Extortion and the NSA

When Edward Snowden’s leaked material began appearing in June 2013, people in the U.S. were very quickly inclined to view Snowden as a hero, rather than as a traitor.[1] And one might think that a reason to enable presidents to pardon people suspected or convicted of criminal conduct is to temper a judicial process driven much more by law than by justice. Accordingly, both the New York Times and the Guardian, which have run a number of stories based on the leaks, have called for just that: a presidential pardon.[2]

For me, there is no question. Snowden is a hero who should not even be facing charges, let alone be needing a pardon. In my brief training as a systems administrator, I learned to place a very high value on on-line privacy, and to respect that privacy. To me, this is not only a right guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution[3] and under international human rights law,[4] but an absolute ethical duty which explicitly supersedes property rights even on corporate-owned networks and systems.

Others see it differently. It’s not just folks like California Senator Diane Feinstein and Michigan Representative Mike Rogers, both of whom have staunchly insisted that the NSA programs are necessary and legal in the fight against “terror,” even as they—along with all other defenders—have utterly failed to supply specific evidence that the they are effective[5]:

“One Silicon Valley person I spoke to on the question of whistle-blower versus traitor, his estimate was over 90 percent of the people in his company would say whistle-blower,” said Mr. [Peter] Swire, a professor at Georgia Tech. “And I don’t think I’ve met a person in the intelligence community who would say whistle-blower. This is one of the biggest left coast-right coast splits we’ve seen.”[6]

What if, however, the NSA’s supporters are driven by motives other than national security?

“One of the reasons intelligence services survive and get so much money is that politicians have an uncomfortable feeling that the services know something about them,” [Privacy campaigner and Cambridge University’s Head of Cryptography Professor Ross J.] Anderson says. “Sometimes this is true, sometimes this is merely hinted at being true.” He points to J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI over six presidencies, and served under eight, as an example. ”Nobody dared to challenge Hoover, not even Kennedy, Johnson, or Nixon,” Anderson says.[7]

This shifts the question. Does the U.S. national security establishment have “dirt” on people like Diane Feinstein? Does a form of extortion explain her views? We may not learn the answer to this question for decades, but responding to a question from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the NSA says only that Congress is subject to the same protections as U.S. citizens,[8] which is hardly reassuring.

  1. [1]Andy Sullivan, “More Americans see man who leaked NSA secrets as ‘patriot’ than traitor: Poll,” Reuters, June 12, 2013, http://preview.reuters.com/2013/6/12/more-americans-see-man-who-leaked-nsa-secrets-as
  2. [2]Guardian, “Snowden affair: the case for a pardon,” January 1, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/01/snowden-affair-case-for-pardon-editorial; New York Times, “Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower,” January 1, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/02/opinion/edward-snowden-whistle-blower.html
  3. [3]Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965); U.S. Const. amend. IV.
  4. [4]International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, December 16, 1966, United Nations, 999 U.N.T.S. 171.
  5. [5]Spencer Ackerman, “James Clapper: Obama stands by intelligence chief as criticism mounts,” Guardian, June 12, 2013, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/12/james-clapper-intelligence-chief-criticism; Spencer Ackerman and Dan Roberts, “NSA faces sweeping surveillance review as intelligence chiefs face hostile House,” Guardian, October 29, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/29/nsa-surveillance-review-intelligence-chiefs-testify; Agence France-Presse and Reuters, “US spying ‘reached too far’, Kerry concedes, as new surveillance laws approved,” South China Morning Post, November 1, 2013, http://www.scmp.com/news/world/article/1345199/us-spying-reached-too-far-kerry-concedes-new-surveillance-laws-approved; Alexander Bolton, “Senators: NSA phone sweeping has been going on since 2007,” Hill, June 6, 2013, http://thehill.com/homenews/news/303891-senators-nsa-phone-sweeping-has-been-going-on-since-2007; Philip Bump, “The Trickle of NSA Revelations Now Includes Intentional Privacy Violations,” Atlantic Wire, August 23, 2013, http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2013/08/trickle-nsa-revelations-now-includes-intentional-privacy-violations/68672/; Philip Ewing, “Edward Snowden’s nightmare comes true,” Politico, July 5, 2013, http://www.politico.com/story/2013/07/edward-snowden-nsa-93742.html; Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, “NYC bomb plot details settle little in NSA debate,” Associated Press, June 11, 2013, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/nyc-bomb-plot-details-settle-little-nsa-debate; Greg Gordon, “Hints surface that NSA building massive, pervasive surveillance capability,” McClatchy, July 2, 2013, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/07/02/195606/hints-surface-that-nsa-building.html; Siobhan Gorman, “NSA Officers Spy on Love Interests,” Wall Street Journal, August 23, 2013, http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2013/08/23/nsa-officers-sometimes-spy-on-love-interests/; John Fund, “Time for Answers from the NSA,” National Review, August 19, 2013, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/356098/time-answers-nsa-john-fund; Guardian, “Edward Snowden Q&A: Dick Cheney traitor charge is ‘the highest honor’,” June 17, 2013, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/17/edward-snowden-nsa-files-whistleblower; John Hudson and Shane Harris, “Dianne Feinstein Is Still a Friend of the NSA After All,” Foreign Policy, October 31, 2013, http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/10/31/diane_feinstein_is_still_a_friend_of_the_nsa_after_all; Paul Lewis and Dan Roberts, “US intelligence chiefs urge Congress to preserve surveillance programs,” Guardian, September 26, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/26/nsa-surveillance-senate-committee; David Lightman, “Congress grills NSA chief Keith Alexander about spying,” McClatchy, June 12, 2013, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/06/12/193759/congress-grills-nsa-chief-keith.html; Mike Masnick, “Even The AP Is Calling Bull On Government Claims Of PRISM Helping Stop NYC Subway Bomb,” TechDirt, June 12, 2013, http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130611/17450923413/even-ap-is-calling-bull-government-claims-prism-helping-stop-nyc-subway-bomb.shtml; Rainey Reitman, “54 Civil Liberties and Public Interest Organizations Oppose the FISA Improvements Act,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, December 18, 2013, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/12/54-civil-liberties-and-public-interest-organizations-oppose-fisa-improvements-act; Dan Roberts and Jemima Kiss, “NSA surveillance: tech companies demand sweeping changes to US laws,” Guardian, December 9, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/09/nsa-surveillance-tech-companies-demand-sweeping-changes-to-us-laws; Dan Roberts, Ewen MacAskill, and James Ball, “NSA snooping: Obama under pressure as senator denounces ‘act of treason’,” Guardian, June 10, 2013, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/10/obama-pressured-explain-nsa-surveillance; Eugene Robinson, “Demand your privacy,” Washington Post, December 16, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/eugene-robinson-demand-the-return-of-your-privacy-from-the-nsa/2013/12/16/48f450f4-6678-11e3-a0b9-249bbb34602c_story.html; Brendan Sasso, “Pressure builds on Boehner for NSA vote,” Hill, November 30, 2013, http://thehill.com/blogs/hillicon-valley/technology/191536-boehner-under-pressure-on-nsa-reforms; Charlie Savage, “U.S. Outlines N.S.A.’s Culling of Data for All Domestic Calls,” New York Times, July 31, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/01/us/nsa-surveillance.html; Charlie Savage, “N.S.A. Calls Violations of Privacy ‘Minuscule’,” New York Times, August 16, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/17/us/nsa-calls-violations-of-privacy-minuscule.html; Charlie Savage, “Senators Push to Preserve N.S.A. Phone Surveillance,” New York Times, September 26, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/27/us/politics/senators-push-to-preserve-nsa-phone-surveillance.html; Robert Scheer, “These Lawmakers Have a Plan to Reign in NSA Spying,” Nation, November 19, 2013, http://www.thenation.com/article/177248/these-lawmakers-have-plan-reign-nsa-spying; Chris Strohm, “Lawmakers Probing Intentional Abuses of Power by NSA Analysts,” Bloomberg, August 23, 2013, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-08-23/nsa-analysts-intentionally-abused-spying-powers-multiple-times.html; Jonathan Turley, “Perjury By Permission: Clapper Apologizes For False Testimony And The Congress Remains Silent,” July 3, 2013, http://jonathanturley.org/2013/07/03/perjury-by-permission-clapper-apologizes-for-false-testimony-and-the-congress-remains-silent/; Jonathan Turley, “Change The Narrative: Clapper Returns To The Senate And Is Joined By Senators In Denouncing The Media and Snowden,” September 27, 2013, http://jonathanturley.org/2013/09/27/clapper-returns-to-the-senate-and-is-joined-by-senators-in-denouncing-the-media-and-snowden/; Ali Watkins and Jonathan S. Landay, “Documents show NSA violated court orders on collection of phone records,” McClatchy, July 31, 2013, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/07/31/198229/documents-show-nsa-violated-court.html; Rachel Weiner, “Mark Udall: I tried to expose NSA program,” Washington Post, June 6, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/post/mark-udall-i-tried-to-expose-nsa-spying/2013/06/06/6e567a52-cee8-11e2-8573-3baeea6a2647_blog.html; Micah Zenko, “Shouting ‘9/11’ in a Crowded Internet,” Foreign Policy, November 5, 2013, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/11/05/shouting_911_in_a_crowded_internet
  6. [6]Peter Baker, “Moves to Curb Spying Help Drive the Clemency Argument for Snowden,” New York Times, January 4, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/05/us/moves-to-curb-spying-help-drive-the-clemency-argument-for-snowden.html
  7. [7]Tamlin Magee, “Cambridge’s Head of Cryptography: I Would Abolish MI5,” Forbes, January 3, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/sites/tamlinmagee/2014/01/03/cambridges-head-of-cryptography-i-would-abolish-mi5/
  8. [8]Conor Finnegan, “NSA won’t say whether it spies on Congress,” CNN, January 5, 2014, http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2014/01/04/nsa-wont-say-whether-it-spies-on-congress/; Jonathan Turley, “NSA Refuses To Confirm That It Has Not Spied On Congress While Secret Court Renews Massive Surveillance Program,” January 6, 2014, http://jonathanturley.org/2014/01/06/nsa-refuses-to-assure-senator-that-it-has-not-spied-on-congress-while-secret-court-renews-massive-surveillance-program/

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