Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Crumbling Case Against Snowden Cassidy reports: "The news headline from Thursday's live chat with Edward Snowden, on the Free Snowden Web site, was that he wants to come home - but he wants the laws changed first." NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. (photo: unknown) The Crumbling Case Against Snowden By John Cassidy, The New Yorker 24 January 14 The news headline from Thursday's live chat with Edward Snowden, on the Free Snowden Web site, was that he wants to come home-but he wants the laws changed first, presumably so he doesn't have to go to prison. Asked by Jake Tapper, of CNN, about the conditions under which he would return to the United States, Snowden said, Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself, but it's unfortunately not possible in the face of current whistle-blower-protection laws, which through a failure in law did not cover national security contractors like myself. The hundred-year old law under which I've been charged, which was never intended to be used against people working in the public interest, and forbids a public interest defense. This is especially frustrating, because it means there's no chance to have a fair trial, and no way I can come home and make my case to a jury. The really big news of the day, though, was that Snowden has been vindicated. Whether by coincidence or not, the live chat occurred shortly after it emerged that a federally chartered privacy watchdog had declared illegal one of the big N.S.A. domestic-spying programs that Snowden revealed-the Prism program, in which the agency routinely sweeps up hundreds of millions of telephone records. In a long report, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which Congress beefed up in 2007, said that the bulk collection of telephone metadata violated the statute that the Obama Administration has cited to justify it, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, and called for the program to be halted. The online conversation, in which Snowden typed answers to questions posed by reporters and others, covered a number of areas. Throughout it, the former contractor, who is living in Russia, referred to the new report to back up his points. Asked about President Obama's speech last week, in which he claimed that the N.S.A. hadn't abused the mass-surveillance programs, Snowden pointed to the watchdog's finding that there was no evidence that collecting phone records indiscriminately had identified or prevented a single terrorist plot. Snowden said, When even the federal government says the NSA violated the constitution at least 120 million times under a single program, but failed to discover even a single plot, it's time to end "bulk collection," which is a euphemism for mass surveillance. There is simply no justification for continuing an unconstitutional policy with a 0% success rate. And he also quoted directly from the new report: Cessation of the program would eliminate the privacy and civil liberties concerns associated with bulk collection without unduly hampering the government's efforts, while ensuring that any governmental requests for telephone calling records are tailored to the needs of specific investigations. It's hard to argue with that, although defenders of the N.S.A. would doubtless try. Under President Obama's proposals, the bulk data would continue to be collected and held by a third party that is yet to be determined, with the N.S.A. having to get approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to access it. Snowden was rightly dismissive of such reforms. He called the FISA court "a rubber-stamp authority that approves 99.97% of government requests." He went on, "Collecting phone and email records for every American is a waste of money, time and human resources that could be better spent pursuing those the government has reason to suspect are a serious threat." One questioner asked Snowden to identify the worst harm that the domestic-spying programs had caused. In an answer that is worth quoting at length, Snowden cited two: The first is the chilling effect, which is well-understood. Study after study has show that human behavior changes when we know we're being watched. Under observation, we act less free, which means we effectively *are* less free. The second, less understood but far more sinister effect of these classified programs, is that they effectively create "permanent records" of our daily activities, even in the absence of any wrongdoing on our part. This enables a capability called "retroactive investigation," where once you come to the government's attention, they've got a very complete record of your daily activity going back, under current law, often as far as five years. You might not remember where you went to dinner on June 12th 2009, but the government does. And, in answer to another question, he added, I think a person should be able to dial a number, make a purchase, send an SMS, write an email, or visit a website without having to think about what it's going to look like on their permanent record. Particularly when we now have courts, reports from the federal government, and even statements from Congress making it clear these programs haven't made us any more safe, we need to push back. Reading Snowden's well-formulated answers, it was easy to imagine why the Obama Administration, and the national-security apparatus, might prefer for him to stay in Russia, rather than have him come home and make his case on a more regular basis. Asked about whistle-blower-protection laws, which President Obama has said Snowden should have used rather than going public, Snowden said that if he had gone to Congress and revealed what he knew about classified programs he could have been charged with a felony. And he referred to the harsh treatment of Thomas Drake, the former N.S.A. whistle-blower whom my colleague Jane Mayer wrote about in 2011. Snowden said, Despite this, and despite the fact that I could not legally go to the official channels that direct NSA employees have available to them, I still made tremendous efforts to report these programs to co-workers, supervisors, and anyone with the proper clearance who would listen. The reactions of those I told about the scale of the constitutional violations ranged from deeply concerned to appalled, but no one was willing to risk their jobs, families, and possibly even freedom to go to through what Drake did. At the end of the live chat, Snowden once again defended his former colleagues. A questioner called @mperkel asked, "They say it's a balance of privacy and safety. I think spying makes us less safe. do you agree?" To which Snowden replied, Intelligence agencies do have a role to play, and the people at the working level at the NSA, CIA, or any other member of the IC are not out to get you. They're good people trying to do the right thing, and I can tell you from personal experience that they were worried about the same things I was. The people you need to watch out for are the unaccountable senior officials authorizing these unconstitutional programs, and unreliable mechanisms like the secret FISA court…They're the ones that get us into trouble with the Constitution by letting us go too far. Which, once again, was hard to argue with. © 2014 Reader Supported News Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to "The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

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