A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

“Death, fire, and burglary make all men equals.” —Dickens

Tag: NSA

Snowden’s Old Anti-Leaker Comments Tell Us Zip About The NSA, But Plenty About Snowden

by evanmcmurry

People change their minds on important issues, so the revelation that Edward Snowden thought as recently as four years ago that leakers of classified government intel should “be shot in the balls” doesn’t automatically disqualify him on the grounds of hypocrisy, as no doubt many will argue.

What it should do is make everybody read with care his comments about how the USG was running the “most invasive surveillance system in history.” Snowden is clearly a guy who thinks in extremes. He doesn’t just dislike leakers, he thinks they should be testicle-blasted. And when Snowden changes his mind, he doesn’t do it by degrees: he doesn’t just object to the NSA’s surveillance program, he thinks it’s the Worst. Surveillance. Ever. It’s fitting in this way that we may only think of Snowden as Hero or Traitor, but nothing in between.

Snowden’s thoughts come in only one color: alarm red. Remember to apply a filter for every comment he makes.

Call Me When We Get To Some Real Fascism

by evanmcmurry

Guess what! The judge who thought Obamacare was the creep of fascism is the same judge who approved the expansive NSA data-mining program.

Next time a progressive wants to pass anything, they should just make some shit up about how it fights terrorism. That’s all it ever comes down to.

Josh Marshall And David Brooks Make The Exact Same Point About Edward Snowden, But Only One Of Them Is Right

by evanmcmurry

Josh Marshall and David Brooks are making the same essential point in their pieces on Edward Snowden: that regardless of the abstract moral quality of Snowden’s actions, he performed them selfishly, prioritizing his own conscience over the harm he could cause others.

It’s convincing when Marshall makes it:

At the end of the day, for all its faults, the US military is the armed force of a political community I identify with and a government I support. I’m not a bystander to it. I’m implicated in what it does and I feel I have a responsibility and a right to a say, albeit just a minuscule one, in what it does. I think a military force requires a substantial amount of secrecy to operate in any reasonable way. So when someone on the inside breaks those rules, I need to see a really, really good reason. And even then I’m not sure that means you get off scott free. It may just mean you did the right thing.

[snip] But it’s more than that. Snowden is doing more than triggering a debate. I think it’s clear he’s trying to upend, damage – choose your verb – the US intelligence apparatus and policieis he opposes. The fact that what he’s doing is against the law speaks for itself. I don’t think anyone doubts that narrow point. But he’s not just opening the thing up for debate. He’s taking it upon himself to make certain things no longer possible, or much harder to do. To me that’s a betrayal.

That’s smart, nuanced reasoning. We all have problems with the military and the government, but we are all, also, enmeshed with them. To jeopardize these institutions, whatever your reasons, is to view them as distinct and peripheral, not only from yourself but from everybody around you. This is not to say that leaking classified information is never justified, but it is to say that doing so automatically puts you in an antagonistic relationship with the society on whose behalf you claim to be acting. The sating of your conscience doesn’t automatically underwrite your actions.

Needless to say, David Brooks falls way short of Marshall’s take:

Though thoughtful, morally engaged and deeply committed to his beliefs, he appears to be a product of one of the more unfortunate trends of the age: the atomization of society, the loosening of social bonds, the apparently growing share of young men in their 20s who are living technological existences in the fuzzy land between their childhood institutions and adult family commitments.

If you live a life unshaped by the mediating institutions of civil society, perhaps it makes sense to see the world a certain way: Life is not embedded in a series of gently gradated authoritative structures: family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world. Instead, it’s just the solitary naked individual and the gigantic and menacing state.

This lens makes you more likely to share the distinct strands of libertarianism that are blossoming in this fragmenting age: the deep suspicion of authority, the strong belief that hierarchies and organizations are suspect, the fervent devotion to transparency, the assumption that individual preference should be supreme.

[snip] But Big Brother is not the only danger facing the country. Another is the rising tide of distrust, the corrosive spread of cynicism, the fraying of the social fabric and the rise of people who are so individualistic in their outlook that they have no real understanding of how to knit others together and look after the common good.

This is not a danger Snowden is addressing. In fact, he is making everything worse.

For society to function well, there have to be basic levels of trust and cooperation, a respect for institutions and deference to common procedures. By deciding to unilaterally leak secret N.S.A. documents, Snowden has betrayed all of these things.

Brooks, as only he can, undoes his own point. The pressures of conformity exerted by familial and social bonds are the exact forces that lead to abuses of power; people are too complacent/fearful/loyal/etc. to know wrongdoing when they see it, or act when they recognize it. Under these conditions, it really does take someone like Snowden, who is willing to sacrifice the comforts of a normal life, to point out the overreaches of the state. Who else will? A happy father of four, with mortgage payments?*

Again, Marshall and Brooks are making the same basic point about Snowden’s view of an “atomized” society, in Brooks’ formulation, falsely legitimizing his actions. Marshall’s point is incisive and generative. Brooks’s makes me want to donate to Snowden’s defense fund.

* This is to say nothing of the role giant, secretive government surveillance programs have played in fraying the ends of Brooks’s public trust. After all, we can only judge Snowden’s relation to the state because he revealed it for us.

How WaPo And Rasmussen Got Completely Different Poll Results On The NSA

by evanmcmurry

So WaPo has 56% of respondents saying they find the NSA’s collection of phone meta-data acceptable, compared to 41% unacceptable. The right-leaning Rasmussen, meanwhile, finds 59% oppose it, and only 26% favor it. What the hell?

Here’s WaPo‘s wording of the question:

Q: As you may know, it has been reported that the National Security Agency has been getting secret court orders to track telephone call records of MILLIONS of Americans in an effort to investigate terrorism. Would you consider this access to telephone call records an acceptable or unacceptable way for the federal government to investigate terrorism?

Here’s Rasmussen’s:

The federal government has been secretly collecting the phone records of millions of Americans for national security purposes regardless of whether there is any suspicion of wrongdoing. Do you favor or oppose the government’s secret collecting of these phone records?

Both contain the same amount of inflammatory rhetoric (“secret,” “MILLIONS”). But WaPo led off* with a question framing the data collection within the context of counterterrorism efforts:

 What do you think is more important right now – (for the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy); or (for the federal government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist threats)?

Here, meanwhile, is Rasmussen’s context:

Is the U.S. government spying too much on Americans these days, not enough or is the level of spying about right?

That’s a hell of a leading question. I’m not in favor of the NSA’s actions, but I think its counterterrorist logic has some validity, even if I don’t agree with it. They should be allowed to make their case (belatedly) to the public on those terms. Walking up to poll respondents and saying, “Hey, you like tyranny? Well, do ya?!?” isn’t going to tell us anything useful.

* WaPo also distinguished between the NSA’s collection of metadata—the story Guardian broke on Wednesday—and the potential scanning of email content via PRISM—the story the Post broke on Thursday. Sure enough, the monitoring of content is unpopular, suggesting that the public is capable of a multitier understanding of the trade-off between privacy and security. We may be more amenable to the government collecting phone records than listening to our phone calls, etc. That’s much more insightful than Rasmussen’s stupid show results.

Y mas, via Steven Benen:

In 2006, the poll question dealt with a warrantless surveillance program in which the Bush administration exceeded its legal authority with no judicial check or congressional approval. In 2013, the Obama administration, at least given what we know now, appears to be acting within its legal authority, relying in part on the courts, and acting within a law approved by bipartisan majorities. For critics of government snooping, that’s cold comfort, but when it comes to gauging public attitudes, the bipartisan hypocrisy comes with an asterisk.

We Don’t Mock The American People Enough For Their Sheer Idiocy

by evanmcmurry

For fuck’s sake:

Fully 69 percent of Democrats say terrorism investigations should be the government’s main concern, not privacy, an 18-percentage-point jump from early January 2006, when the NSA activity under the Bush administration was first reported. Compared with that time, Republicans’ focus on privacy has jumped 22 points.

And don’t go getting cute and thinking that Republicans’ newfound respect for privacy applies to women and their doctors. This isn’t a transvaginal ultrasound. This is serious.