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“The State Of Republicania”: GOP Senators Appear Set On Their Own Breakaway Nation

The New York Daily News branded Senate Republicans “TRAITORS” in large type across its cover Tuesday, saying, “GOPers try to sabotage Bam nuke deal.”

That’s not quite right. It’s true that 47 Republican senators did their level best to bring us closer to war by writing a letter to Iran’s mullahs, attempting to scuttle nuclear talks with the United States. But Republicans aren’t exactly subverting the United States. It’s more as if they’re operating their own independent republic on Capitol Hill. Call it the State of Republicania.

Its prime minister, John Boehner, invited his Israeli counterpart, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to criticize U.S. foreign policy last week before a joint meeting of the Republicania parliament. The American president wasn’t consulted.

Mitch McConnell, the Republicania home secretary, wrote an op-ed last week in the Lexington Herald-Leader explicitly urging states to refuse to implement a major new power-plant regulation issued by the U.S. government.

And now we have Tom Cotton, Republicania’s young foreign minister, submitting “An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” counseling Iran’s leaders that any agreement reached by the United States but not ratified by Republicania could be undone “with the stroke of a pen” (assuming the next president comes from Republicania).

But why stop there? Ted Cruz, serving as Republicania’s justice minister, could instruct the sergeant at arms to apprehend administration officials who testify on Capitol Hill and lock them below the Capitol crypt until they agree to more suitable policies. Jim Inhofe, Republicania’s environment minister, could undo recent efficiency improvements at the Capitol Power Plant, and the Capitol Police could become Republicania’s military, under the command of John McCain as defense minister.

Darrell Issa could serve as Republicania’s own J. Edgar Hoover, and Orrin Hatch could become its spiritual leader (the breakaway republic could abandon church-state separation and everything else in the Bill of Rights except for the Second Amendment). Thus could Republicania become a happy little city-state — a Luxembourg on the Anacostia.

There is a potential problem with this model, because Republicania would refuse to levy any taxes. But it appears that Cotton, the recently elected senator from Arkansas, has figured this out, too: He’ll get military contractors to bankroll the new nation.

On Tuesday, the day after his letter to Hezbollah’s masters became public, Cotton provided a clue about his motives: He’d had a breakfast date with the National Defense Industrial Association — a trade group for Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing and the like.

You’re not allowed to know what Cotton said to the defense contractors. The event was “off the record and strictly non-attribution.” But you can bet it was what Dwight Eisenhower meant when he warned of the military-industrial complex.

The defense industry contributed more than $25 million in the 2014 election cycle and spent more than $250 million lobbying over that time period, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. For the defense industry, this is a good investment: If Senate Republicans blow up nuclear talks, it makes war with Iran that much more likely — and nobody would benefit as much from that war as military contractors.

Alternatively, Republicania could raise revenue for their city-state by charging visitors for tours. That’s a viable option, because nothing at the National Zoo is quite as exotic as Cotton, who after just two months on the job has led his colleagues to break with more than two centuries of foreign policy tradition.

Cotton, appearing on CNN on Tuesday morning, maintained that his effort was not political. “Nor do I believe this letter is unprecedented,” he said — although the Republicania national archivists have not found a precedent.

Perhaps they will come up with an open letter from American legislators written to King George III in 1783 warning him that the efforts of Benjamin Franklin, John Jay and John Adams might be undone with the stroke of a quill. They may uncover an 1898 cable from American senators to Maria Christina, the Spanish queen regent,cautioning her that many of them would remain in office “decades” after President William McKinley was gone. Or maybe they will uncover a letter from senators to Joseph Stalin in 1945, educating him on the constitutional separation of powers before he negotiated with Franklin Roosevelt at Yalta.

But Republicania archivists are unlikely to locate such documents, because they were never written.

Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), one of just seven Republican senators not to sign Cotton’s letter to the ayatollahs, said she thought it “more appropriate for members of the Senate to give advice to the president” and U.S. negotiators.

Spoken like a true American — which, in the corridors of Republicania these days, is nigh unto treason.

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 10, 2015

March 16, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Snowden, Go Home”: His Unfinished Business Is In A U. S. Courtroom, Not A Moscow Suburb

Edward Snowden, leaker extraordinaire of classified NSA documents, is said to be seeking an extension of his political asylum in Russia, where he has resided, beyond the reach of US jurisdiction and under legal protection granted by Vladimir Putin personally, for a little over one year. Snowden seems to be settling in for the long haul as a fugitive expatriate.

He is making a mistake. At some point Snowden must return to the US and face the criminal charges pending against him. By postponing this reckoning, he adds to skepticism about his motives. More important, he diminishes his legitimacy as a whistleblower who broke the law to expose government overreaching, change official policy, and vindicate principles of government transparency and individual privacy.

Snowden has portrayed his accessing, copying and distribution (to selected journalists) of NSA records as acts of conscience-and so they may have been. Civil disobedience is a time-honored form of protest, particularly in a democracy. But civil disobedience is not painless; it is not a get-out-of-jail free card.

Civil disobedience assumes-in fact, requires-submission to legal processes: to trial and possible punishment. This, the painful part of civil disobedience, is what distinguishes morally-just protest, on one hand, from mere law-breaking, on the other. Think of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Think also of James Risen, a New York Times reporter who faces sanctions, including jail, for his civil disobedience in defying a court order. Risen has been waging a legal battle to protect his confidential sources for a book revealing classified information on US intelligence operations in Iran. Having appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, to no avail, Risen has run out of legal options (although the Justice Department has hinted that it might back off of enforcing its subpoena demanding Risen’s testimony about confidential sources).

Snowden’s situation and Risen’s are very similar. Both Snowden and Risen are in trouble for disclosing classified information. Snowden has been indicted, while Risen is subject to a court order (that remains intact after multiple appeals). Snowden has fled the country, escaping (at least for now) any legal consequences for his actions. The morally equivalent choice for Risen would be to renege on his promise of confidentiality and to provide sworn testimony to government prosecutors.

The likelihood of Risen, a principled and professional journalist, betraying his source to avoid jail–is zero. For Snowden, too, the moral choice is clear. To legitimize his violations of federal law as acts of conscience, he needs to face the consequences, not run away from them.

If Snowden, instead of going public with his information, had decided to leak his NSA documents on a confidential basis to journalists at The Guardian and the Washington Post, those journalists would today be in the same boat as the New York Times’ Risen-under subpoena and facing prison or other serious sanctions for refusing to comply. Why, then, should the expectations be so different for Snowden?

Snowden no doubt fears going to prison. Who wouldn’t? But Snowden, if he returned to the US, would receive a trial that is not only fair, but a model of due process. Media interest would be off the charts. That would maximize transparency in all court proceedings–which, in turn, would pressure prosecutors to exercise restraint.

Snowden would have the very best criminal defense lawyers in the country (regardless of his ability to pay them). And those lawyers would make the most of the government’s dilemma: having to prove harm to national security, but without revealing sensitive information that could cause still more harm to national security.

Snowden’s lawyers will also insist that he cease all public comments. No more press conferences via Skype, no Twitter or email, no calls with reporters. Total silence, giving his lawyers control over his message and image. For Snowden, who clearly loves the sound of his own voice and delights in dealings with the media, such muzzling may be hard to abide. Still, it’s not a reason for staying on the lam.

Snowden’s unfinished business is in a US courtroom, not a Moscow suburb.

 

By: Peter Scheer, Executive Director, First Amendment Coalition, The Huffington Post Blog, July 16, 2014

July 17, 2014 Posted by | Edward Snowden, National Security Agency | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“His Own Worst Enemy”: The 13 Most Bizarre Things From Edward Snowden’s NBC News Interview

While watching Brian Williams’ interview with Ed Snowden, I actually agreed with Glenn Greenwald about something. Back in 2012, Greenwald referred to Williams as “NBC News’ top hagiographer,” using “his reverent, soothing, self-important baritone” to deliver information in its “purest, most propagandistic and most subservient form.”

It’s worth noting at the outset that Greenwald flew all the way to Moscow specifically for the NBC News interview, and he appeared on camera with Snowden and Williams, answering questions from this so-called “hagiographer.”

Now, I’m not a Brian Williams hater. I think he’s a fine news anchor. But his interview with Ed Snowden was yet another in a long, long line of deferential, uninformed, unchallenging genuflections before a guy whose story and motivations are more than a little specious. But it’s not a stretch to presume that Greenwald, the man who once aimed all of his wordy, caustic vitriol in Williams’ general direction, referring to him as possessing “child-like excitement” over gaining access to a source, probably loved every minute of it. However, don’t break out the champagne just yet, NBC News, Greenwald will immediately shift gears sometime very soon and continue to indict any and all mainstream news outlets, including NBC, as being impotent, pernicious, drooling shills for President Obama and the D.C. elite.

So what about the telecast itself? Here are the 13 most bizarre things from Snowden’s NBC News interview.

1) Snowden claimed he has “no relationship” with the Russian government and that he’s “not supported” by it. That’s odd, given how the Russian government has twice offered him asylum and one of his lawyers, Anatoly Kucherena, is an attorney with the Russian intelligence agency, the FSB (formerly the KGB). Tell me again why anyone should trust this guy?

2) “Sometimes to do the right thing you have to break a law.” So it’s really up to each of us individually to decide whether our own interpretation of “doing the right thing” necessitates breaking the law? A lot of awful things have occurred with that exact justification. Also, what if NSA feels the same way, Ed?

3) Snowden said that no one has been harmed by his disclosures. Yet. Already, though, one of his documents escalated tensions between Australia and Indonesia, and another document endangered lives in Afghanistan to the point where Greenwald refused to publish the name of that country. It’s only a matter of time, sadly.

4) Early on, Snowden said, “I’m not a spy.” Later he famously confessed to being “trained as a spy.” Huh?

5) Snowden said he destroyed his documents before going to Russia. This is really strange. I have no idea whether he really destroyed his NSA files, but he did in fact meet with Russian officials in Hong Kong, when he reportedly celebrated his birthday at the Russian consulate. Did he still have his documents at that point? Earlier, he said his goal was to fly to Latin America, so why did he anticipate being in Russia to the point where he destroyed his documents to prevent Russians from acquiring them? These are all follow-up questions that a journalist who was informed about the details of Snowden’s timeline would’ve asked. Williams was not and therefore did not.

6) NSA can “absolutely” turn on your iPhone, which is “pretty scary.” This section was like whiplash. Snowden started out by sounding reasonable by defining that NSA only acquires data when “targeting” drug dealers or terrorists. And then, BLAM!, this shitola about NSA being able to turn on your phone. If true, why hasn’t this been disclosed from Snowden’s NSA documents?

7) Snowden said that by googling the score of a hockey game, NSA can find out whether you’re cheating on your wife. Someone’s been wearing his tinfoil hat a wee bit too tightly.

8) NSA can observe people drafting a document online and “watch their thoughts form as they type.” Let’s assume for a second this is true. Reading your thoughts (IEEEEE!!!) is a hyperbolic internet-age method of essentially describing a wire-tap. A police detective can get a court order to have a suspect’s phone tapped and listen to that suspect forming thoughts on the phone, too. But to call it a “wire-tap” is too ordinary and familiar, so Ed went with mind-reading.

9) Snowden didn’t deny turning over secrets that would be damaging or harmful. He only said journalists have a deal with him not to do it. Just a reminder: we really have no idea how many reporters or organizations have copies of the documents or the total number of documents (it’s a Greenwald/Snowden secret), but we do know that Snowden documents have been reported by so many publications that the question arises: who doesn’t have Snowden documents?

10) Snowden’s watching HBO’s The Wire. The second season, he said, isn’t so good. He’s right.

11) Snowden said he can’t speak out on Russian issues because he can’t speak the language. Hey Ed, here. Free shipping, too. You’re welcome.

12) “People have unfairly demonized the NSA to a point that is too extreme.” Why is Snowden an apologist for the surveillance state? Drooling! Vast!

13) Snowden said he can “sleep at night” because of his actions. Well, good for him.

Ultimately, Snowden is his own worst enemy and his ongoing ability to say crazy things in a calm, collected voice continues. What’s abundantly clear at this point is that no one will ever land an interview with Snowden who will be as adversarial against the former NSA contractor as Greenwald has been in his own reporting in defense of Snowden. It’ll never happen.

 

By: Bob Cesca, The Huffington Post Blog, May 31, 2014

June 3, 2014 Posted by | Edward Snowden, National Security, National Security Agency | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“The Naivety Of An Ideologue”: Leaker Or Leader? Edward Snowden Claims Victory

In an interview last week with NBC’s Brian Williams, NSA secret-leaker Edward Snowden set himself a low bar and claimed success: His leaks, he said, have gotten us talking about these important issues. Mission accomplished? Let’s think about that…

While Snowden has in fact displayed several admirable leadership qualities – like taking bold action, operating in integrity with his stated beliefs, and communicating (to Brian Williams, anyway) with gravitas – he, like many would-be-good leaders, has fallen short in the results department.

Good leadership takes balancing cost versus benefit to achieve something. The measure of such a costly breach of national security as Snowden committed, then, should be significant positive change, rather than fresh fodder for our hapless Congress and paying NBC’s bills for a few news cycles.

For example, could there follow from all of this, say, a thorough and unbiased audit of our intelligence services showing specifically if, and in what ways, the US Government discarded its checks and balances and/or hindered our constitutionally-guaranteed protections and freedoms? Such an audit could then result in positive reforms.

Similarly, for the US Government to be the leader here, it would need to show, rather than simply assert, that Snowden’s admittedly criminal actions have created harm, and also show that it has used its powers in strictly constitutional ways.

Neither will happen. Instead, Snowden’s sensational actions reflect the naivety of an ideologue: Someone intensely devoted to a cause, yet guided more by the image of perfection than by the real world. This “national conversation” is more likely to fester and fizzle than to lead to policy reform — after all, that’s the status quo state of the union these days.

Whether he was a patriot or a traitor in leaking NSA secrets is a dumb question being asked by smart people in the media who know better, but need to sell cars and paper towels. Patriot or traitor? He is, as are those in government guilty of “overreach,” both and neither. The two sides here are more alike than not.

I’m not suggesting that whiste-blowing isn’t important to our democracy — it is. Nor am I saying it’s Edward Snowden’s responsibility to make any needed changes. Yet if something productive beyond dialogue is to come of this, then we’ll need actual leadership.

That’s the challenge when it comes to the dark arts of intelligence. We can’t and shouldn’t ever know what great leadership looks like when it comes to the content of collecting and analyzing intelligence to prevent violence and terrorism. Yet if Snowden’s actions are to be seen as good leadership, then bring it on, Snowden: Let’s see the benefits that more than cover the costs of what you have done.

 

By: David Peck, Politics Blog, The Huffington Post, June 1, 2014

June 2, 2014 Posted by | Edward Snowden, Ideologues, National Security Agency | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I Am Unmoved”: Edward Snowden’s NBC Interview Revealed His Ultimate Arrogance

Let’s give Edward Snowden his due: He did himself a lot of good in his interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, which aired last night. He presents well, coming across as earnest, thoughtful and intelligent. There is no manic gleam in his eye, no evident hatred of his country. He is well-spoken and articulate. He presents his own case more compellingly than does Glenn Greenwald, who speaks with a barely-suppressed rage much of the time—and an altogether unsuppressed hostility all of the time. Snowden, by contrast, is cool and measured, his affect cerebral. Where Greenwald and Julian Assange talk about NSA as an evil monolith, Snowden talks about how he misses his former colleagues, whom he regards as good people. He gamely objects to their vilification. I have no doubt that his performance will move many viewers, who will see—as he clearly does—nobility in his sacrifices, purity in his motives, and honor in his decision to defy the law in some larger defense of morality as he sees it.

Yet I was unmoved by Snowden’s performance.

My stony indifference to his earnest self-account was not because his interview was insubstantial. It wasn’t. Indeed, Snowden raised at least two important factual matters that warrant clarification by his former agency—one of which NSA addressed today. The first is that NSA has repeatedly described Snowden as a former systems administrator, a kind of tech-support guy who helped manage computers for the agency. Snowden, by contrast, describes himself as a cyber-spy, a claim Greenwald also advances in his recent book. The disparity is at least a little bit important as it goes to the question of exactly what sort of person did this. Was the problem one of a disaffected support staffer who took matters into his own hands or was it that NSA was betrayed by one of its own operatives? It also goes to the question of how much Snowden can reasonably claim to know about the agency’s substantive work—whom it targets, how, and why. And it thus goes also to the question of credibility. Is the government downplaying Snowden’s role to diminish his credibility or is he padding his resume to enhance it?

Second and more importantly, Snowden in this interview directly challenged NSA’s claim that he had never raised his concerns internally. This claim has been crucial to the government’s dismissal of Snowden as a legitimate whistleblower. Yet Snowden says he raised his concerns by email more than once. The government announced that it had found only one such email, which it released today and which does not remotely suggest whistleblowing. The exchange, rather, reflects a routine inquiry about the relationship between executive orders and statutes—one to which a lawyer responded appropriately. Again, one side or the other is going to emerge with egg on its face. If this brief email exchange—which took place long after Snowden was already exfiltrating documents from the agency—is what Snowden means by raising his concerns internally, his effort was laughable. On the other hand, if more material were ever to turn up that actually supported Snowden’s claims, it would seriously undermine the government’s credibility concerning his internal behavior before he left Hawaii.

However important these questions are, they are not ultimately the matters that will determine what we should think of Snowden. And on the more important issues, Snowden—earnestness and all—utterly failed to explain certain stubborn, inconvenient facts that make it hard to accept him as the figure he claims to be. Some of these facts he did not challenge at all, as they are too clearly true to brook contest. Some he challenged only weakly. And some Williams did not bother to ask him about at all. The result is a haze over the noble portrait the fugitive paints of himself.

Let’s start with the fact that Snowden ran. Greenwald spends a good deal of space in his book (which I reviewed the other day) describing how deeply at peace Snowden was with the likelihood of spending a very long time in prison. The early church martyrs were not more blissfully resigned to their suffering than was the Snowden of Greenwald’s book—a man whose freedom, indeed, whose very life, was as nothing compared with the public’s need to know the government’s interpretation of Section 215 and its compromise of Angry Birds. Yet Snowden did not, after all, return to face the consequences of his stand. He has evaded law enforcement for a year. And his explanation of that evasion is, well, hardly that of a brave man.

You see, Snowden explains in the interview, the law he violated doesn’t allow the defense he would want to put on. So he’d likely be convicted and serve a very long prison sentence—to which we learn he is not quite so eager to subject himself as Greenwald once admiringly thought. Snowden, of course, explains that he has an entirely selfless reason for not wanting to spend decades in prison. It’s not that he fears it, you understand. But it might scare other whistleblowers out of following his example. Whatever the reason, when push came to shove, Snowden chose not to martyr himself but to flee.

And where did flee? He ran to Moscow. On this point, Snowden’s explanation is particularly obtuse. Ask the State Department why he’s there, Snowden suggests. He was just trying to transit through Russia. It wasn’t his fault that he got stuck in Moscow; this happened because the U.S. government revoked his passport.

The passport revocation is not, in fact, why Snowden is stuck in Moscow. For one thing, the government revoked Snowden’s passport before he ever left Hong Kong. Moreover, it does not mean that he must stay in Moscow. It’s at most the reason why he has a choice between remaining in Moscow and coming back to the United States and facing arrest and lacks the option of finding non-Russian safe haven. Hechooses, in other words, to remain in Moscow because he prefers the protection of the dictator there to trial at the hands of his own government.

We should add that he treats this dictator with remarkable kid gloves for a foe of tyranny and surveillance. The words “Ukraine” and “Crimea” do not pass his lips in this interview. Nor do the words “Pussy Riot” or the names of any dissidents who face real repression at the hands of his hosts. Nor, for that matter, does he dwell on Russian surveillance practices, though he notes the professionalism of the Russian intelligence services. He acknowledges that it’s a little uncomfortable to be in Russia at this particular time, but his only specific criticism of his host government is a relatively bland one about the country’s new blogging law.

Snowden, to be sure, denies that he has any kind of relationship with Russian intelligence. He did not bring any documents to Russia, he insists, and he has no access to his stash remotely. He is not paid by Russian intelligence. And he has never been interviewed by the FSB. Even if all of this is true, his larger point is not. He is, at this stage, not a free agent but a tool of Russian intelligence—and of Putin himself—even if he doesn’t know it. He is in the country because his presence embarrasses the United States and because his disclosures serve Russian interests. He is doing things there that help Russia and he is refraining from doing things that offend his hosts. People without some kind of relationship with the security services simply don’t find themselves calling in and throwing softball questions to Vladimir Putin on Russian television. And people without some kind of relationship with the security services also don’t tend to have as their lawyers for asylum Kremlin loyalists who also happen to be members of the FSB’s oversight board.

And then there’s Snowden’s denials that he did any damage. Show me the evidence, he protests, that anyone was really hurt by anything he did—and Williams does not call him on the point. But it’s a mug’s game to acquit oneself of doing harm by simply defining all of the harms one does as goods. If one calls democratic debate and sunshine the blowing of sensitive intelligence programs in which one’s country has invested enormous resources and on which it relies for all sorts of intelligence collection, the exposure is of course harmless. If one regards as a salutary exercise the exposure of one’s country’s offensive intelligence operations and capabilities to the intelligence services of adversary nations, then of course that exposure does no harm. And if one regards the many billions of dollars American industry has lost as merely a fair tax on its sins for having cooperated with NSA, then sure, no harm there either.

Snowden is too smart to actually believe that he did no harm to the U.S. What he means, rather, is that he regards harms to U.S. intelligence interests as good things much of the time and that he reserves for himself the right to define which harms are goods and which harms are real harms.

And this brings us to Snowden’s ultimate arrogance, the thing that makes his calm certainty finally more infuriating than anything else: He believes he is above the law. He believes he should get to decide what stays secret and what does not. He believes that he should get to decide what laws he can and cannot be tried under. He believes he gets to decide what rules should govern spying. And he not only believes he should get credit for civil disobedience without being willing to face the legal consequences of his actions, he believes he should get credit for courage as though he had done so as well.

As I say, I am unmoved.

 

By: Benjamin Wittes, Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution; The New Republic, May 30, 2014

May 31, 2014 Posted by | Edward Snowden, National Security | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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