Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Snowden speaks (and is spoken of)

Peter Maass (New York Times Sunday Magazine) has a Q & A with NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden which opens with him asking Ed why he trusted Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald?

Ed Snowden:  After 9/11, many of the most important news outlets in America abdicated their role as a check to power — the journalistic responsibility to challenge the excesses of government — for fear of being seen as unpatriotic and punished in the market during a period of heightened nationalism. From a business perspective, this was the obvious strategy, but what benefited the institutions ended up costing the public dearly. The major outlets are still only beginning to recover from this cold period. Laura and Glenn are among the few who reported fearlessly on controversial topics throughout this period, even in the faceof withering personal criticism, and resulted in Laura specifically becoming targeted by the very programs involved in the recent disclosures.

While he offered praise to Poitras and Greenwald, someone else is in the news cycle extolling him.  Academy Award winning film maker Oliver Stone is in Japan promoting The Untold History of the United States mini-series he and historian Peter Kuznick made.  In Tokyo, he spoke at The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan.  BBC has video of some of his remarks (there's a jump cut from "for this" to "This is Big Brother," FYI):

 Snowden is a hero to me, Edward Snowden is a hero because he did this not for profit, not to give, hurt -- give exchange secrets away that could hurt our country supposedly -- I haven't seen one evidence of that. He is doing it out of conscience -- a higher law of his conscience is dictating that to him.  He sacrificed his life for this.  This is Big Brother in a way that Orwell never could have forseen.  They can see into every home.  Obama says, "Well don't worry about it, we're not listening in."  Yeah, but you could listen in.

Ed Snowden is an American citizen and whistle-blower who had been employed by the CIA and by the NSA before leaving government employment for the more lucrative world of contracting.  At the time he blew the whistle, he was working for Booz Allen Hamilton doing NSA work.  Glenn Greenwald (Guardian) had the first scoop (and many that followed) on Snowden's revelations that the US government was spying on American citizens, keeping the data on every phone call made in the United States (and in Europe as well) while also spying on internet use via PRISM and Tempora.  US Senator Bernie Sanders decried the fact that a "secret court order" had been used to collect information on American citizens "whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing."  Sanders went on to say, "That is not what democracy is about.  That is not what freedom is about. [. . .] While we must aggressively pursue international terrorists and all of those who would do us harm, we must do it in a way that protects the Constitution and civil liberties which make us proud to be Americans."  The immediate response of the White House, as Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman (Guardian) reported,  was to insist that there was nothing unusual and to get creaky and compromised Senator Dianne Feinstein to insist, in her best Third Reich voice, "People want to keep the homeland safe."  The spin included statements from Barack himself.   Anita Kumar (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "Obama described the uproar this week over the programs as “hype” and sought to ensure Americans that Big Brother is not watching their every move."  Josh Richman (San Jose Mercury News) quoted Barack insisting that "we have established a process and a procedure that the American people should feel comfortable about."  Apparently not feeling the gratitude, the New York Times editorial board weighed in on the White House efforts at spin, noting that "the Obama administration issued the same platitude it has offered every time President Obama has been caught overreaching in the use of his powers: Terrorists are a real menace and you should just trust us to deal with them because we have internal mechanisms (that we are not going to tell you about) to make sure we do not violate your rights."  Former US President Jimmy Carter told CNN, "I think that the secrecy that has been surrounding this invasion of privacy has been excessive, so I think that the bringing of it to the public notice has probably been, in the long term, beneficial."

The more Barack attempted to defend the spying, the more ridiculous he came off.  Mike Masnick (TechDirt) reviewed Barack's appearance on The Charlie Rose Show and observed of the 'explanations' offered, "None of that actually explains why this program is necessary. If there's a phone number that the NSA or the FBI gets that is of interest, then they should be able to get a warrant or a court order and request information on that number from the telcos. None of that means they should be able to hoover up everything."  As US House Rep John Conyers noted, "But I maintain that the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable search and seizure to mean that this mega data collected in such a super aggregated fashion can amount to a Fourth Amendment violation before you do anything else.  You've already violated the law, as far as I am concerned."  Barack couldn't deal with that reality but did insist, in the middle of June, that this was an opportunity for "a national conversation."  He's always calling for that because, when it doesn't happen, he can blame the nation.  It's so much easier to call for "a national conversation" than for he himself to get honest with the American people. And if Barack really believes this has kicked off "a national conversation" then demonizing Ed Snowden is a really strange way to say "thank you."

Lon Snowden is Ed's father.  He has been a strong advocate and defender of his son.  He has retained Constitutional and international law expert Bruce Fein to represent his son.  The two appeared Sunday on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos.  Excerpt.

FEIN: I could make these points, George. Number one, we now have a date for visiting Moscow.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're going to Moscow?

FEIN: We have visas, we have a date, which we won't disclose right now because of the frenzy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it's imminent?

FEIN: Very soon. And we intend to visit with Edward and suggest criminal defense attorneys who have got experience in Espionage Act prosecutions. There have only been ten in over 100 years. We think, also, it's especially important to go back to what President Obama said about Edward not being a patriot. It was the voice of the American revolution, Thomas Payne who defined a patriot as someone who saves his country from his government.
And we also heard about the alleged disasters that would ensue to the United States because of what Edward has done. Let's go back to the Bradley Manning case, when it came to the damage phase, the United States conceded not one person has been injured and impaired because of what Bradley Manning disclosed.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What was your reaction when you heard the president say your son is not a patriot?

SNOWDEN: I would say -- again, I think he was put in a tough spot. There were many questions that should have been asked at that press conference that were not. I would have liked to see them ask about the DEA special operation division, many other things -- his treatment of whistle-blowers. But in terms of him characterizing my son as a patriot, or others like Peter King who characterized him as a traitor, what I would say is that my son has spoken the truth. He has sacrificed more than either the president of the United States or Peter King have ever in their political careers or their American lives. So how they choose to characterize him really isn't...

In the interview, George noted talk of a possible amnesty or immunity deal for Ed (a deal that some lawmakers had already rejected) and Lon Snowden dismissed that.

SNOWDEN: Not open to it. At this point, what I would like is for this to be vetted in open court for the American people to have all of the facts. What I have seen is much political theater. I was disappointed in the president's press conference. I believe that's driven by his clear understanding that the American people are absolutely unhappy with what they've learned and that more is going to be forthcoming.
So again, and I believe much of what he suggested is superficial. We can go over that point by point if you would like, but a deal -- the only deal will be true justice. You know, justice should be the goal of our government and is also the goal of a civil society.

FEIN: Those are the words of James Madison.

Political theater describes Barack's ridiculous press conference (see last Friday's snapshot and Ava and my "Media: The weak press, the weak press conference").  WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange weighed in:

Today the President of the United States validated Edward Snowden’s role as a whistleblower by announcing plans to reform America’s global surveillance program.  But rather than thank Edward Snowden, the President laughably attempted to criticize him while claiming that there was a plan all along, “before Edward Snowden.”  The simple fact is that without Snowden’s disclosures, no one would know about the programs and no reforms could take place.  As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently once stated, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”  Luckily for the citizens of the world, Edward Snowden is one of those “people of good conscience” who did not “remain silent”, just as Pfc Bradley Manning and Daniel Ellsberg refused to remain silent.
Ironically, the Department of Justice is betraying two key principles that President Obama championed when he ran for office ­ transparency and protection for whistleblowers. During his 2008 campaign, the President supported Whistleblowers, claiming their “acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled.”  Yet his administration has prosecuted twice as many whistleblowers than all other administrations combined
Moreover, the US government’s hypocrisy over Snowden’s right to seek asylum has been stunning.  America offers asylum to dissidents, whistleblowers and political refugees without regard to other governments opposition all the time.  For example, the US has accepted 3,103 of their own asylees, 1,222 from Russia and 1,762 from Venezuela – http://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/immigration-statistics/yearbook/2011/ois_yb_2011.pdf.
Today was a victory of sorts for Edward Snowden and his many supporters.  As Snowden has stated, his biggest concern was if he blew the whistle and change did not occur.  Well reforms are taking shape, and for that, the President and people of the United States and around the world owe Edward Snowden a debt of gratitude.

Z. Byron Wolf (CNN) provides a fact check on some of the claims Barack made in that speech.  The fact check includes:

Would Obama's whistleblower protection have helped Snowden?
Obama on Friday: "I signed an executive order well before Mr. Snowden leaked this information that provided whistleblower protection to the intelligence community for the first time."
True -- he signed an executive order in October of 2012 that protects intelligence community whistleblowers. The Intelligence community is exempted from other whistleblower protections he signed into law in 2012.
But that protection does not appear to do much for someone like Snowden, who wanted to blow the whistle to public on a classified program.

Ladar Levison shut down Lavabit.  He tells Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! today, "It was a very difficult decision.  But I felt that, in the end, I had to pick between the lesser of two evils and that shutting down the service, if it was no longer secure was the better option.  It was the lesser of two evils."

Lavabit's closure made news last week with Neil McAllister (Register) noted NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden had used the e-mail provider Lavabit and that, among its selling points: "the service boasted that all email stored on its servers was encrypted using asymmetric elliptical curve cryptography, in such a way that it was impossible to discern the contents of any email without knowing the user's password."  Reuters quoted from a letter written by Lavabit owner Ladar Levison that was posted to the Lavabit site yesterday, "I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people, or walk away from nearly 10 years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit."  The letter continued, "This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States."

Barack Obama: Bad for the economy, bad for business, bad for innovation.  That becomes ever more clear with every day.  Ted Samson (InfoWorld) observed:

Lavabit's move represents another black eye for the U.S.-based tech companies, many of which have struggled to protect their reputations in the wake of the revelations about the federal government's far-reaching surveillance programs. Foreign leaders have seized the opportunity to steer their citizens away from America-based services. Meanwhile, a recent report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation predicted that U.S.-based cloud companies stand to lose as much as $35 billion over the next three years, due to customer wariness of Prism and other spying programs.
Levison himself wrote that he would "strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States."

John Constine (TechCrunch) added:

The move has bolstered critics who are becoming increasingly vocal about how the U.S. government’s surveillance efforts are jeopardizing American technology businesses. They fear international customers may take their cloud business elsewhere in an attempt to avoid the NSA. Jennifer Granick, the Director of Civil Liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, wrote that ”the U.S. government, in its rush to spy on everybody, may end up killing our most productive industry. Lavabit may just be the canary in the coal mine.”

Lastly, WikiLeaks has a document release today.  From their Twitter feed:

The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.


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