I’ve been mulling over the NSA scandal for a couple of days now, and waiting for some of the Edward Snowden smoke to clear.
Here’s the conclusion I’m coming to.
First of all, Snowden is starting to look like much less than he was painted as in the original UK Guardian story which introduced him to the public. Which is a nice way to say that he looks like a liar and a fabulist where much of his story is concerned.
Like, for example, Snowden’s claim to have broken both his legs while training for the Special Forces, which has been debunked as factually inaccurate as well as impossible, since without a high school diploma he wasn’t eligible for Special Forces training.
Or his claim to have been making $200,000 per year as a contractor for Booz Allen, when we now know his salary was more like $120,000.
Or the fact that his house in Hawaii was vacant for weeks before he took off for Hong Kong, which doesn’t quite square with this “I’m fearful for my life and I had to run from the spooks at the last minute” narrative he was pushing.
When you see incongruities surface almost immediately after this guy’s story surfaces, it’s a red flag.
And then there’s this business with China. Here we have Snowden telling the South China Morning Post, which is the newspaper in Hong Kong rather than an official state organ but still something we should be a bit suspicious of, all about how the U.S. is hacking China and bullying Hong Kong. It’s not sufficient to be a bit suspicious of this; not when the ChiComs are engaging in cyberattacks on us like there’s no tomorrow and Snowden is pushing the line that it’s America who’s the cyberbully in the game in front of a media hostile to this country.
Particularly when it happens just after we take up the issue of the ChiCom cyberattacks on our networks at a summit and they tell us to go to hell. That’s a bit convenient for them, isn’t it?
Snowden’s allegations to the Hong Kong paper seem to indicate that part of this PRISM program, which we’re now learning is less an actual spying project than just a data management system, is that we’re spying and/or hacking the Chinese. And he’s making these allegations from Hong Kong, which is more or less China although not actually China. That he’s in Hong Kong rather than Beijing is important because it gives a patina of credibility to his statement along the lines of “they respect law and order here” – but for another reason as well.
Because if he was in Beijing making these statements it would be obvious that Snowden was a spook for the ChiComs and probably a defector. He might well be both of those; we don’t know yet.
Bear with me here, though – what are the chances that Snowden doing what he’s done and starting a political firestorm about a program which contains intelligence activity aimed at China would serve a specific purpose of taking down some of our intelligence capabilities to fight ChiCom cyberattacks? What if part of what Snowden has done is to weaken us, perhaps even in the long term, against China?
The fact that he’s IN China, and Hong Kong is China regardless of what anyone says, makes this far more likely.
And there’s something else. Namely, the timeline of Snowden’s relationship with the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, who’s a bit suspicious in his own right. Snowden’s narrative along the lines of “I saw what the government was doing and I couldn’t have it on my conscience so I went public with it” suffers a bit from how things really went down…
[Glenn Greenwald] also wrote he had been “working with” Snowden since February…
That’s part of a lengthy article about a feud between Greenwald andWaPo writer Barton Gellman about who spoke to Snowden when and about what. I’m not quoting it to delve into that brouhaha; I’m quoting it because it has also been reported that Snowden left his employment at Booz Allen Hamilton in late May (the 20th) after working for them for less than three months.
That means that if you count backwards, he had to have started work for Booz no earlier than February 20 and probably significantly later. So, if he was already speaking to Greenwald in February, does this mean he took the Booz job with the purpose of gaining access to the documents and leaking them?
If that’s true, does that change anything in the equation?
[ADDENDUM: Documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, who was also involved in helping publicize the Snowden leak, says that Snowden contacted her (anonymously) back in January. Again, that would have been before he started working for Booz. Interesting.]
Would this make you more, or less, willing to believe that Snowden had been a spy for the Chinese?
None of this should be taken as an indication that there isn’t a scandal here. There is one. Regardless of what the national security crowd might tell you, and I usually side with them, it is a violation of your constitutional rights for the government to be archiving your phone and e-mail records without probable cause or a warrant, and it serves no legitimate national-security purpose. That this is being done – if it’s being done, and it certainly appears it is – is a serious issue and something which screams for a large number of people to be fired and/or prosecuted. Don’t allow these people to get away with the “it’s just metadata” line, or the scam that collecting your data has prevented terror plots from succeeding.
That is bullshit, and it should make you white-hot with anger. Collecting your metadata sure as hell didn’t stop the Tsarnaevs or Nidal Hasan, and it wasn’t the reason the government has stopped the other terror plots.
You should have no problem with the feds watching people who have connections to terrorists. And you should applaud the government for snooping on foreigners, and particularly foreigners who hate us. We have courts to issue warrants when those snoopings involve communications with Americans and to issue warrants when Americans are under suspicion of terrorist activity. Gathering data on the rest of us is not covered by any of that, and what’s more it’s a violation of the 4th Amendment, which reads…
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.
You have the right to be secure in your papers and effects. The government collecting your communication records is an invasion of that security. Period. To legitimize that invasion they have to have probable cause you’ve committed or are committing a crime and they’ve got to be specific in what they’re looking for. The British used to send soldiers into people’s houses to rummage through their effects in general fishing expeditions supported by flimsy general warrants, and we fought a revolution over the issue. And rightly so.
And knowing what we know, namely that this is an administration which has no problem using government agencies to engage in thuggish behavior to persecute and harass its political enemies, the government it controls having carte blanche to rummage through your communications smacks of 1984 and balances the idea of personal privacy and individual freedom on the edge of a cliff.
Furthermore, we also know that closer to the quick on this issue than the IRS, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper flat-out lied to Congress when asked whether the government was collecting your communications data. He was asked point-blank about this in March and he just plain lied and said they weren’t doing it. People who lie to your face can’t be trusted. And the Obama administration, and its attendant slimeballs like Clapper, show us that when you analyze the amount of power you’re willing to give to the government you have to do so with the idea that people like Obama and Clapper could well be be the ones you’re giving that power to – this was a lesson our Founders knew, because they’d seen it in the person of His Majesty’s Government.
So no – this program is not acceptable, and it needs to be blown up.
But let’s not make Snowden out to be a hero until we see a lot more evidence he’s worthy of it. We might be in the rather unhappy circumstance of depending on the Chinese paying someone to save us from our government’s snooping with the benefit to them of getting to run roughshod over us electronically for the foreseeable future, with all the attendant dangers involved.
That doesn’t cut it.
The real question here is, how are we in the position where we’re hiring high school dropouts who don’t particularly tell the truth and who don’t seem to be particularly committed to the cause of national security to protect us against spies and terrorists? What kind of idiotic government is made up of people who think this is a smart idea?