Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Where is that sock?

Greenwald keeps promising more revelations; Snowden keeps saying he's not revealing damaging information.

Again, not really his call to make:

Since then, two more stories have brought to light how the U.S. government collects information on other countries, each revealed ahead of a major summit with said countries. Two weeks ago, Snowden — revealed as the leaker of the documents — told the South China Morning Press that the United States was most certainly spying on China, leaving Obama in the awkward position of decrying Chinese cyber-espionage during an informal meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

On Sunday, the Guardian has brought to light cooperation between the NSA and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) — its British counterpart — to spy on its allies during summit meetings, intercepting large amounts of information from its allies in the Group of 20 meeting in 2009. The report also detailed how Dmitry Medvedev, then President and now Prime Minister of Russia, was targeted specifically during that meeting.

The problem with all of these revelations is not that they’re happening at all or that they’re being released at inopportune moments. Instead, the issue is that rather than exposing potential harm, they are now instead bringing to light clandestine activities the NSA is tasked under law to do. Spying on other countries may be morally questionable to some, including Snowden as he made clear in a question and answer session on Monday. But these actions are neither illegal nor counter to the Constitution. It’s entirely within the mission of the National Security Agency to do these things, and revealing them actually takes away from the focus on the agency’s more questionable practices.
This may come as a shock to Mr. Snowden, but just because it bothers him, doesn't mean it's illegal, immoral, or unconstitutional; nor even that it shocks the conscience of the nation. 

Some say this is a distraction from the "serious" issues of how the NSA is using its power.  But more and more, this is the story.   The story is more and more all about what outrages Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden.  They've both made clear that their purpose in publicizing Snowden's secrets is to get a public reaction akin to the one they have.  That's neither heroic nor brave; it's a child's view of the world.*  I'm no longer sure what conversation we're supposed to be having, although a discussion of government power and how we should limit it, or how much we should be bothered by it, would be an interesting discussion.  But that's not what's going on.

What's going on is a monologue led by Greenwald and Snowden (Greenwald even opened the on-line chat with the Guardian by trying to be sure the discussion touched on themes near and dear to his heart) about what they think is wrong with the world.  And, frankly, just because they have the megaphone, doesn't mean what they want to talk about is the right topic of conversation.

Funny how much more complicated these things are than they seem to realize.

*Much was made, early on, about the comparison of Snowden to Ellsberg.  The lesson of the Pentagon Papers, aside from a landmark Supreme Court ruling on the First Amendment, is that Ellsberg's efforts didn't change history.  The war didn't end with the revelations of those papers, and Nixon didn't fail to get re-elected.  In essence, as Bush proved with Iraq 30 years later, nothing really changed.  Which is not to say Ellsberg shouldn't have released the papers; but Greenwald and Snowden should be better students of history, and not expect revelations to change the world, or make everyone suddenly agree with them.  That they still don't understand this does not redound to their credit.

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