Sunday, August 11, 2013

Snowden Is a Whistleblower -- Not a Traitor

This morning's reading list includes this timely contribution to the shitstorm precipitated by Edward Snowden's revelations. Some call him a traitor. Others use the word leaker. After reading this insightful piece by Jennifer Hoelzer, former aide to Oregon's Senator Ron Wyden, I am firmly in the "leaker" column. As Jay Rosen said, this is an "incredible story: For years Ron Wyden tried to inform us of what was up with the NSA. The Administration stopped him."

This video was downloaded to You Tube in 2011 at a time when the issues Edward Snowden brought to light were being enshrined in legislation with damn little in the way of debate. This twenty-minute speech by Sen. Wyden pointed to lots of political chickens now coming home to roost. 

And nobody calls him a traitor. 

Read Jennifer Hoelzer's article and see if you do not agree.
Fun aside: As you can see in the video, to underscore the point that hiding programs from the American people rarely goes well for the Administration, I had my staff make a poster of the famous image of Oliver North testifying before Congress during the Iran-Contra hearing. [The poster appears seven and a half minutes into the speech.]  I really wanted to replace North’s face with the words “insert your photo here,” but we didn't have the time.

Did President Obama welcome an open debate at that time?

No. Congress voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act for four more years and the only point we -- as critics -- could raise that might be confused with debate was a hypothetical argument illustrated with a twenty-year-old picture of Oliver North. And, again, Senator Wyden couldn't even tell me what he was so concerned about. In strategy meetings with me and his Intelligence Committee staffer, I had to repeatedly leave the room when the conversation strayed towards details they couldn't share with me because I no longer had an active security clearance. "You know, it would be a lot easier if you could just tell me what I can't say?" I'd vent in frustration. They agreed, but still asked me to leave the room.

And that was just the Patriot Act. Did the President -- who now claims to welcome open debate of his Administration's surveillance authorities -- jump at the opportunity to have such a debate when the FISA Amendments Act came up for reauthorization?

Not only did the Administration repeatedly decline Senator Wyden's request for a "ballpark figure" of the number of Americans whose information was being collected by the NSA last year, just a month after the Patriot Act reauthorization, the Senate Intelligence Committee attempted to quietly pass a four year reauthorization of the controversial surveillance law by spinning it as an effort to: "Synchronize the various sunset dates included in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to June 1, 2015;"
So, I guess if this was part of the Administration's plan to publicly debate the NSA's surveillance authorities, the plan was for the debate to take place in 2015?
There's more. Lots more.
Read the whole thing.

It may be worse than you think.
Here is a link to the dirty part.
The National Security Agency has a secret backdoor into its vast databases under a legal authority enabling it to search for US citizens'email and phone calls without a warrant, according to a top-secret document passed to the Guardian by Edward Snowden. 
The previously undisclosed rule change allows NSA operatives to hunt for individual Americans' communications using their name or other identifying information. Senator Ron Wyden told the Guardian that the law provides the NSA with a loophole potentially allowing "warrantless searches for the phone calls or emails of law-abiding Americans". 
The authority, approved in 2011, appears to contrast with repeated assurances from Barack Obama and senior intelligence officials to both Congress and the American public that the privacy of US citizens is protected from the NSA's dragnet surveillance programs. 
The intelligence data is being gathered under Section 702 of the of the Fisa Amendments Act (FAA), which gives the NSA authority to target without warrant the communications of foreign targets, who must be non-US citizens and outside the US at the point of collection. 
The communications of Americans in direct contact with foreign targets can also be collected without a warrant, and the intelligence agencies acknowledge that purely domestic communications can also be inadvertently swept into its databases. That process is known as "incidental collection" in surveillance parlance. 
But this is the first evidence that the NSA has permission to search those databases for specific US individuals' communications.

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