You've probably heard by now of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) analyst turned whisteblower who revealed the extent of spying on internet users from the NSA. He's currently obtained asylum in Russia and has moved "quietly out of the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and disappeared into the Russian capital." The U.S. is not impressed with Russia, as they want Snowden extradited to face charges of spying.
Here is what's confusing me: reportedly, everything Snowden has revealed about the NSA is not true:
US officials vehemently denied this specific claim. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden's assertion: "He's lying. It's impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do."
And according to NSA director General Keith Alexander, what Snowden claims is true can't technically be done:
Adressing the Black Hat convention in Las Vegas, an annual gathering for the information security industry, he gave a personal example: "I have four daughters. Can I go and intercept their emails? No. The technical limitations are in there." Should anyone in the NSA try to circumvent that, in defiance of policy, they would be held accountable, he said: "There is 100% audibility." Only 35 NSA analysts had the authority to query a database of US phone records, he said.
General Alexander rejected suggestions that his staff could monitor all US internet traffic and phone calls. "The fact is, they don't," he said.
To prove this, "the White House appears to have entered a new phase as it seeks to head off criticism" by voluntarily making "declassified previously top-secret documents":
Officials pointed to the documents to claim the surveillance programs are restrained, as rules imposed by the Fisa court require analysts to only search through phone data if they have "reasonable articulable suspicion" that the phone number is associated with terrorism or espionage. But on Wednesday, several senators on the judiciary committee objected during a contentious hearing that Americans' privacy is already compromised once the NSA collects their phone records in bulk without suspicion of wrongdoing.
Here's my question: if everything Snowden has revealed is lies and hyperbole, why does the United States want to charge him with spying? Sounds more like he should be charged with lying. If I was the U.S., I'd deny everything, get some qualified nerd to explain the impossibility of storing so much data from millions and millions of Internet users and shrug it off as nonsense.
Unless what he's saying is the truth. The release of heavily censored top secret documents is the best damage control the U.S. has managed for this potentially volatile situation. So, let's assume for a second that Snowden is saying the truth, what does that make him? A traitor? A spy? An enemy? What if it actually made him a real patriot -- and I don't mean someone who utters 'Mericah while holding a Bible and a rifle. This is someone who loves his country so much, someone who willingly gave up everything that he held dear, a great paycheque, prestige, family, friends and even at the risk of his own freedom, to expose crap. It seems like way too much to gamble on lies.
My own opinion is that Snowden should be honored. He was doing what every citizen ought to do, telling. [Applause] He was telling Americans what the government was doing. That's what's supposed to happen.
Governments as I mentioned before always plead security no matter what's going on. The reflexive defense is security. But anyone who's looked at-- first of all, you take a look at what he exposed. At least anything that's been published, it's not any kind of threat to security, with one exception, the security of the government from its own population. And in fact if you look at anyone who's spent any time poring through declassified records-- I have, I'm sure many of you have-- you find that overwhelmingly the security is the security of the state from its own population and that's why things have to be kept secret.
Which reminds me of Pfc. Bradley Manning. Manning is a guy who exposed just how much his government sucked -- the killing of the Reuters journalist as the prime example. He's currently being called a traitor, got charged with spying, and although he didn't get charged with aiding the enemy, he'll probably spend the rest of his life in jail for doing what he felt was the right thing to do. Life-in-jail may have actually been the real goal by U.S. authorities: use Manning as an example to others by throwing the book at him and no one else will ever want to whistle-blow ever again.
That military judge colonel Denise Lind did not charge Manning with aiding the enemy is actually very important not just for Manning, but for newspapers in general:
This is not so much the beginning of a slippery slope for a democratic nation as a headlong plummet. A guilty verdict would have redefined the media ? from outlets such as WikiLeaks to bastions of the establishment like the New York Times ? as proxies for the enemy. It would have ended any distinction between a traitor selling military secrets to the highest bidder and someone speaking to a journalist on a matter of conscience and for no reward.
By finding Manning not guilty on this dangerous charge (though guilty of espionage and theft), military judge colonel Denise Lind has pulled the US back from the precipice ? for now. But that outcome does not alter the fact that such a charge was sought by prosecutors in the first place.
The Manning prosecution has represented, in essence, a proxy war on watchdog journalism. Rather than targeting reporters ? for the moment ? the administration has focused on journalists' sources. Since Manning was indicted, other cases have been brought against sources and whistleblowers, and the surveillance of journalists from AP and Fox News has been uncovered.
Double standards are evident in the fact that semi-sanctioned "leaks" from security sources, of material that shows the US military in a good light, happen daily. In principle, such disclosures are crimes equal in severity to those of Manning. Yet no one has been taken to court.
And, as it was just revealed, the Americans are not the only ones engaging in such high-level espionage of their citizens:
Some of the world's leading telecoms firms, including BT and Vodafone, are secretly collaborating with Britain's spy agency GCHQ, and are passing on details of their customers' phone calls, email messages and Facebook entries, documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden show.
BT, Vodafone Cable, and the American firm Verizon Business ? together with four other smaller providers ? have given GCHQ secret unlimited access to their network of undersea cables. The cables carry much of the world's phone calls and internet traffic.
The irony of course is this: US President Obama announced all sorts of changes to the way American spies on its own people, but claims these are not a result of Snowden's revelations. Yet, had it not been for his revelations, would these changes happened? Probably not. Obama, who claimed to be someone wanting a more open and less secret government and who had promised to protect whistleblowers, went as far as stating that "No, I don't think Mr. Snowden was a patriot." I guess that makes sense, imagine the chaos if he had said the opposite.
In the end, the biggest question is: what will all these revelations do? Here's my theory: absolutely nothing. None of these revelations will actually matter and once the dust settles, life will carry on as per usual.
A bit of good news for the 265 sitting members of Congress who voted to extend the legislation that the NSA claims as its mandate to collect phone data: the majority of Americans don't care. Pew Research today released a poll suggesting that 56 percent of the country thinks doing just that is just fine.
With the vast majority of Americans not caring that the NSA is keeping tabs on them or what their government is doing, maybe this is why the Kardashians and the birth of a Royal baby gets more prime-time news than Snowden or Manning.