Edward Snowden: Hero of Transparency

Or, you know, not

Since he publicly acknowledged being the source of bombshell leaks about the NSA two weeks ago, Ed Snowden has portrayed government secrecy as a threat to democracy, and his own leaks as acts of conscience. But chat logs uncovered by the tech news site Ars Technica suggest Snowden hasn’t always felt that way.

“Those people should be shot in the balls,” Snowden apparently said of leakers in a January 2009 chat. Snowden had logged into an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) server associated with Ars Technica. While Ars itself didn’t log the conversations, multiple participants in the discussions kept logs of the chats and 
provided them to the technology site.

At this point, Snowden’s evolution into a fierce critic of the national security establishment was in its early stages. Snowden was incensed at the New York Times, which had 
described secret negotiations between the United States and Israel over how best to deal with Iran’s suspected nuclear program.

“Are they TRYING to start a war? Jesus christ. They’re like wikileaks.” Snowden wrote. “You don’t put that s— in the NEWSPAPER.”

“They have a HISTORY of this s—,” he continued, making liberal use of capital letters and profanity. “These are the same people who blew the whole ‘we could listen to osama’s cell phone’ thing. The same people who screwed us on wiretapping. Over and over and over again.”

He said he enjoyed “ethical reporting.” But “VIOLATING NATIONAL SECURITY? no. That s— is classified for a reason. It’s not because ‘oh we hope our citizens don’t find out.’ It’s because ‘this s— won’t work if iran knows what we’re doing.’”

“I am so angry right now. This is completely unbelievable.”

People change, of course. But few change so drastically. Fewer still currently claim to be champions of openness and transparency while using unfree societies to shield themselves from the law, and very few openness and transparency advocates get jobs under false pretenses.

 

Edward Snowden's Dubious Achievement

To be entirely fair to Edward Snowden, there are whistleblowers who stand with him and who applaud what he has done in exposing NSA surveillance programs and techniques. But it is also worth noting that there are plenty of whistleblowers who think that Edward Snowden has done the cause of whistleblowing no good whatsoever:

When Edward Snowden first started revealing secrets about the National Security Agency's massive surveillance operations, the small community of U.S. government whistleblowers and their advocates publicly leapt to Snowden's defense. But now that the world's most famous leaker has apparently left Hong Kong for Moscow (and beyond), that support has begun to erode. Some of the best-known whistleblowers of the past decade are now concerned that Snowden's flight to America's geopolitical rivals will make it easier to brand tomorrow's whistleblowers as enemies of the state.

[. . .]

"By fleeing to foreign countries of questionable taste, [Snowden] has taken his acts beyond the normal American view of a whistleblower," adds veteran investigator 
Glenn Walp, who exposed huge security holes at Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory. "Ultimately he will not be remembered or identified as a whistleblower, but rather, in most circles, as a traitor - that's the difference."

Other whistleblowers have latched onto Snowden's 
recent admission that he took his job with Booz Allen Hamilton for the sole purpose of gathering evidence on the NSA's cyberspying networks. "That's not how a whistleblower behaves," said Martin Edwin Andersen, a former whistleblower who exposed misconduct within the Justice Department. "He had a number of legal recourses he could have pursued; for example, he could have gone to Congress, where many members -- Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative -- regularly and vocally challenge the system. Instead, he knowingly went back on his word and broke the law."

And remember: Snowden, the supposed advocate of an open, free and democratic society is relying on countries that are anything but open, free and democratic to shield him from the legal consequences of his actions.

 

On the Obama Administration's Embarrassment and Edward Snowden's Insincerity

The fact that Edward Snowden was able to leave Hong Kong, transit through Russia and fly to Ecuador for asylum has to be humiliating for the Obama administration, especially in light of the "resets" in diplomatic relations that the administration has been seeking with China and Russia. I am sure that the president and his team will try to claim that everything is hunky-dory when it comes to the state of Sino-American and Russian-American relations, but the United States's inability to get China and Russia to cooperate in bringing Edward Snowden to justice serves to undermine any such claim. 

The above having been written, it is important to remind ourselves that Edward Snowden is absolutely, positively no hero whatsoever. The following statement has Snowden dead to rights:

Mr. Snowden’s claim that he is focused on supporting transparency, freedom of the press and protection of individual rights and democracy is belied by the protectors he has potentially chosen: China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador,” the official said. “His failure to criticize these regimes suggests that his true motive throughout has been to injure the national security of the U.S., not to advance Internet freedom and free speech.

Accountability Has Become Such an Antiquated Concept

Gene Healy  on the president who is never there:

"Hey, don't look at me -- I'm just the president!" That's the common thread in President Obama's response to his recent scandal eruptions, from IRS harassment of Tea Partiers to his Justice Department's spying on AP reporters. Like everybody else, Obama learns about these things via cable news, according to press secretary Jay Carney.

Obama's flight from responsibility punctured the stratosphere in his recent speech on "the Future of Our Fight against Terrorism" at the National Defense University in D.C. In the speech Obama seemed to position himself as the loyal opposition to his own administration.

He worried that "perpetual war ... will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways." Look at the current situation at Guantanamo Bay, Citizen Obama chided, "where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike ... Is this who we are? Is that something our founders foresaw?" Obama pronounced himself "troubled" by the proliferation of drone strikes in an ever-expanding war and "the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable."

All valid concerns, compassionately expressed. So how can we get this guy into the room when the big decisions are being made?

Mitt Romney may have had his faults as a candidate. No, check that; Mitt Romney most certainly had his faults as a candidate. But I have a hard time believing that he would have been as disengaged a president as the guy we actually re-elected in November of last year has turned out to be.

 

Scandal Watch (The Saga that Won't End)

The latest:

  • The IRS targeting of conservative groups is only a "so-called scandal" in the eyes of some, who coincidentally, probably don't like conservatives all that much. Equally coincidental, I am sure, those calling the IRS scandal a "so-called scandal" are members of the media, which we are repeatedly assured is never ideologically biased and treats both sides of the partisan divide fairly and honorably.
  • Rich Lowry points out that the IRS scandal--which really is much more than a "so-called scandal"--"is a scandal of administrators and bureaucrats, of otherwise faceless people endowed with immense power over their fellow citizens and running free of serious oversight from elected officials." Which makes you feel good about all of the legislation passed that puts more power in these people's hands, right?
  • Eric Holder is in trouble, as he is facing possible perjury allegations regarding his comments on the Justice Department's investigation of Fox News reporter James Rosen. He has responded to the allegations by inviting media outlets to a discussion with him on how the issue could have been better handled, and what can be done in the future to conduct leak investigations without shredding the First Amendment. Here's the catch: the discussion with the media outlets was supposed to be off the record. So presumably, Holder would discuss better ways to conduct leak investigations and media outlets could not tell the public--the same public that may actually be concerned about the shredding of the First Amendment--anything about his comments. To their credit, a host of media outlets refused to meet with Holder under these conditions. Oh, and the attorney general is “also beginning to feel a creeping sense of personal remorse” over how the leak investigation was handled, which is nice to know. Too bad he refuses to let the public find out how his "creeping sense of personal remorse" will translate into a change in policy at the Justice Department.

Scandal Watch (A Continuing Series)

So, let's review the latest:

  • Concerning the IRS scandal, we learn that Lois Lerner was "directly involved" in the targeting of conservative groups. This included signing letters that contained "a list of detailed questions of the kind that a Treasury inspector general’s audit found to be inappropriate."
  • Organizing for Action is a 501(c)(4), which means that it is supposed to act in a non-partisan capacity when engaging in advocacy. So naturally, the president of the United States--who is anything but non-partisan--has signed a fundraising letter on behalf of Organizing for Action, which includes a request to register at this site, which as you will note, contains the name of the non-non-partisan president of the United States in its URL. As of two weeks ago, Organizing for Action has not yet applied for tax-exempt status from the IRS, but I am willing to bet dollars to donuts that when they do, they will encounter no problems whatsoever with their application. To be sure, the IRS won't want to cause yet another scandal by giving yet another prominent 501(c)(4) applicant a hard time, but the point is that plenty of equivalent conservative groups have had to encounter a hard time at the hands of the IRS, while liberal groups have gotten nothing but the kindest cooperation.
  • I am pleased to note that Jonathan Turley has decided to continue to eat his Wheaties:
Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the administration's sweeping surveillance of journalists with the Associated Press. In the greatest attack on the free press in decades, the Justice Department seized phone records for reporters and editors in at least three AP offices as well as its office in the House of Representatives. Holder, however, proceeded to claim absolute and blissful ignorance of the investigation, even failing to recall when or how he recused himself.Yet, this was only the latest attack on the news media under Holder's leadership. Despite his record, he expressed surprise at the hearing that the head of the Republican National Committee had called for his resignation. After all, Holder pointed out, he did nothing. That is, of course, precisely the point. Unlike the head of the RNC, I am neither a Republican nor conservative, and I believe Holder should be fired.

Like dumber follows dumb, the scandal of politicized IRS tax enforcement has been followed by calls for a "special prosecutor." Republicans are predictably leading this call against a Democratic Administration, but this is one case in which the GOP should hope it doesn't get its way.

The case for a special counsel is that Attorney General Eric Holder can't be trusted to investigate his Administration, and that the Administration will stonewall Congress. We don't trust Mr. Holder either, but letting him pass the buck to a special prosecutor is doing him a favor. This scandal is best handled in Congressional hearings that educate the public in the next year rather than wait two or three years for potential indictments.

In Dan Brown’s new novel, Inferno, the lead character is struck with amnesia, unable to remember critical events even as he’s trying to save the world. Let’s borrow that useful plot device and imagine if American journalists woke up and couldn’t remember who was president. It would be interesting to ask them a few questions:

What would you think of a president under whom the IRS targeted his harshest political opponents, during his reelection campaign?

What would you think of a president whose obsession with leaks and secrecy was so great that he used the Justice Department to obtain phone records of reporters, in violation of Justice’s established procedure?

What would you think of a president whose head of the Department of Justice signed a criminal warrant against a leading journalist working for the news organization most critical of the president—and monitored the movements of the journalist and even went after his mother’s phone records?

What would you think of an administration that directed the president’s press secretary repeatedly to deliver false information concerning the death of an American ambassador?

These are not hypothetical questions—and yet there is an entire class of journalist so invested in a certain moral and ethical image of the president its members are unable to entertain facts that might tarnish that image. They are the pro-Obama equivalent of Birthers, never letting emerging facts cloud the conclusion they’ve already committed to hold.

The same journalists who did not hesitate to assume the worst of previous Republican administrations—
E.J. Dionne, Walter Pincus, Jack Shafer, to name a few—are now tying themselves in knots trying to explain that there is nothing to see when the IRS probes Obama’s enemies or that the Justice Department secretly seizing the phone records of one of their peers and his mother was really a good thing. One has to wonder if it were their mother and her records, how that mother-son conversation would play out.

“Well, Mom, you know, the president has to do these things, and I’ve told you time and again not to email Aunt Sally about my sources. Is that any way to keep hope alive?”

Stevens was Mitt Romney's chief strategist in the 2012 presidential election. If he strategized as tough as he wrote this column, we might now have a new president.

The Washington Post Editorial Board Eats Its Wheaties

And comments powerfully on the case of James Rosen:

A FREE press in a democracy demands a delicate balance. The First Amendment means the media must have the right to inquire without hindrance. The government has a legitimate interest in keeping some national security information secret. When these come into conflict, the balance often has been struck this way: The media are free to pursue secrets, but it is up to those in government to keep them. When the media come into possession of information that, if disclosed, could be damaging, the government can plead the case for secrecy — and the media generally are open to persuasion.

Up to now, there have been no prosecutions of reporters under the 
1917 Espionage Act, a reflection of this balance in action.

The balance has been upset by an affidavit filed by the FBI in a criminal investigation into a national security leak. Special Agent Reginald B. Reyes asked a court to grant a search warrant for the e-mails of a reporter, James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent of Fox News, on grounds that 
Mr. Rosen is a “co-conspirator and/or aider and abettor” of the leak of classified information. The target of the criminal probe is Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, who in 2009, when the leak occurred, was a State Department arms expert with a security clearance. The leak concerned intelligence information about North Korea.

What did the journalist do to become a potential criminal co-conspirator? According to the FBI agent, he “asked, solicited and encouraged” his source to disclose sensitive information. The reporter did this “by employing flattery” and playing to the “vanity and ego” of Mr. Kim. In other words, the journalist was doing what reporters do. Unfortunately, a judge signed off on this flimsy search warrant.

So did the attorney general of the United States.

Eric Holder: No Friend of Reporters

We now know that the attorney general of the United States signed off on a search warrant for the private e-mails of Fox News reporter James Rosen:

Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on a controversial search warrant that identified Fox News reporter James Rosen as a “possible co-conspirator” in violations of the Espionage Act and authorized seizure of his private emails, a law enforcement official told NBC News on Thursday.

The disclosure of the attorney general’s role came as President Barack Obama, in a major speech on his counterterrorism policy, said Holder had agreed to review Justice Department guidelines governing investigations that involve journalists.

"I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable," Obama said. "Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs."

Rosen, who has not been charged in the case, was nonetheless the target of a search warrant that enabled Justice Department investigators to secretly seize his private emails after an FBI agent said he had "asked, solicited and encouraged … (a source) to disclose sensitive United States internal documents and intelligence information."

Obama's comments follow a firestorm of criticism that has erupted over disclosures that in separate investigations of leaks of classified information, the Justice Department had obtained private emails that Rosen exchanged with a source and the phone records of Associated Press reporters.  

This all leads to a natural and obvious question: If "[j]ournalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs," then why does the attorney general still have his job?

Lest We Forget . . .

There is another scandal that is hobbling the Obama administration. And it has even stirred the New York Times editorial board to outrage:

With the decision to label a Fox News television reporter a possible “co-conspirator” in a criminal investigation of a news leak, the Obama administration has moved beyond protecting government secrets to threatening fundamental freedoms of the press to gather news.

The 
latest reported episode involves James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News. In 2009, Mr. Rosen reported on FoxNews.com that North Korea planned to launch a missile in response to the condemnation of its nuclear tests by the United Nations Security Council. The Justice Department investigated the source of the article and later indicted Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a State Department security adviser, on charges of leaking classified information. Mr. Kim pleaded not guilty.

Normally, the inquiry would have ended with Mr. Kim — leak investigations usually focus on the source, not the reporter. But, in this case, federal prosecutors also asked a federal judge for permission to examine Mr. Rosen’s personal e-mails, arguing that “there is probable cause to believe” Mr. Rosen is “an aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator” in the leak.

An affidavit filed with the judge made it clear that Mr. Rosen’s comings and goings at the State Department were carefully monitored. It said further that he tried to elicit information by “employing flattery and playing to Mr. Kim’s vanity and ego.” That would hardly be a first in the relationship between journalists and government officials, and, certainly, it is not grounds for a conspiracy charge. Though Mr. Rosen was not charged, the F.B.I. request for his e-mail account was granted secretly in late May 2010. The government was allowed to rummage through Mr. Rosen’s e-mails for at least 30 days. (The New Yorker
 reported Tuesday that Justice Department officials also seized phone records associated with White House staffers and Fox News as part of the Kim case.)

Michael Clemente, the executive vice president of Fox News, said on Monday that it was “downright chilling” that Mr. Rosen “was named a criminal co-conspirator for simply doing his job as a reporter.” Bruce Brown, the executive director of the 
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, added on Tuesday that treating “routine news-gathering efforts as evidence of criminality is extremely troubling and corrodes time-honored understandings between the public and the government about the role of the free press.”

The Justice Department has gone so far as to seize the phone records of Rosen's parents. Because, of course, they were in on the conspiracy. Or something.