There has not been an editorial on Edward Snowden’s revelations yet (just one on Ecuador’s supposed “double standard” in being sympathetic toward him), but, it seems to me, the top brass at the Washington Post have calculated that the NSA surveillance issue is a loser for the Obama administration, and have opted to position the paper so as to be on the side of any reform movement that develops.
I say that because the paper published two significant articles on Sunday. (This is apart from reasonably straightforward news coverage of the on-going soap opera of the US pursuit of Snowden and the rest of the world thumbing its nose in return.) First, it allowed the imprimatur of the weekly “5 myths” series to fall to long time NSA critic James Bamford.
Bamford’s piece, “Five myths about the National Security Agency,” handily debunks statements like “The courts make sure that what the NSA does is legal” (Myth #2), or “Congress has a lot of oversight over the NSA” (#3), or ” Snowden could have aired his concerns internally rather than leaking the documents” (#5). As have many FDL posts and comments, he points out, respectively, that the FISA court has issued the dragnet directives that Snowden pointed out, that the relevant Congressional committees have been more interested in protecting the programs from scrutiny than in overseeing them, and that other whistleblowers have gotten nowhere in going through channels.
It’s true that Bamford disputes Snowden’s claim that “The NSA is allowed to spy on everyone, everywhere” (Myth #1). He says that this would be illegal, although technically feasible. However, his article seems to have been written before the Guardian published the 2009 Holder memos (last Thursday), which nominally give restrictions on surveillance of US persons, but in which “the exceptions swallow the rule,” as one commentator put it, as well as the revelations of extensive hacking of Chinese communications and of some other matters. He might not have been so quick to characterize Snowden’s claim as a myth, had he seen all this news.
And this is the second week in a row where the 5 myths series has treated the revelations on surveillance in a manner sympathetic to the right of privacy, As I’ve noted before, on the previous Sunday WaPo had the privacy law expert Daniel J. Solove debunk such ideas as that “Surveillance must be secret to protect us.”
The second article published this Sunday, penned by staff writers, is a useful primer on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court itself, the body that decides in secret on those blanket orders we’ve now heard about. It in particular details the composition of 11 judges, chosen from a pool consisting of currently sitting federal judges by the Chief Justice of SCOTUS himself.
And yes, all of the judges currently on the court (who are named in the article) were in fact installed by John Roberts. Moreover, ten of the eleven were originally appointed to the federal bench by Republican presidents. As one civil rights lawyer quoted in the article says, these people “are not likely to rock the boat.”
The article does cite some defenses of the court out of fairness, but overall the effect is chilling.
Taken together, these pieces do not suggest that the recent claims at congressional committee hearings by Generals Clapper and Alexander are finding much favor in their hometown paper. A corollary is that their boss the POTUS is not going to get much help from it either, at least not in his zeal to extend the reach of the surveillance state.