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The Feinstein Syndrome: “The Fourth Amendment for Me, But Not for Thee”

12:05 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Who knows, soon we might see headlines and cable TV shows asking: “Is Dianne Feinstein a whistleblower or a traitor?”

Mural: Hero Chelsea Manning

Don’t confuse Feinstein with real whistleblower heroes.

A truthful answer to that question could not possibly be “whistleblower.” It may already be a historic fact that Senator Feinstein’s speech on March 11, 2014 blew a whistle on CIA surveillance of the Senate intelligence committee, which she chairs. But if that makes her a whistleblower, then Colonel Sanders is a vegetarian evangelist.

In her blockbuster Tuesday speech on the Senate floor, Feinstein charged that the CIA’s intrusions on her committee’s computers quite possibly “violated the Fourth Amendment.” You know, that’s the precious amendment that Feinstein — more than any other senator — has powerfully treated like dirt, worthy only of sweeping under the congressional rug.

A tidy defender of the NSA’s Orwellian programs, Feinstein went on the attack against Edward Snowden from the outset of his revelations last June. Within days, she denounced his brave whistleblowing as “an act of treason” — a position she has maintained.

Snowden and other genuine whistleblowers actually take risks to defend the civil liberties and human rights of others, including the most vulnerable among us. Real whistleblowers choose to expose serious wrongdoing. And, if applicable, they renounce their own past complicity in doing those wrongs.

Dianne Feinstein remains in a very different place. She’s 180 degrees from a whistleblower orientation; her moral compass is magnetized with solipsism as a leading guardian of the surveillance state.

This week, Feinstein stepped forward to tweak her tap dance — insisting that intrusive surveillance, so vile when directed at her and colleagues with august stature, must only be directed at others.

A huge problem is that for the USA’s top movers and shakers in media and politics, nothing rises to the level of constitutional crisis unless their noble oxen start to get gored. It doesn’t seem to dawn on the likes of Senator Feinstein that Fourth Amendment protections for the few are not Fourth Amendment protections at all.

More than 40 years ago, under the Nixon administration — when the U.S. government was breaking into the offices of the Socialist Workers Party, busting into the homes of members of the Black Panther Party in the middle of night with guns firing, and widely shredding the civil liberties of anti-war activists — few among ruling elites seemed to give a damn. But when news emerged that one of the two big political parties had severely transgressed against the other with a break-in at the Watergate office of the Democratic National Committee on June 17, 1972, the Republican White House had gone too far.

As spring 2014 gets underway, we might be nearing a pivotal moment when major sectors of the establishment feel compelled to recognize the arrival of a constitutional crisis. Consider how the New York Times editorialized in its Wednesday edition, declaring that Feinstein “has provided stark and convincing evidence that the CIA may have committed crimes to prevent the exposure of interrogations that she said were ‘far different and far more harsh’ than anything the agency had described to Congress.”

In the euphemism lexicon of official Washington, “far different and far more harsh” refers to outright torture by the U.S. government.

At the surveillance-state garrison known as the Washington Post, where cognitive dissonance must be something fierce right now, quickly out of the box was conventional-wisdom columnist Dana Milbank, who portrayed Feinstein as a savvy and angelic force to be reckoned with. The adulatory logic was classic for journalists who like to conflate complicity with credibility.

Noting Feinstein’s record as “an ally of Obama and a staunch defender of the administration during the controversy over the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs,” Milbank wrote: “So her credibility could not be questioned when she went public, reluctantly, to accuse Obama’s CIA of illegal and unconstitutional actions: violating the separation of powers by searching the committee’s computers and intimidating congressional staffers with bogus legal threats.”

News media accounts are filled with such statements right now. On the surface, they make sense — but there’s a pernicious undertow. With the underlying logic, the only time we could become sure that Wall Street malfeasance was a real problem would be if someone with the stature of Bernie Madoff stepped up to condemn it in no uncertain terms.

History tells us that we’d be deluded to depend on entrenched elites to opt for principle rather than continuity of the status quo. With few exceptions, what bonds those at peaks of power routinely trumps what divides them. It takes a massive and sustained uproar to really fracture the perversity of elite cohesion.

Consider the fact that the CIA, under the current Democratic administration, has gone to extraordinary lengths to transgress against a CIA-friendly Democratic-controlled Senate intelligence committee, in an effort to prevent anyone from being held accountable for crimes of torture committed under and by the Republican Bush administration.

While Dianne Feinstein has a long and putrid record as an enemy of civil liberties, transparency and accountability, it’s also true that thieves sometimes fall out — and so do violators of the most basic democratic safeguards in the Bill of Rights. Some powerful “intelligence” scoundrels are now at each other’s throats, even while continuing to brandish daggers at the heart of democracy with their contempt for such ideals as a free press, privacy and due process. The responsibility for all this goes to the very top: President Obama.

Photo by Timothy Krause released under a Creative Commons license.

Is MoveOn Less Progressive Than the New York Times Editorial Board?

1:41 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

The New York Times is hardly a progressive newspaper — but when it comes to the surveillance state and ongoing militarism of the Obama White House, the establishment’s “paper of record” puts MoveOn.org to shame.

Outside the NY Times Tower

How the Grey Lady be more progressive than MoveOn.

And so, the same day that the Times editorialized to excoriate President Obama for his latest betrayal of civil liberties, MoveOn sent out a huge email blast sucking up to Obama.

The Times was blunt in its Saturday editorial: “By the time President Obama gave his news conference on Friday, there was really only one course to take on surveillance policy from an ethical, moral, constitutional and even political point of view. And that was to embrace the recommendations of his handpicked panel on government spying — and bills pending in Congress — to end the obvious excesses. He could have started by suspending the constitutionally questionable (and evidently pointless) collection of data on every phone call and email that Americans make.”

But, the newspaper added: “He did not do any of that.”

As the Times editorial went on to say, “any actions that Mr. Obama may announce next month would certainly not be adequate. Congress has to rewrite the relevant passage in the Patriot Act that George W. Bush and then Mr. Obama claimed — in secret — as the justification for the data vacuuming.”

Let’s reiterate that the Times is far from a progressive outlet. It serves as a highly important megaphone for key sectors of corporate/political elites. Voicing the newspaper’s official stance, its editorials are often deferential to spin and half-truths from favored political figures. And much of the paper’s news coverage feeds off the kind of newspeak that spews out of the Executive Branch and Congress.

But on crucial matters of foreign policy, militarism and surveillance, the contrast between Times editorials and MoveOn is stunning. The “progressive” netroots organization has rarely managed to clear a low bar of independence from reprehensible Obama policies.

Instead, millions of people on MoveOn’s list are continually deluged with emails pretending that Republicans are the only major problem in Washington — while nearly always ignoring Obama administration policies that are antithetical to basic progressive values.

And so, on the same day the New York Times was ripping into Obama’s latest affront to civil liberties and privacy rights, MoveOn was sending out a mass email that began by quoting from Obama’s 2008 convention acceptance speech — as though his five-year record as president still makes him an apt source of inspiration: “The change we need doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington.”

After five years, MoveOn seems not to have noticed what the New York Times editorial board has often pointed out: that some of the change Obama has brought to Washington has not been in a progressive direction. As the Times put it in a follow-up editorial Sunday, at his latest news conference Obama “insisted that there was no evidence that the phone surveillance program was being abused — a truly disturbing assessment given all the revelations since June.”

As usual, the MoveOn email did not include a single word of criticism, much less challenge, of Obama. Instead, the email blamed Congress for all the political obstacles to needed “change.”

This is typical. Year after year of the Obama presidency, MoveOn has been routinely silent on such crucial matters as U.S. drone and cruise missile strikes across borders, war in Afghanistan, assaults on press freedom and whistleblowers, and methodical undermining of precious civil liberties.

The intertwined warfare state and surveillance state have little to fear from MoveOn. And that’s tragic.

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Under the Global Shadow of Big Brother, Journalism Must Light Up the Political Sky

5:21 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Every new revelation about the global reach of the National Security Agency underscores that the extremism of the surveillance state has reached gargantuan proportions. The Washington Post just reported that the NSA “is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world.” Documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden have forced top officials in Washington to admit the indefensible while defending it. One of the main obstacles to further expansion of their Orwellian empire is real journalism.

 

TV journalist

Journalists must fight back against NSA surveillance and government corruption.

Real journalism is “subversive” of deception that can’t stand the light of day. This is a huge problem for the Obama administration and the many surveillance-state flunkies of both parties in Congress. What they want is fake journalism, deferring to government storylines and respectful of authority even when it is illegitimate.

In motion now, on both sides of the Atlantic, are top-down efforts to quash real journalism when and how it matters most. In the two English-speaking countries that have done the most preaching to the world about “Western values” like freedom of the press, the governments led by President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron are overseeing assaults on real journalism.

They’re striving to further normalize fake journalism — largely confined to stenographic services for corporate power, war industries and surveillance agencies. A parallel goal is to harass, intimidate and destroy real journalism. The quest is to maximize the uninformed consent of the governed.

In direct contrast, those willing to fight for truly independent journalism — including whistleblowers, political activists and journalists themselves — are struggling to provide our world with vital light, fueled by comprehension that real journalism must be willing to challenge entrenched power.

From incessant war and arming the world, to climate change and coddling fossil fuel industries, to anti-democratic governance and enabling vast NSA surveillance, the U.S. power structure — with epicenters along Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue — continues to dominate. That power structure is a clear, present and horrendous threat to human survival, the natural world of this planet and the possibilities for authentic democracy.

Against such dire, highly institutionalized assaults on the present and the future, we desperately need a wide range of nonviolent, principled and unrelenting insurgencies. In that context, government efforts to crush real journalism can be understood as methodical counterinsurgency.

Smashing Guardian hard drives and hauling the newspaper’s editor in front of an inquisitional parliamentary committee are aspects of the British government’s counterinsurgency program against real journalism. In the United States, the counterinsurgency includes numerous prosecutions of whistleblowers and wide-ranging surveillance of journalists’ workaday communications. These assaults aren’t episodic. They’ve become routine.

Journalism is at a momentous crossroads. The alternative to unrelenting independence is sheepism, and that’s not journalism; it’s a professionalized baseline of bowing to government and corporate pressure even before it has been overtly exerted.

For journalists, and for the rest of us, silence is not neutrality; it ends up as acceptance of autocratic rule, a present festooned with pretty-sounding names like “anti-terrorism” and “national security.”

As the most powerful institutions run amuck, their main functionaries are “leaders” who keep leading us farther and farther away from a world we could possibly be proud of leaving for the next generations. Pushing back against the ominous momentum will require fighting for real journalism. No one can plausibly say that reversing course will be easy or probable — only imperative.

Photo by Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.

Dianne Feinstein: Big Brother’s Loyal Sister

5:25 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Ever since the first big revelations about the National Security Agency five months ago, Dianne Feinstein has been in overdrive to defend the surveillance state. As chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she generates an abundance of fog, weasel words, anti-whistleblower slander and bogus notions of reform — while methodically stabbing civil liberties in the back.

Dianne Feinstein

Feinstein photographed on a rare break from dismantling civil liberties.

Feinstein’s powerful service to Big Brother, reaching new heights in recent months, is just getting started. She’s hard at work to muddy all the waters of public discourse she can — striving to protect the NSA from real legislative remedies while serving as a key political enabler for President Obama’s shameless abuse of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

Last Sunday, on CBS, when Feinstein told Face the Nation viewers that Edward Snowden has done “enormous disservice to our country,” it was one of her more restrained smears. In June, when Snowden first went public as a whistleblower, Feinstein quickly declared that he had committed “an act of treason.” Since then, she has refused to tone down the claim. “I stand by it,” she told The Hill on Oct. 29.

Days ago, taking it from the top of the NSA’s main talking points, Feinstein led off a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed piece with 9/11 fear-mongering. “The Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States was highly organized and sophisticated and designed to strike at the heart of the American economy and government,” she wrote, and quickly added: “We know that terrorists remain determined to kill Americans and our allies.”

From there, Senator Feinstein praised the NSA’s “call-records program” and then insisted: “This is not a surveillance program.” (Paging Mr. Orwell.)

Feinstein’s essay — touting her new bill, the “FISA Improvements Act,” which she just pushed through the Senate Intelligence Committee — claimed that the legislation will “bridge the gap between preventing terrorism and protecting civil liberties.” But as Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Trevor Timm writes, the bill actually “codifies some of the NSA’s worst practices, would be a huge setback for everyone’s privacy, and it would permanently entrench the NSA’s collection of every phone record held by U.S. telecoms.”

California’s senior senator is good at tactical maneuvers that blow media smoke. In late October — while continuing to defend the NSA’s planetary dragnet on emails and phone calls — Feinstein voiced concern “that certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade and that the Senate Intelligence Committee wasn’t satisfactorily informed.” Spinning the myth that congressional oversight of the NSA really exists, she added: “Therefore, our oversight needs to be strengthened and increased.”

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The NSA Deserves a Permanent Shutdown

12:49 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

To the people in control of the Executive Branch, violating our civil liberties is an essential government service. So — to ensure total fulfillment of Big Brother’s vast responsibilities — the National Security Agency is insulated from any fiscal disruption.

Sign: Now Stalking Americans

End the NSA!

The NSA’s surveillance programs are exempt from a government shutdown. With typical understatement, an unnamed official told The Hill that “a shutdown would be unlikely to affect core NSA operations.”

At the top of the federal government, even a brief shutdown of “core NSA operations” is unthinkable. But at the grassroots, a permanent shutdown of the NSA should be more than thinkable; we should strive to make it achievable.

NSA documents, revealed by intrepid whistleblower Edward Snowden, make clear what’s at stake. In a word: democracy.

Wielded under the authority of the president, the NSA is the main surveillance tool of the U.S. government. For a dozen years, it has functioned to wreck our civil liberties. It’s a tool that should not exist.

In this century, the institutional momentum of the NSA — now fueled by a $10.8 billion annual budget – has been moving so fast in such a wrong direction that the agency seems unsalvageable from the standpoint of civil liberties. Its core is lethal to democracy.

A big step toward shutting down the National Security Agency would be to mobilize political pressure for closure of the new NSA complex that has been under construction in Bluffdale, Utah: a gargantuan repository for ostensibly private communications.

During a PBS NewsHour interview that aired on August 1, NSA whistleblower William Binney pointed out that the Bluffdale facility has a “massive amount of storage that could store all these recordings and all the data being passed along the fiberoptic networks of the world.” He added: “I mean, you could store 100 years of the world’s communications here. That’s for content storage. That’s not for metadata.”

The NSA’s vacuum-cleaner collection of metadata is highly intrusive, providing government snoops with vast information about people’s lives. That’s bad enough. But the NSA, using the latest digital technology, is able to squirrel away the content of telephone, e-mail and text communications — in effect, “TiVo-ing” it all, available for later retrieval.

“Metadata, if you were doing it and putting it into the systems we built, you could do it in a 12-by-20-foot room for the world,” Binney explained. “That’s all the space you need. You don’t need 100,000 square feet of space that they have in Bluffdale to do that. You need that kind of storage for content.”

Already the NSA’s Bluffdale complex in a remote area of Utah — seven times the size of the Pentagon — is serving as an archive repository for humungous quantities of “private” conversations that the agency has recorded and digitized.

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Obama’s Willing Executioners of the Fourth Amendment

12:06 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

It’s now painfully clear that the president has put out a contract on the Fourth Amendment. And at the Capitol, the hierarchies of both parties are stuffing it into the trunks of their limousines, so each provision can be neatly fitted with cement shoes and delivered to the bottom of the Potomac.

Some other Americans are on a rescue mission. One of them, Congressman Justin Amash, began a debate on the House floor Wednesday with a vow to “defend the Fourth Amendment.” That’s really what his amendment — requiring that surveillance be warranted — was all about.

No argument for the Amash amendment was more trenchant than the one offered by South Carolina Republican Jeff Duncan, who simply read the Fourth Amendment aloud.

To quote those words was to take a clear side: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Edward Snowden’s heroic revelations have made it possible for some House members from both parties to blow away the fog that shrouds so much tap dancing on Capitol Hill. When the Amash amendment went to the floor, there was no place left to hide.

To their historic shame, 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats voted against Amash’s amendment (while 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats voted for it). That’s how the measure lost, 217-205.

The record of the House vote tells us a lot. Top Republicans—including Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy—voted with Obama policies to keep smothering the Fourth Amendment. So did top Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.

The stench at the pinnacle of GOP power hardly surprises most Democrats. But on civil liberties—as on so many other profound issues—a similar odor is emanating from the upper reaches of Democratic power on Capitol Hill, where Pelosi and Hoyer are far from the only Democrats who have become reflexive servants of indefensible Obama policies.

Consider some of the other Democratic luminaries in the House who voted against the Amash amendment: The Democratic National Committee’s chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s former chair Chris Van Hollen. The DCCC’s current chair, Steve Israel.

Some of the other Democrats who voted no on the Amash amendment include progressive-aura lawmakers like Ami Bera (Calif.), Joaquin Castro (Texas), Luis Gutierrez (Ill.), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), Joe Kennedy (Mass.), Annie Kuster (N.H.), Nita Lowey (N.Y.) and Louise Slaughter (N.Y.)

Deserving special mention for their deplorable votes against Amash’s amendment are Sheila Jackson Lee from Houston and Jan Schakowsky from Chicago. Both are vice chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

I’ve been critical of the Progressive Caucus for enabling Obama’s rightward moves by doing scant pushback. But credit where due: on Wednesday, aside from Jackson Lee and Schakowsky, the other six officers of the Progressive Caucus and a large majority of its more than 70 members supported the Amash amendment. Eloquence in the floor debate came from John Conyers (the lead co-sponsor of the Amash amendment), Jared Polis, Zoe Lofgren and Jerrold Nadler.

Yet they were no match for the White House, with its media spin machine and behind-the-curtain arm twisting.

President Obama has a firm grip on levers of power, and anyone who thinks that his administration has been chastened enough to tread more carefully on civil liberties is engaged in wishful thinking.

While the House has grown somewhat restive, the Senate has remained notably pliant for the surveillance state. An egregious—and, for some, surprising—example is Al Franken, who declared his support for the NSA surveillance program when news of it broke in early June. “I can assure you, this is not about spying on the American people,” Franken said. From his Senate office, one press release after another has been packed with blather like overstuffed sausages.

Franken is now saying he’ll introduce a bill for “transparency” because the public will support the current surveillance programs if they grasp what’s really involved: “I think that if there were greater transparency, Americans would have a better understanding of these programs.” Count on transparency to be a buzzword cloak for more of the same.

Another Democratic senator, Ron Wyden, has been vastly more candid. At a forum the day before the Amash amendment vote, Wyden said that for surveillance, as far as the Obama administration is concerned, “the authority is essentially limitless.”

An ACLU staff attorney, Alexander Abdo, was driving at the same point when he wrote days ago: “Perhaps the most fundamental problem with the NSA’s constitutional theory is that it has no limit. If the constitution is blind to the collection of our data and limits only the NSA’s later uses of it, then the NSA truly can ‘collect it all’ now and ask questions later. Our emails, phone calls and internet activities would all be very simple for the NSA to collect under the NSA’s theory. But it could go much further. It could put video cameras on every street corner, it could install microphones in every home and it could even remotely copy the contents of every computer hard drive.”

All three branches of the U.S. government are now largely under the control of forces with stunning contempt for basic legal processes required by the Bill of Rights. Mere words and mild reforms from members of Congress may mollify the gullible, but only a direct challenge to the Obama administration’s policies can rise to the level of the current historic imperative to restore civil liberties in the United States.

Obama’s Escalating War on Freedom of the Press

11:24 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

The part of the First Amendment that prohibits “abridging the freedom … of the press” is now up against the wall, as the Obama administration continues to assault the kind of journalism that can expose government secrets.

The US Constitution

Obama’s war on basic freedoms continues with an escalating attack on Freedom of the Press.

Last Friday the administration got what it wanted – an ice-cold chilling effect — from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled on the case of New York Times reporter James Risen. The court “delivered a blow to investigative journalism in America by ruling that reporters have no First Amendment protection that would safeguard the confidentiality of their sources in the event of a criminal trial,” the Guardian reported.

The Executive Branch fought for that ruling — and is now celebrating. “We agree with the decision,” said a Justice Department spokesman. “We are examining the next steps in the prosecution of this case.” The Risen case, and potentially many others, are now under the ominous shadow of the Appeals Court’s pronouncement: “There is no First Amendment testimonial privilege, absolute or qualified, that protects a reporter from being compelled to testify … in criminal proceedings.”

At the Freedom of the Press Foundation, co-founder Trevor Timm calls the court ruling “the most significant reporter’s privilege decision in decades” and asserts that the court “eviscerated that privilege.” He’s not exaggerating. Press freedom is at stake.

Journalists who can be compelled to violate the confidentiality of their sources, or otherwise go to prison, are reduced to doing little more than providing stenographic services to pass along the official story. That’s what the White House wants.

The federal Fourth Circuit covers the geographical area where most of the U.S. government’s intelligence, surveillance and top-level military agencies — including the NSA and CIA — are headquartered. The ruling “pretty much guts national security journalism in the states in which it matters,” Marcy Wheeler writes.

That court decision came seven days after the Justice Department released its “News Media Policies” report announcing “significant revisions to the Department’s policies regarding investigations that involve members of the news media.” The report offered assurances that “members of the news media will not be subject to prosecution based solely on newsgathering activities.” (Hey thanks!) But the document quickly added that the government will take such action “as a last resort” when seeking information that is “essential to a successful investigation or prosecution.”

Translation: We won’t prosecute journalists for doing their jobs unless we really want to.

Over the weekend, some news accounts described Friday’s court decision as bad timing for Attorney General Eric Holder, who has scrambled in recent weeks to soothe anger at the Justice Department’s surveillance of journalists. “The ruling was awkwardly timed for the Obama administration,” the New York Times reported. But the ruling wasn’t just “awkwardly timed” — it was revealing, and it underscored just how hostile the Obama White House has become toward freedom of the press.

News broke in May that the Justice Department had seized records of calls on more than 20 phone lines used by Associated Press reporters over a two-month period and had also done intensive surveillance of a Fox News reporter that included obtaining phone records and reading his emails. Since then, the Obama administration tried to defuse the explosive reaction without actually retreating from its offensive against press freedom.

At a news conference two months ago, when President Obama refused to say a critical word about his Justice Department’s targeted surveillance of reporters, he touted plans to reintroduce a bill for a federal shield law so journalists can protect their sources. But Obama didn’t mention that he has insisted on a “national security exception” that would make such a law approximately worthless for reporters doing the kind of reporting that has resulted in government surveillance — and has sometimes landed them in federal court.

Obama’s current notion of a potential shield law would leave his administration fully able to block protection of journalistic sources. In a mid-May article — headlined “White House Shield Bill Could Actually Make It Easier for the Government to Get Journalists’ Sources” — the Freedom of the Press Foundation shed light on the duplicity: As a supposed concession to press freedom, the president was calling for reintroduction of a 2009 Senate bill that “would not have helped the Associated Press in this case, and worse, it would actually make it easier for the Justice Department to subpoena journalists covering national security issues.”

Whether hyping a scenario for a shield law or citing new Justice Department guidelines for news media policies, the cranked-up spin from the administration’s PR machinery does not change the fact that Obama is doubling down on a commitment to routine surveillance of everyone, along with extreme measures specifically aimed at journalists — and whistleblowers.

The administration’s efforts to quash press freedom are in sync with its unrelenting persecution of whistleblowers. The purpose is to further choke off the flow of crucial information to the public, making informed “consent of the governed” impossible while imposing massive surveillance and other violations of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Behind the assault on civil liberties is maintenance of a warfare state with huge corporate military contracts and endless war. The whole agenda is repugnant and completely unacceptable.

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The Pursuit of Edward Snowden: Washington in a Rage, Striving to Run the World

11:13 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Rarely has any American provoked such fury in Washington’s high places. So far, Edward Snowden has outsmarted the smartest guys in the echo chamber—and he has proceeded with the kind of moral clarity that U.S. officials seem to find unfathomable.

Bipartisan condemnations of Snowden are escalating from Capitol Hill and the Obama administration. More of the NSA’s massive surveillance program is now visible in the light of day—which is exactly what it can’t stand.

The central issue is our dire shortage of democracy. How can we have real consent of the governed when the government is entrenched with extreme secrecy, surveillance and contempt for privacy?

The same government that continues to expand its invasive dragnet of surveillance, all over the United States and the rest of the world, is now asserting its prerogative to drag Snowden back to the USA from anywhere on the planet. It’s not only about punishing him and discouraging other potential whistleblowers. Top U.S. officials are also determined to—quite literally—silence Snowden’s voice, as Bradley Manning’s voice has been nearly silenced behind prison walls.

The sunshine of information, the beacon of principled risk-takers, the illumination of government actions that can’t stand the light of day—these correctives are anathema to U.S. authorities who insist that really informative whistleblowers belong in solitary confinement. A big problem for those authorities is that so many people crave the sunny beacons of illumination.

On Sunday night, more than 15,000 Americans took action to send a clear message to the White House. The subject line said “Mr. President, hands off Edward Snowden,” and the email message read: “I urge you in the strongest terms to do nothing to interfere with the travels or political asylum process of Edward Snowden. The U.S. government must not engage in abduction or any other form of foul play against Mr. Snowden.”

As the Obama White House weighs its options, the limits are practical and political. Surveillance and military capacities are inseparable, and they’re certainly huge, but constraints may cause major frustration. Sunday on CNN, anchor Don Lemon cited the fabled Navy Seals and said such commandos ought to be able to capture Snowden, pronto.

The state of surveillance and perpetual war are one and the same. The U.S. government’s rationale for pervasive snooping is the “war on terror,” the warfare state under whatever name.

Too rarely mentioned is the combination of nonviolence and idealism that has been integral to the courageous whistleblowing by Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning. Right now, one is on a perilous journey across the globe in search of political asylum, while the other is locked up in a prison and confined to a military trial excluding the human dimensions of the case. At a time of Big Brother and endless war, Snowden and Manning have bravely insisted that a truly better world is possible.

Meanwhile, top policymakers in Washington seem bent on running as much of the world as possible. Their pursuit of Edward Snowden has evolved into a frenzied rage.

Those at the top of the U.S. government insist that Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning have betrayed it. But that’s backward. Putting its money on vast secrecy and military violence instead of democracy, the government has betrayed Snowden and Manning and the rest of us.

Trying to put a stop to all that secrecy and violence, we have no assurance of success. But continuing to try is a prerequisite for realistic hope.

A few months before the invasion of Iraq, looking out at Baghdad from an upper story of a hotel, I thought of something Albert Camus once wrote. “And henceforth, the only honorable course will be to stake everything on a formidable gamble: that words are more powerful than munitions.”

Edward Snowden’s honorable course has led him to this historic moment. The U.S. government is eager to pay him back with retribution and solitary. But many people in the United States and around the world are responding with love and solidarity.

Brooks, Friedman, and Keller Wish Snowden Had Just Followed Orders

10:51 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Edward Snowden’s disclosures, the New York Times reported on Sunday, “have renewed a longstanding concern: that young Internet aficionados whose skills the agencies need for counterterrorism and cyberdefense sometimes bring an anti-authority spirit that does not fit the security bureaucracy.”

Caricature of B Manning

Whistleblower heroes like Manning prove our government cannot eradicate the ethics and free spirit of every young person it hires.

Agencies like the NSA and CIA — and private contractors like Booz Allen — can’t be sure that all employees will obey the rules without interference from their own idealism. This is a basic dilemma for the warfare/surveillance state, which must hire and retain a huge pool of young talent to service the digital innards of a growing Big Brother.

With private firms scrambling to recruit workers for top-secret government contracts, the current situation was foreshadowed by novelist John Hersey in his 1960 book The Child Buyer. When the vice president of a contractor named United Lymphomilloid, “in charge of materials procurement,” goes shopping for a very bright ten-year-old, he explains that “my duties have an extremely high national-defense rating.” And he adds: “When a commodity that you need falls in short supply, you have to get out and hustle. I buy brains.”

That’s what Booz Allen and similar outfits do. They buy brains. And obedience.

But despite the best efforts of those contractors and government agencies, the brains still belong to people. And, as the Times put it, an “anti-authority spirit” might not fit “the security bureaucracy.”

In the long run, Edward Snowden didn’t fit. Neither did Bradley Manning. They both had brains that seemed useful to authority. But they also had principles and decided to act on them.

Like the NSA and its contractors, the U.S. military is in constant need of personnel. “According to his superiors . . . Manning was not working out as a soldier, and they discussed keeping him back when his unit was deployed to Iraq,” biographer Chase Madar writes in The Passion of Bradley Manning. “However, in the fall of 2009, the occupation was desperate for intelligence analysts with computer skills, and Private Bradley Manning, his superiors hurriedly concluded, showed signs of improvement as a workable soldier. This is how, on October 10, 2009, Private First Class Bradley Manning was deployed . . . to Iraq as an intelligence analyst.”

In their own ways, with very different backgrounds and circumstances, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden have confounded the best-laid plans of the warfare/surveillance state. They worked for “the security bureaucracy,” but as time went on they found a higher calling than just following orders. They leaked information that we all have a right to know.

This month, not only with words but also with actions, Edward Snowden is transcending the moral limits of authority and insisting that we can fully defend the Bill of Rights, emphatically including the Fourth Amendment.

What a contrast with New York Times columnists David Brooks, Thomas Friedman and Bill Keller, who have responded to Snowden’s revelations by siding with the violators of civil liberties at the top of the U.S. government.

Brooks denounced Snowden as “a traitor” during a June 14 appearance on the PBS NewsHour, saying indignantly: “He betrayed his oath, which was given to him and which he took implicitly and explicitly. He betrayed his company, the people who gave him a job, the people who trusted him. . . . He betrayed the democratic process. It’s not up to a lone 29-year-old to decide what’s private and public. We have — actually have procedures for that set down in the Constitution and established by tradition.”

Enthralled with lockstep compliance, Brooks preached the conformist gospel: “When you work for an institution, any institution, a company, a faculty, you don’t get to violate the rules of that institution and decide for your own self what you’re going to do in a unilateral way that no one else can reverse. And that’s exactly what he did. So he betrayed the trust of the institution. He betrayed what creates a government, which is being a civil servant, being a servant to a larger cause, and not going off on some unilateral thing because it makes you feel grandiose.”

In sync with such bombast, Tom Friedman and former Times executive editor Bill Keller have promoted a notably gutless argument for embracing the NSA’s newly revealed surveillance programs. Friedman wrote(on June 12) and Keller agreed (June 17) that our government is correct to curtail privacy rights against surveillance — because if we fully retained those rights and then a big terrorist attack happened, the damage to civil liberties would be worse.

What a contrast between big-name journalists craven enough to toss the Fourth Amendment overboard and whistleblowers courageous enough to risk their lives for civil liberties.

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Edward Snowden’s Brave Gift — and Our Choice

6:12 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

In Washington, where the state of war and the surveillance state are one and the same, top officials have begun to call for Edward Snowden’s head. His moral action of whistleblowing — a clarion call for democracy — now awaits our responses.

After nearly 12 years of the “war on terror,” the revelations of recent days are a tremendous challenge to the established order: nonstop warfare, intensifying secrecy and dominant power that equate safe governance with Orwellian surveillance.

In the highest places, there is more than a wisp of panic in rarefied air. It’s not just the National Security Agency that stands exposed; it’s the repressive arrogance perched on the pyramid of power.

Back here on the ground, so many people — appalled by Uncle Sam’s continual morph into Big Brother — have been pushing against the walls of anti-democratic secrecy. Those walls rarely budge, and at times they seem to be closing in, even literally for some (as in the case of heroic whistleblower Bradley Manning). But all the collective pushing has cumulative effects.

In recent days, as news exploded about NSA surveillance, a breakthrough came into sight. Current history may not be an immovable wall; it may be on a hinge. And if we push hard enough, together, there’s no telling what might be possible or achieved.

The gratitude that so many of us now feel toward Edward Snowden raises the question: How can we truly express our appreciation?

A first step is to thank him — publicly and emphatically. You can do that by clicking here to sign the “Thank NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden” petition, which my colleagues at RootsAction.org will send directly to him, including the individual comments.

But of course saying thank-you is just one small step onto a crucial path. As Snowden faces extradition and vengeful prosecution from the U.S. government, active support will be vital — in the weeks, months and years ahead.

Signing the thank-you petition, I ventured some optimism: “What you’ve done will inspire kindred spirits around the world to take moral action despite the risks.” Bravery for principle can be very contagious.

Edward Snowden has taken nonviolent action to help counter the U.S. government’s one-two punch of extreme secrecy and massive violence. The process has summoned the kind of doublespeak that usually accompanies what cannot stand the light of day.

So, when Snowden’s employer Booz Allen put out a statement Sunday night, it was riddled with official indignation, declaring: “News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm.”

What are the “code of conduct” and “core values” of this huge NSA contractor? The conduct of stealthy assistance to the U.S. national security state as it methodically violates civil liberties, and the values of doing just about anything to amass vast corporate profits.

The corporate-government warfare state is enraged that Edward Snowden has broken through with conduct and values that are 180 degrees in a different direction. “I’m not going to hide,” he told the Washington Post on Sunday. “Allowing the U.S. government to intimidate its people with threats of retaliation for revealing wrongdoing is contrary to the public interest.”

When a Post reporter asked whether his revelations would change anything, Snowden replied: “I think they already have. Everyone everywhere now understands how bad things have gotten — and they’re talking about it. They have the power to decide for themselves whether they are willing to sacrifice their privacy to the surveillance state.”

And, when the Post asked about threats to “national security,” Snowden offered an assessment light-years ahead of mainline media’s conventional wisdom: “We managed to survive greater threats in our history . . . than a few disorganized terrorist groups and rogue states without resorting to these sorts of programs. It is not that I do not value intelligence, but that I oppose . . . omniscient, automatic, mass surveillance. . . . That seems to me a greater threat to the institutions of free society than missed intelligence reports, and unworthy of the costs.”

Profoundly, in the early summer of 2013, with his actions and words, Edward Snowden has given aid and comfort to grassroots efforts for democracy. What we do with his brave gift will be our choice.