Snowden is an Idiot and Possibly a Traitor


Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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127 Responses

  1. Avatar zic says:

    There so many things about this that bother on so many levels.

    These pieces because they’re ‘shoot the messenger.’ Don’t talk about what the message revealed, talk about the person.

    I have been pondering two things on PRISM, and wonder what other think.

    First is the Observer-expectancy effect, all the ways we change ourselves (no matter if we’re doing something wrong or not) because of the suspicion we’re constantly being observed.

    Second is the problems of a private company doing this spying on us. I would imagine there’s quite a market for the new ways to slice and dice consumers based on their actual behavior there; a whole new field of consumer research to be able us to be sold.

    Again, Thank you, Ethan. At least in China, the spying doesn’t feel like it has the potential of becoming a commodity, too.Report

  2. Did you write the headline as well as the text? I am not following how the two support one another.Report

  3. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I saw a poll that suggested that most Americans do want Snowden tried for the leaks and to face criminal responsibility.

    And I don’t think this is because they are being duped by the political and media “elties” That kind of argumentation is always suspect.

    Yet on the blogosphere (at least my section of it) Snowden is a hero and has done very good and important work.

    At a certain point, it is probably a good idea to figure out why civil libertarians seem to be in the minority. We seem to be suspicious of NSA and political claims that their techniques stopped “dozens” of terrorist attacks. The majority seemingly accepts this. Why is this?

    This is not a comment against Snowden but I don’t think civil libertarians often are very good at making arguments for civil liberties. We accept them as good axiomatically and are a bit too surprised at people willing to trade security for liberty. Endlessly quoting Ben Franklin won’t help here.Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to NewDealer says:

      I think the simplest answer for why a majority of Americans don’t care is it doesn’t currently inconvenience them at all and might even be providing some additional safety, so why not?Report

    • I think it’s cognitive dissonance. It’s very hard for a lot of people to take seriously the idea that the good guys often do bad things. We’re not like East Germany because we… well… hmm… actually we’re a whole lot like East Germany. But we’re different, see? Somehow, anyway….Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Eh, but we’re not a lot like East Germany, and that’s where Ethan’s point comes in: in East Germany, you couldn’t help but know you were in East Germany, because East Germany didn’t let you forget. Here, you can easily forget that you’re in a country that shares some similarities to East Germany, because those similarities are few and have little if any affect on your life.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Chris says:

          True, but you can’t have things both ways.

          Either we’re not like East Germany — and thus there’s a very strong case that we don’t need the surveillance state — or we are indeed like East Germany, only with McDonald’s, and Coca-Cola, and all sorts of distractions that hide the things we are about to be doing to ourselves, using the state.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            East Germany done right this time.

            If you have the right list of things to make illegal, people mind a police state a lot less.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird says:

              I once heard an interview on NPR, I forgot who was being interviewed but it was about the collapse of Communism. The interviewee theorized that one reason why the CCP survived and other other Communist Parties did not was because the CCP had the revelation that people like to have fun and if you allow people their fun, they won’t complain so much. She seems to be right. Its bread and circuses for the masses and unlike Rome, we figuered out how to get the masses to pay.Report

            • Avatar dexter in reply to Jaybird says:

              I had a conversation with a lady from Spain one time that told me Franco was a good man because he brought order to Spain.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Eh, I’m on your side on this one. I don’t think we need this, or even have a good reason for using it, but even if we did, I don’t think the potential consequences, particularly long-term, make it worthwhile to do so.

            And I think the distractions distract us from a lot more than our similarities with East Germany, but that’s another conversation.Report

          • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            You conceded in your post about Snowden that some government actions needed to be conducted in secret.

            I am curious as to what you think those actions are and to what extent. Does the US need a CIA or NSA? This is not an attack. I’m troubled by the paradox of the necessit non-democratic institutions in a democratic society.Report

            • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to NewDealer says:

              For me personally: The U.S. does not need a CIA or NSA.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                The CIA’s legitimate charter is to analyze the capabilities and intentions of foreign states (and non-state actors like Al Qaeda.) There’s no need for that? Seriously?Report

              • I see no reason why the military can’t do that.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                How is the military supposed to do that when they can’t even prepare for global warming, which is FAR more within their purview???Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                It’s not a wholly military concern. If we’re re-orging, I’d put it under State.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I dunno, diplomacy is already used as a cover for spying.

                It may be a fiction already, but I would like State to continue to represent the “Trust” part, and the CIA the “,but verify” part, of the equation.Report

              • And the CIA does such a good job of verifying, doesn’t it?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                On the whole, I think they do. The CIA proper wasn’t taken in by Chalabi the way that the Bush administration in general was, and they remained skeptical about WMDs in Iraq. The worst thing you could do with intelligence analysis is remove it from a quasi-independent agency and tie it more closely to the White House.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Yeah, I’d put it under State as well. The touchy feely folks tend to go there (rather than Military).Report

              • Because the military is so beholden to the White House? The executive is the executive–none of the subsidiary departments are independent–though plenty of them seem plenty capable of exercising their own judgment and concerns.

                So no one has yet answered why the CIA’s tasks can’t just be divided up between the state department and the military.Report

              • Obviously, they could. Would this produce a better state of affairs? I suppose that depends on the metric by which one evaluates the term “better,” but I think Mike’s right that on the whole, the CIA fulfills its mission with sufficient competence that a re-org runs a higher risk of loss of function than of making things better.

                The problem isn’t the CIA. The problem is the NSA (sort of; really, the problem is its masters).Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                “the CIA fulfills its mission with sufficient competence that a re-org runs a higher risk of loss of function than of making things better.”

                I require evidence, justification.

                And really, you Burt think this is a problem of people with the wrong hearts and souls leading the charge instead of how these institutions function, their incentives, and their goals?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I would say that the one making blanket statements about whether organizations are necessary without discussing their function and past performance has the burden of providing evidence and justification.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Because the military is so beholden to the White House?

                Hmm, would the CIA have done better reporting to Rumsfeld …Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Take those “unknown unknowns”, extraordinarily rendition ’em, and by god we’ll know ’em then.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I know this thread has gone a bit cold, but if this turns out to be true, I will join with Ethan in not only calling for the complete and total disbanding of the CIA, but in personally going to the houses of the officers responsible and giving them painful wedgies on national television prior to their indictment on criminal charges.Report

              • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                I added that comment after, but apparently I was “posting to fast.”

                But yea, basic point–plenty of agencies with more oversight already exist which could attend to that broad objective.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                If the military had all the responsibilities the CIA has, I think there would be a loss in accountability compared even to what we have. Those functions would disappear into the military bureaucracy, be additionally shielded by the prestige that the military, nearly alone among American institutions, enjoys, and the public would become even less aware that they’re being done than they are now. At least this way, there is public target for public watchdogs and institutional overseers to train a searching gaze on – and politically controlled bureaucrats, mostly without stars on their shoulders, who can be held accountable for failures and abuses.

                Obviously, this doesn’t produce rigorous oversight of intelligence activities and covert action. But I suspect that oversight would be further blunted if all intelligence activities were assumed by the regular military. I’m not sure I see what’s the impetus for the strong preference that it should be.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Never commingle political and military functionality. Gotta keep them separate or you end up with no civilian control of the military.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                …And as to a positive reason to have at least one (of course, we have several, in and out of the military) independent intelligence agency, Blaise gets to it below: there needs to be an institutional multiplicity of analytic perspective. Without that, you get tunnel vision and conceptual stagnation in your analysis.

                I think what Ethan means to focus on and we should be focusing on is review and reform (which first requires a dramatic ratcheting up of oversight) of the operations side of the intelligence/special-operations sector of our government (i.e. covert military and paramilitary operations), of all information collection for national security purposes with any domestic impact (i.e. reviews of the status quo situation in which (a) communication between a U.S. person and a non-U.S. person is presumptively not private, and (b) all information about domestic communication not involving “content” is likewise presumed not to be private), and of the general trend toward the contracting inherently governmental intelligence functions to private entitities.

                To say that all legitimate intelligence functions should be brought within the military really just skips over that basic task to an institutional-reform aim that is at best only a small part of the main problems we presently face. All those problems could easily persist with an intelligence function performed by the military, and they could be addressed (to some extent or other) while retaining institutional variety in the intelligence function of the government.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Ditto on Mike’s question. The CIA has done (and will do again) dodgy things, and needs to be watched like a hawk by our elected officials. But it’s the proverbial dirty job somebody’s gotta do, at least if you intend to survive as a nation-state. Who else would do it? The military? That would make every spy caught a de facto act of war.Report

              • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Glyph says:

                If the spying in question is illegal–I guess so. Yet everyone already knows we spy, and somehow it never comes to fisticuffs.

                Why don’t you think our nation-state would survive without the CIA? Elaborate as much as possible please.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                I didn’t say it wouldn’t survive without the CIA. I said it wouldn’t survive without the job (as outlined in Mike’s comment) getting done. If your position is that other entities can accomplish the same task (=the job gets done as well or better), then we don’t disagree there.

                I also think putting it under military purview may increase the risk of war, from the “when all you have is a hammer” perspective. That is, the military’s main job is to go to war and break stuff and kill people. I am not accusing our troops of being trigger-happy, but I think they might be more prone to drawing conclusions and presenting narratives from the data which could lead to war, than someone who has a different perspective and other tools at their disposal (diplomacy, or additional spycraft). And it’s not like the military won’t have excesses and fishups of their own.

                What improvement do you see in taking the job from CIA? Is there another comparable nation with comparable needs, that does it the way you are proposing, that we can look at?Report

              • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                Name the CIA’s most resent triumph?

                Was it the military that led us into Iraq or information from the CIA in the hands of those not skeptical enough to question it?

                And as you are the one making the positive case for the CIA, I suggest the burden of proof is on you to explain why it is imperative, and demonstrate that point with evidence.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                I’m pretty sure that’s classified.

                Someone’s gotta take credit for taking Syria’s gov’t website down (I think that’s State, actually)Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                The CIA and NSA are in a cleft stick of their own making. By the very nature of their mission, nobody can name Recent Triumphs, plots balked, crimes detected, that sort of thing. You’ll only hear about their failures. CIA is not a collection of officious morons and screwups. They have a job to do and they do it, with no praise or thanks from the likes of us. There’s a wall just inside the door at Langley with engraved stars, one for every CIA agent who gave their life in the service of this country. To ask for triumphs is not even a reasonable question. Some of those stars have no names in the book. CIA and NSA are every bit as professional — and unprofessional — as our military.

                Dick Cheney didn’t like what CIA was telling him about Saddam so he built his own little intelligence agency. CIA has sinned plenty — but in the case of Iraq, it was sinned against. CIA tried to tell Cheney there were no WMDs and Cheney didn’t like that. So he went off and invented some information to that effect.

                Your case against CIA is ignorantio elenchi. CIA is necessary for the obvious reason we have enemies in the world and spies among us. Some weeks ago, I wrote a eulogy for Kenneth Waltz who once said a very wise thing: The most important causes of political arrangements and acts are found in the nature and behavior of man.

                Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge.

                5. Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation.

                6. Knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions can only be obtained from other men. Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                Ethan, I have already tried to point out the fact that I don’t need the CIA itself, so long as the job can be done as well or better than it is now by other entities.

                Maybe I am just a credulous tool of the man, but it seems evident to me that an operation which (in my view, necessarily) operates partially in the shadows is going to have more *visible* failures than *visible* successes. That doesn’t mean they need to be abolished, nor does it mean what they are currently up to is right. It just means they need better oversight from elected officials (and those officials, and the CIA, should get raked over the coals when they screw up).

                I have suggested a couple reasons why I don’t think State or the military are necessarily the best homes for the job. But if there is a comparable state with comparable needs that does it the way you suggest, I am all ears. Since every major nation-state has (AFAIK) a CIA-type equivalent, I think you should make the case, with evidence, why we don’t need a CIA (even granting for the sake of argument that they are currently, epically, screwing up – I take it as given that my government is spying on foreigners, but it should not be spying on me. Like the police, in a democracy we theoretically pay the government to be paranoid FOR its citizens, not ABOUT its citizens).Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                The fact that the only possible evidence to support your defense of the status quo is secret, and you can’t point to a concrete problem that would result from giving the missions which Mike outlines above–intelligence analysis and studying the intentions of other nations–that couldn’t just as well result from the current setup, is enough for me.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                Well, you are more radical than me, I’ll give you that.

                Frankly, “Abolish the CIA!” sounds to my ears a lot like “Abolish the IRS and Department of Education!”

                In that, yeah, I think the IRS and DOE could be improved. But I don’t want them abolished. They have valid jobs to do, even if I disagree with many of my fellow citizens about how they should best be done.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                Put another way, “But Rodney King got beaten!” isn’t an argument to entirely abolish the police, unless you are a radical anarchist. This seems similar, except we are all getting figuratively beaten by our own government.

                It’s an excess that needs to be curtailed, not an argument against the institution’s existence in the first place.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                Oh, I can point to damn fine things that the CIA has done. Just not the “most recent”. I mean, you want to keep an eye on rogue NGOs who have nuclear weapons, right?? I’m … pretty sure it’s the CIA who monitors rogue nuclear weapon usage.

                …. at least I hope someone’s watching the seismographs who is in the realm of public policy, and not just a geologist.Report

              • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                Glyph, neither of those were things I suggested. I’m not arguing for the abolishment of the IRS, Department of Education, or local law enforcement, ergo those analogies have no bearing.Report

              • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                Kimmi, why does the CIA do that and not the military?Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                Because the military’s job is to go stop other countries. The CIA’s job is to monitor things and people. The next time someone starts a suicide cult, do you really want the Military monitoring them?

                … or, okay, let’s try another one. The Cia has a program to understand foreign leaders, and (potentially) to fuck with them. Exploit their own special variety of crazy, you get the picture.

                … That’s not exactly the military’s forte (State’d do better).Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                I’m not arguing for the abolishment of the IRS, Department of Education, or local law enforcement, ergo those analogies have no bearing.

                “You say that getting rid of the CIA would be like getting rid of the Department of Education, but I only want to get rid of the CIA, not the Department of education, therefore the analogy doesn’t hold” is a really odd counter. If I say to my girlfriend (as I often do), “Your making me watch your reality TV shows is like me making you watch my Kentucky basketball games,” she can’t say, “but I’m not forcing you to watch any Kentucky basketball games, therefore the analogy doesn’t hold.”Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                +1 Chris.

                Ethan is just saying there, “Analogies? Nope, not for me. Immune.” No, he’s not. Not just on his say-so, anyway. Analogies are never perfect, and if you want to have the position that they are always more misdirecting than enlightening, that is a viable position. But I’m pretty sure we could pretty quickly find examples of Ethan arguing by use of analogy, so that’s not his position.

                There are reasons why the IRS/DOE analogy is faulty there, but it’s not just because Ethan isn’t explicitly arguing for their abolition as well. If he were, there wouldn’t be an analogy; there’d just be a fact about what he was saying.Report

              • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                Just so everyone understands what the dispute is over: where the responsibilities as outlined by Mike above are better housed–State/Defense vs. CIA/NSA.

                The short of my claim is that the things the former agencies can’t do or can’t do well are simply things the latter shouldn’t be doing anyway.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                I don’t see why you’re leaving out the NIH and NSF. They already do CIA research… (it pays well, they get money for other grants because of it).Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Glyph says:

                Analysis isn’t a dirty job; it’s a basic part of dealing with the rest of the world. And much of the data that’s analyzed is obtained perfectly legally, being either publicly available, obtained from legitimate private sources, or obtained via satellite observation.

                Honestly, saying “We don’t need intelligence analysis” is like telling a private company it doesn’t need market research.Report

              • I’ve already stated that there’s no reason why “intelligence analysis” can’t be done by a different department. The military and state department already do their own analysis.

                And if everything is above bored, I see no reason why the military can’t be doing it in the open.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Nonsense. The very last thing this nation needs is a short circuit between the military and civilian intelligence gathering. Not even the stupidest dictator commingles the two. The various defense intelligence agencies have their own jobs to do. It is not their job to do civilian intelligence. That’s the HOV lane to Hell.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                BP–no one is talking about the military doing civilian intelligence–unless you count the CIA as a covert-military organization.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Every last one of these agencies have Meat Eaters. CIA does go after people and sometimes it kills them, sometimes with military assistance, sometimes all on their lonesome. Even Hillary Clinton at State wanted her own little Praetorian Guard. She wasn’t given one, which dovetails with the mess over Benghazi way. She had to use local yokels who all ran away at the first sign of trouble.

                Our enemies these days are mostly civilians. I’d prefer to view these terrorists as simple criminals, guilty of crimes such as murder, conspiracy to murder, kidnapping, air piracy and the like. But a good many of these civilians connive with actual governments, receiving aid and assistance from them. Looks like Obama’s going into that line of aid and assistance for some rum old customers in Syria. The line is blurred. Almost nobody fights in a uniform these days.

                I have no problem with the CIA running its own Meat Eaters. I do have a problem with Cheney running his own death squads, as he seems to have done for the entire Bush43 administration, hiding it all from Congress.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Okay, so where do we put bribing Afghani farmers to grow wheat instead of opium poppies?
                (Yup, CIA does tons of crazy shit — a good deal of which is done under the color of other agencies — NIH included)Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                An Afghan is a person. An Afghani is a coin.Report

              • Avatar DRS in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Then what’s a crocheted blanket?Report

              • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Mike Schilling says:


                We also need to be careful about how we use the State Department for intelligence gathering. It’s real stock in trade is good diplomatic relationships. Everyone knows it’s also used as a cover for intelligence agents from CIA, but if State was _the_ intelligence agency, good diplomatic relationships become far more difficult, if not impossible.

                One thing studies of bureaucracy show pretty strongly is that agencies work best when they have a clear mission, an overriding primary purpose. Once you start larding them up with multiple and non-congruent missions you fuck up their functionality. Functional specialization is not to be dismissed lightly.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        We’re exactly like East Germany. You can tell from the machine guns at the border.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        How many political prisoners are in the horribly not free U.S.

        The East German government spied on its people to repress dissent and free speach. There is no evidence that the U.S. does that, whixhc is why the average American is sanguine. People don’t feel that the state is censoring them and watching their communications for that purpose.

        You’ve jumped the shark with this Germany comparison.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Shazbot5 says:

          Michelle wants kids to eat better. Hitler was a vegetarian. Coincidence?Report

          • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            I personally am afraid to air my views on the internet for fear of repraisal.

            Oh wait, I (and you) are airing our views and don’t fear repraisal.

            It’s East Germany redux!

            Actually, I’m more afraid that some future employer (or lender) will use what I say against me. Thus the pseudonym. (My actual name is Shazbot9. Keep it hush hush.)Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Shazbot5 says:

          Ahh, the essence of stupidity.
          Can we talk about the first world country that does censor and abridge freedom of speech?

          Yeah. That one

          Australians are sanguine too.

          And America likes to kill folks rather than take political prisoners — american citizens or no.Report

          • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Kimmi says:

            Wait, are you saying that I am stupid or that Australians are stupid?

            The Aussies are pretty good at philosophy, IMO, so that they can’t be that stupid.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Shazbot5 says:

              ” There is no evidence that the U.S. does that, whixhc is why the average American is sanguine. ”
              … is stupid. Because I can cite a (firstworld) country that does monitor its citizens (and the rest of us), and its citizenry is sanguine about it.Report

        • Avatar Barry in reply to Shazbot5 says:

          “There is no evidence that the U.S. does that,…”

          At this point I’m strongly in favor of public mockery of people who say things like that about highly secret government programs, run by organizations with excellent records of keeping secrets.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        I think you are partially right. People want to see the American government as being good and they don’t want to think it has done bad things. Or people sincerely believe the guy in the thrillers who gives the monologue about “I do all these really sketchy things so you can sleep safely at night.” That is the paraphrase sentence of the monologue.

        However, the East Germany analogy is strained. I still have a passport, I can still leave the US. No one has been hauled off for interrogation and/or for claiming that Snowden is a hero or did the right thing. This is not The Lives of Others.Report

    • Avatar Pub Editor in reply to NewDealer says:

      Most people don’t see themselves as the potential targets of the surveillance state. It’s other people who are really being watched.

      Just like most middle class suburban voters appear to support the War on Drugs, so long as it’s not their neighborhoods where SWAT teams are executing no-knock house searches and shooting the family dog.

      In those places where the long arm of the state does become more visible, and more noticeably invasive–as it does with the TSA at airports–then people start to grumble a bit more.Report

    • Avatar Barry in reply to NewDealer says:

      New Dealer, look for polls on Iraqi WMD’s, Saddam being connected with 9/11, etc.Report

  4. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    I absolutely believe that every low-level contractor should be able to broadcast whatever classified information he feels like revealing with no threat of punishment, sanction, or criticism, and that anyone who disagrees is the moral equivalent of history’s greatest monsters, even worse than the fascists who would mandate fire exits in sweatshops..Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      If he broke the law, he should definitely face the consequences, regardless of whether I think what he did was a good thing.Report

    • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      Yeah, and people should put the good of society and morality over the contracts they signed. So even though Snowden certainly signed confidentiality agreements that acknowledged there would be legal repurcussions for spilling the beans, he was write to disregard those contracts,

      Contracts are made to be broken. The role of the state is not to enforce contracts but to enforce morality.

      Wait, isn’t that a problem for libertarians? Snowden and his employer entered into a contract and Snowden (thinking that he had all the answers about morality, which many here say is subjective, that he knows what his right and he is enforcing that on the rest of us) violated that contract.

      If the role of the state is to enforce contracts, what right did Snowden have to violate his contract? If you say he had a moral duty to the rest of us that trumped his contractual obligations, why can’t I say that the same about all sorts of other issues?Report

      • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Shazbot5 says:

        For imstance, X and Y enter a contract where X pays Y for work. But Y believes that X has a moral duty to pay him more (maybe because Y’s kids need a better education or something). Can Y violate the contract and just take money from X ? Should the state enforce the contract or should it figure out whether there is a moral duty to pay Y more and enforce that regardless of what X and Y have agreed to contractually?Report

  5. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    I can’t figure out why the USA is trying to hide its ability to monitor the Internet and phone metadata. The courts have allowed this sort of activity since 1979. Everyone with a clue already knows the Internet is being monitored by all sorts of agencies who don’t mean us any particular harm as individuals but who track us nonetheless. Open the cookies tab on your browser, take a look in there. There is no privacy out here and no reasonable expectation of any. Want privacy? There are some excellent tools for it, not that many people avail themselves of them.

    Even the Bad Guys carefully cover their tracks. Odds are, someone on League is hosting a botnet and doesn’t even know it. MSFT went ahead and tried to knock down the Citadel botnet and did very considerable incidental damage in the process. Not only didn’t they kill Citadel, they took down honeypot traps run by people trying to catch crooks out here.

    Not only should PRISM be public, it ought to be used as a tool for cracking down on the tens of thousands of actual crimes and swindles conducted online every day. From what I’ve seen, PRISM is not being used that way. Billions of dollars spent, all justified with very bad excuse of catching a few terrorists — when we know from Osama bin Laden’s trove that serious terrorists no longer use the Internet or the phone. They use USB thumb drives. PRISM, properly utilised, would be applied to solving generic everyday financial crimes.Report

    • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to BlaiseP says:

      “Odds are, someone on League is hosting a botnet”

      The last botnet I hosted we got a keg and some girl threw up all over my couch.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to BlaiseP says:

      As I’ve said, PRISM could be used to arrest every drug dealer out there, even the teenagers, because they all communicate to either clients or suppliers electronically, and the meta-data would provide a list of their social contacts, providing probable cause for search warrants.

      They say that the average America commits about two felonies a day. The government now has the tools to arrest, prosecute, and jail all those people, and the rule of law demands that we don’t willing let such criminal acts go unpunished.

      Even though everyone would be in jail based on evidence gathered via secretive spying, that wouldn’t make us a police state, since as Obama just stated on Charlie Rose, the NSA programs are “transparent.” He’s technically correct, since the thesaurus says that transparent is a synonym for invisible, and that’s good enough for me. Part of being an open society is allowing the government open access to all your personal secrets, and having those secrets revealed in open court. Once we’ve all been convicted based on transparently gathered evidence, Constitutional protections won’t apply because we’ll all be felons, and the state can make parole contingent on loyal behavior. Maybe we don’t want to live in that world.

      The danger of having such tools is that we’ll become tempted to use them for “the greater good,” continuously adding more and more out groups to the list of undesirables who should be rounded up for prosecution. It starts with foreign terrorists, then domestic terrorists, then pedophiles, e-mail scammers, tax cheats (the IRS already has a massive program to scour social media for clues), drug dealers, speeders, people who owe child support, and of course anyone who joins a Tea Party.

      We live in society with so many laws that everyone breaks a few a day, the same way that we never drive the speed limit. Many municipalities hand out speeding tickets to generate government revenue, and their police officers set up speed traps to meet their quotas. With these new tools the government can make even more money by having their supercomputers spit out a daily arrest list, looking through our vast web of communications to identify which people would be most profitable to go after, generating a stable revenue stream for the entire legal system while discrediting (by criminal conviction) anyone staunchly opposed to the modern methods of law enforcement. And the police won’t even have to recruit, groom, and associate with informants.

      If most humans didn’t reflexively agree that rounding up criminals and hounding troublemakers was a good idea, and so easily give their consent to such programs (even offering up streams of suggestions on who should be targeted), then mankind would never have created and maintained any police states. The Bill of Rights protects us from ourselves because it is in our nature to approve almost any means necessary to prevent heinous crimes and find and punish the perpetrators.

      Why do we have so many complicated laws and regulations? Because just as surely as we all break the speed limit on a daily basis, we also say “there should be a law!” in response to just about any incident not already covered by a specific statute. For any incident that is already covered, we think “if only the police and prosecutors were faster, smarter, and more powerful!” It’s also in our nature to want someone powerful to watch people we despise and make them behave. We feel better if we think someone is keeping an eye on them.

      And worse still, for anyone who joins the government and becomes privy to the tools we’ve created, the feeling of omniscience and power is enough to seduce anyone. Let’s face it, it would be cool to sift through reams of data for all sorts of things, whether to run ingenious code to figure out who really is the hottest girl on the Internet, or to lay bare a vast web of nefarious actors who we know are all in cahoots, or to explore the communications networks to find all new, undiscovered webs of dark influence and power.

      There is virtually no one among us who wouldn’t get addicted to some aspect of it. In the revelations about the NSA and GCHQ tapping the real-time communications of the G20 delegates, the most unsurprising thing was that all the eavesdroppers were virtually high-fiving each other on a job well done. Everybody loves to eavesdrop, uncovering secrets we’re not supposed to know. It’s probably an innate survival trait for a social species, since what your fellow tribe members really thought and said behind your back was often critically important. Information is power, and knowing what other people are up to is why the news business has not only a market, but a vast market. Everybody is a customer, and the headline humans like best is “Shocking scandal revealed.” Even better is finding out the shocking scandal that nobody else knows about yet.

      A fairly recent scientific study on language usage found that the overwhelming majority of daily information conveyed by human speech is gossip. We seem to use gossip like other primates use mutual grooming. We thrive on shared secrets and exult in learning the secrets of others, especially the ones we’re not supposed to know. It’s our nature, like vanity, and seeking power and control over others.

      The NSA program is playing with fire on multiple levels, like building a whiskey still in a room full of alcoholics. It’s dangling the temptations of ultimate knowledge, power, and control right in front of the watchers, while tempting the rest of us to suggest who needs watching. Many other countries have played with those powers and gotten badly burned, and the Constitution contains the wisdom of some of those lessons. The Founding Fathers penned eloquent warnings about what happens when government crosses the line from servant to master, and what remains for us is to see how long we can tempt fate and disregard our own natural inclinations before we, too, go down the path we were determined to avoid.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to George Turner says:

        Awesome comment George.Report

      • Avatar trumwill mobile in reply to George Turner says:

        Yes, excellent comment. The “three felonies a day” aspect of this is underdiscussed and very important.Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to trumwill mobile says:

          I’m not seeing the three or even two felonies a day. I’ll admit to speeding a bit, but that isn’t a a felony or even a misdemeanor. Am i missing something? Felonies are pretty serious things.Report

          • Avatar Just Me in reply to greginak says:

            I can think of two right off the top of my head: tax evasion and copyright infringement.Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to Just Me says:

              ahh i see. I haven’t downloaded anything that should be paid for in about 8 years and i don’t evade my taxes. So i guess i’m a better person than everybody else. My mom would be so proud. But i doubt there is all that much illegal tax evasion, although i admit to not knowing much about the topic.. Illegal downloading, yeah that is pretty common, but mostly among those young whippersnappers.Report

              • Avatar Just Me in reply to greginak says:

                Have you bought anything online? Did you claim it on your state taxes? Did you buy something across the state line? Did you claim that on your states taxes?Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Just Me says:

                I officially plead the 5th, i’m not taking any chances on silence.

                But anyway, do we have to claim online purchases on our state taxes? Maybe i am guilty. This could one of the many things i am tragically uninformed about. Frankly if we are supposed to do those things and nobody does, than i don’t think that really proves the point. There are those old crazy laws about like not shooting a sperm whale from your Conestoga in Nebraska on sunday. It’s a law, but nobody cares about nor is it used. That likely means its a pointless law, unless your a sperm whale of course, but that isn’t evidence of much else.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to greginak says:

                Clearly that law needs to be enforced more stringently, since there hasn’t been a reported sperm whale citing in Nebraska for quite some time.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to greginak says:

                yes, you absolutely are supposed to pay sales tax. duh.Report

              • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to greginak says:

                The point is that the laws are so numerous that most people have no idea they are breaking them, & because our legal system has essentially done away with any requirement that prosecutors demonstrate Mens Rea on the part of the accused, you can be charged with whatever crime the DA can come up with where he can find evidence of it.

                So sure, maybe he can’t prove you killed your neighbor (because you didn’t, but he likes you for the crime), but he can prove you are guilty of tax evasion by not reporting Use Tax on out of state purchases.

                Or he can get a search warrant & tear your house & life apart looking for evidence of any number of crimes you committed but didn’t know you did (local, state, or federal). That is the point of the book “Three Felonies a Day”.

                The FBI does something similar all the time. It’s a federal crime to lie to a Federal Agent, so when the FBI interrogates you, they work hard to get you to say something they can prove false, so they can leverage you with that charge, even if you had no idea you were lying.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

                Also, using good cryptography is a crime. Even if it’s not being used for cryptographic purposes.

                Writing video games can be a criminal act! Who knew?Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to greginak says:

            There was a bit more to the comment than three-felonies-a-day, Greg. For example, he talked about how the rise of gossip deprives us humans of opportunities to mutual groom. I think that’s what he said, anyway.Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to Stillwater says:

              I know there was more to the comment. The 3 felonies a day stood out to me for some reason. I agree with a lot of the comment although it was a bit overboard and simplistic. I would have commented more but, you know, i had some personal grooming to attend to.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to greginak says:

            I did shoot a couple of women the other day, but it was in Texas, so not even a citation.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to greginak says:

            Greg, it was a reference to this book. The claim could be wrong, but I am not really qualified to dispute it. And whether it’s three a day or one every three days or a third of us nine times a day, I think it represents something troubling regardless.Report

        • Avatar George Turner in reply to trumwill mobile says:

          Two or three a day probably underestimates it because Congress is always tweaking, such as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act under which violating a Terms of Service Agreement is a felony, like violating the League’s commenting policy, or exceeding authorized access, such as checking your Facebook page at work when your company policy doesn’t allow it. It’s also a felony to possess any reptile, bird, amphibian, or plant whose possession is banned by any city, state, or country in the world (that one was passed to reduce trafficking in endangered or protected species). And that’s on top of the really stupid laws like having to disassemble your vehicle or set off road flares every hundred yards when you drive.Report

      • Well said, George. This comment deserves a place in the op-ed page of every major newspaper.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to George Turner says:

        I simply don’t see what everyone’s praising in this. PRISM is not used for garden variety crime detection. PRISM would not solve the problem of disposable phones, so nix the drug dealers.

        “They” say a lot of things. Three felonies? I didn’t commit a crime today. The government has the tools to detect crime all right — and SCOTUS gave them such tools in the year Huey Lewis and the News formed up.

        America is not really a police state. Such a claim would imply our police are doing their jobs and they’re obviously not. PRISM is not a police tool. It’s a spy tool. They went to a spy court to get the warrants, not to the County Seat. If there is a case for PRISM, it would be detecting crimes.

        The Internet was designed to survive a loss of a central routing system. Unfortunately, that’s not how it worked out in fact. It became a centralised system, concentrated into a handful of large NAPs. That’s how the Internet became truly controllable, truly observable. PRISM was not only predictable, it was inevitable. Why do you think Snowden was in Hawaii? The big fiber optic pipes come ashore there.

        As someone who’s held significant military and civilian clearances, there’s no addiction to power. There are a few Holy Shit moments when you open a few control room doors but mostly it’s a matter of what you’re cleared to see and do. Maybe in some ill-run military outfits, where the likes of Bradley Manning could burn off the contents of a few important directories. Nowhere I’ve ever been. There’s no point in looking too far afield. You’ll only get burned and lose your clearances. There’s your Innate Survival Trait: get paid and stay out of jail.

        My advice? Stay away from military and intelligence industry consulting. The pay is good, the work is lousy, the management sucks.

        Gossip is pretty much the province of the stupid. Of course, there are lots of stupid people in this wicked world. Many of them are voters. Many are also military contractors. I used to be one. Information is power only to the extent you can use it.

        NSA does its job. Every one of these agencies arose to solve a problem. The FBI arose to deal with interstate crime. The CIA arose out of the Cold War. NSA and NRO arose to deal with advances in technology. NSA is entirely necessary. I know some fine people who work there, more who’ve consulted there. The Founding Fathers, especially George Washington, chief among them, ran a wide-ranging intelligence operation and took casualties, Nathan Hale was one. “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” were his last words.

        All this hyperbole about Servants and Masters is just bollocks. Elected officials come and go. These agencies go on forever. They would be dangerous were it not for the crippling layers of control and access. They publish all these reports and the fucking Congress will not provide oversight. Worry your head about Congress. NSA has a job to do.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to BlaiseP says:

          You didn’t commit a crime today.
          But according to this administration, that doesn’t matter.
          You and I both know that you’re capable of committing crimes.

          That’s enough to get you tried and convicted.Report

        • Avatar George Turner in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Disposable cell phones were a problem that the meta-data addressed. When the target switches phones he re-establishes himself back into the same network of contacts. One node disappears and a new one almost immediately replaces it, occupying the same position. Combining that with location data, along with content (people use the same names after a phone swap) gives a solid confirmation of the continuity of the identity of the switcher. And of course the drug dealers can’t keep switching phones or they’ll lose contact with their customers.

          And today’s disturbing development:

          Domestic spying capabilities used by the National Security Agency to collect massive amounts of data on American citizens could soon be available to the Department of Homeland Security — a bureaucracy with the power to arrest citizens that is not subject to limitations imposed on the NSA.

          From The Daily Caller, about various cyber security bills and a few small turf wars. If DHS can grope you, why can’t they check out your private sext messages while making sure you don’t represent a domestic threat? The government is going to correct that oversight.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to George Turner says:

        We have many, many laws because people died. the particularly egregious ones are almost funny to hear.Report

      • Avatar Barry in reply to George Turner says:

        “They say that the average America commits about two felonies a day. The government now has the tools to arrest, prosecute, and jail all those people, and the rule of law demands that we don’t willing let such criminal acts go unpunished.”

        George is coming close to some truth, here, especially combined with other’s comments about East Germany. One can think of the Stasi as a mid-20th century industrial secret police. A vast amount of hand word, data on paper, etc. We now have the ability to automate that sort of thing, and to do it thousands to millions times faster and more often.Report

  6. Avatar Kimmi says:

    to look at the CIA now is to see an organization that has been institutionally crippled by a vindictive Executive Branch (GWB’s). Many, many loyal (to the country) conservatives were purged from an organization that already leaned conservative.

    When you see that much institutional loss of expertise, I’d not want to analyze its “current state” as anything other than an aberration.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Gach, I’ve been out all day, but you’ve been kicking buttocks on this post and in comments.

    Fist bump.Report

  8. Avatar Citizen says:

    The current systems aren’t about protecting citizens from terrorism.
    Spies don’t get paid on mentioning how honorable or just the enemy is. The police state will protect itself from personal institutions, and that is what it is doing. Trying to find fault in those who resist. Even Washington himself was guilty of this once upon a time.
    Risk is a teacher, regulation is not a student.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Citizen says:

      Hey, Obama says you are a “US Person.” “Citizen” is a racist dog whistle or something, perhaps reminding people of Constitutional protections.

      In other news, the author of this Buzzfeed article slamming the NSA eavesdropping program and the administration’s treatment of whistle blowers, and implying that Congressional Democrats may have been bugged (the same author whose Rolling Stone article lead to the resignation of General McCrystal), just died in a fiery single-car auto crash in LA at 4:25 AM yesterday, of course burning the body beyond recognition and hurling the engine down the street. What are the odds?

      Maybe his new Mercedes was one of the models with electric steering. Our cyber warfare programs have probably hacked those as a way to conduct clandestine assassinations of foreign leaders, along with the usual engine control available through OnStar. Combine that with the already ubiquitous GPS tracking technology and perhaps overhead drone footage, and the government could eliminate people with the touch of a button and leave absolutely no evidence or even grounds for suspicion.

      It will probably blossom into a conspiracy theory, showing yet again why trust is a precious commodity that can be squandered, and why the government can get so clever at intruding into consumer electronics and conducting sabotage that people will become reflexively suspicious of ordinary accidents, and a lot of them will become paranoid, perhaps justifiably given the administration’s overzealous pursuit of its enemies.Report