I wonder if American children in civics classes are taught about the secret courts of America?
That might be the most amazing thing about all of this, is that we have a secret court that meets in complete secrecy, with only the government present, and this court is issuing rulings that define what our constitutional rights are. How can you have a democracy in which your rights are determined in total secrecy by a secret court issuing 80-page rulings about what rights you have as a citizen? It is Orwellian and absurd. And I think one of the reforms that will come and is coming from our reporting is that a lot more light is going to be shined on the shenanigans that have been taking place within that court.
And after we teach them about our secret courts, we are just getting warmed up. Civics classes should also include lessons that our phone companies are happy accomplices to spying on their customers:
We’ve known for a long time that the telecoms—AT&T, Sprint, Verizon—are completely in bed with the United States government. Remember, the scandal of the NSA in the Bush years was that—not just that the Bush administration was eavesdropping on the calls of Americans without the warrants required by law, but also that the telecoms were vigorously cooperating in that program and turning over full and unfettered access to the telephone calls and records of millions of their customers even though there was no legal basis for doing so. And, in fact, the telecoms were on the verge of losing in court and being sued successfully by millions of their customers that they had violated their civil rights and also that they had violated their privacy rights and broken the law, criminally and civilly. And it was only because the Congress stepped in, with the leadership of both political parties, and retroactively immunized the telecoms. But the telecom industry makes massive profits on their extreme cooperation with these—with the NSA to allow all kinds of unfettered access to the communications of their customers. And so, the telecoms are the last people that want transparency brought to their cooperation with the NSA, because that would really shock people to learn just how untrustworthy those companies are when it comes to protecting the privacy of their customers’ communications.
What else is our government up to?
That Snowden has created some sort of “dead man’s switch” – whereby documents get released in the event that he is killed by the US government – was previously reported weeks ago, and Snowden himself has strongly implied much the same thing. That doesn’t mean he thinks the US government is attempting to kill him – he doesn’t – just that he’s taken precautions against all eventualities, including that one (just incidentally, the notion that a government that has spent the last decade invading, bombing, torturing, rendering, kidnapping, imprisoning without charges, droning, partnering with the worst dictators and murderers, and targeting its own citizens for assassination would be above such conduct is charmingly quaint).
Teach the children the truth. If you dare.
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.
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.
Chris Hayes nails it on MSNBC. The U.S. government and its many cronies in the mass media love to disburse secret information when it bolsters the position of the government. They take the opposite position when information embarrasses the U.S. government.
Love his conclusion: The conduct of the vast and growing surveillance web is “on all of us what the government does in our name.”
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”…
In a live interview sponsored by the Guardian, Edward Snowden provided more details regarding NSA spying. If 20% of his information is true, Congress should tear apart the NSA, piece by piece.
Snowden makes an important distinction between what the NSA policy requires and what really happens on the ground. This is an attack on NSA credibility, which is already highly suspect.
Investigative reporter James Bamford casts doubt on government claims regarding the Surveillance State
Investigative reporter James Bamford isn’t believing the official government positions regarding the Surveillance State. He discussed his reasons for his disbelief with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now:
Amy Goodman: Jim Bamford, explain the spy center that’s being built in Bluffdale, Utah.
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, it’s a mammoth—actually, the best way to think of it is NSA’s external hard drive. It’s a storage place for all that NSA gets from its surveillance, including the daily records of everybody’s telephone calls, which, again, we’ve just been hearing about in the news. But it’s not just that. It’s all this information that’s coming in from the Internet that the NSA picks out. It’s all their surveillance from all around the country, all around the world. And it all goes into this one place. It’s basically a huge data warehouse where all this information is placed. But it also serves as the cloud for NSA, the cloud being the central repository where every—where all the information is kept. And then, through these fiber-optic cables that go out from it, people at NSA headquarters, people at NSA listening posts in Georgia, Texas, all these places, are able to immediately go in. It’s just like, like I said, a hard drive. You go in, and you analyze all that information that’s in there. So if they’re collecting my telephone records today, who I’m calling, then tomorrow or tonight the NSA could go into those records in Bluffdale, Utah, and analyze them. So, that’s basically what it’s for. It’s this massive repository for all the information that NSA is collecting. And it’s a million square feet. It’s an enormous amount of space at a time when you can put a terabyte worth of data on just a blade on a Swiss Army knife, which can, like I said, hold a terabyte worth of data, and this is a million square feet, costing $2 billion.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wanted to ask you about—in 2012, at the annual DEF CON convention, the hacker convention, NSA director, General Keith Alexander, was asked whether the NSA keeps a file on every U.S. citizen. This was his response.
GEN. KEITH ALEXANDER: No, we don’t. Absolutely not. And anybody who would tell you that we’re keeping files or dossiers on the American people know that’s not true. And let me tell you why. First, under our agency, we have a responsibility. Our job is foreign intelligence. We get oversight by Congress, both intel committees and their congressional members and their staffs, so everything we do is auditable by them, by the FISA Court—so the judiciary branch of our government—and by the administration. And everything we do is accountable to them. And within the administration, it’s from the director of national intelligence, it’s from the Department of Justice, it’s from the Department of Defense. I feel like when I was a kid growing up—and some of you may feel like this, too. You know, you might get in a little trouble. You’re supervised a lot and maybe had to spend time in the hall. Well, that’s the way I feel today. We are overseen by everybody. And I will tell you that those who would want to weave the story that we have millions or hundreds of millions of dossiers on people is absolutely false.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: James Bamford, that was General Keith Alexander, again, at the DEF CON convention in 2012 in—as we mentioned yesterday, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, a black T-shirt. Your response, especially this whole thing that he raises about we’re just involved in foreign intelligence gathering?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, it’s funny. I was there, too. I also spoke at the DEF CON conference there. But the comments that General Alexander made, I thought, were amazingly out of place, because here it is, we just discovered he has all these dossiers that he’s listing, that he’s got all these records on American people and all these links into American Internet. What he’s talking about in terms of oversight also is—is just nonsense. He talks about the courts. Well, the court he’s talking about is a top-secret court that nobody is even allowed to know where it exists, where its address is, let alone getting any information from it. And in the last—or, the last time that they overhauled the legislation, they weakened the court a great deal. So, I’m sure—was that the answer you were looking for? What was the question again?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, basically, his emphasis on the foreign intelligence gathering, as well, the role of NSA.
JAMES BAMFORD: Right, right, right, yeah. Well, that’s always what they claim, is that, “Look, we’re not involved in the United States at all. We’re not involved in U.S. interception at all. We’re just involved in foreign communications.” Well, you know, if you look at that Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order that was released, what it talks about is getting from Verizon not just overseas calls, it talks about local calls. These are calls that aren’t even going to be on your bill. I mean, these are local calls or, you know, somebody calling their grandmother next door. We’ve come down to that, where the government is trying to get access to even your local calls. And I don’t see any connection between that and what they say. What they claim is that we’re only doing international, we’re only doing foreign communications. Well, when you’re asking for local phone calls throughout the United States, everybody in the United States, on a daily basis, you know, where’s the truth in all these claims?
This article about Edward Snowden, by Glenn Greenwald:
The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.
The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he said.
Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world’s most secretive organisations – the NSA.
In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”
You’ll find Greenwald’s 12-minute video interview of Edward Snowden here.
I posted about Greenwald’s article on Facebook. I received the following comment:
I’m so glad I elected a 29 year old Booz Allen contract employee to make sensitive national security judgments for me. He’s so noble and righteous I’m sure that means he also is wise and has excellent, seasoned judgment.
Here is my response:
On July 4, we will celebrate the claim that U.S. governmental power comes from the People of the U.S. No, we didn’t elect Edward Snowden. Nor did we elect the military industrial complex. Nor do real people have much, if any, say in the national primaries–big money chooses them and then they give us the illusion of choice. Nor did anyone amend the U.S. Constitution to engraft terrorism exceptions to the First, Fourth or Fifth Amendments. Nor did I ever have a chance to vote to require the mainstream media to expand investigative journalism and diversity, so that anyone out there in a position of official authority would be forced to provide real answers to real questions, so that our national elections would be a legitimate exercise of grassroots power. What we are left with is a realpolitik, and in this massively dysfunctional system, the U.S. Surveillance State does whatever the hell it chooses to do, while the our obeisant news media villainizes other countries that do exactly what we do. The result is perpetual war, attendant with severely warped domestic governmental spending priorities. We are on an unsustainable path where war is the official excuse for hundreds of requests to fix fixable problems. Our politicians complete this circle by selling us nightmares (terrorism) and claiming that they can fix the problem with non-stop violent xenophobia, and now, spying on all of us. The question is what one should do when confronted with pervasive illegal spying by the U.S. government? If there is no perfect answer, what is a half-decent imperfect one? And more fundamentally, shouldn’t the People be giving their consent to such an ever-growing out-of-check system of the type described by Edward Snowden? Eddie, when did you vote to authorize the U.S. government to listen in on your phone calls? When did you vote to allow such widespread surveillance that investigative reporting through traditional outlets has almost come to a stop, meaning that we’re all very much in the dark? When were our representatives going to get around to telling us about these egregious NSA practices, even in the abstract? The official answers are “never” and “trust us.” There is no longer any reasonable way for law-abiding citizen to identify or address the underlying rot. The options are thus A) to do nothing to expose these abuses and B ) do something.