Look, short form:
Could we please have a different process and more kinds of people decide this great matter of national security than this guy:
(this was fake album cover art for a fake punk band Snowden dreamed up back in the day)
and these people (the Silicon Valley titans who met with Obama to make a deal as to what they will find acceptable in all this).
Photo by Pete Souza, The White House, December 17, 2013.
and this guy?
[picture of Glenn Greenwald in flip-flops and barking dogs and screaming monkeys in the trees if I had one]
There is a debate about clemency for Snowden, or what sort of punishmen is appropriate, and it's a sterile one, and one I think disingenuous.
It distracts from the real issues of why does Snowden get to decide reform, why do his journalist activists get to decide reform, and why Obama has to be rushed into reforming something that in fact may not need reforming -- and wasn't democratically decided.
I also don't think this very light and rushed "consultation" with these people such as the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee is cutting it either. Why the rush? Just in time for Obama's State-of-the-Union Address?
The RUSH to reform the agencies in the US -- unseemly, given that only six months have passed since Snowden's hack -- is one I am not in favour of.
I don't see that the NSA needs reform. Sorry, I will buck the tide here. That is, I don't see that it needs reform through these methods which I find suspect.
I think there are ten other things that have to be decided first, conceptually. They are:
1. Is Obama destroying the state? Obviously, you wouldn't want to do a delicate and hard thing like fix the NSA if that's what Barry is really up to. The elements of the state that make up national security -- the Department of Defense (Pentagon), the military, the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Attorney General's office, Homeland Security -- not to mention the NSA and CIA -- they all seem under terrible assault under Obama (see "Why is Our Military So Screwed Up?). I would submit in all clear seriousness not as a conspiracy theory that Obama is undermining all these bodies as institutions. Just by paying attention to everything from how Swartz's case undermined the justice system, not only Holder but liberal attorneys general; the cases of WikiLeaks, Snowden and Manning of course; Petraeus and all the rest; even things like failing to fill all the top posts at Homeland Security and now also making other controversial hires. Robert Gates new memoir seems to make something like this case.
I say it's not a conspiracy theory but a genuine investigation that has to be had. Obviously, there are all kinds of reasons why governments are undermined in our time -- the Internet, demographic booms of young people, the recession, global warming, bird flu -- whatever. I'm interested in examining closely what Obama is up to here.
I really think thoughtful journalists need to lay out a timeline of Obama's actions, starting from when he didn't do anything with the DoD and CIA and kept Bush's people at first -- as almost a feint and a dodge -- leading to the most methodical and destructive demolition of the armed forces I've seen since Stalin -- this is a post for another day.
So that's question number one. If we are not dealing with a sincere president but dealing with one who, for stealth socialist/ideological reasons, however sincere (and I don't think for a minute they are), then his "reform" efforts have to be looked at with a really weather eye.
2. Is a little commission of Obama's cronies, that is not good enough for Marcy Wheeler, nor me, even if for wildly different reasons, really the way you reform a giant, complex, wounded thing like the NSA, post-Snowden? I'm sorry, I don't think so. And yet, supposedly, that's our only process -- they rush out a really rather thin report, for all its length; Obama ponders it and rushes edicts? Why?
Reason: because when we reformed these agencies post-Clifford Case's revelations and all the rest in the COINTELPRO years, which, as the FBI itself admits, was opposd by Congress and the American people; we had CONGRESS do this. You know, those people we elected? I'm much, more more in favour of having them, through the democratic political process, do this. I don't care that you think Congress people aren't technical and don't understand the issues, that's bullshit, of course they do, Google has bought quite a few of them. They just don't always understand them your way. I don't care that you think Congress is irrelevant, or, as the Tor developer put it, "should go die in a fire" or should be "routed around" or is "broken". What geeks mean is that it is democratic in ways they don't like. I'm not for indulging their anarchic political monopoly here, I'd like to keep Congress as the pluralistic, representative thing it is, whatever it's flaws. I really don't think we can solve this with an app where only get to "like".
3. Should reform ever be undertaken by force? There are smug wags saying about the NSA, "Some people are born with openness, some acquire openness, and some have openness thrust upon them" and so we should just be grown-ups and proceed anyway. I disagree. I don't like the way any of this smells. It is not right. It is wrong.
I don't think Snowden "started a national conversation" and "raised important issues" because it was not done legitimately, openly and democratically -- liberally. It was done BY FORCE. By a handful of anarchist thugs and activist journalists with a huge beef with the US that in some cases just comes down to their personal sad childhoods without good fathers, and in other cases is very well organized subversion, maybe with some hostile help from Russia and others.
What kind of conversation is it, where we don't get to object? Where we can't say, hey, who are you, you haven't answered 100 questions about yourself and your flight to Moscow, who do you think you are?
Stealth socialists always talk about how so-and-so with his violent or anarchistm movment, in the SDS or Occupy, "started a national conversation" -- I've heard this phrase uttered in movement meetings for years. What they mean is that they presented forceful facts on the ground through coercion. When you try to change society that way, it doesn't work. There is resistance. And you yourself are thuggish and illegitimate.
4. We the people are not in charge of this process -- only a few anarchists and "progressive" politicians are. Snowden think's his mission is accomplished because he wanted to see if the American people would reform if he started this. Now he thinks they have. Why? Merely because he;
o started an international mass hysteria making everyone hate America and fear its intelligence operations
o got saturation media coverage by liberal and libertarians that pretty much define the media;
o got a few lefty Congress people like Ron Wyden to speak out and had a few hearings where the NSA people were grilled;
o got Obama to have this little crony commission to discuss things;
o produced two contradictory judicial decisions under duress from law-farers of the extreme left and extreme right.
Um, what? That's not the American people. That's just Jameel Jaffe, Glenn Greenwald, Cass Sunstein, Ron Wyden, some truthers and some bloggers. It's not me, and it's not even you even if you disagree with me. This is not a public process. It is not democratic. It doesn't have ownership.
There have only been a few hearings on this subject, one of which produced -- under duress -- this supposed "lie" of James Clapper. I definitely support the way the NSA has responded to this -- that it is not an intentional misleading -- and I don't believe it is a lie.
My point is that this is not enough. We need more hearings. We need things even on why Tor is developed and allowed to be used by criminals to the damage of US security. LOTS more hearings. Congressional commissions. Other panels of distinction that aren't this crazy thing Obama put together.
In my view, the best thing Gen. Alexander, Michael Hayden and these sorts of people could do is not disappear from view, but fight. Make a think tank. Make a Committee for the Clear and Present Danger. And put forth their knowledgeable views.
5. We have not achieved agreement on what should be put under surveillance. To hear Jacob Appelbaum, Snowden helper and Tor developer, we should not have any spies. Glenn Greenwald might tolerate one small spy shop in Jackson Hole, Wyoming that just makes sure incoming missiles don't land on American territory from North Korea. So we need to have a debate -- and that starts with a really full and frank awareness that Snowden's operation is not about civil liberties, but damaging relations with allies, as this list helpfully explains from Jim Geraghty.
6. We have not achieved agreement on what is metadata or whether collecting it violates privacy. Extreme civil libertarians -- civil rights activists aren't really what they should be called anymore -- think the government shouldn't be able to collect data, under law, and then task it when looking for suspects, under a set of rules. I think they should. I'm immune to scare tactics by Glenn Greenwald who says that if I think that, I should give him my email archive. Nonsense. The government doesn't read my email archive -- let alone dox it on Pastebin like Glenn's little script-kiddy friends would. There's no comparison. The MIT nerds trying to make people think that reading headers and making social graphs from them with their scare program is the same thing are also incorrect. The government doesn't make massive social graphs and mine them indiscriminately for no reason. They follow suspects. Our names are in the telephone book. Unfortunately, our addresses and phone numbers, whether we like it or not, are on Spokeo. And our metadata is at the NSA. Too bad. That''s life in the big city.
7. We need to decide what signals are. In the old days, when the NSA got started in 1975, a signal that they should track was just a thing coming from a Soviet submarine, an enemy radio communications, foreign broadcasting, stuff like that. SIGINT wasn't HUMINT because humans, by and large, didn't emit signals.
It wasn't your teenager's Snapchat on Android phones or your IMs on your iPhone the way it is now. We are all now producing signals; before only governments and various broadcasting entities and various combatants and such produced signals. Now each and every one of us is a little telegraph station, broadcasting our me-shows 24/7.
Lenin said that the first thing to do in any revolution is to overthrow the telegraph station. And that's what Snowden and Greenwald and their shadowy helpers have done -- overthrown a lot of us with fear and confusion and crazyness. We have to get a grip. We are all signalling. But the government is not picking it all up, and when it does, it's for good cause. Let's define this, please, and stop the madness.
8. Courts are currently divided on this for a variety of reasons -- the specifics of the cases; the left versus the right bringing the suit; the DC libertarian Republicans versus the Democratic Machine in NYC appointing the judges; the more physically devastating experience of 9/11 in New York versus Washington; lots of things. It is what it is. It will go to the Supreme Court. But it will not be decided there, any more than ObamaCare was really decided there. So again, this is too big to be only about any one branch of government, all must be involved.
9. Media must investigate Snowden and his helpers far more than they have. Loud-mouthed and guilt-tripping Glen Greenwald has made it seem to liberals that they can never ask questions about "the indoor cat" in Russia. Why not? He's demanding nothing less than a coercive, thuggish, undemocratic overthrow of our government's vital national security agencies. Why can't we be a little more curious about that, guys? Outside a few journalists like Fred Kaplan at Salon and Michael Kelley at Business Insider, and a few bloggers like frankly me and very eloquently Benjamin Wittes, there's nobody going against the tide. And of course also Craig Pirrong (could the bizarre hugely visible attack underway on him over his Wall Street consulting and his views by the New York Times be related to his principled and persistent critique of Snowden? When I see what has happened with Craig, I feel as if I get a glimpse of what could happen to me.)
What we need is more information about those calling for this undemocratic change precisely because it is undemocratic and was started by them for murky motives. We need more glasnost. We need time for more newspapers, more TV shows like 60 minutes (which got nothing but shit from the "progressives" despite their SATURATION pro-Snowden coverge DOMINATING every single broadcasting media for months on end -- disgraceful). We need more blogs, like this guy's:
So when I hear people arguing about The New York Times editorial stance on Edward Snowden, or read civic-minded freakouts about the National Security Agency violating the civil liberties of "ordinary Americans," I turn away in frustration.
Sure, we need to be concerned about the power we give to government. Duh. Glad we're finally having that conversation.
But the public media freakout over NSA data collection misses the primary point of those systems entirely: The NSA's email metadata campaign is designed to efficiently collect and then discard information. Not because the NSA is a civic-minded agency that wants to protect our theoretical privacy, but because your personal email isn't the target of the fucking machine. Your mundane metadata is the shit that NSA machine operators have to shovel in order to find covert organizations.
Simple and straightforward, isn't it? And we have to shut down metadata collection entirely on the strength of one or two progs in Congress, a few progs in the media, and a prog Obama crony commission? Instead? Really? Why? This is America!
10. We have to consult with allies. After all, not only the five-eyes program, but just the interconnected world at large requires that the US not proceed in isolation -- nor be spooked into action by scare headlines manufactured by dubious people.