Call me naive, but for now -- provisionally, temporarily -- I'm going accept Snowden
at face value.
The fact that he worked (in the end) for a private contractor goes some ways toward explaining the discrepancy between the Prism documents and the disclaimer issued by Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and their allies. These companies all insisted that they never allowed the government to access their servers. But what if a private company is functioning as an NSA cut-out?
True, my provisional "trust Snowden" stance means revising a number of earlier theories (most of which I entertained privately without annoying you folks with them). Needless to say, I remain open to arguments from anyone who posits that Snowden is himself part of a snow job. After all, we're in Spooksville. Of course
it remains possible that we're being lied to, and that the person we think has acted out of conscience is really acting under orders.
Here's one reason to mistrust Snowden: His revelations never touched upon the Israeli angle. I linked to Michael Kelley's story
days ago -- and as far as I can tell, nobody else has followed up on it. The major media have given us Prism up the wazoo, yet we've heard nothing further about Unit 8200.
I'm also saddened that Snowden sought refuge in Hong Kong, for the reasons James Fallows gives in the Atlantic
But here is the reality. Hong Kong is not a sovereign country. It is part of China -- a country that by the libertarian standards Edward Snowden says he cares about is worse, not better, than the United States. China has even more surveillance of its citizens (it has gone very far toward ensuring that it knows the real identity of everyone using the internet); its press is thoroughly government-controlled; it has no legal theory of protection for free speech; and it doesn't even have national elections. Hong Kong lives a time-limited separate existence, under the "one country, two systems" principle, but in a pinch, it is part of China.
I'm particularly fascinated by the reaction of conservatives. Snowden is precisely the sort of person who -- if he had acted during the Bush years -- would have evinced blood-curdling cries throughout blogistan right. He'd be labeled a traitor. The Tea partiers would want him dead, dead, dead
. But Snowden has criticized not Bush but Obama
. And that -- you should pardon the expression -- is a horse of a different color.
Perhaps this story will finally take us beyond the endless game of shirts-vs-skins. Of all people, Peggy Noonan -- yes, Peggy freakin' Noonan
-- has written what we might call a post-partisan analysis
of the rise of the national security state. Yes, Saint Ronnie's most gushing fangirl has actually written something worth reading. In fact, large chunks of this piece are worth quoting
The thing political figures fear most is a terror event that will ruin their careers. The biggest thing they fear is that a bomb goes off and it can be traced to something they did or didn’t do, an action they did or didn’t support. They all fear being accused of not doing enough to keep the citizenry safe.
This is true of Republicans and Democrats. Their anxiety has no ideology.
Because of that primal political fear, there is a built-in bias within the U.S. government toward doing too much and not too little. There is a built-in bias toward using too much muscle, too much snooping, too much gathering of data. The bias is toward overreach. The era of metadata encourages all this: There’s always more information to be got.
Because of the built-in bias in the system—the bias to do too much, to go too far—the creation of an invasive American surveillance state is probably inevitable.
There is no way a government in the age of metadata, with the growing capacity to listen, trace, tap, track and read, will not eventually, and even in time systematically, use that power wrongly, maliciously, illegally and in areas for which the intelligence gathering was never intended. People are right to fear that the government’s surveillance power will be abused. It will be. There are many reasons for this, but the primary one is that humans are and will be in charge of it, and humans have shown throughout history a bit of a tendency to play every trick and bend and break laws.
Noonan goes on to engage in a few idiocies -- a jab at Clinton, a huzzah for Issa -- but even so, the text excerpted above contains much wisdom.
I'd go further. I'll strike a partisan note: Much of the blame goes to the right-wing crazy-making machine, which endlessly (and baselessly) labeled Obama a Muslim traitor. Everyone knows that if a major terror incident were to hit this country, one-third of the citizens would immediately decry Obama as the mastermind of the crime. The wackos would jump to that conclusion regardless of the facts of the case.
I can understand why a President routinely accused of such inanities would go to outrageous lengths to attain the label "Mr. Tough-on-Terror."
But in doing so, he has helped to create a dangerous set of tools. One day, those tools will be in the hands of someone else. That someone else could be a president I trust even less than I trust Obama.
So never mind Snowden, never mind his motives, never mind how we got here. Here we are
. That's the important point: We had slid into a foul situation, and now we've been given an opportunity to rectify it -- to change the national security state.
We need a movement. We need laws. We need a constitutional amendment. We need an ironclad right to privacy. We need to shut down that new NSA facility in Utah,
because we the people did not vote for it and we do not want it. We need to tell our lawmakers that filching and storing our private data is tantamount to "interception" -- i.e., eavesdropping.
We need to tell the NSA that our spies have no right to acquire any private email or telephone data from American citizens. We need to shout with one voice:
You want my email? Get a warrant!