Restoring confidence

Restoring confidence

by digby

These are among the people we are supposed to believe will uphold their oath to the constitution and whom we are being asked to "trust" will not violate our civil liberties:
Edward Snowden has made some dangerous enemies. As the American intelligence community struggles to contain the public damage done by the former National Security Agency contractor’s revelations of mass domestic spying, intelligence operators have continued to seethe in very personal terms against the 30 year-old leaker.

“In a world where I would not be restricted from killing an American, I personally would go and kill him myself,” a current NSA analyst told BuzzFeed. “A lot of people share this sentiment.”

“I would love to put a bullet in his head,” one Pentagon official, a former special forces officer, said bluntly. “I do not take pleasure in taking another human beings life, having to do it in uniform, but he is single handedly the greatest traitor in American history.”

That violent hostility lies just beneath the surface of the domestic debate over NSA spying is still ongoing. Some members of Congress have hailed Snowden as a whistleblower, the New York Times has called for clemency, and pundits regularly defend his actions on Sunday talk shows. In intelligence community circles, Snowden is considered a nothing short of a traitor in wartime.

“His name is cursed every day over here,” a defense contractor told BuzzFeed, speaking from an overseas Intelligence collections base. “Most everyone I talk to says he needs to be tried and hung, forget the trial and just hang him.”

One Army intelligence officer even offered BuzzFeed a chillingly detailed fantasy.
“I think if we had the chance, we would end it very quickly,” he said. “Just casually walking on the streets of Moscow, coming back from buying his groceries. Going back to his flat and he is casually poked by a passerby. He thinks nothing of it at the time starts to feel a little woozy and thinks it’s a parasite from the local water. He goes home very innocently and next thing you know he dies in the shower.”
Ok, so it's just a few bad apples who think in these terms. All the others surely believe that the worst thing that should happen to Snowden is that he is held liable by the Justice System, as the constitution they swore to uphold, requires.

Well ...
There is no indication that the United States has sought to take vengeance on Snowden, who is living in an undisclosed location in Russia without visible security measures, according to a recent Washington Post interview. And the intelligence operators who spoke to BuzzFeed on the condition of anonymity did not say they expected anyone to act on their desire for revenge. But their mood is widespread, people who regularly work with the intelligence community said.
That's nice that they don't expect anyone to act on their revenge fantasies.

Kevin Drum nicely organized the president's proposed "reforms" in his big speech today:

  1. The Director of National Intelligence will conduct an annual review of FISA court opinions with the aim of declassifying opinions that have "broad privacy concerns."Obama will ask Congress to create a "panel of advocates" that will represent the public's privacy interests in FISA cases.
  2. New restrictions will be placed on the use of "incidental" collection of surveillance of US persons in criminal cases.
  3. National Security Letters will remain secret, but secrecy won't be indefinite unless the government demonstrates a "real need" to a judge. Companies receiving NSLs will be allowed to release broad reports about the number of requests they get.
  4. Bulk telephone records will continue to be collected. However, in the future the database can be queried only after getting FISA approval. The NSA will be allowed to perform only 2-hop chaining rather than the current 3-hop standard. A new group will investigate alternative approaches to the government itself holding the telephone database.
  5. Within some unspecified limits, there will be no more bugging of foreign leaders.

As Kevin says, "pretty weak tea." In fact, the speech seemed more designed to placate the intelligence agencies than anything else. (Comparing the radical revolutionary Paul Revere to the NSA is especially rich.) He normalized the concept of "bulk collection", pretty much telling us that it's here to stay and we may as well get used to the idea that if we become targets of the government, there will exist a file on our movements and communications going back years with which to build cases against us.  Best be good boys and girls and don't do anything that might be suspicious. (High tech panopticon ....)

On the other side of the coin, the president acknowledged that the US has at least come responsibility to observe basic privacy rights for humans that aren't Americans and aren't VIPs. This is a step in the right direction.  I've been gobsmacked in recent days by elite opinion that basically says, "fuck a bunch of foreigners. We can do whatever we want to 'em." So, while this is a fairly tepid policy move,  it may be an important rhetorical one.  The idea that everyone in the world is subject to American intrusion is unlikely to make America any friends.  And we do need at least few friends.

Finally, the president and others' insistence that Snowden is a traitor while simultaneously patting themselves on the back for reforming, changing, investigating, extolling and criticizing the secret surveillance state based entirely on his revelations is now beyond fatuous.  There was no mechanism in place aside from the one he chose, obviously, and it's exactly the reason we have freedom of the press in this country in the first place. It is time for these powerful government officials to grow up and recognize that the mere fact that they are making changes proves that he is a whistleblower and at least allow him to obtain long term legal asylum in a foreign country. We are strong enough to allow our faults to be exposed without persecuting those who expose them. In fact, doing that is downright unAmerican.