Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, and the NSA

by Karoli on June 24, 2013 · 536 comments

Arrest Greenwald? What Nonsense!

I’ll start with this: It bothers me when anyone says a reporter should be arrested for reporting what is a newsworthy story. It bothers me more than knowing that if I were to email someone in Pakistan or Russia or China those emails might be captured by one of four NSA data capture programs. 

Glenn Greenwald and I are not bosom buddies. I say that because you, the reader, should know that I’m not defending him because we’re BFFs who get each other’s back. I do not like the way this story was broken, I don’t like the paranoia that has come out of it, and I don’t care for the misshapen debate about what might be acceptable limits and balances on national security versus individual privacy. 

That doesn’t mean I support arresting Glenn Greenwald because he reported a story that, in his judgment, needed to be told. By the way, I don’t like David Gregory and loathe most of the so-called “reporters” on Fox News who lie constantly to their viewers and stir up hate, animosity and division all the time either. I still don’t think they should be arrested.

Ben Smith over at Buzzfeed had this right: You don’t have to like Edward Snowden. Not even a little bit. That doesn’t mean Greenwald didn’t see a duty to report what Snowden was handing him.

Snowden is what used to be known as a source. And reporters don’t, and shouldn’t, spend too much time thinking about the moral status of their sources. Sources sometimes act from the best of motives — a belief that readers should know something is amiss, or a simple desire to see a good story told. They also often act from motives far more straightforwardly venal than anything than has been suggested of Snowden: They want to screw someone who is in their way professionally; they want to score an ideological point by revealing a personal misdeed; they are acting on an old grudge, and serving revenge cold; they are collecting chits with the press to be cashed in later.

When these sources are anonymous or — in the case of earlier NSA sources — gray men whose stories haven’t captured the public imagination, nobody much cares. The Nixon Administration’s campaign to smear reporters’ Vietnam source, Daniel Ellsberg, is remembered only for having happened. When you learn decades later that the most famous anonymous source in American history — Deep Throat — was an unappealing figure fighting a bureaucratic civil war, that’s a mildly interesting footnote. The criminality he unearthed was interesting; Mark Felt wasn’t really. Who cares?

Yes, exactly. How would you feel if something really important was not reported because a reporter didn’t like the source, or the source wasn’t impeccable as to character and motive? I see no reason for trained journalists to call for Greenwald’s arrest because he had the audacity to report a story, albeit with a healthy dose of his own opinion sprinkled over it as well. Let’s get real: opinion-based reporting is what we get from everyone. I don’t see any neutral parties out there just reporting the facts anymore. Even NPR has been compromised. 

I think everyone should quit talking about arresting Greenwald, because that really is crazy talk. Far crazier than tapping your Internet or social networks. On the other hand, being skeptical or even critical doesn’t make someone an idiotic jerk either. There seems to be this sort of weird reaction whenever someone questions facts in the original story. Is there some script I haven’t read that says if you do not accept everything on its face, you’re a government stooge who doesn’t care for civil liberties or privacy? I like privacy fine, and I also know I don’t have any of it. This sums up my frustration with the larger arguments right now:

As with Snowden’s naive beliefs about the ethics of spying, the disappointment is that President Obama has competently managed our national security infrastructure instead of disestablishing it altogether. If this reminds you of Ronpaulites yapping about the Federal Reserve, you are getting it.

Edward Snowden is now in a twisty passage of his own making

Snowden, however, is entirely different. I suspect he’s about to find out a few inconvenient facts about the world he lives in, courtesy of the Chinese, maybe the Russians, and possibly even Ecuador, should he actually find his way to that destination. Let’s assume the Chinese sent him on his way via Russia. This appears to be unconfirmed, but Snowden’s plane landed in Moscow and left with an empty seat where he was supposed to be.

Vladimir Putin is not exactly a champion of individual liberty, given his time running the KGB back in the day, and I’ll wager Snowden is about to discover the world really does have bad guys in it. Vladimir Putin is a Russian oligarch and politician now, not a Secret Police director. Still, old habits die hard, and I’m guessing Snowden will hand over what he’s got as his “get out of jail free” card after the Chinese used him as a bargaining chip for a bit of good will and exit strategy from a sticky situation.

Putin will not have much concern for Snowden’s liberty, nor  relationships with our own country. Putin is in it for Putin and no one else. If Snowden is in custody there, he should be concerned.

At first I considered Snowden to be a hero in his own mind, a guy who found a SuperSuit and wanted to fly. That perception has changed, largely because of his own words and deeds. Either he’s a guy who operated from an almost-surreal idealistic world view, or else he understood that going to China would place him in jeopardy, which would suggest some kind of strange desire to martyr himself. There is also the possibility that he has no problem handing over information to these other countries because he sees it as a form of retribution for whatever security state violations he imagines to have taken place within the United States. Whatever his motives, the outcome will be worse for him than it is for the NSA.

That was his choice, and his alone. He’s the guy who decided he would intentionally take a job with Booz Allen Hamilton for the sole purpose of dredging the dirt to hand off to The Guardian, the Chinese, and probably anyone else who puts even a little bit of pressure on him or pretends they give a damn about civil liberties while running totalitarian states.

On the other hand, perhaps he did go to Ecuador and the Wikileaks folks have just been stellar about concealing it. Ecuador is not a bastion of civil liberties either, Julian Assange’s current residence notwithstanding.

As of Monday afternoon (eastern time), the whereabouts of on-the-run NSA leaker Edward Snowden remained unknown. But it seemed the onetime contractor might be headed to Ecuador. There’s little doubt that the country’s President Rafael Correa would relish the chance to welcome Snowden and irritate Washington. Correa has been a leading purveyor of anti-United States rhetoric in Latin America, reviving the down-with-gringos banner-waving once so popular in the region. But Correa’s embrace of Snowden—if it comes to be—could produce blowback for the heavy-handed Ecuadorean leader by focusing global attention on his own, far-from-laudable policies regarding transparency, press freedoms, and refugees.

Just two weeks ago, his party passed a law in the National Assembly that, according to Human Rights Watch, “undermines free speech.” HRW official José Miguel Vivanco notes, “This law is yet another effort by President Correa to go after the independent media. The provisions for censorship and criminal prosecutions of journalists are clear attempts to silence criticism.”

Hmmmm. Snowden would seek asylum in a country where civil liberties are nil, especially when it comes to reporters? That seems a bit contradictory, at least to me.

If past history points to the future, it appears that Snowden has a habit of beginning things he can’t finish, beginning with high school, college, the military, his stint with the CIA (if there really was one), and his career as a systems administrator with the NSA. This time he may not have a choice, given his actions. I doubt the finish line will have many accolades at the end. 

We’re still not talking about the right issues

What Snowden did, with help from the press (and not just Glenn Greenwald), is completely distract everyone from the right conversation. Honestly, the only person on the entire planet who benefits from this crazy framing is Rand Paul.

RAND PAUL, people. The very same guy who had help from Stormfront.org to leap into his Senate seat during the tea party surge of 2010, and now has ambitious eyes on the seat his daddy never reached. (What is it with daddy issues in the Republican party, anyway?)

If you want to talk about private corporate contractors having access to national security information, I’m there.

If you want to talk about whether the tech hole which “allows but does not permit” access to the records of US persons should be closed, I’m there.

If you want to talk about limiting the scope of the Patriot Act and FISA, I’m there.

If you want to talk about how we should toss all efforts to protect national security out the window, or how it is all Obama’s fault when this has been going on for at least ten years, leave me out. That line of thinking serves no real purpose.

If you want to speculate about how the government could kill you by hacking your car because you’re working on an investigative piece, leave me out. I’m not faulting Richard Clarke here. He honestly answered a question he was asked, but please spare me the impossible and perfect crime theory where the government hacks your car’s telemetry and it’s so difficult to prove that ZOMG it must be a conspiracy. Michael Hastings’ death was a tragic one, but if you’re going fast enough that the engine of your car lands 100 feet away on impact, it’s tough to believe that was the product of a telemetry hack as much as it was speed and a lack of control over the vehicle. While the LAPD is not high on my list of stellar police investigatory agencies, they do have quite a bit of experience with auto accidents, and they’re saying there’s no evidence of foul play.

If you want me to work for Rand Paul and his whacked friends over at Alex Jones’ place by pushing conspiracy theories, brainwash me first, or better yet, just kill me and be done with it. 

We can either have an adult conversation about adult topics, or we can run around with our hair on fire. Let’s at least be honest about who benefits from this paranoid framing and who doesn’t. In case it isn’t obvious, paranoid ZOMG YOU’RE BEING WATCHED talk alienates young people and drives them into the arms of utopian conspiracy buffs like Rand and his pal Jones. On the other hand, pressuring Congress to actually reopen the debate over FISA and Patriot Act provisions while stepping on them hard to close Guantanamo the way the president has requested could actually yield some results. Maybe that’s a better way to go?

Along the way, let’s not forget that student loan rates double in less than a week, immigration reform could well drop dead in the house, and all the other faux scandals have died the death they deserved. Benghazi is dead. The IRS scandal is dead. And it’s only a matter of time before Edward Snowden becomes an afterthought too. This is the time to push for actual change, rather than simply screaming at the top of our lungs about what a ‘hero’ he is. Pushing for change will require more than blaming Obama for everything. It requires work. Actual hard work to get Congress to move along the same trajectory. It’s easier to scream than it is to work, but the latter has a better chance of a good outcome.

Also, this: Being female and all, I’m far more disturbed by the relentless effort of Republicans to force themselves into my lady parts and tell me what I can and cannot do with my own body. I’ll take you seriously on the question of civil liberties when you’re willing to get in their face over their intrusive and unconstitutional efforts to make women and people of color second class citizens.

It would actually be nice if everyone on all sides quit aiming at people (e.g. Greenwald, Obama, etc) and started aiming at issues. What I’ve written here does not qualify as an “Obot response”, despite the strange urge from people to suggest that anyone not toeing the absolutist line is somehow an apologist for the president. Leave room for different opinions, please. That is, if you really believe people should have the liberty to think for themselves…

crossposted to Momocrats.com

Bonus: I know this was a long post, but you still need to read Bob Cesca’s. Trust me. You’ll want to.

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