I just can’t figure Edward Snowden. The more little pieces I hear about and read about him, the more I wonder about him and his motivation. This is why I found Jonathan Capehart’s piece so interesting. Writing in the Washington Post’s Post Partisan blog, Capehart begins
A sidewalk encounter with a friend drove home my conflicted feelings about Edward Snowden. The national-security leaker was surely a “narcissist,” he said, but Snowden was definitely “a hero.” And the more my friend talked about the reaction to Snowden, especially that of congressional Democrats, the more angry his own reaction appeared to become. Part of me wished I could work up that much passion for this self-professed champion of government transparency. Alas, I can’t.
I feel the same way.
Snowden told the Guardian which broke the story that he wanted to go to a place where the government doesn’t spy on people. The last time I checked, Hong Kong has a complicated legal relationship to China. China is not exactly a country that eschews spying on citizens. In an article about extradition the Guardian says
Hong Kong has not accepted a political defence against extradition since the handover in 1997. In the 1930s it turned down a bid by French authorities for Ho Chi Minh’s return to what was then IndoChina, in a case that went all the way to the privy council. More recently, in 1994, its courts stayed the extradition of the politician Jeffrey Kitigan to Malaysia.
Guy Goodwin-Gill QC, a leading expert on extradition at Blackstone Chambers in London, noted that the international climate had changed, with offences that previously might have qualified – such as hijacking – no longer accepted as political.
“The times are very much one of co-operation across a broad range of activities. You hardly ever find a state refusing extradition for political offences any longer,” he said.
In the case of Snowden, “you certainly see political dimensions: you have members of the US senate or House of Representatives calling him a traitor – so they are building a very good case for another state to treat this as political,” added Goodwin-Gill.
Of course, there are avenues for appeal through the courts in Hong Kong which could drag out the process for years according to some British legal experts. It remains unclear why he went to part of China when he was professing a wish to be free of surveillance.
I have also heard that he may have misrepresented his salary to the Guardian – that it was much lower than he claimed. Snowden also claimed that as a contractor with the NSA he had broad authority to do a lot of things that some experts question. This is from NPR
Edward Snowden’s claim that as systems administrator for a defense contractor in Hawaii he had the authority “to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president,” just isn’t plausible, says a former national security lawyer at the Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Carrie Cordero, the former Justice and DNI lawyer, is now director of national securities studies at Georgetown University Law Center. She tells Steve that “the notion that this individual has the authority to go ahead and … ‘wiretap’ people is just ridiculous.”
Without discussing the details of how such surveillance programs work and the safeguards that are in place to protect privacy, Cordero says that Snowden’s claim “does not resemble anything close to what I observed within the intelligence community.”
Snowden may turn out to be a braggart who stretches the truth. And this may damage his credibility overall. But the bottom line for me is that he doesn’t seem to have told us anything that a lot of people didn’t know before. Capehart again
We absolutely should know what our government is up to. And, according to The Post’s Walter Pincus, we’ve known about this for quite some time.
The legendary national-security writer cites a May 2006 USA Today story that revealed “the NSA ‘has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth,’ attributing that information to ‘people with direct knowledge of the arrangement.’” Then there was the March 15, 2012, Wired magazine story on the new $2 billion NSA Data Center in Utah and “its ability to ‘intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks.’”
“Was there any follow-up in the mainstream media to [James] Bamford’s disclosure, or anything close to the concerns voiced on Capitol Hill this past week? No,” Pincus writes in Tuesday’s paper.
So where should we go from here? I agree with Capehart’s conclusions
Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a debate about what we now know and its appropriateness now that we know it. Eugene Robinson zeroes in on this in his Tuesday column.
The NSA, it now seems clear, is assembling an unimaginably vast trove of communications data, and the bigger it gets, the more useful it is in enabling analysts to make predictions. It’s one thing if the NSA looks for patterns in the data that suggest a nascent overseas terrorist group or an imminent attack. It’s another thing altogether if the agency observes, say, patterns that suggest the birth of the next tea party or Occupy Wall Street movement.
Is that paranoia? Then reassure me. Let’s talk about the big picture and decide, as citizens, whether we are comfortable with the direction our intelligence agencies are heading. And let’s remember that it was Snowden, not our elected officials, who opened this vital conversation.
Yes, Snowden opened this conversation. But that’s as much credit as I’m willing to give him.
That sounds about right. Let’s see if Congress talk about this without a lot of finger-pointing and hysteria. Should the result be changes to the Patriot Act, we can give Snowden a little piece of the credit.