Now, I am offering no evidence for my allegation, unless you count my fevered imagination, but that at least puts me in the exalted company of Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), who last weekend alleged that Snowden is Up To No Good with Russia! Which was particularly insightful of Rogers, given that he last summer was hinting that Snowden was Up To No Good with China, which makes perfectly logical sense, if your sense of logic includes the hallucination that China would send an invaluable espionage asset to Russia.
The real point for Rogers was, of course, once again to distract attention from Snowden's actual revelations, from President Obama's ineffectual response to those revelations, or the possibility that if those revelations forced even the president of the United States to go through the motions of reviewing them, assessing them and responding to them by at least pretending to change the policies revealed by those revelations, then maybe the person who brought the revelations to the public isn't a treasonous traitor, after all. Maybe he's actually a whistleblower. And maybe when a whistleblower brings to public knowledge abuses that even his own critics at least feel the need to pretend to need to reform and/or end, said whistleblower has served a major public service. In a rationally coherent universe, anyway.
Also playing the demonize Snowden game, last weekend, was Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who at least had the grace to play coy, not openly hinting that Snowden is in cahoots with Russia, but instead responding to a question by saying that we don't know whether or not he is. We also don't know whether or not Snowden is in cahoots with evil space aliens, or maybe orcs and trolls, or maybe even Satan itself! See how that works? Because it's always fun to put the burden on proving a negative. If Feinstein had wanted to give an honest but less inflammatory answer, she could have said that there's no evidence to support the allegation.
But if Rogers and Feinstein and their media enablers would rather that people not focus on the abuses revealed by Snowden, or the ineffectuality of the proposed pretend reforms of those abuses, it seems that's exactly what we should do. Over the fold.
In his speech last week on NSA reform, President Obama once again made a dubious attempt to downplay the extent of the scandal, and overall left more questions open than closed. The public was unimpressed with the speech, and for the first time is opposed to the NSA collection of phone metadata. The European public and European commentators also were unimpressed. The inimitable emptywheel analyzed the speech in excruciating detail, and eviscerated it. But no one really expected the proposed reforms to do much more than prevent another Snowden from being able to reveal abuses that, for the most part, will continue.
The White House and other defenders of the NSA vacuum surveillance have tried very hard to obfuscate that facts. ProPublica distilled these efforts into four "questionable claims," which must be read in their entirety at the ProPublica site.
1. There have been no abuses.Peace Action Wisconsin has compiled a comprehensive list of what we have learned, thanks to Snowden. This also must be read in its entirety at the linked site, but the bullet points can be summarized thusly:
2. At least 50 terrorist threats have been averted.
3. The NSA does not do any domestic spying.
4. Snowden failed to take advantage of whistleblower protections.
How the NSA SpiesAnd even this list is incomplete, as it doesn't include such other major revelations as the NSA's refusal to deny it spies on members of Congress, or the tapping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone, or the daily collection of hundreds of millions of text messages, or spying on the European Union, or even the infiltration of online gaming worlds. Even a cursory perusal of these targets raises the obvious questions of what they have to do with terrorism, and what the real purpose of this mass surveillance might really be. And then there's the little matters of the government oversight board determining that the NSA bulk phone calls program is screamingly illegal, and a federal judge ruling that it might be unconstitutional.
–Tap smartphone data
–Monitor international financial transactions
–Defeat internet privacy and security encryption
–Pay other spy agencies
–NSA disguised itself as Google to spy
Who the NSA Spies on
–Presidents of Brazil and Mexico
–Petrobras oil company
–Al Jazeera Broadcasting
Additional NSA leaks
–Audit finds NSA violated privacy rules thousands of times
–NSA shares raw intelligence including Americans’ data with Israel
–National Intelligence Program “Black Budget”
–US judges sign of on domestic communications “inadvertently” collected by NSA without a warrant
Whether or not the White House and its allies understand the depth of the problem they have helped create, the Snowden files have changed the world, and the world is responding (pdf) substantively to those changes, even if the White House and its allies are not. Congressional reformers in the United States also continue to push for genuine reform.
Given the attempts to change the narrative to questions about Snowden, or to pretend away the depth and breadth of the still unfolding scandal, the White House continues not to get the message. Reflexive defenders of mass surveillance, such as Mike Rogers, will continue to fight the dissemination of the message. But it's too late. The message is out, and it continues to get out. Demand for genuine reform continues to build, both in the United States and around the world. The information revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden leaves no other option. The White House would best serve itself and the nation if it also supported genuine and substantive reform. Perhaps President Obama ought to revisit the substantial NSA reforms supported or proposed five years ago by Sen. Obama.