I'm really getting sick of the rationalizations of the surveillance state.
In judging the action of whistle-blowers, three criteria apply. They must have clear and convincing evidence of abuse. Publishing the information must not pose a disproportionate threat to public safety. And the leak must be as limited in scope and scale as possible. Snowden failed all three of these tests.
The documents published thus far do not depict a rogue agency. They indicate—with partial, out-of-date and ambiguous evidence, mostly consisting of out-of-context presentation slides—that the NSA has plenty of flaws. How could it not? Like other government agencies and bureaucracies, it pushes the limits of its regulatory, political and judicial constraints. That is not surprising. Like people everywhere, NSA officials brag. They make mistakes (and get disciplined for them). Again, not too surprising.
To justify even a limited breach of secrecy, Snowden would need to prove something far more: evidence of systematic, gross wrongdoing, based on wilful contempt for judicial, legislative and political oversight. In such circumstances, the actions of a Daniel Ellsberg can be justified.
But nothing published by Snowden shows that. The NSA revealed in these documents looks nothing like J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. And Barack Obama, for all his faults, is not Richard Nixon, using the power of the state to go after his domestic enemies. On the contrary: The United States has put the most elusive and lawless part of government—intelligence—into the strongest system of legislative and judicial control anywhere in the world. Some want it still stronger (I think it’s too cumbersome and intrusive). But such questions are for the political process to settle. They do not justify catastrophic and destructive leaking.
The Snowdenistas’ second line of defense is that they have at least sparked a debate. But a public discussion, and limited reforms, on issues such as the use of National Security Letters (secret FBI orders to force people and businesses to cooperate with law enforcement), the privacy risks of warehousing metadata and whether “zero-day” exploits (vulnerabilities in computer hardware and software) should be instantly patched or exploited for espionage—are limited benefits, not overwhelming ones. They do not justify catastrophic damage either. The question of whether we house telephone metadata at the NSA or house it at tech companies is not exactly the difference between tyranny and freedom.
Edward Lucas tells us that a public discussion about this totally unprecedented mass domestic electronic surveillance program is of "limited benefit." Well, he is entitled to his own opinion, but as this country is supposedly a democracy, most Americans also feel entitled to their opinions about major domestic public policy issues, and that would be impossible if not for the fact of Edward Snowden's leaks.
The assertion that the NSA is subject the "strongest system of legislative and judicial control anywhere in the world" is laughable. Anyone paying close attention knows that the arguments justifying this mass meta-data surveillance program based on Section 215 of the Patriot Act are extremely thin, and they were made LONG after the program had been operational and without comprehensive notification to Congress. Furthermore, the program raises serious Constitutional questions about not just 4th Amendment rights but about the Right to Freedom of Association as well. Frankly, most people who think that ajudicating these important Constitutional issues is of "limited benefit" don't understand them very well in the first place.
Furthermore, the WSJ reported that the NSA monitored the CONTENT of ALL email and text messages during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. None of the weak rationalizations that have been offered for the meta-data program apply to that sort of surveillance. So, lets be clear, the case is closed on question of whether or not there have been abuses. The answer is *YES.*
There are all kinds of reasonable criticisms of the things that Edward Snowden has done, but none of that matters. He doesn't run the country. The people who do need to take responsibility for the fact that a public discussion of these issues didn't come about through a proper process in the first place. The attempt to focus attention on Snowden's flaws is an attempt to divert attention away from that fact.
Edward Snowden NSA Snow Job - POLITICO Magazine