Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Short Takes

Bradley Manning acquitted of aiding the enemy, convicted on 20 other charges.

Court rules no warrant needed to track cell phones.

President Obama offers a new “grand bargain” ahead of budget battle.

Six of 22 Miami-Dade libraries slated for closure to be saved.

Millions in farm subsidies go to dead people.

R.I.P. Eileen Brennan, 80, star of Broadway and film.

The Tigers beat the Nationals 5-1.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Havana Daydreaming

The chase for Edward Snowden is turning into a Marx Brothers movie.

NSA Leaker Edward Snowden was supposed to be on Aeroflot Flight 180 from Moscow to Havana. He wasn’t. But “dozens” of journalists are. It just took off. And there’s no booze service on board. Welcome to the Cuban Whistleblower Crisis.

Moscow to Havana is a 12-hour flight.  Plus, those journalists have to stay in Havana for a minimum of three days.  And it’s hot and humid there this time of year.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

No Hero

Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker on Edward Snowden:

What, one wonders, did Snowden think the N.S.A. did? Any marginally attentive citizen, much less N.S.A. employee or contractor, knows that the entire mission of the agency is to intercept electronic communications. Perhaps he thought that the N.S.A. operated only outside the United States; in that case, he hadn’t been paying very close attention. In any event, Snowden decided that he does not “want to live in a society” that intercepts private communications. His latter-day conversion is dubious.


Snowden fled to Hong Kong when he knew publication of his leaks was imminent. In his interview, he said he went there because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent.” This may be true, in some limited way, but the overriding fact is that Hong Kong is part of China, which is, as Snowden knows, a stalwart adversary of the United States in intelligence matters. (Evan Osnos has more on that.) Snowden is now at the mercy of the Chinese leaders who run Hong Kong. As a result, all of Snowden’s secrets may wind up in the hands of the Chinese government—which has no commitment at all to free speech or the right to political dissent. And that makes Snowden a hero?

The American government, and its democracy, are flawed institutions. But our system offers legal options to disgruntled government employees and contractors. They can take advantage of federal whistle-blower laws; they can bring their complaints to Congress; they can try to protest within the institutions where they work. But Snowden did none of this. Instead, in an act that speaks more to his ego than his conscience, he threw the secrets he knew up in the air—and trusted, somehow, that good would come of it. We all now have to hope that he’s right.

It is also a bit ironic that all of the recourses that Mr. Snowden had such as the federal whistleblower protections were put in place by the government after another such case of leakage: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers in 1971.  Why he felt he had to go to Glenn Greewald — whom I admire as an eloquent writer and advocate for civil liberties but not especially prone to nuance — is probably one of the more derpy aspects of the story.

Al Franken: “Nothing Surprises Me”

The junior senator from Minnesota calms us down.

“I’m on the Judiciary committee and the Judiciary committee has jurisdiction (over) N.S.A. and on (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) and the Patriot Act,” he said. “I availed myself of these briefings so nothing surprised me and the architecture of these programs I was very well aware of.”

Only over the last week, through disclosures in the media, have the American people have learned that the N.S.A. has gathered information from internet and cell phone servers.

Last week, as the first disclosures were coming out about the N.S.A.’s collection of phone data, Franken said that: “The American public can’t be kept in the dark about the basic architecture of the programs designed to protect them.”

On Monday, he said, “I think there should be enough transparency that the American people understand what is happening…But I can assure you that this isn’t about spying on the American people.”

Franken, chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, also said there are aspects of security programs that he should be aware of but the public should not.

“There are certain things that are appropriate for me to know that’s not appropriate for the bad guys to know,” he said. “Anything that quote the American people know, the bad guys know so there’s a line here, right? And there’s a balance that has to be struck between the responsibility of the federal government to protect the American people and then people’s right to privacy. We have safeguards in place …The American people can’t know everything because everything they know then, the bad guys will know.”

I don’t think Sen. Franken is asking us to “trust us” in the vein of certain administrations that have dealt with issues like this and said “Don’t worry your pretty little head about things we think you don’t have any business knowing about.  Nothing to see here; move along.”  His views are more an acknowledgement that yes, there are things the government does in secret that would be compromised if they were made public, and it’s always been that way.  People in Congress and the media who are shocked, shocked have not been paying attention.

I also don’t think he wants us to give up our natural healthy skepticism.  Trust is something that must be earned, and just because an institution has been in place for a long time doesn’t mean it is above scrutiny.  No one is saying that.  The focus, though, should be on the process, not on the shiny object or the gasping headlines.

Via Bob Cesca; HT to FC.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Whistleblower

Meet Edward Snowden, the former technical assistant at the C.I.A. who leaked the documents about the N.S.A. data gathering.

The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.

The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he said.

Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world’s most secretive organisations – the NSA.

In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”

Despite his determination to be publicly unveiled, he repeatedly insisted that he wants to avoid the media spotlight. “I don’t want public attention because I don’t want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing.”

He does not fear the consequences of going public, he said, only that doing so will distract attention from the issues raised by his disclosures. “I know the media likes to personalise political debates, and I know the government will demonise me.”

Despite these fears, he remained hopeful his outing will not divert attention from the substance of his disclosures. “I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in.” He added: “My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”

Not to cast judgment on Mr. Snowden’s motives or the aftermath of what he did — maybe he did do us a favor or not — but when someone says “It’s not about me” and does it in a front page article that reveals his name and tells the spy-thriller details of what he did, how he did it, and where he’s now holed up, it is all about him.

If he had wanted the story to stay focused on what the U.S. government was doing and who it was doing it to, he would have stayed out of the picture and let the debate and discussion remain on whether or not laws were broken in the process of gathering all the data.  Despite his attempts to peg the humble meter, it does sound like he has pretty much decided what the government can and cannot keep secret, and I’m pretty sure that’s his ego talking, not his sense of duty as a citizen.

Now, given the shiny new object of a name and a background, the story is about him, and CNN and the cable heads will all want to hear about his personal story.  They’ll track down his family, do stand-ups in his family’s driveway, poke through their garbage… basically to do to his friends and family — who had no choice in the matter — what he’s telling us the government has been doing to us.

Members of Congress now have a name and a face to put with the story, and many of them will now set out on a witch hunt for Edward Snowden instead of going after the real bad guys: the people who passed the laws in the first place that allowed the government to do exactly what they’re all incensed about what he showed they’re doing.