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Libby's Stew: Snowden, 60 Minutes, Judge Leon, Mandela

In an open letter to the people of Brazil entitled: "NSA Surveillance Is About Power, Not 'Safety'” Edward Snowden writes:

Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government's National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist's camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a world-wide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I went in front of that camera with open eyes, knowing that the decision would cost me family and my home, and would risk my life. I was motivated by a belief that the citizens of the world deserve to understand the system in which they live.

[What so many suspected the US government was doing Snowden supplied evidence and confirmation of.]

The consent of the governed is not consent if it is not informed." –

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At the NSA, I witnessed with growing alarm the surveillance of whole populations without any suspicion of wrongdoing, and it threatens to become the greatest human rights challenge of our time. The NSA and other spying agencies tell us that for our own "safety"—… they have revoked our right to privacy and broken into our lives. And they did it without asking the public in any country, even their own.

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If a mother in Porto Alegre calls her son to wish him luck on his university exam, NSA can keep that call log for five years or more. They even keep track of who is having an affair or looking at pornography, in case they need to damage their target's reputation.

American Senators tell us that Brazil should not worry, because this is not "surveillance," it's "data collection." They say it is done to keep you safe. They’re wrong. There is a huge difference between legal programs, legitimate spying, legitimate law enforcement — where individuals are targeted based on a reasonable, individualized suspicion — and these programs of dragnet mass surveillance that put entire populations under an all-seeing eye and save copies forever. These programs were never about terrorism: they're about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They're about power.

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Jesselyn Radack in “Awards They Couldn’t Accept: The Tragic Irony of Greenwald, Poitras and Snowden” writes:

I was humbled to have dinner in Washington, D.C., last week with an incredible group of my co-recipients recognized in Foreign Policy magazine’s 2013 list of leading global thinkers. Conspicuously absent in the category of “The Surveillance State and Its Discontents” were the discontents: Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Edward Snowden — not because they did not want to attend but because these three American global thinkers are unwelcome in the United States.

Greenwald has been accused of being a co-conspirator to break the law. The U.S. government has regularly harassed, searched and intimidated documentary filmmaker Poitras at the border. And the U.S. government revoked Edward Snowden’s passport.

Greenwald, Poitras and Snowden are on a growing list of journalists, activists and whistle-blowers who are unable to travel freely because of their First Amendment-protected activities. Their fears of persecution are sadly not exaggerated.

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The U.S. has promised not to torture Snowden, but such a “promise” only raises the question: Is that how low a democracy should set the bar — at not torturing someone — rather than providing due process and abiding by international humanitarian standards? The Obama administration’s aggressive prosecution of whistle-blowers under the Espionage Act and willingness to embroil journalists in “leak” investigations and prosecutions casts doubt on the legitimacy of the criminal justice system.

Unable to attend in person, Snowden sent an eloquent statement, which I read at the celebration dinner. Unfathomably, maintaining his sense of humor amid exile and ongoing threats, Snowden began his statement with a joke: “I apologize for being unable to attend in person, but I’ve been having a bit of passport trouble.”

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The restriction on travel is another form of chilling First Amendment-protected activities of speech and association, and is an anti-democratic tactic that is the stuff of dictatorships, not democracies.

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Joe Coscarelli in “60 Minutes Gift Wrapped a Puff Piece for the NSA”

Last night’s episode of 60 Minutes on CBS included what basically amounted to an uncritical commercial for the embattled National Security Agency, led by a journalist who used to be a government colleague. ….

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… it’s clear the meeting was on the NSA’s terms. In fact, NSA Director General Keith Alexander “made the call to invite us in,” a 60 Minutes producer admitted. They pretty much let him say his piece, nodding along excitedly.

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While no critics of the NSA programs were given a chance to make the case against the potentially extralegal spying, which has resulted in international outrage, CBS did assist in the discrediting of master leaker Edward Snowden. Take, for example, this galling exchange with the head of the Snowden task force within the NSA, following Miller’s dismissive description of Snowden as a “twentysomething-year-old, high-school-dropout contractor”

Glenn Greenwald responded:

60 Minutes forgot to ask about how James Clapper & Keith Alexander routinely lied to Congress & FISA courts - just ran out of time.

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The cherry on top is that Miller [60 Minutes Interviewer] is currently in the running, reportedly, for a “top counterterrorism or intelligence role” in the NYPD when his old pal Bill Bratton takes over, something that was not disclosed by 60 Minutes.

He's certainly qualified. (Miller held a similar job as chief of counterterrorism under Bratton at the LAPD in addition to his work in national intelligence.)

[People are referring to the Miller new career opportunity as “revolving door journalism.” They got that right! Remember when 60 Minutes was a great watchdog against government corruption? You know, on the RIGHT side of history and not a propaganda arm for the state!]

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John Burton in “Federal judge holds NSA telephone surveillance unconstitutional” writes:

A federal judge in Washington, DC on Monday declared that the National Security Agency’s collection of telephone “metadata” from virtually every call made to, from or within the United States violates the Fourth Amendment, the constitutional provision protecting the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Judge Richard J. Leon granted the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction, ordering the government to stop collecting data on their telephone calls and to destroy their call records. But he stayed his ruling pending an appeal by the Obama administration, which argued in court in defense of the program. This effectively allows the government to continue spying on the calls of the plaintiffs while the case winds its way through the federal appeals courts and, very likely, makes its way to the US Supreme Court, a process that could take years.

[Heartening as the decision is, that last bit I quoted is discouraging. The process of this case winding its way very likely to the US Supreme Court (a crap shoot in terms of justice vs. injustice given the anti-citizen stances of the majority of its members such as the Citizens United decision) AND IT COULD TAKE YEARS AS MASS ILLEGITIMATE ANTI-CONSTITUTIONAL SPYING CONTINUES!]

The case, Klayman v. Obama, was brought by two conservative activists, Larry Klayman, who founded the libertarian Freedom Watch organization, and Charles Strange, whose son was a Navy Seal killed while on a mission in Afghanistan.

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Leon was appointed by President George W. Bush to the United States District Court, generally viewed as the most influential trial court in the US since it hears many disputes regarding the legality of official US government actions.

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In his 68-page ruling, Judge Leon, employing unusually blunt—and in places openly contemptuous—language, slammed the profoundly anti-democratic arguments of the Obama administration lawyers. His ruling--that the NSA telephone metadata program defies a cornerstone of the Bill of Rights—stands as an indictment of the anti-democratic and authoritarian consensus within the political establishment and the corporate-controlled media, and between both the Democratic and Republican parties, all of which have overwhelmingly supported the establishment of such police state spying programs and joined in witch-hunting Snowden.

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On the same day as Leon’s ruling, moreover, the White House rejected any suggestion that the US might grant amnesty to Snowden, who was forced to accept asylum in Russia to avoid extradition to the US to face espionage charges.

While declaring the NSA program unconstitutional, Judge Leon deferred to the military/intelligence establishment by staying his ruling, saying he did so in recognition of the “significant national security interests at stake in this case and the novelty of the constitutional issues.”

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Double-talk by Obama administration lawyers clearly annoyed Leon.

Arguing that the plaintiffs could not prove the NSA had their phone records because they subscribed to Verizon Wireless, while the FISC order named “Verizon Business Network Services,” Judge Leon wrote: “The Government asks me to find that plaintiffs lack standing based on the theoretical possibility that the NSA has collected a universe of metadata so incomplete that the program could not possibly serve its putative function. Candor of this type defies common sense and does not exactly inspire confidence!”

Leon explained that the Fourth Amendment prohibits a search that “violates a subjective expectation of privacy that society recognizes as reasonable.”

“The threshold issue,” Leon wrote, “is whether plaintiffs have a reasonable expectation of privacy that is violated when the Government indiscriminately collects their telephone metadata along with the metadata of hundreds of millions of other citizens without any particularized suspicion of wrongdoing, retains all of that metadata for five years, and then queries, analyzes, and investigates that data without prior judicial approval of the investigative targets.”

Leon’s response to his own rhetorical question is worth quoting at length: “I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval. Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. Indeed, I have little doubt that the author of our Constitution, James Madison, who cautioned us to beware ‘the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power,’ would be aghast.”

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Finally, in “Rebels Who Answered the Call of Higher Duty-Mandela, Manning and Snowden” Deepak Tripathi writes:

Two individuals who have unquestionably dominated the 2013 agenda are Nelson Mandela and Edward Snowden. Their treatment in the media could hardly be more different. Yet in many respects what they share is remarkable, and that they brought out the best and the worst in humanity is no less so.

Mandela’s struggle against apartheid, remembered again after his death, and Snowden’s baring of the worldwide intelligence colossus built by the United States, have stirred a much-needed debate on morality and manipulation of law in conducting mass surveillance, and then justifying the practice by shifty arguments.
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Mandela and Snowden are rebels from different generations – both classed as criminals as they took on the system. While going against the existing regime designed to serve the interests of a few at the cost of the vast majority, Mandela and Snowden answered the call of higher duty, beyond man-made legal measures which are unjust and unaccepted. To Mandela, South Africa’s apartheid system, with all its consequences, was so repugnant. To Snowden, the abuse of power involving the wholesale surveillance of citizens and world leaders was so wrong that it changed the game.

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Mandela was lucky to escape the death penalty, received a life sentence in 1964, and spent more than a quarter century in harsh prison conditions. If Snowden had been returned to America, almost certainly he would have spent the rest of his life in jail – and it could have been worse.

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The making of Mandela’s image took decades. The sustained official vilification of Manning and Snowden now reminds us of the manner in which Mandela was treated by the South African authorities and Western governments, indeed by the media, at the time of his rebellion fifty years ago.

All of which draws attention to the scramble among the world’s most powerful leaders to be seen at Mandela’s memorial and funeral, and to join in the adulation of his people, while the same leaders have been busy in the vilification of those many regard as young heroes of today. The oddity, in part, is due to the addiction to television cameras that has become an essential part of showbiz politics. There also exists a craving in political leaders to preach the world what they fail to practice themselves. Their desire to look good is irresistible. The general loss of trust in public figures and institutions is a consequence of their instinct for expediency. The potency of their message of toleration and reconciliation to Africa would be more convincing if liberal and moral values were not so much under pressure as they are in the West itself.

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It would be premature to compare Manning and Snowden with Mandela, for their struggles are current, and not time tested. Where they can be contrasted, favourably, with Nelson Mandela is in their struggles for higher moral values which go beyond the narrow boundaries of nationalism and patriotism.

[cross-posted on open salon]

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