Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman led a discussion also involving Chris Hedges and Geoffrey Stone, law professor at the University of Chicago Law School. Hedges supports the disclosure of government secrets to the press by people of conscience where the secrets are disclosed to the press. Stone indicates that what Edward Snowden disclosed was clearly a crime and he should be prosecuted, although the government needs to reevaluate the scope of its surveillance state. Fascinating conversation. My own position is quite close to Hedges on this issue, but I also believe that citizen journalism should be regarded as comparable to mainstream journalism in terms of protection offered from prosecution for engaging with whistle-blowers to discuss what they believe to be government wrong-doing. Elevating citizen journalists (I aspire to assume that role) to the category of the press, of course, means that any whistle-blower could talk to any blogger about any government secret and yet be protected from prosecution. This is a thorny issue, but one where work-arounds seem possible, especially given Stone’s alternative.
Stone argues that where government is acting inappropriate in realms involving classified information, the leakers should be prosecuted, even in situations involving grave government injustice. The press is immune from prosecution in this situation, based on the Pentagon Papers case. Stone’s position is deeply unsettling, however, because the issue today is out-of-control government surveillance. This rampant spying, including on reporters and sources, means that there won’t be any more revelations of government wrongdoing by the press. The current situation amounts to shutting down the press, meaning that the public will be kept in the dark. Stone’s “solution” for this is that government should seek internal solutions to its own injustices, in the dark. Stone asserts this to be a solution despite his earlier statements that governments are strongly motivated in the direction of NOT finding true solutions, but rather in maintaining and aggregating power over the citizens. My challenge to Professor Stone, then would be to offer a real long-term solutions. He pulls out the threat of terrorism card near then end of the discussion to justify what apparently amounts to the status quo approach (prosecute whistle-blowers who talk to the press, which Hedges argues will destroy the press). Hedges further disparages the concern with terrorism, indicating that terrorists communicate off the grid, meaning that the Surveillance State’s victims are ordinary people.
[Note: This discussion occurred prior to more recent disclosures that the U.S. government is collecting far more than metadata]
Here is an excerpt from the discussion:
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, what we’re really having a debate about is whether or not we’re going to have a free press left or not. If there are no Snowdens, if there are no Mannings, if there are no Assanges, there will be no free press. And if the press—and let’s not forget that Snowden gave this to The Guardian. This was filtered through a press organization in a classic sort of way whistleblowers provide public information about unconstitutional, criminal activity by their government to the public. So the notion that he’s just some individual standing up and releasing stuff over the Internet is false.
But more importantly, what he has exposed essentially shows that anybody who reaches out to the press to expose fraud, crimes, unconstitutional activity, which this clearly appears to be, can be traced and shut down. And that’s what’s so frightening. So, we are at a situation now, and I speak as a former investigative reporter for The New York Times, by which any investigation into the inner workings of government has become impossible. That’s the real debate.
Common Dreams recently published a video in which Edward Snowden elaborates on his concerns and motivations for exposing the NSA. The following quote stood out:
“The structures of power that exist are working to their own ends to extend their capabilities at the expense of the freedom of all publics.”
From Democracy Now (Amy Goodman interview of Glenn Greenwald): “The reason that Edward Snowden came forward, the reason that we’re reporting on this so aggressively, is because—and this is not hyperbole in any way; it’s a purely accurate description—the NSA is in the process, in total secrecy, with no accountability, of constructing a global, ubiquitous surveillance system that has as its goal the elimination of privacy worldwide, so that there can be no electronic communications—by telephone, Internet, email, chat—that is beyond the reach of the United States government. They are attempting to collect and store and monitor all of it, and that they can invade it at any time they want, no matter who you are or where you are on the planet. This has very profound implications for the kind of world in which we live, for the kind of relationship the United States has to the rest of the world, the way in which individuals feel free to communicate with one another, use the Internet. And that, I think, is why the story is resonating as much as it is.”
Regarding recent revelations by the NYT that secret U.S. court ruling are sweeping in scope:
“What you actually have is a completely warped and undemocratic institution, this court that meets in complete secrecy, where only the government is allowed to attend. And unlike previously, when it really was confined to just issuing individual warrants about particular targets of terrorism, it is now issuing sweeping, broad opinions defining the contours of our constitutional liberties, of the Fourth Amendment, of the government’s power to spy on us—and it’s all being done in secret. What kind of a country has a court that defines the Constitution in total secrecy and forces us to live under truly secret law in which the government can do all sorts of things to us that we’re not even aware of, that it’s claiming the right to do and being given the power to do it?”
I’m a lawyer and I’d like to study U.S. surveillance court rulings, but I can’t, and you can’t either, because court rulings are secret. Our massively opaque government (all three branches) has truly become Kafkaesque. So much for the People running this country. The NYT reports:
In more than a dozen classified rulings, the nation’s surveillance court has created a secret body of law giving the National Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans while pursuing not only terrorism suspects, but also people possibly involved in nuclear proliferation, espionage and cyberattacks, officials say.
The rulings, some nearly 100 pages long, reveal that the court has taken on a much more expansive role by regularly assessing broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents, with almost no public scrutiny, according to current and former officials familiar with the court’s classified decisions.
This is an excerpt from a mass emailing I received from Rep. Alan Grayson:
Host John Fugelsang: So with Edward Snowden’s travels much in the news, you’ve offered an amendment that I wish were getting as much attention as what country he’s landing in. An amendment to end NSA spying on Americans, called the ‘Mind Your Own Business Act.’ Sir, what’s in it?
Congressman Alan Grayson: What’s in it is a prohibition against the Department of Defense collecting information about Americans on American soil, unless they can show that you’re involved in a terrorist conspiracy, or unless they’re investigating a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That draws the line where the line has been since the 1870s, and the passage of the Posse Comitatus Act. Now the Department of Defense has obliterated that line, by collecting information on every single telephone call that every American makes, forever.
John: This seems to me [to be] the kind of act that would get support from true liberals and true conservatives alike. What kind of support is your act getting now?
Alan: Well it’s too early to say, but there’s been tremendous support from the public. Over 20,000 people have already come to our website, MindYourOwnBusinessAct.com, and signed our citizen petition to pass the act. I think over time that will snowball. I think we’ll see hundreds of thousands of people eventually, and I think we’ll see more and more Members of Congress understand the simple principle that’s involved here: That [this] kind of spying does not make us safer, and it is beneath our dignity as Americans.
John: And last week the President rejected comparisons between his administration and Bush-Cheney, or I guess I should say Cheney-Bush, on domestic spying. Do you agree with Barack Obama that there’s nothing in common?
Alan: Uh, no, I don’t agree with that. Actually there’s been a continuous spying on the American citizens through these programs, the two programs that Snowden disclosed, apparently going back at least [since] 2007. One of the documents that he disclosed indicates that Microsoft, which operates the Hotmail e-mail program, joined this NSA program in 2007.
John: And do you think he gets that, sir? Do you think he’s aware of how unpopular these programs are?
Alan: No, I don’t. And I think that that itself is a disturbing element to this. I think that the so-called ‘intelligence community’ has the President’s ear, and no one else does. Virtually everybody that I know immediately recognizes how silly and pointless it is to spy on every person’s conversation, to get information on who is talking to whom, when, and for how long. And ultimately, most people begin to understand the threat involved. The fact is that there is now a [government] record of every telephone call made in America, going back to Alexander Graham Bell, apparently. And the threat involved is what Snowden has called ‘turnkey tyranny.’ The fact is that someone else after Barack Obama, let’s say President Louie Gohmert, can come along and use all that information to make life in America miserable for all Americans.
Today I had the opportunity to interview some of the spirited demonstrators from Restore the Fourth. They spent more than six hours standing in the hot sun in front of the Old Courthouse (where Dred Scott was granted his freedom prior to the U.S. Supreme Court reversal). Their object was to educate the general public as to Fourth Amendment rights and the various ways that the federal government (including the NSA) is violating those rights.
I sympathize greatly with this cause. There is a reason why all of us invest in locks for our doors and passwords for our computers. We DO have an expectation of privacy when we call a friend to discuss wrenching life decision-making. We expect that NSA employees don’t have access to our bank account information, our emails, our Facebook messaging to individuals (or even to our posts when we’ve limited access to our Friends). How much trouble with our “computers” has been caused by the NSA invading our networks without warrants? Since when is it not search or seizure for a government employee to copy our personal communications? Many people react by thinking that there ought to be a law to prevent this, but there already is a law–the Fourth Amendment. This law should be observed or repealed after the People of the United States are fully informed about the extent that the government wants access to our personal communications and meta-data revealing our social networks. Since when is invading our privacy not a big deal, such that the government simply does it without probable cause? How much identity theft has been caused by a NSA employee or contractor swiping our personal identifiers or our financial information?
In addition to invading our privacy, the NSA has destroyed the ability to do investigative journalism. The government has declared war on the right of American citizens to know what their own government is doing. Because investigative journalism is severely chilled, the only way for people to learn of government misconduct is when an extraordinarily courage individual such as Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden risks his life by leaking or blowing the whistle. And based on the way our own government treated Bradley Manning, future whistle blowers know that they will likely be tortured by the U.S. government, even prior to be charged with any crime or convicted of any crime.
Obviously, this is a fast moving story, and we will learn a lot about whether our elected representatives have the courage or the intelligence to go after the surveillance-industrial complex. I’m not optimistic, because our politicians cling to the strategy of selling us terrorism nightmares and pretending that they can protect us from those “terrorists” or “insurgents” who supposedly hate us for our freedom
The bottom line is that we all need to get involved with our representatives. There is much to be lost by a government policy that destroys the ability of citizens to keep their private things private.
If you thought you were left alone with regard to your snail mail, this article from the NYT tells us to think again:
Leslie James Pickering noticed something odd in his mail last September: A handwritten card, apparently delivered by mistake, with instructions for postal workers to pay special attention to the letters and packages sent to his home.
“Show all mail to supv” — supervisor — “for copying prior to going out on the street,” read the card. It included Mr. Pickering’s name, address and the type of mail that needed to be monitored. The word “confidential” was highlighted in green.
“It was a bit of a shock to see it,” said Mr. Pickering, who owns a small bookstore in Buffalo. More than a decade ago, he was a spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front, a radical environmental group labeled eco-terrorists by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Postal officials subsequently confirmed they were indeed tracking Mr. Pickering’s mail but told him nothing else.
At Huffpo, Glenn Greenwald comments over Skype to the Socialism Conference in Chicago. This is a detailed statement, in which Greenwald revealed that the NSA has the ability to store one billion phone calls each day.
This is what modern American journalism is coming down to.
Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald blasted NBC host David Gregory on Sunday for publicly entertaining the idea that he should be prosecuted for publishing secret National Security Agency (NSA) documents leaked by former U.S. government contractor Edward Snowden.
“To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?” Gregory asked the columnist in a Sunday interview.
“I think it’s pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themself a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies,” Greenwald shot back. “The assumption in your question, David, is completely without evidence, David — the idea that I’ve aided and abetted him in any way.”
Here’s what journalism is, in the eyes of David Gregory. He eyes are all lit up, as if to say, “Look at me! I’m on a bus with a famous politician!” Check out Gregory’s unwillingness to ask real questions throughout in his interview of Mitt Romney. Start at min 2:50 and see how long you can stand to watch this obeisant poor-excuse for a journalist. He gives up truth-finding in order to maintain a feel-good relationship with Romney. In other words, he is committing journalism malpractice:
I understand Greenwald’s disdain and shortness completely. I am disgusted that Gregory doesn’t understand that a journalist is doing his/her job to confront the government with embarrassing information. I also know that Greenwald, had he been assured of having 20 minutes to answer the question, would have annihilated Gregory with something like this, starting at min 2:30.
Consider also this:
[Greenwald] responds to threats of investigation, etc. by Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) and others concerning his release of these documents journalism.
The first part of Greenwald’s response: “Let them go ahead and investigate. There’s this document called the Constitution, and one of the things it guarantees is the right of a free press. Which means, as a citizen and as a journalist, I have the absolute Constitutional right to go on and report on what it is my government is doing in the dark and inform my fellow citizens about that action … And I intend to continue to shine light on that and Dianne Feinstein can beat her chest all she wants and call for investigations and none of that’s gonna stop and none of it’s gonna change”…