The Biggest Favor for Civil Liberties, Democracy and International Relationships

boundless heatmap large

Edward Snowden gave the first interview in person since he got stuck in Russia in June to the Washington Post. He has accomplished his mission already, was the core message. After U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon had, yes, luckily described NSA’s mass surveillance as “almost Orwellian” on December 16, and after President Obama’s own advisory Committee on Intelligence and Communications Technologies had recommended far-reaching restrictions on NSA’s activities in an unexpected and surprisingly long and detailed report on December 18, after the usual lukewarm response by Obama himself in his end-of-the-year press conference on December 20 when he promised a “pretty definitive statement” on NSA reforms and after he could not point a single time the NSA call record program prevented a terrorist attack; andnot at least after a widely bashed and ridiculed NSA infomercial aired by CBS  “[t]he NSA, accustomed to watching without being watched, faces scrutiny it has not endured since the 1970s, or perhaps ever,” the Washington Post expects. So far, well done.

Besides confirming his reputation as drama queen (“They elected me”), Snowden claimed that, before he had contacted then Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, he had informed numerous co-workers including superiors about suspicious NSA abusive activities.

“He [Snowden] began to test that proposition more than a year ago, he said, in periodic conversations with co-workers and superiors that foreshadowed his emerging plan.

Beginning in October 2012, he said, he brought his misgivings to two superiors in the NSA’s Technology Directorate and two more in the NSA Threat Operations Center’s regional base in Hawaii. For each of them, and 15 other co-workers, Snowden said he opened a data query tool called BOUNDLESSINFORMANT, which used color-coded ‘heat maps’ to depict the volume of data ingested by NSA taps.

His colleagues were often ‘astonished to learn we are collecting more in the United States on Americans than we are on Russians in Russia,’ he said. Many of them were troubled, he said, and several said they did not want to know any more.

‘I asked these people, ‘What do you think the public would do if this was on the front page?’ ’ he said. He noted that critics have accused him of bypassing internal channels of dissent. ‘How is that not reporting it? How is that not raising it?’ he said.

By last December, Snowden was contacting reporters, although he had not yet passed along any classified information. He continued to give his colleagues the ‘front-page test,’ he said, until April.”

When the Washington Post asked the NSA, spokesperson Vanee Vines denied any such conversations. “After extensive investigation, including interviews with his former NSA supervisors and co-workers, we have not found any evidence to support Mr. Snowden’s contention that he brought these matters to anyone’s attention.”

Who’s right doesn’t matter here. Obama, conceding “an important conversation we needed to have”, nevertheless pretended in his press conference that Snowden’s leaks caused unnecessary damage to the United States (sic!) and “damag[e] to our intelligence capabilities”, and that “there was a way for us to have this conversation without that damage.” Who should this young man better have contacted? After this horrible, for the NSA and Obama, Advent season, the perceived damage to the United States may soon be reconsidered the biggest favor for civil liberties, democracy and international relationships.

24 December 2013 @ 5:18 pm.

Last modified December 24, 2013.

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