Monday, August 12, 2013

Quis Custodiet?

Key quote from the weekend editorial at the LA Times entitled "What did Edward Snowden get wrong? Everything."
"That's why I find the Snowden controversy so frustrating. I realize many Americans don't trust their government. I wish I could change that. I wish I could tell people the amazing things I witnessed during my 30 years in the CIA, that I've never seen people work harder or more selflessly, that for little money and long hours, people took it for granted that their flaws would be scrutinized and their successes ignored. But I've been around long enough to know that deep-rooted distrust of government is immune to stories from people like me. The conspiracy buffs are too busy howling in protest at the thought that their government could uncover how long they spent on the phone with their dear aunt."
Mossadegh. Diem. Allende. Iran-Contra. The ridiculous overestimation of Soviet capabilities. Lumumba. Castro. The Bay of Pigs fiasco and the catastrophic underestimation of dangers of the Missile Crisis. HTLINGUAL. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident. National security letters. COINTELPRO. The Pentagon Papers.

Where do you want me to stop?

Many U.S. citizens don't trust their government in large part because of the many times their government has been caught by its citizens with its pants down buggering the rentboy and has turned on its citizens with an angry look and shrieked "Who you gonna believe, me or your lyin' eyes?!"

The U.S. government's intelligence and defense agencies have had a pretty damn ugly record of internal and external skulduggery over the past half century. When you add in the times that they've been flat out mistaken, or have ignored or, worse, dismissed the likely blowback from their actions and have cost the U.S. blood and treasure as a result...or the times they have been misused or ignored by unscrupulous men in executive or legislative power...and you get a pretty high stack of reasons that many Americans SHOULD ask their government for a security deposit prior to handing them over the keys to the beach house.

Frankly, I tend to agree with Liepman, the author of the piece, that there is no such thing as "complete transparency" between a government and its people. Every nation does have enemies. Finding out what those enemies are up to, defeating them before matters come to open warfare, is the best possible mission for a nation's intelligence services. Much of that snooping and foiling must be done in secret. To be successful in these silent wars truth must, indeed, sometimes have a bodyguard of lies.

But, I'm sorry, the rest of his screed is some weak shit.

Given what we know the record of U.S. intelligence. Given what we know now about the people then in power when most of these "counter-terrorism" programs were set up. Given what we know of the tendency of any government, of ALL governments, to gather information about their own people and to use that information against those people that antagonize them.

There is no real reason to simply trust "...the lengths to which the intelligence community goes to protect privacy."

At the moment the question isn't really about the size, or shape, or nature of the bodyguard of lies. We will probably never really know any of that, just that the bodyguard is there and is actively seeking to hide the collection of information, some of which is likely to be our own. Intel insiders like Liepman can swear on the highest stack of Bibles ever piled up that they are really, really good people who really, really aren't going to use these programs to help government officials kneecap political enemies or in other unsavory ways such as to evade the legal requirements for evidence collection imposed on domestic law enforcement and their assurances are almost sure to be worthless.

The real question is, simply just exactly how much power over us we choose to give that bodyguard, and who can guard a guard that cannot be seen or heard.


  1. FD Chief-

    Not very impressed by Liepman's agitprop piece, but for other, more specific reasons . . .

    To put this scandal in context, I would only mention a few names . . . Binney, Wiebe, Tice, Drake . . . which for some strange reason Liepman never mentions.

    As Liepman seems to be totally unaware, Edward Joseph Snowden is only the latest in a whole series of former NSA-related intelligence officer whistle-blowers who have attempted to get this story out in the open over the last 10 years. Thomas Drake was an official whistleblower, who followed all the rules that the uninformed say Snowden should have, and guess what? The Bush & Obama administrations tried to put him in prison for the rest of his life . . . Here’s a recent article of his telling his story . . .

    I remember years back, a discussion I had with a couple of NSA officers. In general I would label the NSA officers I came into contact with as "professionals" whereas I was markedly less impressed with CIA officers I came into contact with, whom I would label as "cowboys" . . . but that's based on my own limited experience.

    What is striking in retrospect was the feeling we shared back in the early 1990s as the Cold War came to a close. That being that the big question was, "what's next"? Here we had this massive collection apparatus (in the case of Sigint) and what was going to happen to it, with the USSR now defunct? The fear was - and it was one we shared - was that this entire apparatus could be turned on the American people themselves. I mention this not to imply there was some sort of plan, there is no way any of us would have known that, but rather it was clear to many of us at the collection level, that the apparatus may find a new "mission" or be found a new mission. I think this fear is what has driven the whole series of NSA-related intelligence officers to come forward, something that is unprecedented in the history of US intelligence . . .

    That is a necessary element in this whole scandal and one in need of being honestly addressed . . . not that I expect that of course . . . least of all from a "government" with the War on Terror industry as one of its most important constituents . . .

  2. I do not trust Liepman's 'trust us' message either. A strong IAD is needed. But otherwise you can color me reactionary. Myself, I am much more worried about corporations (both American and foreign) spying on me than the government.

    Oooops, change that! Those corporations spying on us are in bed with the legislative branch of our government. So I should not rule out government malfeasance. But that is a completely different part of the government than you and Snowden and Rand Paul are talking about.

    I have no problems opening mail destined for foreign countries or coming here from those foreign countries (whether it is snailmail, email, texting, twitter, phone, telegraph or radio). If Snowden differs then so be it. I believe his arguments are weak and hope they will not be listened to in Washington. The man sold us down the river. Why should I give him more credibility than General Alexander or Mr Liepman?

  3. We live in a digital Panopticon that forgets nothing and steadily grows more perceptive, more intrusive. Legal protections, such as privacy zones or secure channels of communication, may in time evolve. For now, the only defense against governmental and corporate monitoring is to do what Snowden did and turn the tables on them. If we have no privacy, then neither should the snoopers.

  4. seydlitz: My concerns are similar. Power - and intelligence gathering - abhors a vacuum. And power, once acquired, is very difficult to be divested. So I'm not thrilled about this much power and intelligence gathering being done with so little real oversight.

    mike: I'd argue that Snowdon, Liepman, and Alexander are all cur from the same cloth. the only difference is that the one is openly distrustworthy and can't keep his trap shut about it and the other two want us to trust them but won't open theirs to tell us why we should. In effect they are saying "I'm here to help you but I can't tell you how, or why, but you need to give me your car and house keys and the PIN number for your credit card."

    And I have friends in both Europe and Asia and I can tell you that I would be goddamn furious to her that our mail, e-mail, or phone calls are being snitched on. Are you saying that geography is guilt, mike? That's horseshit and you know better.

    If my government wants to spy on me they need to do it the old-fashioned way; do some police work, get the goods on me, get a warrant, and then we're in business.

    What you're suggesting is the first steps towards the lettres de cachet and the Court of Star Chamber, steps we may have already taken but should not be excited about.

  5. FDChief:

    As I said in my first comment above, I do not trust Mr Liepman. And General Alexander and his NSA need some serious oversight. The Inspector General system (in all our organizations, not just the NSA) is antiquated and unresponsive.

    On the other hand, I believe Henry Stimson's comment that "Gentlemen should not read each other's mail is pure baloney. Gentlemen have been reading each other's mail at least since Herodotus' time that we know of and most likely long before that. Are you attempting like Stimson to bring in a new era of trust in international affairs?

    And no, of course I am not saying "geography is guilt" as you imply. I also occasionally correspond with people overseas. But unlike you I expect that correspondence to be checked out - by someone else's government if not by our own - and by some nosy multinational corporation. Get furious all you want, that and a few dollars might get you a cup of coffee.

    And 'lettres de cachet'!!!! That is a big leap you make from reading the mail to imprisonment without trial. And which we already have in a small corner of Cuba. Why are you saying we should not be excited about that?

  6. It's not a question of trusting Snowden. He has the documents to prove what he claims and no one in the Obama administration is claiming they are fakes. Snowden took an oath to the constitution and signed a non-disclosure agreement. But if the program his documents describe is unconstitutional/illegal (as he thinks it is) then following Executive Order 13526, Section 1.7, the information surrounding it can not be classified . . . then it all becomes a criminal proceeding and Snowden is a state witness, along with Binney, Wiebe, Tice and Drake . . . dimes start to fall and Dick Cheney's on a jet to Costa Rica. The Republic is saved.

    That would be the best case scenario and assuming that the documents prove at least half of what the NSA whistleblowers have gone on record as saying what has been going on . . . not that I have much faith that will actually happen, still the vote in the House at the end of July was a positive development . . .

    1. References to Law are always appreciated. Thanks for tossing out EO 13526.

  7. From Liepman:

    First, though many things need to be kept secret in today's dangerous world

    once important security information is out there, anyone can access it, including those who would do us harm

    not interested in your conversations with your aunt, unless, of course, she is a key terrorist leader.

    he took upon himself the authority to decide what tradecraft the intelligence community needs to keep his fellow citizens safe

    Yup, boys and girls, there are enemies out there and we should be afraid. Not just foreign enemies, but domestic as well, so we need to be doubly afraid. Terrorists, abortionists, gays, various religious groups, cops, welfare recipients, liberals, conservatives, doctors, lawyers, Blacks, illegal immigrants, big business, labor, management are just some examples of enemies we need to be afraid of. Or be afraid of the government taking stronger measures against our enemy (or non-enemy) of choice, of for not taking stronger measures, which makes them enablers of our enemies.

    Is it no wonder things are screwed up? We have thrived on "enemies" for decades, built massive structures to fight (or spy) against our enemies, and then expect these structures to be flawlessly clean and upright good guys with an eagle eye foucus. Hell, we can't even catalog all our enemies, no less the existential threats they pose, and some bureaucracy is supposed to do so?

    You guys really want to be afraid of something? Consider how threatened your relationship with your wife would be if she knew this:


    OK, had to lighten it up a bit. :-)

    1. OK, that surprised me more than a bit!

      Fabulous link, Aviator, it's gonna get shared.


    2. (1) Who hasn't our government declared to be terrorists at one time or another? (leaving out the actual terrorists)

      (2) What is the legal definition of terrorism, and how wide is it?

  8. There are, certainly, a lot of moving parts to this story which make analysis difficult.

    To start off, I'll just say that while I agree with the critiques of the op-ed, I feel some sympathy for Liepman’s position. Most of the people in the intel community are decent people who usually act in what they believe to be the best interests of the nation. Most are normal Americans that bear little resemblance to how intelligence people are portrayed in poplar media. Unfortunately, "creeping normalcy" and corruption inevitably worm their way into any large organization and so oversight and regular reform is always needed. This is a point Liepman should have made a strong part of hi piece. At the end of the day, we can’t take “trust us” at face value but we also can’t demand a public vetting of every secret program – there has to be a balance – a set of public guidelines and red lines along with oversight of secret activity to ensure the intent in met.

    I think the root problem is that the old guidelines and red lines don’t work anymore given the vast change in communication and information technology developed over the last two decades. The old guidelines and red lines cannot be templated onto the new communication culture that’s grown from the technology. We need a new set of “public guidelines” governing intelligence activities in these areas. I spent some time researching the history of wiretap law and it’s a history that is both interesting and relevant. It took decades of changes before wiretap law finally settled into how we think of it today. A similar process will have to happen over the coming years.

    As for Ed Snowden, the good thing about him is that his leak of the NSA programs relevant to domestic communications is a catalyst for a public conversation which could lead to those necessary reforms. Unfortunately, Snowden has proven to be, at best, a useful idiot who damaged both his stated goals for reform as well as legitimate national security interests. His decision to take “tens of thousands” of NSA files unrelated to the privacy of US citizens and leave the country for China and then Russia is not something a genuine “whistleblower” would or should do. I would not be surprised to learn the FSB was leading him along from the beginning and it’s pretty clear at this point they had a hand in getting him to Russia. Snowden’s theft and compromise of that trove of legitimate national security sources and methods will likely be the most damaging compromise to US Sigint in the modern era. As an intel guy I cannot overlook that and give Snowden a pass.

    What I can give him a pass for is not using the internal whistleblower process. The fact is that these programs are not the actions of an out-of-control Executive, or the malfeasance of rogue bureaucrats, or the illegal actions of anyone. These programs are official policy of the US government. There simply is no use for using an internal process to “blow the whistle” on sanctioned US government activity. All three branches of government had a hand in formulating, implementing and managing this policy. There was no clear waste, fraud, abuse or violations of the law. So these programs don’t meet the traditional definition of activity that would justify going through an internal process, so it wasn’t a realistic option for Snowden. Again, that’s not meant to justify his actions – he clearly had other options for exposing this to public debate.

    Overall I hope some good comes out of this affair, but I think that will be difficult when the “whistleblower” is also a de facto defector. And Glen Greenwald the “true believer” isn’t helping much either. Nor is Wikileaks, for whom Snowden and Manning are practically Christ figures.

    1. Circle back to one of FD Chief's points. Isn't this about absolute power corrupting? Lessen the power, lessen the corruption. Methinks the constitution strove for such restraints.

  9. Andy-

    Noiw that my rant is over, let me compliment you for hitting the nail right in the head.

    Might I offer this take on you very accurate portrayal- It's indeed a mess, and a significant part of it is due to partisan politics. The elected watchdogs are not going to rock the boat, as they are in office based on doing what's popular in their district, or mollifies their party power brokers, not what's best for the country. Thus, "lawful activity" that may not be in the best interests of the nation is accepted, for to rock the boat can be a death sentence. Or, lawful activity is challenged and exposed simply to discredit the party in power or a potential political foe. Look at the massive amount of energy that is being invested in discrediting Hillary Clinton to preclude her being the Dem candidate in 2016. Do you think the GOP power brokers would hesitate a heartbeat to compromise classified information if it had the slightest potential to undermine her possibility of running in 2016, even if it did more damage to the national interest than her chances of the nomination?

    With the above simmering (or boiling) in the background, is it any wonder that the intel community distrusts the politicians and the public? Even if you are doing your best to get your job done within the law solely for the nation's best interests, if it serves political expediency, you risk being a whipping boy, not because of who you are and what you did, but because of the political damage orchestrating an "expose" can inflict upon a political operative or party.

    So, without objective oversight, people like Snowdon and Manning rise to messianic status.

  10. Andy-

    Despite my high regard for you, I disagree on just about everything you're saying here.

    I noticed no mention of the other NSA whistleblowers and what happened to them or their current support of Snowden.

    No mention of the fact as to why Snowden had to apply for temporary asylum in Russia, as in what happened to the President of Columbia's plane . . . then the implied smear that he's a spy for the FSB?

    No mention of the illegal activity of the Bush administration during 2001-5 regarding NSA surveillance and the necessity of passing the FISA Amendment Act of 2008. Nor the fact that the FISA court ruling which we are only finding out about now, as to unconstitutionality, regards the updated version of FISA passed to get Bush off the hook. That is the NSA seemingly has consistently operated beyond the limits of what is legally authorized.

    No mention of the recent vote in the House which almost overthrew their whole little applecart. You have almost half of Congress yelling "WTF"? and it means nothing?

    No mention of numerous Congress members stating that in spite of repeated efforts to get information on these programs from the Senate and House Intelligence committees they received nothing.

    No mention of the long list of lies made on record by US officials in connection with this program. What about the leaks in connection with the recent Embassy closings, obviously authorized, where they not "damaging"?

    Then the canard of Greenwald being a "true believer", which of course seemingly disqualifies him from commenting? What about Bob Schieffer, would you label him as a "true believer" as well? Is he disqualified from commenting as well? What about Hayden, making all the money from the War on Terror Industry he's helped to create? Is he a "truebeliever" or "objective" and thus reliable? I ask since I find little difference between what you've commented here and what he says . . .

    As for former Intel types, there have been plenty - besides the NSA whistleblowers - who have come out in favor of Snowden and what he has done . . .

    I've also found the posts and comments at SST very pro-Republic and Constitution (which is what it all comes down to for me) and anti-Empire/National Security State.

    Here's a summary from what we know so far from the documents the whistleblower Edward Snowden has released and it is damning . . .

    And as I mentioned above, if what the NSA whistleblowers have been saying is true, and they've been right so far, then this is going to get worse, much worse . . .

  11. There's a stink about this among some surprising quarters

    along with some inspirational figures still being inspiring

    If I had my magic wand to do as I wish wherever I wished, FWIW, I'd give Assange, Greenwald, Snowden, Drake, Manning, Kiriakou, Rowley, Turner, and any other prosecuted, persecuted, smeared, but honest and decent gov't whistleblower free access to anything their hearts desired.

    The one and only utterance to come out of any person who wanted to come up to speak to these chosen folk would be "How can I help you, Sir/Ma'am?"

    Pay them more than handsomely for it too.

    We seriously need some sunshine and heavy-duty corruption and dishonesty flushing in this Republic of ours.

    OT, but still relevant.

    Anybody heard anymore of that recent Massive Terror Alert, Embassy Closings and more droning of Yemen lately?

    I didn't think so. That poor Political Dog, got his tail wagged off good and proper.


  12. I certainly would not chose noted, but not yet prosecuted and convicted, liar, James Clapper, to be part of such a free-wheeling group that I want.


  13. Al,

    Thanks for the kind words. I agree with you about partisan politics, but in this case I think it’s more about the “DC establishment” or Bacevich’s “Washington Rules.” For all the partisan rancor there are some topics which, for better or worse, bridge the partisan divide.

    BTW, I forgot to mention my wife and I really enjoyed the video. I’m very thankful that our relationship is strong enough to survive the threat of very attractive gay men, though I told her if she didn’t behave I would get myself a boyfriend… :)


    Thanks for your comments, as always. As is the case with everyone here, I have the highest respect for you even when we disagree.

    To be honest, your comment is a bit confusing to me. You start off by stating you disagree with almost everything I said, but provide no specifics or rationale for your disagreement. Instead, what follows is a list of things I didn’t mention in my comment. As I stated at the outset, there are a lot of moving parts to this story and I think it’s a bit unreasonable to expect me to address everything in my first comment on the topic.

    As for the disagreement, I’m genuinely interested in more detail about what you disagree with – specifically, what is objectionable about the idea of striking a balance between secrecy and openness? What is objectionable about suggesting that legal norms need to catch up with technology (and the example I gave of wiretap law development)? What is objectionable about criticizing Ed Snowden taking documents unrelated to the privacy of US citizens?

    In the meantime, I’ll begin to address your points:

    Beginning with Glen Greenwald, in hindsight “true believer” was a probably a bad term for me to use. I actually have a lot of respect for him even if we frequently disagree. He’s one of those rare people who is not bound to the traditional norms of factional ideology and thus is not “owned” by the political establishment. He isn’t a partisan hack who will pull punches to give his “side” an advantage – he doesn’t really have a “side” at all, which is what I like about him. I wish there were more people like that.

    But -and there’s always a but - that self-assured ideology (for the lack of a better term) comes with some downsides. In this case he’s begun with a premise and extrapolated the evidence to fit it. Many (including yours truly who debated him on a twitter), pointed out some of the flaws in his pat conclusions, but he will not entertain criticism. He’s a “true believer” in the sense that he’s immune to interpretation of facts and arguments that contradict his narrative. That’s the gist, anyway, without belaboring the point.

    Now, does any of this mean that Greenwald is a bad guy? No, I don’t think so. As a “true believer” I think he’s being honest even if I thin he’s wrong. That is a, decidedly, one big point in his favor over someone like Clapper….

    However, one should consider that he is just as much an advocate selling a narrative as is Liepman or Alexander and his statements and conclusions should be treated with the same measure of skepticism.

    I’m out of time so will have to address your other points tomorrow.

  14. ”Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it . . . There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment . . . You had to live ¬ did live ¬ from habit that became instinct ¬ in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”
    ¬ George Orwell, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’

    Orwell’s theme of the thought police was based on the NKVD. His Big Brother characterization, whose mustachioed image was ubiquitous, was based on Stalin. Putin’s Russia is a country that still spies on and controls the lives of its citizens like their predecessor the USSR. Russia today is more of a surveillance state than Clapper or Alexander ever dreamed of making the US of A. My problem with Snowden is not that he is exposing NSA over-enthusiasm in reading the correspondence of Americans. My beef is that he does it by going to Russia, whose state security is a thousand times more effective at spying on their citizens. And handing them the crown jewels while he is at it. What is he thinking? I think he will become disillusioned and return in the years to come.

    We here in the US may end up as part of Orwell's nightmare, but Big Brother will most likely be a conglomeration of corporations and not the NSA.

  15. Andy-

    Hey, you know me. Strategic theory perspective . . . this is an old story, there are various facts that have to be dealt with. Consider my questions more the boundaries of the overall discussion. I don't claim to have any answers yet beyond to the most basic question . . . Also I very much doubt we'll come to much of a conclusion here . . . yet perhaps we may surprise ourselves . . .

  16. Leipman wrote:

    As Jeremy Bash, the former chief of staff of the CIA, memorably put it, "If you're looking for a needle in the haystack, you need a haystack."

    The false logic in this analogy is that in the haystacks to which he is referring, there is only a lot of hay and just one needle. While Bash may define everything other than the sought after needle as simply being "hay", in the "haystacks" of human communication, and the expectations of privacy therein, that's just Bash's definition. I'm sure that Anthony Weiner wished his text messages were considered only "hay", and thus wouldn't qualify for further attention. In short, what is one man's hay could be another's needle. Based on definitions, needs and perceptions, there could be myriad "needles" in a given "haystack", and perhaps after every Tom, Dick and Harry had pawed through it, no "hay" left at all.

    Additionally, while most haystacks can be attributed to a single source, the farmer owning the land from which the hay was harvested, digital metadata does not fall into equally simplistic bounds.

    It just ain't as simple as Bash claims, and if, in his heart of heart, Bash thinks this is so, that's a very troubling notion. Not just in terms of our expectations of privacy, but his approach to analytical methodology.

    However, what troubles me about players such as Manning and Snowdon is that in trying to deliver specific "needles' to expose government misdoings, they delivered the entire haystack. And in that haystack were a plethora of "needles" that, while not bearing on the disdeeds they wished to expose, could very well be "needles" of value to some who might not wish us well. Their methodology was just as tragically flawed as Bash's.

  17. To all,
    It looks like all the usual suspects are back for duty with the exception of PFK. Good deal.
    Seydlitz-welcome back.

    I don't think this is about the NSA, but rather the Executive branch. Look at the rewards the NSA shills get for their obeying orders. Heck they even get to wear their uniforms when they go to the CIA.
    To me Nixon's statement applies here, and it's proven to be true. IF THE PRESIDENT DOES IT THEN IT'S LEGAL. That's how it plays out.
    Nixon kills millions in SECRET bombing campaigns and he gets impeached for burglary. Manning releases documents and he faces multiple sentences.
    Obomba kills US citizens to include a 16 yo without ties to Terrorism and nothing happens to him. Isn't murder a high crime? Nope the Nixon rule applies.
    But Snowden who didn't harm a hair on a hog would feel the full effect of American justice if only we could kidnap him back to our jurisdiction.
    As for Clappers lies - who cares. If convicted he'd get a pardon =SO WHAT ME WORRY? Think Ollie North and Scooter boy.
    The whole argument is crazy.
    Chief says there will always be secrets from the citizenry , and this may be true, but why are there secrets from our representatives and senators? That disconnect is most telling.
    What good is releasing secret documents IF THERE IS NO CORRECTIVE ACTION TAKEN AS A CONSEQUENCE?
    The words tempest and teacup come to mind.

  18. Al-

    In my view, Manning and Snowden are two quite different fish. Manning has a range of personal issues that influenced what he did. He doesn't seem to be quite at home in his own skin if the latest revelations are accurate. Manning was an unhappy, confused young man, more like a kid, who due to the US Army's approach to intelligence analysis had wide access to a lot of information. As a serving soldier he should have known better, but probably thought that in the end everyone "would understand", and he'd be a hero. The corrupting political context of the Iraq war is important here as well. His dump of information was unfocused for the most part and extensive. Would he do it all again? I very much doubt it.

    Snowden on the other hand is the latest in an unprecedented line of NSA-related whistleblowers who have been warning about what they see as unconstitutional and illegal overreach by the US executive branch in establishing total domestic surveillance which will only become more extensive with time. Snowden was living a happy, established life in Hawaii with his beautiful girlfriend making big bucks, making him the opposite of Manning. Snowden was essentially set for life, but he, like the other NSA whistleblowers, saw what was going on around them. What they were part of, and this goes far beyond the Iraq War, was a gross betrayal of not only the purpose of the NSA, but of the American people and their constitution. Where does one's loyalty ultimately lie? Obeying the orders of a president and his followers who are operating in secret, with little or no effective oversight, using a bureaucracy which has its own agenda? Or with that officer's/enlisted man's oath "to protect and defend the constitution of the US against all enemies foreign and domestic" . . . ? Snowden acted purely out of principle which is why he has no second thoughts about it. His release of information has been very focused and gradual. He would do it all again, and again, and again . . . imo.

  19. Whatever one says about surveillance, whatever the justifications, the fact remains that surveillance alienates people from their government. People don’t like to be spied on, which is only one aspect of a siege mentality that finds it necessary to impose the highest rate of incarceration among industrialized countries and use Terminator-style SWAT teams to check barber shops in Orlando for licenses and raid Amish farms suspected of selling unpasteurized cheese. Entering the country by car or airplane is déjà vu for those of us who used to bounce around the edges of the Iron Curtain.

    It’s heart-breaking, what fear, selfishness and the pornography of violence have done to “the land of the free.” I suppose we’ll get through this, in the same way that black people got through Jim Crow and the left, more or less, survived the Palmer Raids.

  20. Podunk Paul-

    "I suppose we’ll get through this, in the same way that black people got through Jim Crow and the left, more or less, survived the Palmer Raids."

    Well put. Agree. I would only add that the "we" here doesn't mean "us", but rather our descendants . . .

  21. Sorry I'm late getting back to the thread.

    I think the biggest problem is that, like the drone hysteria over the past couple of years, the "analysis" coming from Greenwald et al on the NSA assumes facts not in evidence. The recent leaked NSA audit contradicts much of the hyperbole surrounding some of the "revelations" reported by Greenwald and others even though it's not portrayed that way.

    Consider, for example, Greenwald's article on XKeyscore:

    Read the whole thing. Now, take a look at the NSA internal audit.

    If you look at figure 6 on page 8 you'll see that XKeyscore had 24 "incidents" during the quarter of the report. This is hardly the tool of pervasive and illegal surveillance (of even the President!) that Greenwald describes.

    The mistake Greenwald and Snowden make is to assume the backend database has the information that would allow Snowden or any analyst to pull query information on the President or any American.

    Instead this is a program to accomplish a mission that the NSA has done for decades - which is monitor foreign communications. Compared to the amount of foreign comms collected and queries performed, 24 incidents is a very low error rate.


    "No mention of the fact as to why Snowden had to apply for temporary asylum in Russia, as in what happened to the President of Columbia's plane . . . then the implied smear that he's a spy for the FSB?"

    Snowden had to apply for asylum in Russia because, conveniently, his other options fell through once he landed in Moscow. His passport was revoked before he left Hong Kong, but he had Ecuadoran travel papers which were declared invalid once he hit Moscow. Here's what Ecuador's president said:

    "Are we responsible for getting him to Ecuador? It's not logical. The country that has to give him a safe conduct document is Russia."

    The Russians could have put him on an Aeroflot flight or given him travel authorization but they chose not too... Oh, Snowden's Russian lawyer just happens to be associated with the FSB... Maybe Snowden didn't intend to become defector, but he's one now.

    "No mention of numerous Congress members stating that in spite of repeated efforts to get information on these programs from the Senate and House Intelligence committees they received nothing."

    Well, sorry to say, but this that is a laugh:

    Congressional priorities are obviously elsewhere....

  22. Seydlitz

    Good assessment of the characteristics and claimed motives of the two players, but I still have reservations about the issue of Snowden's "focus", as you call it.

    " Snowden acted purely out of principle which is why he has no second thoughts about it. "

    That is what Snowden claims. However, the man he has been said to have been inspired by, Thomas Drake, who, unlike Snowden, was meticulous in his methods to ensure that no classified info be included in whatever he leaked, to expose what he wanted to expose, without compromising classified material. And, Drake did not flee the country as part of his whistle blowing. That, to me, is much more indicative of "no second thoughts" than Snowden's actions.

    There is a big difference between the "whistlebolowing" behavior of Drake and Snowden. Drake began by bringing attention to the issues through established channels, and, in fact, he did contribute to the demise of Project Trailblazer. When other abuses did not appear to be addressed, then then went to the press without divulging any classified info. Snowden cannot begin to hold a candle to Drake's actions.

    1. Drake supports Snowden. In fact it is Drake's experience that explains Snowden's motives best of all. Exactly what he could expect if he came forward . . .

    2. Seydlitz,

      Drake is certainly entitled to his opinion, but we shouldn't automatically defer to it. There are other major differences besides what Al already cited:

      - Snowden took tons of information that was unrelated to legitimate whistleblowing. Greenwald said he took it to keep something from "happening" to him. Well, that was pretty dumb - as it made Snowden a target for anyone who seriously wants to damage the US.

      - Snowden provided information to the Chinese media on NSA network activities in China. His motivation, according to Greenwald: "What motivated that leak though was a need to ingratiate himself to the people of Hong Kong and China." So he released info unrelated to legitimate whistleblowing in order to gain favor with a foreign power to save his own ass from a dumb-ass decision to go to China in the first place.

      - And now he's in Russia, probably a guest at one of the FSB's private Dacha's. It's quite humorous that Wikileaks took to twitter recently to claim that the FSB had not "debriefed" him.

      Does anyone really believe that, or that Russia would accept Snowden (and the the inherent political hassles) with no quid pro quo?

      BTW, isn't it a bit strange how friendly Wikileaks and Russia are suddenly. Wonder why....

      So Snowden, by attempting to avoid the fate of other whistleblowers (we presume), decides to commit multiple felonies, thereby ensuring a miserable existence in Russia under the watchful eye of the FSB or criminal prosecution with a possible life sentence at home. Drake and others may think this was a smart move on Snowden's part, but I just don't see it.

    3. Andy-

      In my first comment on this thread, I stated: "To put this scandal in context, I would only mention a few names . . . Binney, Wiebe, Tice, Drake . . . which for some strange reason Liepman never mentions." Snowden is the latest in a long line of NSA-related whistleblowers, and in fact what happened to them goes a long way in explaining Snowden's motives and actions . . . also that this string of whistleblowing is unprecedented in US history. That is my argument on this point, not that we should "defer" to Drake.

      "Dumb"? I guess, he leaves a great, well-paying career, a beautiful woman and a house in paradise to become a man without a country living in some crappy Russian flat in some desolate Moscow suburb . . . until he leaves the country or goes to meet his maker, whatever comes first. Totally inexplicable, except in terms of principle. As to his "life insurance policy", well he had to have something. As to whether the Chinese and Russians have it, that depends on information we don't know. Rumors to the contrary leaked from the US government are difficult to verify at this point (wasn't the Dailybeast also the source of a whole series of US sanctioned leaks regarding the recent Al Qaida "conference call", and didn't all that mass of chatter provide the "terrorists" with "targets and methods"?).

      As to US collection regarding China, regarding Snowden's leak all I recall was a slide of a world map with China having a specific color . . . now he may have provided the Hong Kong government with more specifics to convince them that there was in fact a broader interest. Snowden made the argument as to why he was in Hong Kong and specifically not China in his first interview.

      Let's compare what Snowden said about NSA targeting of China with what the US government allowed to be leaked in an FP article from 10 June . . .

      "According to a number of confidential sources, a highly secretive unit of the National Security Agency (NSA), the U.S. government's huge electronic eavesdropping organization, called the Office of Tailored Access Operations, or TAO, has successfully penetrated Chinese computer and telecommunications systems for almost 15 years, generating some of the best and most reliable intelligence information about what is going on inside the People's Republic of China."

      A lot of interesting information here . . . so which source do you think the Chinese learned more from . . . ? Hard to tell?

  23. Andy,

    Your much earlier points about the whistle blower process also leaves a technical problem. If the assumption is that the government is free to reinterpret the 4th amendment so long as no one musters the chutzpah to blow a whistle, then it seems the government will always stay a step ahead of accountability. There is a long lag between the government doing wrong and being called for it, and in the interim a lot of damage can be done.

    (Moving on to general rant)

    This circles back to the idea that (once upon a time) "collectors" had to make a case before they could invade the personal effects of a private citizen. Sure the cop didn't call the suspect in advance and tell him he was getting a warrant, so due process did not mean absolute transparency, but the suspect had a defender in the person of the issuing judge. I am not sure that bodies such as FISA courts are equipped with equivalent checks since the judge in such a court sits in a distinctly awkward position -- often uncertain of the collection method and without the typical elevation over process. I can only speculate that the nexus of politics, appointments and secrecy have a large role to play in the nearly 100% approval statistic for FISA court warrant applications ( I would guess that the judges taken into the confidence of that appointment have been screened and groomed to be sensitive to the government's case.

    Is geography guilt?

    FD Chief makes an interesting observation. How much of this whole mess has related to the fact that our constitutional guarantees have an awkward relationship with geography. if you're here, they'll need a warrant, if you're there they'll need reasonable confidence, if you're in transit ICE can fully exploit you but others cannot...its a tangled mess. Could we fix that without deciding to universalize our concept of privacy and rights, or some other pie in the sky idea? I have my doubts. In the mean while, I'm back to wanting better checks and balances to complicate and constrain those who would use power--even if that means accepting a little more risk of nasty surprises.

    Corporate nexus.

    BTW, I also dislike the idea that Google, as an immortal corporate "person" has more power ($$$) to defend its privacy than I do. It can out spend me in the near term or outlive me in the long-run.

  24. Hi all and welcome back Jeremy . . .

    Reading about the detention at Heathrow of Glenn Greenwald's partner . . .

    "On suspicion of terrorism" they held him for nine hours and confiscated all his electronic equipment. So reporting on the NSA is now an act of terrorism?

    In terms of the NSA scandal, or as I would label it "constitutional crisis", it is amazing how far Obama is willing to go to shut this all down. First the Columbian president's plane, then all the bad-mouthing of Russia (they were legally bound not to turn over Snowden), and now this? They're not worried about what the Russians or Chinese might find out, they're worried about what the American people will find out and I suppose they have reason to worry should this all ever be exposed to the light of day . . .

    It is simply amazing how the whole strategic narrative of the war on terror (very interested in Strategic Narratives now after reading Emile Simpson's book - highly recommended) has been able to cover so many illegal actions by the government . . . torture, official lying, total domestic surveillance, destruction of evidence, graft and corruption (all the lost $$$), no to mention the whole question of drone warfare, our schizophrenic Syrian policy, all the ruined lives, yet it all just keeps chugging along . . . when will it all become so obvious that this war is self-perpetuating . . . ? That it is only the war on terror "industry" along with the politicos who exploit it who benefit . . .

  25. seydlitz: when will it all become so obvious that this war is self-perpetuating . . . ? That it is only the war on terror "industry" along with the politicos who exploit it who benefit . . .

    Not until the costs are perceived to be falling on a major portion of the population, and are burdensome as compared to any perceived "benefit".

    1. But debt spending could disaggregate actions and consequences for decades. This will be a tough come-back.

  26. As to why the Russians did what they did . . . from a distinguished US law professor . . .

    "Secondly, they are completely ignoring the degree to which Russia's grant of temporary refugee status to Snowden for one year was in full accord with the normal level of protection to be given to anyone accused of nonviolent political crimes in a foreign country, and pursued diplomatically and legally by the government that is seeking to indict and prosecute. In effect, for Russia to have turned Snowden over to the United States under these conditions would have been morally and politically scandalous considering the nature of his alleged crimes."

    "Quid pro quo"? No, it had most to do with Russia's status as a sovereign state . . .

  27. "'No mention of numerous Congress members stating that in spite of repeated efforts to get information on these programs from the Senate and House Intelligence committees they received nothing.'

    Well, sorry to say, but this that is a laugh:"

    Andy, your link regards a single Senate briefing by "Clapper, Alexander and other officials" in which 47/100 Senators attended before a weekend. The briefing was probably a reaction to the scandal/constitutional crisis . . . (and how many of the no-shows were Senators who have no problem with total domestic surveillance?). Whereas what I was referring to was this article by Greenwald which has to do specific requests from Congressmen . . . denied. That you would think that the one would cancel out the other I find amusing, is that what is supposed to be funny? Or is it that anyone at this point would take Clapper and Alexander seriously in telling the truth? Now, that's funny . . .

    There's also this as to ca$h connections between the "industry" and those Congressfolks voting in favor of total domestic surveillance . . .

  28. Finally there is Andy's comment:

    "The recent leaked NSA audit contradicts much of the hyperbole surrounding some of the "revelations" reported by Greenwald and others even though it's not portrayed that way."

    That's an interesting take on it, but a rare one. The more obvious comment about the WashPost release of the internal audit was that it openly contradicted Obama's previous statements made at his "NSA press conference" . . .

    Also, the full extent of the NSA whistleblowers' claims have yet to be documented, but they have been accurate so far . . . no one, including Greenwald, is saying that what they have is all out there, quite the contrary. If you only have some of the pieces of the puzzle, it's easy to say (especially if you are arguing the US govt's view) that some don't seem to fit, but from a strategic theory perspective we need to get an idea of the program as a "whole", its "architecture" so to speak to be more clear as to its actual capabilities . . . and that is going to take some time yet.

    In the meantime, imo, follow the stories as they emerge and the US government's actions . . . much less so their words.

  29. JR -

    On the corporate nexus and more specifically Google: I notice that this blog is hosted on which is part of the Google empire. And if the flag counter is to be believed many of the visitors here are from overseas. So I would guess that most if not all of the comments here reside somewhere in that giant NSA vacuum bag. But then this is an open forum and no privacy is expected.

  30. Seydlitz -

    I have to side with Andy on Snowden. And on Russia also. The distinguished law professor you quote as saying there was no quid pro quo is I believe Richard Falk. He is a well known activist and supporter of some strange causes. He asked for amnesty for the killers of another University professor during the resistance to the Vietnam War. In the mid 70s he called Ayatollah Khomeini a moderate. And even I, who believes that Junior Bush probably unwittingly abetted 9/11, cannot support his thesis that Bush and the neocons did it deliberately tom 'wake up America'. I believe your distinguished law professor is on the fringe. Of course there is a quid pro quo.

    I am sure that Snowden will be under virtual house arrest in Russia. Or accompanied by a handler when let out on the streets. And it will be of course justified as "security" to protect him from America. I for one hope that Snowden is as miserable and suffers the same dismal fate as Philby and Burgess.

  31. mike-

    The distinguished law professor's legal argument is sound. His politics are beside the point. How could the Russians have acted differently? They simply kowtow to Obama and shove Snowden in the waiting CIA rendition plane? The Russians? So, it's not about Falk, it's about the Russians. Quid pro quo is Hayden's argument attempting to smear Snowden. It also doesn't pass the smell test for me.

    Snowden's got access to the press in Russia and could make problems for them if they started making unnecessary demands. As it is now Russia looks pretty good in comparison to US/UK heavy-handedness in this matter, why would they jeopardize that? Perhaps to gain favor with the US? They would still look weak, appear to be doing Obama's bidding. They'll keep an eye on him, but let him operate freely as long as he doesn't start stirring up stuff in Russia. Whatever secrets he has will come out in the wash, so why hurry?

  32. Replies
    1. Not really, imperial overreach has just created a new scandal . . .

  33. Seydlitz,

    “Totally inexplicable, except in terms of principle. As to his "life insurance policy", well he had to have something.”

    Earlier you wrote,

    "Snowden acted purely out of principle which is why he has no second thoughts about it. His release of information has been very focused and gradual. He would do it all again, and again, and again . . . imo.

    What does taking thousands of documents unrelated to whistleblowing have to do with principle? He didn't have to take all that extra stuff in order to expose the metadata program and doing so served no purpose other than to damage Snowden, his cause and the United States. The post hoc rationalizations that attempt to excuse or justify the theft of legitimate national security information simply don't make sense. It's damaged his credibility to many people who aren't Wikileaks fanbois. On a personal note, I have a lot of respect for Drake and many of the other whistleblowers, I have very little for Snowden because he's gone far, far beyond whistleblowing.

    The "life insurance policy" argument makes absolutely no sense. If anything, it's made the US more determined to arrest him. His felony actions will guarantee a long prison sentence. What good has it done Snowden or anyone else?

    "As to US collection regarding China, regarding Snowden's leak all I recall was a slide of a world map with China having a specific color "


    "A lot of interesting information here . . . so which source do you think the Chinese learned more from . . . ? Hard to tell? "

    He provided specific dates and the IP addresses of computers hacked by the NSA over a four-year period along with additional operational details of the hacks including some that were ongoing. So, he compromised sources and methods and an active intelligence operation against China, told the Chinese what vulnerabilities we were exploiting, etc... The information was so detailed that even Greenwald said he would not have released it.

    The FP article you linked to is about the NSA organization that performs hacking within the NSA but with no detail about their techniques, tactics, procedures, etc. While that is useful background for Chinese intelligence, I don't think it compares to the detailed information provided by Snowden on NSA methods and Chinese vulnerabilities.


    1. Andy-

      Found the original South China article with Snowden's info pertaining to Chinese IP address:

      "Snowden, the man behind explosive leaks of information on the US government's Prism programme that collected phone and web data from its citizens, has pledged to stay in Hong Kong to fight any attempts by his government to have him extradited.

      The detailed records - which cannot be independently verified - show specific dates and the IP addresses of computers in Hong Kong and on the mainland hacked by the National Security Agency over a four-year period.

      They also include information indicating whether an attack on a computer was ongoing or had been completed, along with an amount of additional operational information.

      The small sample data suggests secret and illegal NSA attacks on Hong Kong computers had a success rate of more than 75 per cent, according to the documents. The information only pertains to attacks on civilian computers with no reference to Chinese military operations, Snowden said.

      "I don't know what specific information they were looking for on these machines, only that using technical exploits to gain unauthorised access to civilian machines is a violation of law. It's ethically dubious," Snowden said in the interview on Wednesday."

      So, Snowden told a Hong Kong newspaper that the NSA was hacking into private civilian computers in HK, providing a small amount of sample data to prove his case. The targets included educational establishments and individual students, as mentioned in this earlier article:

      No information on PRC government or military computers . . . but rather attacks on civilian computers in Hong Kong at a time when Snowden anticipated a long, nasty court fight to resist extradition to the US with HK taking “bullying diplomatic pressure" to turn him over. There is also the comment how Snowden trusted the "rule of law" in Hong Kong.

      This of course puts the leak in a specific and understandable context, one of attempting to retain one's freedom against a world power which accepts no limits beyond it's own will to exercise that power. The leak necessary to indicate to the people of Hong Kong that they had a dog in this fight . . .

  34. " ...for Russia to have turned Snowden over to the United States under these conditions would have been morally and politically scandalous considering the nature of his alleged crimes."

    Well, we all know that when it comes to whistleblowers Russia is, first and foremost, concerned about morality and avoiding scandal, which explains, I suppose, why Russian whistleblowers tend to end up dead. Snark aside, I'll take Dr. Falk's declaration with a grain of salt. He may be a legal scholar, but he did not make a legal argument here, he made a political one. But I wasn't actually talking about handing Snowden over. The Russians could have provided him passage to continue on to wherever his ultimate destination was. I agree with Falk that it wouldn't be in Russia's interest to hand Snowden over unless they got something in return. Regardless, I think you're kidding yourself if you think the Russians did not demand a quid pro quo from Snowden in exchange for asylum.

    "That you would think that the one would cancel out the other I find amusing, is that what is supposed to be funny?"

    Never said one cancelled the other one out, but it is still relevant no? Another piece of the puzzle which demonstrates long-standing Congressional disinterest in this topic. I could go into the history, which is well established, but what's the point? We know Congress is venal and has other priorities. One of your links gave an interesting statistic - fewer than 10 percent of lawmakers employ a staff member with a security clearance and the expertise to read the various intel reports and provide advice on them.

    Regarding the two Congressmen I would say that if it were me, I would have read them in and accommodated their requests even though, as a legal matter, the HSPCI and the NSA is not obligated to comply. Documents and oversight reports required by statute, which include several on the NSA, are routinely available to all members of Congress.


    "Also, the full extent of the NSA whistleblowers' claims have yet to be documented, but they have been accurate so far . . . no one, including Greenwald, is saying that what they have is all out there, quite the contrary. If you only have some of the pieces of the puzzle, it's easy to say (especially if you are arguing the US govt's view) that some don't seem to fit, but from a strategic theory perspective we need to get an idea of the program as a "whole", its "architecture" so to speak to be more clear as to its actual capabilities"

    Well yes, that was the whole point of my exercise in comparing Greenwald's article with the audit information. It gives a picture of the "architecture" and rebuts some of the extraordinary claims made about the program and at least provides some analysis using the primary source documents beyond what little exists in the press reporting. Don't you think it's kind of sad that some pseudonymous guy on the internet is, as far as I'm aware, the only one who's done that?

  35. Jeremy,

    "Your much earlier points about the whistle blower process also leaves a technical problem. If the assumption is that the government is free to reinterpret the 4th amendment so long as no one musters the chutzpah to blow a whistle, then it seems the government will always stay a step ahead of accountability."

    The point of my comment was much more basic - The metatdata program isn't illegal so using the internal IG whistleblowing process isn't going to go anywhere. No IG is going to call foul on a program that has buy-in from all three branches of government. Essentially I'm saying that provides some justification for Snowden to skip that process and go straight to the press.

    "its a tangled mess. Could we fix that without deciding to universalize our concept of privacy and rights, or some other pie in the sky idea? I have my doubts. In the mean while, I'm back to wanting better checks and balances to complicate and constrain those who would use power--even if that means accepting a little more risk of nasty surprises."

    I think that's a really good observation. We went through this before with wiretaps, albeit on a smaller scale, but we did reach consensus after a long process. We need to do it again here.


    I'm going to be busy for the next few days, so it's doubtful I'll comment much until the end of the week.

  36. If nothing else, Both Snowden and Greenwald have made imprudent statements that cast the purity of motive and "focus" in doubt. As Andy opines, and quite justifiably, Snowden took far more information than necessary to expose the alleged misdeeds, as "life insurance",or to ingratiate himself with the Chinese.

    And more recently, in response to his Partner's detention at Heathrow under the UK's terrorist laws, Greenwald stated, "I will be far more aggressive in my reporting from now. I am going to publish many more documents. I am going to publish things on England too. I have many documents on England's spy system. I think they will be sorry for what they did."

    If Greenwald's motive for further release of documents is revenge, it would seem to be difficult to ascribe "purity" or "serving the public interest" to his actions.

    IMHO, there are far too many "aw shits" in both men's actions and statements to give a hall pass to their "atta boys". There is a difference between "collateral damage" and "additional targets".

    1. Al-

      What about the "imprudent statements", actually bald faced lies, made by US/UK officials regarding domestic surveillance? What about the gross and illegal abuses of power? That's the real issue, not whether everything the whistleblowers do is polite . . .

      Greenwald has a reason to be angry, but what is he going to do, besides the same that he would do anyway? Start making stuff up? Truth is the only thing the opposition has in all this . . . against the untrammeled efforts of the greatest military power on earth . . .

      Both you and Andy have expressed support for Thomas Drake, who btw is calling for a new American Revolution due to the tyrannical acts of a government run amok . . . do you support that as well?

      This crisis due to the political environment involved is very similar to a war. No matter the purity of the original motives (and my sketches of Manning and Snowden above were ideal type perspectives of original motives) the very nature of the interaction, the tendency towards extremes, is going to push both sides towards excessive actions and will indicate much as to their respective characters under pressure.

      Snowden and his supporters have little power, but due to the information he possesses can exert pressure on the US government and its supporters to a degree which hasn't happened since . . . when, the Pentagon Papers? You would know better than I do Al. That is they are actually able to carry out "operations", to "exchange blows" with a powerful entity which is not used to having to react in this way at all. Is not used to being held accountable in any way . . . which is why the US govt side is acting so crudely, so blatantly, they have shown nothing but contempt for any hint that they have done anything questionable, let alone unconstitutional, illegal . . . The people have no right to know the truth in the establishment's view, they are simply expected to follow orders, to do as they are told, to believe what they are told . . .

    2. Considering the recent revelations about the CIA & MI6, and Eisenhower's shame, concering the overthrow of Iran's Mossadegh, which created a half century of misery for US and Iranian citizens, and James Risen's story, i would hope ( and also support ) any journalist willing to rain down a little hellfire and damnation upon the heads of these overbearing government bureaucrats and leaders who think they can do as they wish and get away with it.

      And maybe more than a few media "whores" will decide their cozy relationships with TPTB comes at too great a price.


      This Snowden/Manning business is more than just government secrets. Industrial/business espionage and character research is there for a price, and who thinks a government composed of your usual homo sap will never sell such material at hand?
      Why do you think Russia or China did not press Snowden for his store of data? More than likely they both have suppliers within NSA. Snowden likely doesn't have anything they already have, he merely gave it to us peons free of charge.

      Slightly OT, but I saw a bit that a kid in Austin hacked a drone. I would imagine that a kid in Afghanistan could do the same thing and conduct some sort of retaliatory strikes?

      The wonders and dangers of our modern age.

      al Jazeera America is about to burst upon the Virgin AirWave of this Christian Nation in just a few minutes.

      Can't miss it.


  37. seydlitz-

    Being supportive of Drake's decision to meticulously not leak classified material, does not mean eternal support for everything he does subsequently. Nor did Drake hold back info to protect himself through threats of further leaks.

    As to Drake's speech - easy to make, as he violates no laws in doing so. Snowden is digging himself a deeper and deeper hole.

    I am not pinning roses on the governmental excesses. Where the line has been crossed, the security services should be pushed back. I doubt there will ever be criminal charges, but termination of illegal surveillance should cease, and perhaps some legal methods as well.

  38. "So, Snowden told a Hong Kong newspaper that the NSA was hacking into private civilian computers in HK, providing a small amount of sample data to prove his case. The targets included educational establishments and individual students, as mentioned in this earlier article:"

    You neglect to mention it wasn't just Hong Kong based systems, but systems in mainland China as well. Here's one more link, but there are more details out there:

    Secondly, the divide between "government," "civilian" and "military" is much different in the PRC than elsewhere and often there is not a clear line between them.

    Third, it confirms what I said, which is that Snowden compromised specific operations and sources and methods. Whether you believe he was justified or not, what he did is clearly criminal and not whistleblowing.

    Also, I agree completely with Al's comments about Drake et al.

    Now this is interesting:

    "Snowden and his supporters have little power, but due to the information he possesses can exert pressure on the US government and its supporters to a degree which hasn't happened since . . . when, the Pentagon Papers? You would know better than I do Al. That is they are actually able to carry out "operations", to "exchange blows" with a powerful entity which is not used to having to react in this way at all. Is not used to being held accountable in any way . . . which is why the US govt side is acting so crudely, so blatantly, they have shown nothing but contempt for any hint that they have done anything questionable, let alone unconstitutional, illegal . . . "

    "Operations" and "exchange blows." Perhaps now we can dispense with the charade that "whistleblowing" is primarily what this is all about? What is the proper Clausewitzian term for this? I would probably describe it as political warfare.

    Considering the recent news that Snowden began stealing documents in early 2012 when he worked for Dell, and all the actions by various parties since, I think a pretty good argument can be made that Team Snowden's purpose all along was not to expose Prism and the metatdata program (which was pretty easy to do), but to decimate US SIGINT capabilities specifically, and damage the USA generally. I'm not convince of this, but it does seem to fit all the pieces for now.

  39. BTW, I meant to add that the Pentagon papers is small potatoes compared to this. The Pentagon paers were, what, one study if I remember correctly? Whereas Snowden has over ten thousand documents....

  40. seydlitz

    Daniel Ellsberg: "I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision."

    Besides the very nature of the materials Ellsberg released, which were mostly political in nature, he did not hold anything "in reserve" for self protection of revenge.


    The "Pentagon Papers" was a report, commissioned by McNamara, chronicling the military/political history of the Viet Nam War, that he intended to be a definitive record for historians. It was "one study" in 40 some-odd volumes. However, they contained nothing, IIRC, that compromised ongoing or future military or intelligence operations. Ellsberg released them because they documented how successive administrations, starting with Truman, were misleading the public (shocker, that one!) about their intentions in terms of Viet Nam. One anti-war Senator actually "read" a few thousand pages of the Papers into the Congressional Record to support public opposition to the War and the draft. - because the Papers were primarily politically embarrassing, not compromising of any info that might aid a foe materially. Big Mac intended the Pentagon Papers to be in the public domain at some future point.

    The material Snowden took does indeed compromise means and sources of intelligence gathering - the legal as well as the illegal. And, unlike Ellsberg, Snowden has not said he is willing to accept the consequences of his actions, but rather, has used the materials gathered to his own advantage and/or protection, regardless of the impact on US interests.

    Whether Snowden is "right" or "wrong" in what he did, drawing any parallels with Ellsberg, other than the material having been "classified", is just plain bad history.

  41. Hey anyone, how do I make a new post?

    I wanna talk taxes....

    Risk management is a pretty well defined concept at the tactical level and operational levels of war. The overall CC outlines his intent and objectives, and provides boundaries for execution by providing an “acceptable level of risk” (ALR) for the mission. This ALR ranges from low risk (friendly losses are unacceptable) to high risk (mission success is preeminent to friendly survival). Leaders work within the ALR provided by the commander and control the conduct of the mission to achieve the CC’s intent within the ALR, or advise him that it can’t be done at that ALR. The enemy gets a vote, but it is a way for the overall CC to communicate how much risk he is willing allow his tactical commanders to expose his forces to. The guy who owns the troop gets a big vote in how they are used.

    So how does this work at the strategic level? How do we deconstruct the risk dialogue between our elected Commander in Chief and the people for whom he directs national violence? Other than an election cycle, you have to follow the money. Payment of taxes is one concrete statement of assent to government policy.

    Funding wars through deficit spending and foreign debt, vs. taxes, mutes the People’s voice. The war in Iraq has cost at least $800Bn dollars.[1] Would we have continued it for so long if every year (call it eight years @ $100Bn a year), every taxpayer (~100M of them[2]) paid an extra $1000? On the other hand, would many Americans have felt as free to disengage from the war if they had felt the cost? I’m not criticizing or praising the Iraq war; I’m using it as an example of how risk management can break down when the dialogue between the people who own the forces (the people) and the people who control the forces is skewed. One of the unique aspects of power is it allows for the disaggregation of responsibility, authority and accountability. The greater the power gap, the less the accountability.

    [1] Congressional Research Service Report.

    [2] For tax year 2005, 134,372,678 individual tax returns were filed. Of those filed, 99,880,223 actually had a tax liability and actually paid taxes. IRS Tax Statistics

  42. Well, I think we got about as far as we are going to get on this. The discussion has been civil.

    The use of the term "whistleblower" has been used to describe Drake as well, and quite accurately since he was part of the official program, but that did not stop the US govt (both the Bush and Obama administrations) from trying to put him in jail for a very long time . . . Personally, I think the term applies to Snowden as well.

    Zen pundit posted a piece on "Super empowered individuals" (SEIs) some time back to which I did a guest post as follow up. Recently I asked him about the concept of SEI with regards to Snowden, but he did not think Snowden fit the bill. I think he does, so what we see happening can be seen from a strategic theory perspective. In fact I think it explains a lot. Does this preclude him being a "whistleblower"? I think not, it's simply a different perspective.

    Snowden's "China leak" was to impress the people of Hong Kong as to what the controversy regarding his asylum request was all about, that is they had a dog in the fight. Prior to him becoming a news item the PRC govt claimed to have "mountains of data" on NSA collection in China. The FP article was a response from the US govt fearing that the PRC would indeed publicize what they knew. I think the hurra over the "China leak" is to make Snowden the focus instead of what was going on and what the PRC knew prior to Snowden. Andy's take on this is essentially that of the US govt, which for me doesn't pass the smell test. The response from the people of Hong Kong . . .

    I brought up Snowden/this crisis being similar to Ellsberg/Pentagon Papers as a question. As to whether or not it is "bad history", many have made the connection before . . .

    Ellsberg of course defends Snowden's actions and his comparisons between 1971 and today are damning . . .

    I also think it's clear now the strong connections between Snowden and the other NSA-related whistle blowers . . . which is once again unprecedented in US history.

    As I mentioned in the first comment on this thread, I go back a long way on this particular subject, to a discussion I had in Berlin on a sunny Autumn afternoon when Edward Snowden was in grade school. It comes down to the basics, what essentially US strategic intelligence collection is and what it is not. But beyond that it influences much more, as to the fundamental character of our country, whether we are a republic operating under the rule of law, a sovereign state among other sovereign states, or whether we are an empire limited only by the will to power of our leadership. I was beginning to doubt that anyone really cared about the distinction, wondering whether or not the rot was already too deep.

    But the actions of a patriotic individual acting on principle, the response of a significant number of Americans to that act, the resulting debate in Congress and narrow defeat of the Amash Amendment which this has all set in motion, have given us the possibility of turning this around. End total domestic surveillance and a significant part of the whole war on terror infrastructure comes down . . . which is the first necessary step to ending this corrupting and destructive period of emergency, fear and lawlessness that has plagued this country for over ten years.

    The two options for me regarding what we discussed in Berlin all those years ago are simple: submit or resist . . .


    While the "aiding the enemy" charges (on which Manning was rightly acquitted) received the most attention from the mainstream media, the Espionage Act itself is a discredited relic of the WWI era, created as a tool to suppress political dissent and antiwar activism, and it is outrageous that the government chose to invoke it in the first place against Manning. Government employees who blow the whistle on war crimes, other abuses and government incompetence should be protected under the First Amendment.

    We now live in a country where someone who exposes war crimes can be sentenced to life even if not found guilty of aiding the enemy, while those responsible for the war crimes remain free. If the government equates being a whistleblower with espionage or aiding the enemy, what is the future of journalism in this country? What is the future of the First Amendment?


  44. seydlitz-

    Sadly, all that is possible in all of this is political action, and the defeat of the "Amash Amendment" shows how deeply entrenched avoidance of being seen as "soft on terrorism" really is. The vote was not purely along party lines. The "leadership" of both parties generally voted "NAY", and the "fringes" are the ones who voted "AYE".

    Ellsberg helped sway the people, which helped sway the politicians to end the draft and the Viet Nam War. Drake helped sway the politicians, with a lot of help from the DOD IG, to whom he and others complained, to shut down Trailblazer. Neither compromised sources or programs. Ellsberg exposed political skulduggery, not illegality, and Drake et al led to the DOD IG exposing waste, fraud and abuse. Comparing the facts of the two to Snowden is a stretch.

    I say it is a "political issue" simply because there is a serious "standing" issue for legal recourse. On what basis would FDChief file suit against NSA? Violating his 4th Amendment rights? What tangible harm has he suffered? As to the NSA violating federal law, the Justice Dept would have to file charges, and as we all have seen, there does not seem to be an interest in doing so. Thus, until "We The People" rise up and put pressure on our elected officials to use statutory means to correct any alleged abuses, nothing is going to happen. All the Amash Amendment demonstrated was that the "mainstream" of both parties haven't the political will to step up to the plate. Snowden simply muddied the waters by going overboard and running away, which the population tends to view as an admission of guilt. Add to the running, where he ran to, and he probably did more damage to his "cause" than he realizes.

    Unfortunately, for reasons I cannot fathom, the people have not risen up to the level of the anti-war movement of the Viet Nam era. Perhaps it's because they have been fooled and conditioned by the post 9/11 hysteria to fear terror much more than the NSA et. al.? Fear is a powerful motivator.

    1. Al-

      I agree with everything you say except for what you say about Snowden. He had his motives and reasons for the decision he has made. I think the dominate one was principle.

      He's at real risk now. That's the line. So, no matter what political maneuver he has to do after that fact . . . the main thing is the idea continues. Does Snowden's act have the support of a viable political faction? That would be an interesting question . . .

      Isn't that a quality of civil war? That is when faced with the only options of submit or resist . . .

      Resist? For the volunteer? Very "Schmittian" the whole thing . . . amazing times indeed.

  45. bb

    Since the passage of the 1st Amendment, The Supremes have ruled that "freedom of speech" has boundaries. The Constitution, which is the underlying basis for the function of our country, not the legislative means by which day to day function takes place, is quite meaningless without the general will to both live by it and enforce it. "Colored Restrooms", for example, still existed nearly 100 years following the enactment of the 14th Amendment, and there is still a fair portion of the population that truly thinks that Blacks are lesser creatures.

    Speech which might pose harm to an innocent fellow American is not protected, and the whole basis of classified information is to protect from harm. Not saying all classified info is properly designated so, but in theory it is.

    1. Sound theory you got there, but the practitioners are more than a bit suspect.


  46. Jeremy R - FDChief is the sheriff. He needs to deputize you to put up a new post. If he is unavailable email your post to me and I will post it for you.

  47. We all have wondered "where is the public outrage" against the questionable acts Snowden and Manning have exposed. Perhaps this gives an idea of how the public mentality is incapable of focusing on issues and facts. I wonder if the population is just too insensitive to the details to figure out what they mean. Life is just simpler thinking in ideological and/or partisan generalities. Either that, or there has just been too much chlorine added to the gene pool?

  48. Seydlitz,

    "Personally, I think the term applies to Snowden as well."

    I agree that "whistleblower" is a term that applies to Snowden, but that term doesn't exclude or trump other, more negative, terms. The issue I have is that Snowden's supporters would like us to ignore everything but the whistleblowing, hence the continual justification or downplaying of his other actions. I can't and won' do that and his other actions set him apart - far apart - from people like Drake in my opinion.

    "I think the hurra over the "China leak" is to make Snowden the focus instead of what was going on and what the PRC knew prior to Snowden. Andy's take on this is essentially that of the US govt, which for me doesn't pass the smell test. "

    Snowden, with a big assist from Greenwald, made himself the focus. Every new revelation of spying unrelated to the privacy of US citizens dilutes his message and calls into questions his actual motivations. What doesn't pass the "smell test" for me are the arguments that Snowdens "China leak" were inconsequential. Even Greenwald said that he would not have leaked the operational details Snowden did. From the SCMP article:

    "Greenwald said he would not have published some of the stories that ran in the South China Morning Post. “Whether I would have disclosed the specific IP addresses in China and Hong Kong the NSA is hacking, I don’t think I would have,” Greenwald said. “What motivated that leak though was a need to ingratiate himself to the people of Hong Kong and China.”"

    Then there are all the blatant inconsistencies in the team Snowden narrative. From the same SCMP article:

    "However, Greenwald said that in his dealings with Snowden the 30-year-old systems administrator was adamant that he and his newspaper go through the document and only publish what served the public’s right to know. “Snowden himself was vehement from the start that we do engage in that journalistic process and we not gratuitously publish things,” Greenwald said. “I do know he was vehement about that. He was not trying to harm the U.S. government; he was trying to shine light on it.”"

    Snowden, we are continually told, doesn't want to harm the US government or compromise genuine national secuity information. Yet Snowden steals files that do just than and then gives them to several third parties. Greenwald states that those files will be released if anyting "happens" to Snowden. There are many more examples and these are not merely the US government narrative, nor are they inconsequential. Snowden's decision to steal the crown jewels, not just whistleblower information, is having long-term effects on all parties and it is impossible to simply ignore it and only focus on the whistleblowing portion.

    And so, I'm skeptical of your certainty that Snowden was acting out of pure principle. Since we can't see into the man's mind, we have to go by what he says and does and his actions and inconsistencies call into question his motivations.

    Finally we get this bizarre article from Greenwald:

    The leak must have come from the UK government because Ed Snowden said so! Well, this is what happens when one takes classified digitial copies of tens of thousands of documents out of secure facilities, give them to many different people, and go jetting around the world with them. Team Snowden doesn't seem to have much appreciation for the intelligence capabilities of countries like the PRC and Russia. We are supposed to believe that team Snowden's security measures ar so good that the information in the independent article could not have come from the stash Snowden took...Information wants to be free and this is the first of many damaging disclosures.

  49. And here's Mark Bowden who sums it up very well I think:

    And Joshua Foust on the Independent article:

  50. It's a bit difficult for me to accept Snowden's claims of his intent. Number one, his claims (for the public good, but tried to ingratiate himself, etc) of intent are somewhat mutually exclusive.

    Contradiction and prevarication are the norm for Snowden (and Greenwald). Snowden has never graduated from anything, but in his inflated "resume", he claims to be "enrolled in an on-line MBA program at the Univ of Liverpool". Problem is, Liverpool requires an earned baccalaureate to enroll in their MBA program. Either Snowden lied to Liverpool about his credentials, or Liverpool gave him an extraordinary waiver. Who knows what the truth is about his brief "career" in the Army Reserve, which did not last long enough for him to enter SF training. While not as emotionally screwed up as Bradley Manning, he does not appear to be "Mr Veracity and Stability" by any means.

    1. Al-

      I can comment on this as well. I worked as a freelance instructor for a local Business School, actually highly regarded and definitely not "on-line", for five years and you would be surprised with some of the educational credentials, or lack thereof, students had. Some of these were also being paid for my their employers. For an MBA candidate experience trumped credentials in many cases, and they were able to complete the course successfully.

  51. Gentlemen-

    Sorry, but I think you can't see the forest due to one tree . . . Reading Ellsberg's article in support of Snowden one can't help but notice how much the country, let alone the government, have both changed. The argument that Snowden "should have followed the rules" collapses when one considers what happened to the two previous NSA-related whistleblowers who did. Binney was arrested at home in the shower, a 9mm put to his head. The Bush and Obama administrations attempted to put Drake in prison for the rest of his productive life. Snowden had he played by the rules would have been quickly sidelined (or worse) and had he given himself up to the tender mercies of the US security state, he would be in prison now undergoing "re-education" . . . I don't think anyone here really doubts that, so why the cognitive dissidence? Is it that we have soooo little actual faith in our government, assume that they will say or do just about anything to expand their own power/interests . . .? Seems so. I mean to be fair should not US government officials - given all the "special trust and confidence" jazz - be held to an even higher level of truthfulness than a lone whistleblower? But no, they lie with impunity, while the whistleblower's whole life is minutely dissected for flaws . . .

    cont. . .

  52. And how it pays! Let's not forget that! Michael Hayden actively usurped the US Constitution for years, overseeing an expanding surveillance system which may have been decided upon even before 9/11 . . . to what cost? He's got fat at the War on Terror trough and is a "trusted source" for our own MiniTruth (Newspeak seems to fit well here btw). Clapper and Alexander know that they can tell as many lies as they want, as long as they support the power structure which will be sure to later cut them in on the whole corrupt deal . . . Does anyone doubt that?

    What seems to be accepted without question is that the government lies about just about everything with no accountability at all. There's a whole new wave of leaks coming out about the chemical attack in Syria in order to get the war machine running . . . in spite of reasons to doubt that whole dubious narrative . . . but then when you consider that the war on terror narrative composed as it is with smoke, mirrors, scary noises and cobwebs has got us this far along . . .

    So, essentially the vast majority of the attacks on Snowden fit within what has become our degraded political culture. We've come a long way since 1971 . . . but then continue to go through the motions as if nothing has changed . . . kinda sad.

    So, that's the strategic view, now some specifics:

    Andy commented about "the blatant inconsistencies in the team Snowden narrative".

    Personally, I don't see any. I've discussed the "China Leak" and the rationality behind that. The comments to the German Press also involved mass surveillance which is illegal in Germany . . . not surprisingly. When I lived there in the early 1990s there were popular demos against too "intrusive" questions on a census . . . Datenschutz is a big deal, or at least used to be.

    As to the Indy article, the title doesn't fit the content. In the body the writers state: "The Independent is not revealing the precise location of the station but information on its activities was contained in the leaked documents obtained from the NSA by Edward Snowden."

    Which does not disagree with what Snowden told Greenwald. The Indy article does not name Snowden as the source of their information. This in spite of running his pix in the body of the article . . . If one actually reads the Indy article it becomes clear that this is push back regarding the slamming the UK had received in regards to the detention of David Miranda. That is publicizing some excuse for his detention since this is going to court . . . One other point: Duncan Campbell is listed as one of the authors . . . the same Duncan Campbell who broke the ECHELON story back in the 1980s . . . who we can assume has his own sources at GCHQ. The Indy article is here:

    cont. . .

  53. Finally, this brings up another interesting point. What exactly did Snowden take with him? Does the US government know?

    "The U.S. government's efforts to determine which highly classified materials leaker Edward Snowden took from the National Security Agency have been frustrated by Snowden's sophisticated efforts to cover his digital trail by deleting or bypassing electronic logs, government officials told The Associated Press. Such logs would have showed what information Snowden viewed or downloaded.

    The government's forensic investigation is wrestling with Snowden's apparent ability to defeat safeguards established to monitor and deter people looking at information without proper permission, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the sensitive developments publicly.

    The disclosure undermines the Obama administration's assurances to Congress and the public that the NSA surveillance programs can't be abused because its spying systems are so aggressively monitored and audited for oversight purposes: If Snowden could defeat the NSA's own tripwires and internal burglar alarms, how many other employees or contractors could do the same?"

    So, it seems they don't. So how could GCHQ, or Campbell's source be sure . . . ?

  54. Seydlitz,

    "The argument that Snowden "should have followed the rules" collapses when one considers what happened to the two previous NSA-related whistleblowers who did."


    "Snowden had he played by the rules would have been quickly sidelined (or worse) and had he given himself up to the tender mercies of the US security state, he would be in prison now undergoing "re-education" . . . I don't think anyone here really doubts that, so why the cognitive dissidence?"

    I think your argument is the one with cognitive dissonance. Your certainty that Snowden would be in prison undergoing "re-education" is based on what, exactly? You keep citing Drake and Binney as self-evidence justification, but they, along with the other NSA whisteblowers, didn't even go to trial, much less get convicted or "re-educated" (whatever that means).

    Furthermore, Snowden was wrong to take so much information which had nothing to do with whistleblowing and then flee the country with it. To argue that was justified because of what happened to Binney and Drake makes zero logical sense. By committing several felonies to "protect" himself from whistleblower harrassment, Snowden is ensuring he will spend a long, long time in jail for those felonies. Explain to me how, exactly, this will benefit Snowden? He's avoding the potenial of jailtime for whistleblowing in exchange for the certainty of jail time by commiting crimes to avoid the potential outcome?

    On the Indy article:

    "Which does not disagree with what Snowden told Greenwald."

    There are a few possibile sources for the article and Team Snowden completely discount all of them except the one that fits their narrative. It's a conclusion they have zero evidence for, yet that doesn't impact their certitude. Par for the course... Of course, if Snowden hadn't taken the information in the first place, the list of possibles would be much shorter...

    I think we'll see a lot more of this. I think history will show whether this was GCHQ or not. My prediction is that Team Snowden will soon lose control of what little is left of their narrative as others begin to selectively release infomation. The genie can't be put back in the bottle.

    1. Andy-

      Cognitive dissonance, well yes. Here I'm arguing theoretically for the systematic release of classified information regarding a complex of programs with a highly questionable lineage.

      I keep mentioning the other NSA whistleblowers because they've been talking about this same thing . . . the whole time . . . and nobody wanted to pay any attention to them. Snowden's the latest, but I doubt he'll be the last . . .

      No mention of the real bad guys . . . that's kinda disappointing . . .

      Ok, cognitive dissonance is something we share, but doublethink is something I think you are more prone to here . . . it's a complex issue.

    2. Can you be more specific regarding the doublethink?

      In a related matter, I searched for a comment I made some years ago - didn't find it - but ran across this gem of a thread from 2009:

      Last I heard BG started at NDU a year ago..

  55. Regarding the China hacks:

    My assumption has always been that it was to find and identify Chinese hackers. Even though that is a US CYBER COMMAND responsibility which is subordinate to US STRATEGIC COMMAND, they are conveniently located at Fort Meade home of the NSA. And when I google General Keith Alexander it shows him as being double hatted as both NSA Director and Commander of CYBERCOM.

    Those Chinese civilian computer users who were hacked should thank their lucky stars that the more kinetic-minded members of DOD were not listened to:


    & the New York Public Library

    Unaccountable Rich Spooky Corporations: Making Everything Worse for Everybody

    Oh those adorable rich creepy assholes. What won't they ruin!

    Devoted fans of the hideous reality teevee show that is


    will recall Booz Allen Hamilton as the multi-billion corporation that Edward Snowden stole things from, making him a traitor because it is illegal and wrong to betray the secrets that an elected government in an advanced democracy gives to private corporations in order to keep American taxpayers safe from knowing what they're paying for.
    So... fucking Booz Allen.

    Read that fucking link about what we can't afford publicly as regards the NY Public Library System, and then the one above about what taxpayers give to Booz Allen.

    And then read how Booz Allen is planning to get even richer by having the NYC public libraries sell off their publicly owned real estate.

    These assholes don't miss a trick. "Oh here is a public good. Let's rob it."
    And remember -- Booz Allen gets ALL of its money from the government.

    Whee, capitalism.


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