October 17, 2016

Golly Gee, Thank You, Mr. Snowden!

Snark about the non-disruptiveness of Edward Snowden's non-leak is far too easy at this date. Even to call the non-leak "non-disruptive" fails to capture the putrid core of what has transpired in the last few years: Snowden's non-leak has enhanced and bolstered the existing Security State, which has steadily grown in pervasiveness and reach ever since Snowden first broke into the headlines. As a result, snark on this subject ought to be beneath me. Sadly, and predictably unsurprisingly, it is not. But I have never claimed to be a person of noble character, always ready to extend a helping hand (and, of course, offer a shoulder to lean on) to those who may have erred. As I calculate the benefit or damage caused by a person's actions, certain damages which flow from their choices deserve searing condemnation. To strengthen the already existing Death State and, ultimately, to legitimize it, while simultaneously convincing an audience willing to be deluded yet again that Snowden's non-leak has improved our circumstances ... well.

Those individuals who played critical roles in this charade are lucky to get off with snark. They deserve far worse. On a closely related matter: I continue to be appalled by the number of "dissenters" who still sing the praises of Snowden and his clown posse. I suggest that all such "dissenters" give up their wan attempt at personal bravery, and immediately go to work for the State itself, perhaps in some defense or "intelligence" capacity. It's steady, easy work, and God knows it's a growth industry. I'm sure any feelings of dissonance they might experience -- but in my usual way, I'm probably being too generous in assuming they would feel any dissonance whatever -- would vanish after five or ten minutes. No doubt enjoying a coffee break and swapping jokes and gossip with murderers (or, at minimum, accomplices to murder) and spooks will make them feel cozily at home.

While I firmly push aside any claim of courage or nobility in connection with my political commentary, there are other terms that I hope do apply to me. Here's how I described the issue four years ago:
If you're a person who writes or speaks regularly about politics at this particular moment in the lamentable history of the lamentable United States, and if you are not "mad, bad and dangerous to know," you aren't worth shit. All you are is another prop holding up a constantly expanding, ever worsening system of colossal brutality, oppression, dehumanization and murder.
I reread that article this morning, for the first time in a long time. One quality struck me more than any other: if anything, the major arguments are more true today than they were in 2012. I had the same thought recently about one of my personal favorites among my essays: The Tale that Might Be Told. If ever there was an election for which that fable might have been written, the nauseating spectacle that currently engulfs us is it. I am arrogant enough to note that commentary which becomes more accurate and more relevant with the passage of time is ... well, not bad.

Let us return to the snark we wish to visit upon the radiant Mr. Snowden. How ever can we thank him properly for sharing with us -- but only in bits and pieces, strung out over an extended period of time, carefully selected and redacted by equally radiant and responsible journalists -- information that the State would prefer we not possess? In fact, we now cannot say even that much: one of the lessons of the Snowden charade is that leaks of this kind, which become non-leaks directly as the result of their method of publication, are no threat to the State. Their worst effect might be to cause some temporary, minor discomfort to a few individuals. More significantly, the State is not deterred in the slightest degree from pursuing its chosen goals.

Snowden's focus was surveillance. Here are two examples of recent articles describing where we are with regard to surveillance, post-Snowden. You have probably seen a fair number of similar articles. First, from "No Matter Who's Elected, Surveillance Powers and Programs Unlikely to be Scaled Back":
After the attack in Orlando, Clinton joined Trump in calling for expanded watchlists and denial of Constitutional rights to those placed on them. She has occasionally hinted at vague surveillance reform, but has also made it clear Snowden should hop on the next plane home and spend some time in prison. She has also suggested tech companies partner with the government to create backdoors in encryption -- but in an imaginary "safe" way that won't threaten their customers' security. And she's made it clear that deploying the military is a perfectly acceptable response to state-led cyberattacks.

Either way the election goes, the surveillance business will remain as usual. This is troubling, due to the fact that Section 702 -- which authorizes the NSA's internet backbone-based surveillance dragnet PRISM -- is up for renewal at the end of next year. With recent revelations about Yahoo's very proactive surveillance assistance generating some interesting questions about what the NSA can or can't do under this authority, it would be nice to have someone in the White House that would amplify these concerns, rather than help drown them out.
For more about the Yahoo revelations and their implications, you can take a look at this: "Say 'Hi' to the NSA in Your Next Email":
[I]n early October, Reuters reported that Yahoo secretly allowed a massive government surveillance program to scan all incoming emails to Yahoo accounts. The custom software program was reportedly built by Yahoo at the behest of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI, at the direction of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge. ...

[T]he hacking of Yahoo-user account data is small compared to recent revelations about the company cooperating with government surveillance. It's unclear what exactly the NSA and FBI were looking for, but sources told The New York Times that some Yahoo tools to scan emails for spam and child-pornography had been modified to scan for email signatures linked to a state-sponsored terrorist groups. ...

This represents a novel public-private surveillance partnership. Tech companies have collaborated with government snooping in the past, of course, when required by law. But this has typically been limited to the searching of stored communications or the targeting of a limited number of accounts for detailed scanning. In this situation, Yahoo allegedly allowed software to scan the contents of all emails sent to Yahoo accounts in real time, including those sent from within the United States.

Intelligence agencies are subject to relatively stricter limitations when undertaking surveillance that affects what's called a "U.S. person." Some NSA watchers believe that reports that this program was a "directive" suggests that this program may have been authorized under Section 702 of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, which is not supposed to intentionally target communications of U.S. persons.
Anyone who is at all surprised by any of this has not been paying attention for at least the last ten years; if they have been paying attention, they didn't know how to think about the information they learned. (Several friends of mine can tell you that I've "been saying 'hi' to the NSA," and to various agencies and individuals in government, for more than ten years. I concluded long ago that anything and everything I do on the internet is there for the State's perusal, if they're interested.) And given developments of the last decade (and longer), we can be certain of one further fact: if we have now learned these specifics, the truth -- or a version that is closer to the truth -- is much worse, more pervasive, and broader in scope.

So what exactly are we supposed to thank Snowden for? As individuals who value privacy and liberty -- including the right to be left alone -- there is nothing whatsoever for which to thank him. The State, on the other hand, has a great deal for which to be grateful. I described the issue as follows, in a post from almost three years ago, God help me:
Consider the enormous value of the hugely restricted publication of the Snowden documents to the various States involved. Rusbridger, Greenwald, et al. all trumpet the great triumph represented by the "debate" publication has engendered -- the clamor of public voices demands "reform," so committees will be formed, investigations will be undertaken, and when the dust has settled, life for the States involved will go on almost exactly as before (remember: if the NSA were disbanded today, identical surveillance would continue via other agencies and institutions of power) -- and the States will be able to claim that the public knows the "truth," and their activities now have the full blessing of informed public consent.
Gee, it's almost as if someone planned it that way. Thanks, Ed.

Snowden's clown posse of "journalists" have certainly raked in lots of awards (to say nothing of cold cash) because of the non-leak. But I think Ed himself deserves recognition of a different kind. Some people are clamoring for a Snowden pardon before Obama leaves office. That's a non-starter: appearances must be maintained. But if we were to dispense with the concern for appearances, perhaps Obama could properly reward Snowden's invaluable service to the State -- and give him a fucking Medal of Honor.