Glenn Greenwald appears on the big screen via Skype. He says he can't come back to the US for fear of "persecution". A letter sent by a congressman to Eric Holder inquiring whether he would be arrested if he returned didn't get the answer he wanted. (C) Photo by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Last night I went to the program "They're Watching Us: So What" at Fordham University Law School's Center for National Security -- which is an activist bunch working for the insecurity of an American government they loathe, and empowerment of bands of anarchists who advocate absolute encryption of themselves without accountability or accessibility of law enforcement.
If they think they are not those things, and not working for those things, they aren't paying attention.
There weren't any practicing lawyers on the speaker's platform however, and there was no legal analysis -- nor any real case actually made -- during the entire evening.
It was appalling.
It was also boring.
I've been following this topic so closely that when I hear these speakers already very familiar to me in all their permutations go through very simplistic arguments that they think they need to descend to for large audiences like these, it really gets dull and frustrating.
I'll be honest -- I even fell asleep almost during James Bamford's talk.
Not only were they simplistic, they were old. At least the kids like Trevor Trimm and Chris Soghoian have a little more life to them when they speak. Bamford is 67; Schneier is 50; Ariel Dorfperson, as we used to call him affectionately in the 1980s, is 71. These are old guys, reliving their battles of the 1960s and 1980s. I suspect the panel was convened in haste. It was co-sponsored by PEN Club, and I suspect PEN was put under pressure from members to take this on.
A very, very thin and superficial survey was put out by PEN opportunistically to fit with the headlines, commissioned by some firm that probably got a big fee, that canvassed the subjective feelings of PEN members. They "felt" they were under surveillance and they "thought" this chilled them, but not any evidence of anything but hysteria and "hate the Man" sort of 1960s antagonism was evident anywhere. It was embarassing.
The title of the panel was "They're Watching Us: So What?" But the "so what" part was left to the bored students in the audience, not the panelists who never engaged with this critique with anything remotely like intellectual honesty. I find it especially appalling when universities have evenings like this that are so horridly politicized and biased -- ending, of all things, with a black activist woman getting up and demanding that Obama be impeached because of Snowden's revelations about the NSA -- which about half the audience wildly applauded. I think even the lefty radical organizers were made a bit uncomfortable by this rabble-rousing.
Most of the people in the audience in fact were old like the speakers. They were hipsters, hippies, old professors, old Upper West Side socialists who have been around for ages. To be sure, there were actual young students, but they were only there with "continuous partial attention" as it is called. One man next to me was studying his history class notes, of all things, about the Soviet Army. The girl to the other side seemed to be taking notes on the talk but not really, checking her email or Facebook or whatever. Others were glued to their phones or i-Pads doing other things.
Suzanne Nossel, who is now director of PEN Club, chaired the meeting. And I was quite disappointed in her own lack of intellectual rigour on this subject. She is a former Obama Administration official who worked on international organizations and human rights, and was particularly active on the 16/18 resolution, for example, which was an effort by the Obama Administration to capitalize on the liberalization of the Arab Spring and work with former antagonist Egypt. They came up with a resolution about hatred and racism that would NOT constitiute a global blasphemy law or accept the discredited notion of "defamation of religion," which is what the Organization for Islamic Community wanted out of it. (BTW, it's funny to see Lee Stranahan tackling this with such vigour now as the root cause of Benghazi -- I appreciate his effort to get to the bottom of the story, but he's gotten it wrong, because it was delivered to him in a tendentious context -- it's actually failure to apply the language and formulations of 16/18 by the US Embassy in Cairo over the hate video that created the problems -- the resolution in fact is based on US Supreme Court language about "incitement of imminent violence" precisely so that general criticism of theocratic states is not something that is then declared as "defamation of religion".)
For personal reasons, Nossel, famous for writing a book about American "smart power" and even credited with coining the term, which is an outgrowth of the term "soft power", left Obamaland after the first Obama term. She then went to serve as Amnesty International's executive director at a time when the organization was suffering hugely from a devastating loss of contributions and frankly the fallout from Amnesty headquarters completely losing its way in the post 9/11 wilderness and taking up defense of jihad.
Nossel was supposed to get it back on track with donors and the public, and might have done so, had she not fallen victim to a very vicious and concerted claque of people who tried to smear her as somehow sanctioning drones and other dubious acts of the Obama Administration, even though she had nothing to do with those programs and was strictly in the human rights efforts of diplomacy. That may be no excuse for some, but it is an important distinction and she herself is a "progressive" that the hard left seems to take particularly delight in pushing and destroying. It didn't help that she is Jewish, and was accused unfairly of over-protectiveness of Israel which also wasn't the case (and saying so is a form of antisemitism, quite frankly) -- she was simply for not singling Israel out unfairly at the UN, where alone among nations it has its own agenda item at the Human Rights Council where countries like Russia or China or Iran or Sudan or Pakistan, which have killed many times more insurgents as well as innocents, are left to hold sway with impunity.
While NGOs surely appreciated her role at State in an Administration where the President does not have a single human rights bone in his body, Nossel was not popular at AI for having to cut staff and make other austerity measures needed at Amnesty, which is still far from fixed -- and she was hounded out of the organization, something I find absolutely disgraceful of Amnesty and its board. Former government officials may not make the best NGO leaders (and it works the other way, too, you know), but the board knew that going in, and shouldn't have hired her in the first place if the had problems with "I have a drone" Obama and her associations.
I don't know if weathering that sectarianism and viciousness at Amnesty -- entire hate pages were posted about poor Nossel by rabid idiots -- made her quick to jump and respond with the politically-correct program around Snowden just as soon as a few lefty and radical PEN members began to bark. I suspect that may have been how it happened, but I don't know. I think it's probably more likely that in her "progressiveness," she thinks Snowden is right. Working at the US Embassy in Geneva during the Human Rights Council sessions, maybe she even knew Snowden or heard of him, as he used to work there.
In any event, she's totally drunk the Greenwald Kool-aid, and it's a sad sight. Other members of PEN should complain about this one-sided approach by their fellow members, so that the director does not feel whipsawed by a few loudmouths. There are no findings. There are no cases, as I'm always saying; machine reading of meta data is not an intrusion in privacy and not the compilation of a dossier.
Glenn Greenwald was beamed in on a screen via Skype to wild applause and cheers -- Skype, which was said to be full of security holes and backdoors long before Microsoft, but he just had to knock Microsoft, taking a star turn to dis The Man in Big It. There he hung in the air, like the old 1984 Apple ad about Big Brother, and he himself realized that's exactly how he looked, and called himself Little Big Brother-- at least Cory Doctorow, another insufferable ass, has a little more humility and calls himself Little Brother.
Greenwald made the worst, most lame argument that the crypto kids always make -- I've heard it a hundred times on Twitter. He took up the argument that frankly probably reflected the thoughts of some of the students in the hall who didn't clap wildly for him or anybody ("battle of who could care less"). If they weren't doing anything wrong, if they were just a little guy, why should they care if the government saw their email out of a gadzillion numbers of files?
"Hey," he said in his usual snotty tone. "If you feel that way, give me all your passwords to all your accounts and I'll be sure to mine them for something that will compromise you and publish it."
Except...the governent doesn't do that.
If the government scans my email by some fluke -- perhaps I'm six hops away from a terrorist or a spy -- it doesn't delve into the content unless it has a warrant or it feels that the case is serious enough to fit under FISA rules of warrantless surveillance.
And even if it does scan my mail, it does not publish it.
It doesn't try to smear and embarass me as Glenn promises to do with anybody who thinks government surveillance isn't a big deal, and is willing to give him their password.
I really wish more people would stand up to him when he makes that utterly dishonest argument.
In fact, there isn't a single case brought to light by Greenwald from Snowden's material publicizing anybody's private communications. There isn't a case where the government publicized something they purloined from email to embarass or silence someone. No one can show that, at all. This is not COINTELPRO as I've said a hundred times. (Read my timeline for an interminable debate on this very subject with a rather dense individual named Andy Downs who has a major grievance with the FBI -- an agent shot dead his father, a pilot, when he was trying to rescue hostages who had forced his father to fly a small plane. From this case of 40 years ago, which isn't anything like a COINTELPRO case but is just his own case of excessive force/ failure to follow procedures -- a case he doesn't seem to have -- Downs tries to claim that there are concrete cases now of the NSA watching people and harming them. It's truly sad, but it's typical of the emotional blackmail we constantly face on this topic by people with agendas trying to tie them to the NSA.)
It's really terrible watching the feeble minds -- and the conniving manipulators like Greenwald -- going through these really flawed and lame arguments that smart professors at a place like Fordham should be decimating. Very worrisome. The "give me your password and I'll publish all your stuff if you don't think it matters" is especially manipulative yet stupid because the government doesn't publish what it sees -- or "sees" only in a mechanical sense.
Manipulators like Greenwald try to capture the predictably emotional reaction people would have at the thought of "the world" seeing their private communications, and tries to exploit that to bring them around to taking an antagonistic position about meta-data dredging. But meta-data dredging doesn't involve naming and shaming you in public; it doesn't even involve human eyes looking at your mail; chances are your mail isn't even involved if you aren't in fact related in some way to foreign spies or terrorists, even distantly.
Greenwald is intellectually dishonest and in fact committing malpractice as a journalist if not a lawyer when he makes this hugely contrived argument. More people have to say what I've been saying to him: OK, Glenn, bring it. I'll give you my passwords, but here's the thing. You have to do exactly what the government does, then. As you've reported that it does! You have to NOT PUBLISH IT. After all, we don't know the CONTENT of Merkel's phone, do we? And you may store it and mine it -- but only with key words or numbers drawn from terrorists and other criminal suspects.
What the government does NOT do -- you haven't proven that it has -- is mine our stuff, pick out things to harass and humiliate us,and then publish them.
That's what Jeremy Hammond does, and that's why he has 10 years in prison.
I really worry that we are dealing with mass hysteria here, where even very smart people who have done decent work like Suzanne Nossel are captured by this contrived bullshit. It's terribly wrong.
The Crypto Gramps at Fordham. (C) Photo by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Ariel Dorfman, an old lefty from the past who survived Pinochet, gave a moving and stark depiction of life in Chile when people had REAL concerns about government surveillance insead of the yuppie ones that Americans have now. He showed scenes of prisons with wires used to spy on people and described all the chilling effect it had on the soul and the literal relationships of life. To his credit, although he is an old socialist antagonist of capitalist US government for ages, Dorfman didn't make fatuous comparisons between a real society of oppression like Pinochet's Chile, at least for communists and socialists, and the United States today. He's too decent for that.
Arial Dorfman speaks of secret police wires installed in prisons to spy on people. (C) Photo by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Less so everybody around him on the panel, and in the audience. That's the problem. His job was to provide the "Global South" contingent to this lily-white panel of North Americans, and he did the job admirably.
You can watch the video linked above, but meanwhile, let me note how awful Schneier is. I'm a long-time critic, and he, like so many of these cryptos, was indeed worse in real life than on the Internet.