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them.” Greenwald said that “Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers.” I think he’ll go down as a cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood.

Greenwald likens Snowden to Daniel Ellsberg, who revealed the Pentagon Papers to The Post and the New York Times more than four decades ago. Not quite. The Pentagon Papers proved that a succession of U.S. presidents had lied about their intentions regarding Vietnam — Lyndon Johnson above all. In 1964, he had campaigned against Barry Goldwater for the presidency as virtually the peace candidate while actually planning to widen the war. As the Times put it in a 1996 story, the Pentagon Papers “demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance.”

In contrast, no one lied about the various programs disclosed last week. They were secret, yes, but members of Congress were informed — and they approved. Safeguards were built in. If, for instance, the omniscient computers picked up a pattern of phone calls from Mr. X to Suspected Terrorist Y, the government had to go to court to find out what was said. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act established a court consisting of 11 rotating federal judges. These judges are the same ones who rule on warrants the government seeks in domestic criminal cases. If we trust them for that, why would we not trust them for other things as well?

Whenever I see “Hello, Richard” on my computer screen, I realize what’s happened: It knows me. It knows what I bought and when I bought it and where I was at the time. It knows my sizes and my credit card number, and if it knows all that, it knows pretty much everything. I long ago sacrificed a measure of privacy for convenience. One click will do it.

I also made the same sort of deal for security. I assumed the government was doing at least what Google was doing — and Google, I’m convinced, is the new Santa Claus: It sees you when you’re sleeping, it knows when you’re awake. It knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake. In 2009, Google’s Eric Schmidt put us all at ease by telling CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” See, not all billionaires are so smart.

Everything about Edward Snowden is ridiculously cinematic. He is not paranoiac; he is merely narcissistic. He jettisoned a girlfriend, a career and, undoubtedly, his personal freedom to expose programs that were known to our elected officials and could have been deduced by anyone who has ever Googled anything. History will not record him as “one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers.” History is more likely to forget him. Soon, you can Google that.

 

By: Richard Cohen, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 10, 2013

June 12, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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