Obama helped cause the NSA leaks by refusing reforms

Rolling Stone has published an excellent, long piece on Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden and the history of the NSA documents Snowden stole and released. Included are “from the beginning” backgrounds of both Greenwald and Snowden.

The author is Janet Reitman, and she’s done a magnificent job. (To jump to just the Obama part, click here. Deep state thoughts are here. But try not to jump; the rest is fascinating as well.)

For example, on Greenwald, there’s this. After detailing Greenwald’s youth as a gay teen and a champion high school debater, the article moves through his law career to his move to Brazil and blogging:

But law, even in its purest, most civil-liberties-oriented variety, was an ultimately frustrating endeavor, full of “unjust rules” and even fewer judicious outcomes. More interesting, particularly after 9/11, were the egalitarian conversations that were occurring online. Greenwald discovered this world in the mid-1990s when, bored at work, he’d begun cruising the CompuServe message boards, including Town Hall, a conservative forum created by the Heritage Foundation and the National Review. Instantly seduced by the chance to debate pro-lifers and other social conservatives, Greenwald soon began spending hours in heated arguments with disembodied strangers. …

These free-form debates were occurring in the virtual world at precisely the same time they were disappearing from the general discourse, submerged, as Greenwald says, in the wave of “nationalism and jingoism” that followed 9/11. Greenwald first began to realize how much things had changed in the political culture after the arrest of Al Qaeda “dirty bomber” José Padilla. “The idea that an American citizen could be arrested on U.S. soil, and then imprisoned for years, not charged, and delayed access to a lawyer, that always seemed like one line that couldn’t be crossed,” Greenwald says. “It was more than the fact that it was being done – it was the fact that nobody was questioning it. That was a ‘What the f-ck is going on in the United States?’ moment for me.”

In the winter of 2005, Greenwald, seeking to transition away from practicing law, went to Brazil. On his second day of what was a planned seven-week vacation in Rio, he met Miranda, a handsome 19-year-old Brazilian who was playing beach volleyball not far from Greenwald’s towel. The two have been inseparable ever since. “When you come to Rio as a gay man, the last thing you’re looking for is a monogamous relationship,” Greenwald says. “But, you know, you can’t control love.”

Within a year, Greenwald had decided to relocate to Brazil, where, unable to practice law, he tried his hand at political blogging. Greenwald’s first week as a blogger, in October 2005, coincided with the indictment of Scooter Libby in the Valerie Plame leak case. Greenwald wrote a long post meticulously deconstructing the conservative argument against Libby’s indictment from a legal standpoint, which The New Republic linked to, driving thousands of readers to his site, Unclaimed Territory. Greenwald soon turned his attention to the explosive revelation that the NSA was spying on Americans under a secret, “warrantless wiretapping” program authorized by the Bush administration.

“But, you know, you can’t control love.” Even love of the job you’re about to do.

And on Snowden, this. After walking through Snowden’s own high school career and background and his various career-path questions, we find him joining the CIA. Doesn’t end well, though:

Back in Maryland, Snowden got a job as a security guard at the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Study of Language, a Defense Department-funded facility he would later describe as “covert,” though as The Washington Post pointed out, “its website includes driving directions.” He also re-enrolled at Anne Arundel Community College and burnished his computer skills. Then, in 2006, he landed a job as a computer technician with the CIA.

The CIA, with its air of entitlement and mystery, is the most elitist of U.S. government agencies. But the beauty of the IT sector, no matter where you were, as Snowden said, was its egalitarianism. “Nobody gives a shit what school you go to . . . I don’t even have a high school diploma,” he wrote in 2006. “That said, I have $0 in debt from student loans, I make $70k, I just had to turn down offers for $83k and $180k. . . . Employers fight over me. And I’m 22.”

In 2007, he was posted to the CIA station in Geneva. Mavanee Anderson, a young legal intern also stationed in Geneva, befriended Snowden and recalled him as thoughtful but insecure. “He talked a great deal about the fact that he didn’t complete high school,” Anderson later wrote in an op-ed for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “But he is an IT whiz – I’ve always taken it for granted that he’s an IT genius, actually.”

Snowden came to be bothered by much of what he saw in the CIA. He would later cite an operation to recruit a Swiss banker as an asset that involved getting the man arrested on drunk-driving charges. He also recalled, in an interview with The New York Times‘ Risen, the retaliation from a senior manager whose authority he’d once questioned. The incident arose over a flaw Snowden found in some CIA software, which he pointed out to his superiors. Rather than praising his initiative, however, one manager, who didn’t appreciate such enterprising behavior, placed a critical note in his personnel file, effectively killing Snowden’s chance for promotion. He eventually left the agency, “experiencing a crisis of conscience of sorts,” as Anderson remembered. But Snowden also learned a valuable lesson: “Trying to work through the system,” he told Risen, would “only lead to punishment.”

“Trying to work through the system would only lead to punishment.” Snowden’s lesson at the CIA. From there he goes to the NSA, which section is eye-opening in its own right.

NSA Headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland

NSA Headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland

I’ve quoted almost all I can. Please do read. There’s so much in the piece that I can’t begin to do it justice here. It’s truly a must-read. There’s a wonderful section, for example, in which Greenwald explains how he, talking totally Noam Chomsky–like, nevertheless becomes a regular on MSNBC. It’s a calculated method that worked. Find the paragraph that starts “As Snowden was navigating” and start reading.

For the Snowden’s leakage itself, start with the paragraph beginning: “In April 2012, while working for Dell”. This tells the story of what Greenwald calls “the mother of all leaks.” As I said, a wonderful, wide-ranging piece. (Did I mention that the author is Janet Reitman? Hope so.)

Betrayals have consequences, sir

I do want to point out this, however. Among all of the consequences of Obama’s immediate 2009 betrayal of his soul-stirring 2008 “Yes We Can” ad campaign, count Snowden’s decision to blow the whistle among them. Yes, Snowden’s leak has its source in Obama 2009 (my paragraphing and emphasis below).

Prior to 2009, Snowden had considered leaking government secrets when he was at the CIA, but held off, he later said, not wanting to harm agents in the field, and hoping that Obama would reform the system. His optimism didn’t last long. “[I] watched as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in,” he later said.

As a result, he added, “I got hardened.” The more Snowden saw of the NSA’s actual business – and, particularly, the more he read “true information,” including a 2009 Inspector General’s report detailing the Bush era’s warrantless-surveillance program – the more he realized that there were actually two governments: the one that was elected, and the other, secret regime, governing in the dark. “If the highest officials in government can break the law without fearing punishment or even any repercussions at all, secret powers become tremendously dangerous.”

See, Mr. President. Just because you said you can, but won’t, doesn’t mean none of us can. We all “can” if we want to. “Forever Young” doesn’t have to mean forever innocent. It can mean forever active, always optimistic — and ready.

The piece is a paean to subversives, courage, and the times these men inhabit. Also, great journalism.

Deep State is here to stay

I’ll be writing more about Deep State in the U.S., what Snowden called “the other, secret regime, governing in the dark.” My definition of Deep State — “the part of the government that can’t be touched by the political process.” I have more than a few pieces in draft.

In the meantime, for past thoughts on Deep State, try this:

▪ Is the intelligence community running America? (first  of several projected Tice pieces)

And from even earlier, this:

▪ What the NSA is up to (Part 1 of Running Against the State)

There will be a second part. Consider: What actual, non-establishment-approved candidate isn’t also running against the State and its power? What actual threat to the State doesn’t thus have the State as an opponent? What does that mean for democracy?

There’s an answer to the last question, and it’s not a phrase or a sentence. It’s a whole essay. For starters, it means that every viable candidate for president has passed State-inspection, and acquired no vetoes. Ponder that; who (of many) might have a veto? How might those vetoes be expressed, be acted on?

Remember, the NSA is the Pentagon. What do I mean by that? I don’t know. Tice tells us that the NSA spied on the Pentagon — Petraeus, for example, and anyone else three-stars or above. In 2005, they spied on Barack Obama — he had the orders in his hand. It didn’t stop there.

Stay tuned.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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33 Responses to “Obama helped cause the NSA leaks by refusing reforms”

  1. neroden says:

    There is no solid evidence that bin Laden was killed. Unfortunately, the “execution” of bin Laden — with a *burial at sea* before anyone could verify that it was bin Laden — looks on its surface like a complete scam, and it probably was. A lot of people fell for that bit of theater, though.

  2. neroden says:

    And if people stop being embarassed? It’s gonna happen. Spitzer’s back in politics. It’ll take a decade or two…

  3. neroden says:

    Important thought here.

    The “Deep State”, the MIC, the Pentagon manipulators — it’s not going away in a straightforward way…

    … but it is going away. It’s going away because it’s *institutionally incompetent*. Sure, they can blackmail Senators and Congressmen and Presidents. But they can’t cut the unemployment rate, they can’t increase food stamps, they can’t stop banking fraud, they can’t change any of the things which are making the people *angry*. And they couldn’t detect a violent revolution even if it was happening in their own building, because the spying just does not *work* for that purpose.

    An institution that sucks up money and does nothing eventually collapses from its own deadweight — usually sometime after the people who make up the institution have stopped believing in the institution. This first step — the disillusionment of the workers within the NSA — has already happened, as we see with Snowden and many others.

  4. AK says:

    This is true. When you become a target of suspicion, NSA can go see what you’re up to in its huge data storage. But Americans can’t have it both ways. If a terrorist makes it onto a plane and nearly takes it down, we scream at intelligence and the government and ask why we weren’t aware. Why didn’t we see it coming? But if the government takes steps to be forward leaning and preventative in the manner described above, then people scream because there is a violation of privacy. As always, there is a tension between order and freedom and we just need to find the right balance.
    As far as Snowden – he is a despicable, narcissistic coward. There are many, many options he had to highlight his concerns about NSA’s practices before shopping his material to our biggest adversaries. He could have gone to the IG. He could have gone to Congress. But instead, he takes millions of files! Clearly all needed to make his point, right? WRONG. Interesting how in the name of privacy, Snowden runs to hide in one of the most oppressive countries in the world. Imagine if every intelligence analyst, according to his or her own conscience, got to decide to hand classified information out to the world? There is a reason it is classified. Its release puts lives in danger. Snowden couldn’t care a bit about those who might die as a result of his actions. He cares about himself. He thinks he is just the most important person in the world…traits similar to many of our most damaging spies. Don’t fall for this act.
    I agree the debate is necessary about how we as Americans want to protect our privacy. But this is so wrong. He should man up, come home, and face his crimes. If the court of popular opinion is powerful enough, his sentence will be light.

  5. caphillprof says:

    and look how successful Wiener has been?

  6. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    I strongly suspected that what you call suicide headaches are actually cluster headaches. I did some googling, and I was right. I have had cluster headaches for a couple of decades. They don’t prevent me from writing a coherent paragraph.

  7. Nathanael says:

    Remember Caesar crossing the Rubicon and you have my prediction for future American politics. I guess I’m a pessimist…

  8. Nathanael says:

    Depends. Do you have an independent powerbase? If so, you can ignore the idiots at the NSA/CIA/DoD entirely. They’re incompetent and could be overthrown by a very small military force, something the size of Blackwater/Xe/Academi, if it were a *loyal* military force.

    Who has an independent power base? Jeff Bezos does. Brin & Page & Schmidt do. All they need is their own “security forces”, and they’re quite capable of hiring them.

    They are merely examples. I continue to believe that we’re going to get back into *very* old-fashioned politics soon. Eliminate democracy, eliminate the rule of law — both of which have basically happened already — and you get back to the sort of politics we had *before* democracy and *before* the rule of law. Which the NSA/CIA/DoD have absolutely no competence in, really.

  9. Nathanael says:

    The US police state suffers from a particularly extreme level of incompetence, which is why it’s going to be overthrown relatively soon. (Police states like Singapore are stable, due to their *predictability* and *reliability* and *strong social services*. Police states like the US are not. Hitler’s police state was really big on social spending, at least if you were the right ethnicity. Not so the US.)

  10. Nathanael says:

    The response to this particular totalitarian attempt. is going to be a little unexpected. It’s going to be the “who gives a fuck” response. Anthony Weiner is the first to take this tactic. He won’t be the last, and the future candidates will be successful.

    You can’t blackmail someone if they aren’t embarassed, and if the voters don’t care either, you can’t use it to prevent them from getting elected.

    Look up “Ma, ma, where’s my pa? Gone to the White House, ha ha ha!”

    Gonna be interesting.

  11. Nathanael says:

    Snowden for President. Of course, the murderous criminal cabal running the country will never allow him to run.

    So… Snowden for President *after the revolution*. He is our Nelson Mandela.

    Incidentally, (more) shame on mass murderer Obama for his hypocrisy in the wake of Mandela’s death. Obama is the sort of man who imprisoned Nelson Mandela. An entirely evil man.

  12. John Schomisch says:

    No I was born with a condition called suiside headeches. The worst pain on earth man can exsperiance, So they say. I beleive em. Getting ripped off by a bunch of damn republicans dident make it any easier. What happened to you?

  13. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    Did you fall and hurt your head?

  14. John Schomisch says:

    I signed papers on a party store the day after nine eleven, I was scared. I thought I was going to loose my ass, End up in seriouse debt. But the former owners assured me that the plains hitting the twin towers was the best thing that could have happened for me. Every one looses there jobs and have nothing but time to drink and just enough money to do it, YOU ARE GONNA BE RICH!. That night out celebrating my wife told the former owners we were Democrats. They replied you are not Dem’s any more. You own a business you take those Dem’s for every dime they were worth. When they cry they cant give more, Take it anyway. So you see the country started going to hell when we let them on a helicopter to save them from a bunch of socialist, Who probably had the right idea all along during the fall of sigon. My suggestion is that if there is another attack like the one on nine eleven put all your money into Budweiser stock. That’s what my ex did with all mine she is loaded.

  15. Jafafa Hots says:

    I put it differently. The last HOPE for American Democracy died on 9/11.

    Because we’d never really achieved it. It LOOKED like we might for a decade or so… seemed achievable.

    Nope. Opportunity lost.

  16. trinu says:

    If they don’t quit, embarassing secrets will be revealed about them, or if they’re among the few people without embarrassing secrets, their kids embarrassing secrets will be exposed.

  17. BeccaM says:

    I’ve said it many times: American democracy died on 11 September 2001.

    How many bright lines have we crossed? Arrest and imprisonment for years without charges. Torture. Blatantly illegal wars and war crimes. Wholesale shredding of our Constitution.

    Powers once acquired will not only be protected vehemently by those who hold them, those powers will also be used.

  18. Bill_Perdue says:

    It’s an important point.

    If a fascist state is created the left would have to go underground and prepare a base for armed self defense of working people. That’s not always true in police states.

    Lenin’s creation of the CHEKA, (Chrezvychaynaya Komissiya, Emergency Commission) was a move to protect the USSR from American, English, Japanese invading armies and their clients. Like everything else it was deformed out of recognition by Stalin and his goons. Putin is slowly rebuilding a Russian police state just as Obama is building one here, and for the same reasons – to quell worker and youth rebelliousness and self organizing.

    The US was a primitive sort of police state during and after the Civil War, during the union uprisings from the 1880’s until the 1940’s. The police state was revived first by Truman and Eisenhower and later by LBJ and Nixon as federal and local cops were unleashed to murder Panthers nationwide and as local cops and National Guard units were given the nod to murder civil rights workers in the south and students at Jackson State and Kent State.

  19. Indigo says:

    I think you’re right. I wish I didn’t, but I think you’re right.

  20. Drew2u says:

    Anthony Weiner could have been the first sexter in office to show it doesn’t matter. Dan Savage stresses the point that all kids now have a “porn production studio in their pockets” with smartphones’ capabilities.
    The soon we as a public get off our fainting couches and move on, the less power there is to hold over future public office-holders.

  21. karmanot says:

    At this point he’s relying on the certainty of a fabulous library and enriching his family for generations on lucrative million dollar speaking gigs and a profitable feel good charity foundation.

  22. karmanot says:

    “A police state shouldn’t be confused with fascism.” –An interesting point. A good example would be Singapore.

  23. nicho says:

    I think he understands it very well — but he’s playing for the other team.

  24. nicho says:

    I would beg to differ on one point. We do not have two right-wing parties in Congress. We have one party — the Corporate Party — which has two right-wing factions.

  25. nicho says:

    It’s called data mining. There are all sorts of technologies available today to sift through all kinds of data — structured (database tables, customer records, student records) and unstructured (tweets, Facebook entries, blog posts) to get a profile on anyone. The difference between now and Hoover’s time, as Hue-Man pointed out, is that Hoover had to identify a target and then send his bloodhounds to gather intel on that target. Now, the NSA just collects everything on everybody. Then, if at some time in the future, you become a target, they can just go back and data mine the information they want — purchases you made, phone calls you made, books you bought or took out of the library, contents of your emails, things you posted online, etc. etc. etc.

  26. Hue-Man says:

    My point exactly! Having studied computer science with punch-cards on an IBM mainframe, I could not have imagined computer technology 40 years into the future, i.e. in 2013. My crystal ball works no better today; expect quantum computing – and its successors – to make these kinds of searches routine.

  27. caphillprof says:

    I think you are not getting Hue-Man’s gist–to wit, in the 2050s person X decides to run for office and then the NSA searches decades of collected information to get the goods on person X. Then the NSA uses this information either to blackmail person X or to prevent person X’s election. Person X could be the second coming of Jesus Christ but it wouldn’t matter. The NSA would be in charge.

  28. Naja pallida says:

    Stored forever, but the NSA itself has even admitted they don’t currently have the capability to sift through it all to find anything specific. So far it’s just an astronomically large chunk of data, that still requires someone to comb through it byte by byte if they want to actually make any effective intelligence use out of it. Of course, as long as it exists, it’s only a matter of time before they figure out how to parse it more effectively… but for now, they’re a sad IT joke.

  29. Hue-Man says:

    Echoes from another era: J. Edgar Hoover’s extensive files on leading politicians. NSA advantage – they don’t rely on human intel to gather the data, it’s automatic, stored forever, and indexed and cross-referenced. Presidential candidates for the 2050s don’t realize their innocent sexting is being archived today for future use. I would guess this genie isn’t going back in the bottle.

  30. Bill_Perdue says:

    The Obama regime, aided by the two rightwing parties in Congress – Democrats and Republicans – are putting the finishing touches on the creation of a police state.

    The new American police state is characterized by the vast and intrusive surveillance of citizens, a parallel vast expansion in size and militarization of police forces (1) and the anti-constitutional provisions of the Paytriot Act, NDAA, which nullifies much of the bill of Rights, and worst of all Obama’s declaration, without benefit of legislation, that he and future presidents have the right to murder American citizens like Anwar al-Aulaqi, Samir Khan, ‘Abd al-Rahman Anwar al-Aulaqi and Jude Mohammed. One was a sixteen year old boy from Denver Colorado. (2)

    Remember their names, who killed them and what it means. And ask not for whom the bell tolls…

    The hammer is about to fall on all of us. “If all you’ve got is a hammer, then everything starts to look like a nail. And if police and prosecutors are your only tool, sooner or later everything and everyone will be treated as criminal. This is increasingly the American way of life, a path that involves “solving” social problems (and even some non-problems) by throwing cops at them, with generally disastrous results. Wall-to-wall criminal law encroaches ever more on everyday life as police power is applied in ways that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago.”http://www.alternet.org/civil-…

    A police state shouldn’t be confused with fascism. The US will not be a fascist state until Congress passes an Enabling Act at the insistence of a massive fascist movement. No such massive movement exists in the US. (3)

    (1) “… the campus cops at Ohio State University now possess an MRAP; that is, a $500,000, 18-ton, mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored vehicle of a sort used in the Afghan War and, as Hunter Stuart of the Huffington Post reported, built to withstand “ballistic arms fire, mine fields, IEDs, and nuclear, biological, and chemical environments.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-engelhardt/ohio-state-campus-police-militarization_b_4412604.html

    (2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MwB2znBZ1g

    (3) “Enabling Act, law passed by the German Reichstag (Diet) in 1933 that enabled
    Adolf Hitler to assume dictatorial powers. Deputies from the Nazi Party, the German National People’s Party, and the Centre Party voted in favour of the act, which “enabled” Hitler’s government to issue decrees independently of the Reichstag and the presidency. It gave Hitler a base from which to carry out the first steps of his National Socialist revolution.” http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/186351/Enabling-Act

  31. Just_AC says:

    “But the next President is not going to owe the NSA anything and they are
    going to be asking questions about how the information was obtained.”

    I disagree – the NSA chooses the candidates. As mentioned in the article, you have to pass the NSA veto power. What was NOT asked was – what if you don’t?

  32. MyrddinWilt says:

    Obama is not going to reform the NSA because he owes them for saving his ass.

    When Obama took over the US was fighting two wars and losing in both of them. The surge didn’t reduce the violence in Iraq, it was the Democrats win in the 2010 mid-terms that convinced the fighters that the US was going to leave. So when Obama took office he had to work out how to extract the US from both wars without leaving a situation that would pull them back in again.

    The only part of the US military that was competent to do its job was the intelligence services. So they bypassed the air force by putting the CIA in charge of the drone war. They also diverted the $100 million the congress had allocated for information warfare against Iran to fund development of information warfare tools.

    Using the intel services allowed Obama to cut the political deals that allowed the US forces to withdraw without excessive loss of life or face. They put Bin Laden in the ground and Stuxnet allowed the administration to stop Netanyahu from launching a suicide mission against Iran. They also played a much bigger part in the Arab Spring than is publicly acknowledged to date.

    So Obama owes them big time, he is not going to be the one to come in with big reforms. He didn’t even ask the questions. Alexander offered to resign fairly early on but was refused permission because it might be seen as him resigning for the NSA actions rather than the biggest security breach in NSA history.

    But the next President is not going to owe the NSA anything and they are going to be asking questions about how the information was obtained.

    Hilary in particular has a good reason to not trust the NSA. The NSA and the FBI played a big role in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Louis Freeh was obsessive about wiretap capability and considered Bill’s refusal to back him as an unpardonable betrayal. Which is I believe why Freeh backed the Republican plots against Clinton.

    Hilary might not be out to reform the NSA but I don’t think she will trust them as much as Obama has.

  33. Indigo says:

    At this point in his administration, I’m beginning to wonder whether Obama understands the issues, not just concerning cyberspace and its security but democratic governance in general.

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