A few thoughts on Snowden, Greenwald, and the NSA

 
Cross posted on The Obama Diary.

Unless you’ve been under a rock (and more on that later), the “high-information” portion of our Republic has been treated to days of OHMYGODTHENSAISSPYINGONMYGOATPORN.

The current hero of the “left” “libertarians” is Edward Snowden, leaker of NSA collection of phone records and Internet traffic, with an able assist from his glibertarian guru Glenn Greenwald. For all of an hour, the hashtag #IStandWithEricSnowden trended on Twitter on Sunday, after he revealed himself as the freedom-loving mole in the heart of the Big Brother Beast.

Let me pause for a moment to share with you a quote from one of the best novels of recent years, World War Z. Yes, it’s a zombie novel, but it also serves as a commentary on modern day politics.
When you think of the CIA, you probably imagine two of our more enduring and popular myths. The first is that our mission is to search the globe for any conceivable threat to the United States, and the second is to believe that we have the power to perform the first.

…We can’t just spread ourselves thin looking for, and hoping to stumble on, new and possible dangers. Instead, we’ve always had to  identify and focus on those that are already clear and present.
Replace “CIA” with “NSA” and you have a picture of where we are now.

The idea that the NSA is the harbinger of Big Brother is nothing new. Back in the 1990s “Echelon” was the big fear, where NSA was collecting telephone traffic from across the world. Somehow, that didn’t seem to stop the events of 9/11.

This is the dirty secret that the Greenwalds of the world want you to forget: for all of our faults, the US is still a democratic republic. Any programs run by our intelligence agencies are both vetted and approved by elected officials—meaning Congress. In fact, members of the opposition party have either remained curiously silent, or have come out in defense of these programs. Aside form the Tea Party rump, no one in a position of authority has lauded Greenwald and Snowden as exposing a dastardly Obama overreach. They have almost uniformly condemned them as, at best, deluded, and at worst as traitors.

Of course, these revelations are not a result of a desire to “expose the truth”. As many outlets have reported, the particulars of both the phone record and internet traffic data collection are far less frightening than Greenwald and his acolytes would like you to believe. The phone records collected are stored in a database which can only be accessed with a court order. And PRISM isn’t keeping track of what movies you download or what color of paint you order on lowes.com. As this article in USA Today explains:
The tech companies have said they obeyed the law of the land while participating in the PRISM program. The specific data requests, as well as the data transfers, were blessed by a federal judge and vetted by corporate attorneys.
There was no mass hoovering of internet data, but specific data requests for specific targets. Now, we can argue whether we want, as a nation, for this to go on. But the fact is that under the authorities granted to the Presidency by the Patriot Act and FISA laws, this collection of data—under a court order—is perfectly legal. And if your argument is that it can be abused, well, yes, it can; which is what had happened under the Bush administration, which was conducting surveillance without warrants. That regime was stopped by a real whistleblower, not by a leaker like Snowden who not only released details about the NSA’s data mining, but also a presidential memo detailing authorization to conduct cyber attacks against threats, which doesn’t promote transparency but merely exposes sensitive national security operations.

Those most up in arms see any surveillance as anathema, which begs the question: how would they confront the threats facing the country in a digital age? The reason that Osama bin Laden stopped using satellite phones is because he knew the US could intercept his calls. Greenwald and Snowden partisans would see this as an unacceptable intrusion on bin Laden’s privacy. Would they give up monitoring jihadist websites, taking in the “chatter” which predicts a planned strike? Or are they so paranoid about protecting their supposed “liberty” that, yes, they would much prefer the US to be defanged?

We all know that the extreme Right is overcome with Obama Derangement Syndrome. But what the past few days have proven without a doubt is that the same applies to the extreme Left. Neither wing can tolerate that Barack Hussein Obama is President, and is not kowtowing to either of them. The Right wants him gone because it sees him as not American. The Left wants him gone because he doesn’t govern according to their dictates, ushering in a Chavista regime north of the Rio Grande. And then you have the likes of Maureen Dowd calling Obama “Peeping Barry”, an infantilization she never performed on George W. Bush. A strong and exceptional African American man has been elected and re-elected to the presidency, and it simply makes people lose their stuff.

Now, about those living under a rock: that describes the vast majority of Americans, who don’t get their news from cable networks, but from local television. I can tell you that the news of the day in Los Angeles for the past few days has been headlined by the shootings at Santa Monica College. PRISM and the NSA, if mentioned, have come much later in the program. Those in an uproar have to face the fact that most Americans don’t care, or tacitly approve of the programs designed to combat threats. And when polling is done, I wager that most people won’t see Snowden and Greenwald as heroes of liberty, but as criminals leaking sensitive information. Especially when reminded of the fact that Snowden fled to the free speech paradise of Hong Kong, a subsidiary of China Inc.

If you want to wear a tinfoil hat, you can say that all this is working to Obama’s favor. Just as Bill Clinton repositioned the Democratic Party as one of fiscal prudence, so is Obama rebranding the party as one that takes national security seriously. Almost as if the leaks had been planned.

Of course, they were planned, but not by Obama. The President wouldn’t leak classified information just to score political points. The fact that Greenwald states that he started working with Snowden before he had been hired as an NSA contractor raises all sorts of questions which, hopefully, our feckless media will pursue. How did a high school dropout get hired to work on sensitive security programs? Who is paying his living expenses in Hong Kong, the most expensive city on the planet? How can a man who believes that stuffing pillows in his door will prevent eavesdropping be accepted as an authority on national security overreach? And, most importantly, who is coordinating these leaks, and to what purpose?

Snowden is not Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks, and to say he is is an insult to those two heroes. Dr. King wrote his letter from a Birmingham jail, not from a penthouse in Hong Kong. If Snowden has the courage of his convictions, he can return to the US and face his day in court. Otherwise, he’s just another coward, sniping at those who face real dangers head on.