Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Superb vintage, this wine...

Following on the theme of, is Edward Snowden a traitor or a hero --

Chris Hedges published his introductory statement to a debate on that subject at Oxford University (which his side won, against a team of former US intelligence officials and pundits). It's brief and worth a read.

Snowden had access to the full roster of everyone working at the NSA. He could have made public the entire intelligence community and undercover assets worldwide. He could have exposed the locations of every clandestine station and their missions. He could have shut down the surveillance system, as he has said, “in an afternoon.” But this was never his intention. He wanted only to halt the wholesale surveillance, which until he documented it was being carried out without our consent or knowledge.

Worth remembering, if Snowden had really wanted to damage the US, he could easily have done an helluvalot more to damage us than he actually did. How do we know he didn't? Well, apart from Snowden and Greenwald's assurances, it's been almost 2 years since the date his documents were downloaded... the NSA has started to compile a list of what he took... do you think anybody would sit on that information for 2 years, and we wouldn't hear about the sudden checkmating of all our strategic operations, or else the ransom they wanted in exchange?
When I assert that Manning and Snowden have done no damage worth speaking of (compared to the value of their revelations), opponents tend to fall back on "Well they broke their oath to keep these things secure, that makes them traitors." Yet every elected official swears an oath to uphold the Constitution, including the 4th Amendment, howcome you're not calling them the oathbreakers? Manning and Snowden simply felt their oaths required them to reveal this stuff, while President Obama and security officials all the way down, felt their oaths permitted them to violate the plain intent of the 4th Amendment, and keep it all hushed up. Breaking an oath is not so clear-cut an issue as conservatives would like to believe.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Fourth Estate, now a broken home

Yet another reason we can't just sit around, read these NSA revelations, and say "Oh well, of course the government's going to spy on everybody, whatchoogonnadooo..."

NSA actions pose 'direct threat to journalism,' leading watchdog warns

The government has never before had the ability to unmask every confidential reporter/source connection as a blanket rule. Whether or not this was the case when they requisitioned the Associated Press records recently -- the "4th Estate" (the Press) in the US is no longer free or independent, if the government can simply Hoover up all a reporter's connections passively... along with all the rest of the citizens. What this means is an end to whistleblowing. Who will want or be able to disclose legitimate cases of government abuses, if they know their disclosure can be traced?

Even if you happen to believe that people like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden really are traitors -- despite how I've shown that the "harm" they did to national security is nonexistent -- even if you believe that anyway, then surely you can see how this policy quashes future dissent and legitimate internal reform.

We already know that the Obama Administration, despite sympathetic rhetoric, has been more hostile to whistleblowers than any previous American Presidential administration. So what happens when some other Administration, one that we trust less than Obama, gets into power?

Yes, yes, on January 17, Obama gave an address where he called for the NSA to relinquish control over the phone portion of the nation's data. (Not to stop collecting it, mind you, but to relinquish direct control.) As Ted Rall says, this is too little, too late. Obama proposes that the NSA hand over control to access of this data, back to the FISA court. You know, the rubberstamp court, that meets in secret, the one which has rejected 11 government requests for your data -- out of roughly 34,000-- since 1979, and none within the past three years.

It is a key facet of the definition of totalitarianism, when the State seeks to prevent anyone from going outside the system to expose abuses. That's the "total" in Totalitarianism. And that's the difference between a sane, democratic country's security policy, and ours. Innocent until proven guilty. You only launch an investigation in response to a specific crime or harm. You don't just Hoover up all communications in the hope that somewhere, somehow in that big pile, you can find something interesting. The latter is paranoia, and totalitarianism. The latter is the first concrete, tangible step towards subjugating all citizens, and treating them as a national resource to be controlled and managed, rather than free independent people.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Fighting Back against Surveillance

This site's been silent for too many months, due to apparent lack of an audience. But as I predicted many months ago, this issue will not simply evaporate and be forgotten. It affects everyone, it impacts almost everything we do in this digital age. This issue isn't going to go away. So today, somebody-or-other has called a "Day of Resistance" against electronic surveillance. I might as well join the festivities, since I've been working on this issue for the better part of a year.

Conversely, in another example of fighting back against surveillance, let's consider the actions of the people that the surveillance is supposed to catch.

I heard the well-worn canard just a couple of days ago: "Edward Snowden ought to be shot, because he revealed our tactics to our enemies. That's treason, and that's a capital offense."

Guess what, my friend, everybody else -- most especially including our enemies -- already knew about our tactics, besides apparently you. The people whom these tactics are used against, figure them out pretty quick.