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NSA: 9/11 Makes A Good Sound Bite

4:33 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

Today I’m not going to write breathlessly detailing the latest new NSA shocker from the Snowden cache (although there are one or two of these). Instead I want to focus on how the NSA arrives at what it says about all this.

You see, on June 13 al-Jazeera America submitted a FOIA request to the NSA for

copies of all talking points as well as all documents, which includes but is not limited to, emails, reports, memos, transcripts, used to prepare said talking points for members of Congress, the media and anyone else within the Obama administration surrounding the leak of information related to NSA surveillance activities.

The request has now borne fruit, says AJA, as on October 17 the NSA sent it a 27-page document.

This document, or as much of it as I have been able to digest so far, may not be quite as scandalous as the typical Snowden-Greenwald scoop itself, but nonetheless is educational. The first page, with heading “Media Leaks One Card” seems to be a summary of the rest. It’s first line is


Then we have


From there the page gives similarly formatted statements claiming that all three branches of government nave oversight, that a specific court order obtained with probable cause is required to target the communications of a “U.S. person,” and so on. In short, all the things you’ve heard the good Generals of intelligence tell us in the last few months (including the famous one that


Did you really think General Alexander was ad-libbing at that Congressional hearing?)

But the real fun is in the specifics beginning on the second page. The very first item, as the AJA article
highlights, is presented under the heading “SOUND BITES THAT RESONATE,” and is


Then there are items about “connecting the dots,” oversight, protection of privacy, and on and on. Later in the document there are points about the specific terrorist plots the agency claims to have thwarted, such as the famous Zasi scheme to bomb the NY subway system (touted by Alexander and Senator Feinstein alike on separate occasions, although the claim that the agency provided a crucial link has been thoroughly discredited).

Recent Snowden revelations have suggested that terrorism is at best mixed with economic and political information in foreign surveillance, and some of us have long suspected that the real purpose of the “accidental” surveillance of USians themselves that supposedly falls out of the foreign surveillance is monitoring progressive activists. These 27 pages of talking points do not of course prove such contentions, but the agency is certainly methodical in its use of language in public.

Guardian: Merkel Is Only One of 35 World Leaders NSA Has Surveilled

1:53 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

You’ve heard that Germany’s Angela Merkel rang up Obama to complain after German intelligence determined that the NSA “may have” listened in on her cell phone. Subsequently the administration has denied that it does now or ever will surveil her private phone, but has ducked questions about whether it has done so in the past.

Well, the Guardian’s James Ball has just posted another revelation from a Snowden document. A classified memo says that the NSA collected phone numbers of foreign politicians from the Rolodexes of officials at State, the White House, and the Pentagon. (One official supplied 200 numbers.) Of those it obtained, 35 were of world leaders and the NSA immediately started monitoring them.

Presumably three of these are Merkel, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, and Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto, as we’ve heard before that they were targets. (Maybe FDL should sponsor a lottery where the person with the best guesses as to the other 32 wins a prize when we eventually find out who they are.)

Ball predicts that “the revelation is set to add to mounting diplomatic tensions between the US and its allies.” But of course not all of the 35 will necessarily be allies, so the problem may be even broader than that.

NSA: Canada, You Handle the Mining Sector of the Brazilian Operation

2:28 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

Another day, another Edward Snowden revelation. If you’re like me, the program names are starting to run together. PRISM, XKeyscore, Mainway. The new one is called Olympia.

But this time is different. For one thing, Snowden was actually present at the event of which he speaks. For another, and more importantly, the spying agency was not the NSA, nor even the UK’s GCHQ, but Canada’s Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC).

Last night on the by now famous Brazilian TV program Fantastico, Glenn Greenwald and Sonia Bridi said this (before the English translation the program provides, h/t wendydavis). In June 2012 Snowden attended a meeting of analysts from the Five Eyes countries’ spying agencies. The presentation was by the CSEC, and concerned spying on Brazil’s Ministry of Mining and Energy as an illustration of the Olympia program.

The program gathers the metadata for both the telephone and internet communications of the target, producing what Fantastico calls a detailed map of its communications, and the presentation specified some of them. It also spoke of how one could go beyond metadata to get actual content by working with the TAO section of the NSA to mount an invasion called “man on the side.”

The Canadian Embassy in Brasilia refused to comment to Fantastico, and the NSA sent a talking point about President Obama reviewing the NSA surveillance.

Naturally, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff denounced the new contribution to spying on her country, and ordered the Minister of Mines and Energy Edison Lobão to review its security status, while the Foreign Minister has demanded an explanation from the Canadian ambassador to Brazil, according to O Globo. (Folha de São Paulo has similar coverage.)

But why Canada? Greenwald and Bridi quote Minister Lobão as saying that some Canadian mining companies are interested in Brazil, and they observe that three of the world’s four largest mining companies are based in Canada.

Yes, that’s probably it. The NSA itself will take care of the big political stuff, like spying on Rousseff’s private network (which we know about from a presentation also dating from June, 2012, where the presenter is said to have been impressed by the achievement). But for mundane economic espionage, you guys can have it.

NSA Constructs Social Profiles Of US Citizens

1:38 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

You’ve heard of PRISM and XKeyscore? Get ready for Mainway.

A couple of hours ago the New York Times put the newest nugget from Edward Snowden on line, in an article by NYT regular James Risen and Snowden confidante Laura Poitras. They begin:

Since 2010, the National Security Agency has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with officials.

The program works by augmenting the phone and e-mail logs that we learned in June the NSA collects with “material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data.” The part that connects phone and e-mail data is called Mainway.

The program has been live since November 2010, following a policy decision in the last year of the Bush administration to stop restricting such information correlating to foreigners, which had in turn followed a Supreme Court decision denying constitutional protection to metadata.

To be sure, an NSA spokeswoman insisted for the article that “All data queries must include a foreign intelligence justification, period,” whatever that might mean.

Using these correlations the NSA collates people into 94 “entity types” and networks into 104 “relationship types.”

I will refrain from comment. For the rest, read the article.

Whither The Internet In An Age Of Cyber-Espionage?

2:03 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

As everyone should know by now, not quite two weeks ago the latest nugget from Edward Snowden via Glenn Greenwald and co-authors was revealed, and was that the NSA and its UK counterpart the GSHQ “have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails.” The measures used to accomplish this include covertly controlling the setting of encryption standards, more powerful brute force code-cracking, and inserting backdoors into commercial encryption software.

Altered Poster of Minions: Leak'd Snowden

Where does the Internet go from here?

This is very bad, and has led more than one observer to declare that the internet as we know it is dead as a secure medium of communication. That of course leads to the question of what is to be done about it.

One might ask first if it is possible for the NSA to be reformed so that it stops doing such things. To me it appears that the domestic anti-surveillance movement, which looked so promising in late July and early August, is now effectively dead, or at best left to Republicans to mold in accordance with their interests.

That is to say, President Obama proposed that Congress approve a measure he cannot have believed they would, to go to war in Syria, and many progressives responded by dropping everything other than organizing opposition to the war (at times accusing those who declined to follow them of insensitivity to human life), so that any action against the NSA surveillance was put on hold.

True, there is a national protest against the surveillance scheduled for October 26 in Washington, sponsored by the coalition StopWatching.Us, composed of Restore the Fourth, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, and other organizations. However, in the first place, that date (chosen because it is the anniversary of the Patriot Act) is rather far off. Secondly, the organizers are speaking in terms of “thousands, not hundreds” of protestors. That is, they are not speaking in terms of hundreds of thousands, which is what is needed for a protest to get any appreciable attention on a national scale.

The situation might be better at the international level. In a post a few days ago I noted some developments in Brazil and in Europe, of which the former seems the most promising. President Dilma Rousseff has demanded a meaningful explanation of the recently revealed extensive NSA snooping into her country’s affairs, and threatens to cancel her state visit to the US next month if she does not get it. Other public figures there have spoken in terms of excluding the US from some important commercial transactions.

Yet at this writing the US has evidently not responded beyond some rhetorical gestures, whereas Rousseff has other problems in the country (such as sustained anti-government protests in Rio de Janeiro) that she might ultimately decide have greater priority.

So given the possibility or probability that the spying is going to be left as it is, or perhaps will get even worse, what do we do?

One answer, or at least the outline of one, is given by Rick Falkvinge, the founder of the first of the up-and-coming European Pirate Parties. In an article apparently written on September 12 (that is when its comments thread begins), he avers that the internet must be rebuilt from scratch. As he explains the situation,

Read the rest of this entry →

Obama Lies Again About NSA Surveillance

6:10 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

During his stopover in Sweden today on the way to a G20 summit in Russia, President Obama held a joint press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. (video; complete transcript)

Apart from pleasantries about the affinity of the US and Swedish peoples, the main focus of O’s statements (delivered after Reinfeldt’s) was of course Syria, how he and Reinfeldt allegedly agreed that there was a need to act, and how important it was for the international community to support this.

However, there is an issue that will not go away internationally, even if O may have succeeded in shunting it aside domestically by referring the Syria matter to Congress: NSA surveillance. The very first reporter’s question was

As you might know, the NSA surveillance affair has stirred up quite a few angry reactions, even here in Sweden. What do you want to say to those upset? And how do you think the affair affects the relationship between our countries?

To this our erstwhile leader began:

…this is a question that I’ve received in previous visits to Europe since the stories broke in The Guardian, and I suspect I’ll continue to get, as I travel through Europe and around the world, for quite some time. Like other countries, we have an intelligence operation that tries to improve our understanding of what’s happening around the world. And in light of 9/11, a lot of energy was focused on improving our intelligence when it came to combating terrorism.

And so on, eventually getting to this statement:

And I can give assurances to the publics in Europe and around the world that we’re not going around snooping at people’s emails or listening to their phone calls.

This assertion comes three days after Glenn Greenwald’s latest revelation from the Snowden cache, that the NSA has tapped into private communications of the very Presidents of Brazil and Mexico, congratulating itself on the achievement (as discussed here).

So far the best comment I’ve seen on this statement is Margo Schulter’s (comment #91 in the link just given): It compares favorably with Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook.”

But what do you think?

NSA Tapped Personal Communications of Brazilian President and Others

6:58 am in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

Brazil’s O Globo reported yesterday (I translate):

The US National Security Agency has monitored the content of telephone calls, emails, and text messages of President Dilma Rousseff and of a yet indefinite number of “key advisors” of the Brazilian government.


Besides Dilma, in recent months the President of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto and nine members of his team were spied upon, when he was only a candidate for the office.

The article says that these items come from a June, 2012 NSA internal presentation, a record of which Glenn Greenwald obtained from Edward Snowden.

The presentation was entitled “Intelligency”(?) filtering your data, Brazil and Mexico case studies.” It consisted of 24 slides which evidently did not include actual examples of the intercepted communications. It was intended for the use of governments in the “Five Eyes” countries (US, UK, Canada, Australia, and NZ). The presenter ended with congratulations on the success of the program.

It seems useful to have this revelation at this moment, for more general reasons than its specific content. Recently, the UK government forced the Guardian to destroy the Snowden records kept in its London offices, and it was revealed the other day that it has asked the New York Times to do the same with material in its possession. Meanwhile, last Saturday the Obama administration suddenly decided that it needed Congress’s input before undertaking a limited military action in Syria; of course that means that Congress will spend a week or so on that issue when it returns next week, and will not have time to discuss the various bills to rein in the NSA that are in the works before the budget crunch arrives later this month.

Obama and the Five Eyes may yet succeed in ending Snowden revelations in the Guardian, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and maybe even in Germany’s Der Spiegel, as well as in squelching significant discussion in the US. But they are unlikely to stop O Globo.

[Note: I'm still reading the article -- an appropriate project for "o dia do trabalho" -- and may add more later. But I want to get this much posted.]

Added 11:30 Eastern: The article also gives some technical details (naming the programs that are involved in the surveillance). It says that according to Greenwald’s interpretation the goal in the Brazilian case is to identify just who are Rousseff’s confidantes. It includes a statement against the surveillance after consulting with Rousseff on the part of Brazil’s Interior Minister Eduardo Cardozo, who, however, says they will wait until the allegation is confirmed before deciding on a course of action.

But I still have more to read.

Added 12:15 PM Eastern: The article cites two more Snowden-Greenwald documents. The first of these describes a power-point presentation entitled “identifying challenges for the future,” also meant to be seen only by the Five Eyes, which asks whether a number of countries including Brazil and Mexico are likely to be “friends, enemies, or problems” during the period 2014-2019. It identifies Brazil and Turkey in particular as emerging nations that are capable of “creating regional stress.”

I’ll get to the last document in a while.

Added 12:55 PM Eastern. The last document reveals that there is a subdivision of NSA responsible for monitoring trade and military issues in countries important to the US economy, so that the US considers “strategic partners,” including Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

The article concludes by saying that the embassies of the US and Mexico declined comment on the story, and observing that Rousseff is scheduled to meet with Obama in the US in October.

Corrections 8:15 PM Eastern: The documents have no specific examples for Rousseff, but do for Peña Nieto; Eduardo Cardozo is Brazil’s Justice Minister, not Interior Minister.

Obama Tries to get Control of the NSA Story; Will He Succeed?

12:16 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

Declassifying some previously secret memos so that they can be released in redacted form hasn’t worked. (Unsurprisingly, since we already had many of them in unredacted form from Snowden.) Telling Jay Leno what everyone knew was a lie didn’t work. And of course, before that, sending the Bobbsey Generals to Congressional hearings to say “least untruthful” things didn’t work.

If public opinion on NSA surveillance is not entirely out of control yet, the narrative about it is. It does not take a Sherlock to see that that is why O gave a press conference yesterday.

Other issues were touched on (health care, immigration, gays in Russia), but the main event was clearly the President’s proposals to “reform” the surveillance. In the handy summary of commondreams, these were:

1. Discussing with Congress “appropriate” reforms to section 215 of the Patriot Act (under which phone records are collected in bulk) which will include “greater oversight, greater transparency and constraints on the use of this authority.”
2. Discussing with Congress reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). A measure that would give “civil liberties concerns” more ability to challenge government rulings.
3. The NSA appointment of a privacy and civil liberties officer.
4. The creation of an independent advisory group made up of “outside experts” who will be allowed to review the government’s surveillance activities and publish a public report within two months (60 days), and a final report by the end of the year.
5. A new website launched by the greater intelligence community meant to serve as a “hub for further transparency,” to provide interested parties with the “ability to learn more about what our intelligence community does and what it doesn’t do, how it carries out its mission and why it does so.”

O also claimed that he had begun to consider these reforms even before Snowden came on the scene. Some reports on the event that are worth reading include those of the Guardian, RT, and the LA Times.

Concerning the actual merits of these proposals there is little to be said. The stress on telephony metadata collection via Section 215 treats only the first of many revelations of NSA spying revealed by Snowden to Glenn Greenwald and others, such as PRISM, XKeyscore, something called a “backdoor” that Sen. Wyden has highlighted, and the FBI’s attempt to get its own data base independent of NSA through “port reader” software to be attached to internet service providers.

To give the NSA a type of ombudsman would not in itself guarantee that the office represented the public interest as opposed to helping the agency present a facade of acting in the public interest.

“Discussing with Congress” sounds like agreeing on some softball proposals floated by centrist lawmakers at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on the last day of July, such as allowing an advocate for the public to argue before the FISA Court without any assurance that the Court would take the argument seriously.

It did not help the President’s case that yesterday his administration also released a black white paper making it clear that the core function of collecting the metadata under Section 215 would remain, a pronouncement that was met with immediate disdain from the ACLU, among others.

It may be that, left to itself, Congress will go along with O’s proposals. Sen. Wyden himself issued a statement yesterday which, while expressing disappointment that O did not deal with the “backdoor” problem, nonetheless concluded by saying:

Overall, I welcome the proposals made today by the President and intend to work closely with my colleagues, including Senators Udall, Leahy, Blumenthal, Merkley and Feinstein and Reps. Sensenbrenner and Lofgren, to ensure that the president’s proposals are strengthened and become law.

On the other hand, Congress may not be left to itself. For the past two weeks the Restore The Fourth organization has been urging people to confront their representatives about the surveillance while they are home for the August recess. And if one can judge from other entries on the Reddit RT4 page, O’s performance yesterday did not go over well, as with these comments on the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of the event. For example, here is SuperConductiveRabbi:

By-the-book damage control.

First they ignore the issue and hope it’ll go away. Then they acknowledge it but downplay the significance. Then they try to marginalize the petitioners and paint them as a fringe group. Then they offer empty, conciliatory promises that have the appearance of a compromise, but don’t actually address the underlying issue. Then they bow down and submit to real reforms. Then you win.

We’re on the conciliatory promise stage. Obama hopes this doublespeak will make those pesky American citizens just shut up. He doesn’t even think that the surveillance programs are a problem! He’s only acknowledged that it’s a problem that we don’t trust them as he does, and his “reforms” are designed to gain public support, not change the real problem.

We need to push twice as hard, because this is the first sign that things can change. One man doesn’t get to decide the operation of this country, the people do. We need to make that clear, and the final decision to neuter the NSA and repeal the PATRIOT act will be out of his hands.

That may be overly facile if, as I have argued, the true purpose of the surveillance has nothing to do with terrorism, with stronger forces than mere bureaucratic inertia arrayed to preserve the monitoring of US people. But in that case the effort to overcome them will at least be educational.

Stay tuned.

Fourth Thesis On The Snowden Disclosures

5:20 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

In a post earlier this month I argued the following three theses:

1. The revelations by Edward Snowden published in the Guardian and elsewhere imply that the National Security Agency records virtually every electronic communication of persons in the US. This mass surveillance is to be opposed.

2. Neither Snowden’s personal characteristics or motivation nor those of the journalists that have published his material are relevant to the issue stated in Thesis 1.

3. Theories that Snowden is some sort of fake and that his revelations are meant to divert our attention from other matters are to be rejected.

Here I will argue a fourth thesis:

4. The official position that the purpose of the surveillance noted in Thesis 1 is to combat terrorism is false, and should be exposed as such.

Of course, as soon as the surveillance became known in early June officials of the intelligence agencies and of the congressional committees that nominally oversee them rushed to cry terrorism. For example, as has been widely reported, the chief of the NSA itself, General Keith Alexander, asserted to a congressional committee that “over 50 terrorists plots” have been disrupted by the surveillance programs since 9/11.

A small number of individual cases have been mentioned, most prominently that of Najibullah Zazi, who was caught in 2009 before executing a plan to set off explosives in the New York City subway system. As has also been widely reported, according to all three of Alexander, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers, and the Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Diane Feinstein, the NSA email monitoring program PRISM provided a crucial step in identifying the plot.

The problem is that these claims range from the greatly exaggerated to the utterly false. Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, who have access to classified information, have said in opposition to the “50 plots” claim that they have seen nothing in the area of disrupting terrorism that could not have been provided by normal inelligence methods. The Zazi case claim is refuted in the Guardian, and more thoroughly in alternative media such as willyloman. What was actually identified at Zazi’s trial as the crucial link in the case was British intelligence, not PRISM, passing on a key email address to their US counterparts.

Actually, most of the plots that have been disrupted have been those the FBI itself initiated by recruiting some foolish Islamist-oriented young man, supplying him with fake explosives, and arresting him to great fanfare when he throws the switch.

In the meantime, what is really telling is that the NSA surveillance did not prevent a number of actual terrorist acts since 9/11 (a speaker at the July 4 Restore the Fourth rally in Washington read a list of about ten of them), of which the most well known is the twin bombings at the Boston marathon on April 15 of this year. It occurred even though the local DHS-initiated “Fusion Center” had reported a week earlier that the area where the explosions would occur would be vulnerable.

(I hasten to add that in citing the Boston example I do NOT mean to identify with a certain sentiment that it could have been averted if only the FBI had kept tabs on Tamerlan Tsarnaev after a 2011 interview with him. Although it is popularly assumed that the Tsarnaev brothers carried out the bombings, no one has actually shown that they did. I only mean that the NSA surveillance programs failed to intercept whoever did carry out the attack.)

Some might say that these failures only show that the programs have been less efficient than their defenders have claimed. But let us recall that government representatives such as General James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, denied that the massive surveillance even existed until it was no longer possible to do so. If they lied about that, why should we believe them when they say that the purpose of the surveillance is to combat terrorism?

We should not. The NSA’s track record on the issue it says it is about is too weak to believe that that is the actual issue. The purpose of the surveillance must be something else.

What might that purpose be? Well, we don’t know because it’s a secret. However, we might obtain a clue by examining what some other agencies nominally concerned with national security have been doing. One of these agencies is the FBI and another is the DHS. By means of FOIA requests, the Partnership For Civil Justice Fund was able to obtain two troves of documents relevant to the question, one in December 2012 and the other in April 2013, each one running over 250 pages. The first set showed that the FBI had been treating the 2011-2012 Occupy Wall Street movement in particular as a potential terrorist threat in spite of recognizing its profession of non-violence. The second set shows how the DHS coordinated surveillance activity with respect to Occupy and other peaceful protests in a number of cities.

And that might be only the tip of the iceberg. An FDL post on the NSA a couple of days ago, by joe shikspack, included a number of links near its end to documentation of surveillance or outright harassment of groups ranging from groups like Greenpeace to a couple selling clothes with socialist slogans affixed, by agencies ranging from the FBI to the Pentagon.

In short, virtually every other government agency has been monitoring progressive activists. Are we to believe that the NSA is exempt from this phenomenon? Probably not.

In any case, the agency’s true purpose cannot be to combat terrorism, or it would have done a better job at that. And to concede to it that it fights terrorism while trying to scale back its massive surveillance is to accept the pernicious idea that there is a zero-sum game between security and freedom, so that one must sacrifice some of one to ensure that we have a decent measure of the other. Or “the pendulum has swung too far toward security and we should swing it the other way a bit.”

No, it is time to call out the officials who tell us that the surveillance is necessary to combat terrorism; it is time to proclaim that they are liars, pure and simple.

Three Theses On The Snowden Disclosures

4:12 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

1. The revelations by Edward Snowden published in the Guardian and elsewhere imply that the National Security Agency records virtually every electronic communication of persons in the US. This mass surveillance is to be opposed.

Members of the Obama administration, after first denying that the NSA collects anything at all from “US persons,” have subsequently said that only metadata is collected, and that a communication is only investigated further under special circumstances which are narrowly drawn. However, in the first place collection of the metadata alone is an invasion of privacy which can easily reveal personal information about the communicant. In the second place two 2009 Justice Department memos detailing the special circumstances show that they are so extensive as sto allow virtually any communication to be investigated after all. (It is possible in principle that reforms of the guidelines subsequent to 2009 have ameliorated this situation, but one must assume that they have not absent explicit clarification from the administration.)

Members of the administration have also said that the program is necessary to prevent terrorism, and have claimed that as many as 50 plots have been disrupted. However, Senators Wyden and Udall, who have access to classified documents, have said that they know of no terrorist plots that could not have been thwarted by conventional investigative means. Moreover, there have been a number of attempted or executed terrorist acts (other than those instigated by the FBI in sting operations) that have occurred in spite of the NSA surveillance. (A list of those that have occurred since September 11, 2001 was read by a speaker at the July 4 Restore the Fourth rally in Washington, D.C.)

The surveillance is to be opposed on constitutional grounds in that it patently violates the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution against unreasonable searches, It is to be opposed on practical grounds in that it can be used, and most likely has been used, against nonviolent protestors, collecting dossiers for potential use against them in ways such as prejudicing potential employers or compromising applications for benefits.

Those who are indifferent to this issue because they do not believe they “have done anything wrong” are displaying poor citizenship because they are also indifferent to the US Constitution. And some activity that they pursue that is presently legal may not always be so, in which case they are at risk of being labeled a potential miscreant with respect to the activity in question.

More subtly, some appear lukewarm at best to active opposition to the surveillance in contexts where other ills of the US are not explicitly addressed. Or I take it that this is what one FDLer means in saying, “focusing entirely on government surveillance, or particularly on NSA surveillance, misses 90% or more of the whole story” (comment #59 here). But refusal to participate when the opposition is predicated in such contexts would reflect an unrealistic attitude toward the possibility of change. To take an example, the mass demonstrations in Washington during the Vietnam era that were organized around the single issue of ending the Vietnam War had some effect in doing so, but did not prevent participants from acting on other issues in other venues.

2. Neither Snowden’s personal characteristics or motivation nor those of the journalists that have published his material are relevant to the issue stated in Thesis 1.

Of course, the government’s claim that Snowden not only broke the law, but violated the Espionage Act of the World War I era, will be viewed as excessive by most people beyond the leaders of the intelligence agencies and their enablers in the relevant Congressional committees; still, many believe he committed a “crime” and therefore should be punished. I will not argue against them here (although I do disagree), but I insist that this view should not stand in the way of opposing the surveillance he disclosed in accordance with Thesis 1. This wholesale sweeping up of the electronic communications of every person in the country is a much larger issue than that of what should happen to a single individual.

Beyond the cries of “traitor,” there have been slightly less unsubtle assertions that Snowden has negative personality characteristics, in particular “narcissism.” But again, suppose he is a narcissist: what does that have to do with the importance of the information he has provided?

From another direction, the eyebrows of some at FDL have been raised because Snowden has betrayed libertarian tendencies, which are naturally anathema to progressives. But again, what does that have to do with the importance of the information he has provided?

But also, the point applies equally to those who lionize Snowden as a cult figure. The idolatry has reached the point of the deported Russian spy Anna Chapman tweeting a suggestion that they marry. I’m sure Snowden is gratified by all this attention, but he himself said in the original interview with the Guardian that he was neither a traitor nor a hero, and that the point was his message.

A corollary is that the tabloidal fascination with the cat-and-mouse game of Snowden’s flight from US authority and the doggedness of the latter’s pursuit has grown beyond all bounds. Just today a post on the FDL front page concerned a mere rumor that a deal had been reached for Snowden to secure asylum in one country; it collected over 100 comments (a good half of them subsequent to information coming to light that the rumor was false). What does this have to do with the massive surveillance that he has said is his primary concern?

3. Theories that Snowden is some sort of fake and that his revelations are meant to divert our attention from other matters are to be rejected.

In mid-June Naomi Wolf posted her “creeping concern that the NSA leaker is not who he purports to be,” and suggested that his story was actually inspired by the government in order to instill fear into people that their every move was being watched. Her view is based largely on her subjective impressions of his manner in the Guardian interview. Her post was promptly re-published by several fringe websites like

That idea did not get much traction, but a number of FDLers have suggested an alternative, that Snowden is part of a “limited hangout.” If the standard understanding of that phrase is meant, he has revealed tidbits of secret information in order to distract attention, while the intelligence establishment guards much more explosive material which was in danger of being revealed. And indeed, there surely must be more information that Snowden has not yet revealed, such as the undocumented assertions of Bush era whistle-blower Russ Tice, that Supreme Court justices and even the potential Illinois Senator Barack Obama were surveilled.

Another idea expressed by one FDLer is that the Obama administration orchestrated the revelations in order to take attention away from what were the more serious (to Obama) current scandals over Banghazi, the AP, and the IRS (see comment #2 here).

A component of both of these theories has been the position that Snowden has not really revealed anything that was not already known “to those who were paying attention.”

However, the first point to be said against the theories is that the proponents have not shown that they already knew the graphic details of the programs going under the names PRISM, FAIRVIEW, etc. that Snowden has spelled out.

But most importantly, these theories are betrayed as unpersuasive, if not absurd, by the fact that the government has pursued the person who they say is its collaborator to so obsessive a degree that it has now gotten the continent of South America angry with it for interfering with the travel of one President on the strength of a rumor that Snowden was with him. (The only way these theories could be saved is with a hypothesis that the false story was orchestrated by some element within the government that is not under the administration’s control and is unknown to it. But that is far-fetched.)

No, Snowden is who he says he is, and his information is what he says it is. It is up to us to do something about it.