April 21, 2014
A few weeks back, I read a Washington Post story “Inside the admissions process at George Washington University” and noted this interesting tidbit towards the end:
GW also asks students to list a role model and two words to describe themselves. As for herself, Freitag said, she would list “Martha Stewart/Tina Fey” and “sassy/classy.” This year, she’s seeing a lot of Edward Snowden citations.
I had thought about writing it up, but decided it was a pretty small thing, really. It’s not secret that, as a group, younger people have a much more favorable impression of Snowden than older people.
However, apparently it set off alarm bells in James Clapper’s head. He recently gave a keynote speech at the GEOINT conference, and used the opportunity to vent about stupid kids and their stupid love of that stupid Ed Snowden. And apparently he’s going to be doing a lot of that.
“An admissions officer from George Washington University told The Post that for the admissions’ essay question, ‘Who’s your personal hero?’ the admissions officer observed that she was seeing a lot more of Edward Snowden citations. And the idea that young people see Edward Snowden as a hero really bothers me. So I thought I needed to talk about Snowden at Georgetown and Georgia and I am going to do the same elsewhere at colleges and universities.”
His attempts to do so in the speech, not surprisingly, really seem to fall flat. He claims that “despite being a geezer” he gets why you stupid kids like Snowden:
“I understand that a lot of young people see Snowden as a courageous whistleblower standing up to authority. I personally believe that whistleblowing in its highest form takes an incredible amount of courage and integrity. But Snowden isn’t a whistleblower,”
To prove this, Clapper comes up with an example of a whistleblower that he thinks “did it right.” The army reservist who alerted others to the photos of Abu Ghraib prisoners being abused. And that guy is a whistleblower too. But just because one whistleblower did things one way doesn’t discount the experience of other whistleblowers. And the reason so many people look up to Ed Snowden and see him as a hero is that, unlike the Abu Ghraib situation, with the NSA setup, basically the whole system was stacked against him. Clapper insists Snowden had legitimate paths to go down.
“Snowden said he felt NSA’s surveillance program was being used to violate privacy and civil liberties. If that was his concern, he had a lot of options on where to go with it. He could have reported it to seniors at NSA, which he didn’t do,”
Of course, Snowden claims that this is a lie and that he did raise concerns through the proper channels, only to have them ignored.
“There’s an inspector general for NSA and another one for the entire intelligence community. My office has a civil liberties and privacy protection officer. Snowden could also have gone to the Justice Department or the Congress. And as we’ve seen Snowden is superb at finding information so I think he could have tracked those people down had he given it a little thought,”
Of course, the inspector general for the NSA has since made it clear that if Snowden had complained to him, he would have shut him down and insisted there was nothing to worry about. Okay, so what about the one for the entire intelligence community? You mean the one that has rejected Congress’ request to investigate the NSA? Congress? Considering how much difficulty Senators Wyden and Udall had in getting anyone to listen to them over the past few years, that was clearly a dead end. The Justice Department has also been equally complicit in the whole thing, since the NSA works hand in hand with the FBI, and the DOJ itself is the one that goes to the FISA Court to request these secret interpretations of US law.
It’s pretty clear that the options Clapper listed were not options at all if you really believed that the intelligence community was in the wrong (as over half of the American public now believes). And of course, that’s what Clapper really means here. He would have been much, much happier if Snowden had gone down a path that would have completely buried his concerns, making sure there was no debate about the US’s creeping surveillance state, dismissal of the 4th Amendment and increasingly secret interpretation of laws to spy on everyone. And I’m sure he would have been a lot happier to never have had the fact that he flat out lied to Congress revealed.
Clapper also repeated the old saw that because of the leaks, those darn terrorists are changing how they communicate:
“We’re beginning to see changes in the communications behavior of our adversaries, particularly and most disturbingly terrorists, a trend that I anticipate will continue. And as a consequence our nation is less safe and our people less secure.”
Of course, as Kevin Gosztola points out, the same claim has been made for nearly a year, so it’s a bit bizarre to have Clapper say now that they’re just “beginning” to see changes. Even more to the point, these claims are almost certainly bullshit anyway. Elsewhere, when no press was around, Clapper has admitted that the NSA isn’t actually concerned about terrorists changing their communications practices, saying that they can track them just fine. Furthermore, the idea that any of the revelations really changed how terrorists view their communications habits seems unlikely. As we’ve pointed out a few times, it’s pretty clear that terrorists were well aware of our intelligence capabilities over a decade ago, and have acted accordingly.
The only new thing that has really been shown is how the US uses these same techniques across nearly all American citizens, as well as friends and allies.
Finally, as Gosztola points out, Clapper’s real guffaw-inducing statement in the speech is to argue that his “major takeaway from this whole experience though has been the need for transparency” followed by him taking credit for “the decision to declassify more than 2000 pages of documents beginning last summer because the best way to deal with the misconceptions that had resulted from the leaks was to increase transparency.” Except, as we’ve pointed out a few times, nearly all of the documents he’s released have not been because of any major epiphany by Clapper, but because of lawsuits from the EFF, ACLU and others, something Clapper’s office almost never admits (though, the last few releases have sometimes acknowledged it — the last one only acknowledged it on Twitter, though).
And trying not to gag while reading this:
But the same transparency that reassures our citizens comes with a cost. It hurts our capabilities because our adversaries go to school on that very transparency. But when we boil it all down, we felt I felt we needed to pay that cost. Even if it meant losing some sources and methods, we need to engage in the kind of national conversation that free societies have – to correct misunderstandings that lead to false allegations in the media and to counter misperceptions that the IC work force is violating civil liberties. So we made the painful choice to declassify critical documents in the interest of being more transparent
Yeah, right. There’s a reason people think Ed Snowden is a hero and James Clapper is a lousy liar. And this little tour to try to convince students otherwise isn’t likely to change that.