In the end the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning, or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised — and it should be.
— Edward Snowden, from statement posted by WikiLeaks on July 1st 2013
“U.S. intelligence agents have been hacking computer networks around the world for years, apparently targeting fat data pipes that push immense amounts of data around the Internet, NSA leaker Edward Snowden told the South China Morning Post on Wednesday. Among some 61,000 reported targets of the National Security Agency, Snowden said, are thousands of computers in China — which U.S. officials have increasingly criticized as the source of thousands of attacks on U.S. military and commercial networks. China has denied such attacks.”
Snowden just jumped the shark. It’s commendable to let Americans know that they’ve been lied to by their leaders with respect to domestic surveillance. It’s something closer to treason to let a foreign power know our government has breaking into their computer systems. I suspect Snowden thinks that these revelations will help him avoid extradition—that the Chinese government will protect him in gratitude for these disclosures. But if his goal was to change American domestic policy, he’s just made that change far less likely. A good portion of the American public was with him; now they won’t be. I find this incredibly sad. And I feel bad for Snowden, because he’s made a huge miscalculation that’s going to haunt him for the rest of his life.
I think Jeff has the right of it. I can respect the whistleblower who releases specific information in a targeted manner. As that looks less and less targeted, he looks less and less like the whistleblower and more and more like the guy who should never have been given a security clearance.
I have to reluctantly agree that Snowden has jumped the shark. By stating publicly that the NSA is spying on foreign countries, Snowden isn’t necessarily revealing anything we couldn’t reasonably infer was already happening. Nonetheless, Snowden is revealing precisely the type of information that his critics can now credibly claim will endanger American lives. And this time, they won’t be entirely wrong. Allegations like this could cause an international incident that will disrupt the relative diplomatic detenté that has existed between the U.S. and China for the past two decades. That is something that actually could put lives at risk.
Furthermore, and more regrettably, all critics of the PRISM program will now be vicariously discredited, despite the genuinely horrifying and outrageous implications of its existence. Snowden has crossed over from the realm of courageous truth-teller to actions that constitute actual, legitimate treason, and all of his supporters and peers who are opposed to government secrecy are the worse off for it.
First, I find “treason” to often simply be a victimless crime; when it is not, there are already crimes with which individuals can be charged. Just laws protect life, liberty, and property of the individual and are thus against the initiation of aggression; they are axiomatic consequences of self-ownership - “laws against theft, assault, battery, murder, slavery, rape, fraud, trespass, destruction of property, and the threats thereof.” Treason simply does not fit. I side with Lysander Spooner in this regard.
Second, we must understand what this exposed activity precisely is. The nomenclature already suggests that hacking is aggression (cyber-attacks, cyber-war, cyber-terrorism, etc.). Therefore, if a government which ostensibly represents a people commits an act of aggression, it must (at the very least) do so with the people’s consent - which cannot be done when the people themselves are unaware that said actions are taking place. Furthermore, to be a morally justified act of aggression, it must be defensive. If these cyber-activities are legitimately defensive then the people must be made aware of the actions that precipitated them and of course that a response would be made. This way, the people can come out in favor or against such a response (putting aside that the political process in place is illegitimate and, by its very nature, ultimately ill-equipped to gauge the people’s response and mobilize/react accordingly).
Let’s consider these actions outside the realm of the digital. If Snowden had leaked that the U.S. was secretly committing physical acts of aggression against another country - say a covert bombing campaign - without U.S. citizens being aware, there is no doubt that civil libertarians (like LTMC and jeffmiller above) would find reason for concern. They would demand to know what provoked such actions, if the reaction was proper, what steps were being taken to minimize collateral damage, if the actions were worth the risk, if there were better alternatives that would induce less blowback, etc.
The gentlemen above may be correct that Snowden has made a grave miscalculation and are likely correct that public opinion may turn against him after this leak. It’s a shame, but it’s probably true that this latest leak may serve to bolster support for the state’s ability to keep secrets (particularly from neo-cons and unprincipled Obama supporters) as well as potentially function to discredit those of us with genuine concern about a powerful and unaccountable government’s actions.
I, however, still think Snowden’s leaks are commendable. If we are to take the stance that exposing secret U.S. actions against foreign nations is wrong because it’s treasonous to inform a foreign power of U.S. government activities against them, then this gives the U.S. cover to commit atrocities so long as they are secret. (Where would the likes of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange fit in this conversation?) And if the counter is that only morally unjustified acts are apt for leaking, then we are left allowing a small handful of potential leakers to make judgements as to what may or may not be morally reprehensible instead of allowing the very public, who the actions are said to represent, judge for themselves. In this circuitous scenario, a leaker could choose to leak only the most grave of offenses so as to not risk losing the public’s protection and in so doing leave countless injustices in the dark (as well as leave himself unable to know beforehand what actions the public would find acceptable).
I think the proper response is in educating the public that essentially all government leaks are welcome (though I might accept that there are scenarios in which a warning before leaking may be justified so as to minimize harm).
To me, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are and remain heroes.
While President Obama was starting and expanding unconstitutional wars overseas, Bradley Manning, whose actions have caused exactly zero deaths, was shining light on the truth behind these wars. It’s clear which individual has done more to promote peace.
Manning is absolutely right when he said today that the documents he leaked “are some of the most significant documents of our time”. They revealed a multitude of previously secret crimes and acts of deceit and corruption by the world’s most powerful factions. Journalists and evensome government officials have repeatedly concluded that any actual national security harm from his leaks is minimal if it exists at all. To this day, the documents Manning just admitted having leaked play a prominent role in the ability of journalists around the world to inform their readers about vital events. The leaks led to all sorts of journalism awards for WikiLeaks. Without question, Manning’s leaks produced more significant international news scoops in 2010 than those of every media outlet on the planet combined.
This was all achieved because a then-22-year-old Army Private knowingly risked his liberty in order to inform the world about what he learned. He endured treatment which the top UN torture investigator deemed ”cruel and inhuman”, and he now faces decades in prison if not life. He knew exactly what he was risking, what he was likely subjecting himself to. But he made the choice to do it anyway because of the good he believed he could achieve, because of the evil that he believed needed urgently to be exposed and combated, and because of his conviction that only leaks enable the public to learn the truth about the bad acts their governments are doing in secret.
Heroism is a slippery and ambiguous concept. But whatever it means, it is embodied by Bradley Manning and the acts which he unflinchingly acknowledged today he chose to undertake. The combination of extreme government secrecy, a supine media (see the prior two columns), and a disgracefully subservient judiciary means that the only way we really learn about what our government does is when the Daniel Ellsbergs - and Bradley Mannings - of the world risk their own personal interest and liberty to alert us. Daniel Ellberg is now widely viewed as heroic and noble, and Bradley Manning (as Ellsberg himself has repeatedly said) merits that praise and gratitude every bit as much.
In a free society, those who wield political power fear those over whom the power is wielded: specifically, they harbor a healthy fear of what will happen to them if they abuse that power. But the hallmark of tyranny is that the opposite dynamic prevails: the citizenry fears its government because citizens know that there are no actual, meaningful limits on how power can be exercised. A nation in which liberties are systematically abused - in which limitations on state power are ignored without consequence - is one which gives rise to a climate of fear.
This climate of fear, in turn, leads citizens to refrain from exercising their political rights, especially to refrain from posing meaningful challenges to government authority, because they know the government can act against them without real constraints. This is a more insidious and more effective form of tyranny than overt abridgment of rights: by inducing - intimidating - a citizenry into relinquishing their own rights out of fear, a state can maintain the illusion of freedom while barring any meaningful dissent from or challenge to its power. Here’s one four-minute video clipwhere I describe a personal example to illustrate how this pernicious fear climate operates; here’s another slightly longer video clip where I elaborate on this point more.
This morning, the New York Times reports on the US government’s practice of targeting US dissidents - or those whom it believes to be engaging in dissent - with extremely invasive border searches, including seizing (and sometimes keeping for months) their laptops and other electronic data, all without any warrants. …
Laptop seizures are far from the only tactic employed by the US government to put government opponents in a state of fear and thus deter others from engaging in similar dissident conduct. That is also the aim of measures such as the unprecedented persecution of whistleblowers; the prosecution of Muslim critics of US foreign policy for “material support of terrorism”, the targeted FBI entrapment and “preemptive prosecution" of US Muslims, NATO protesters, anarchist activists, and others with ideologies the US government dislikes; and - most of all - the ubiquitous surveillance state.
What makes this tactic particularly effective is that it will not affect those who have no interest in engaging in real dissent against the government. If you’re not a filmmaker who challenges the prevailing government narrative (Poitras), or a scholar trying to understand rather than demonize currents in the Muslim world (Abidor), or a lawyer involved in groups suing the US government for unconstitutional behavior (Wayne), or an activist advocating for WikiLeaks and working to protect online anonymity and thus thwart government spying and control of the internet (Jacob Appelbaum), or someone who supports Bradley Manning’s legal defense (David House), then you’re not going to be subjected to this sort of intimidation and rights-invasions, and it’s thus easy for you to simply assume that it does not exist.
In essence, the bargain offered by the state is as follows: if you meaningfully challenge what we’re doing, then we will subject you to harsh recriminations. But if you passively comply with what we want, refrain from challenging us, and acquiesce to our prevailing order, then you are “free” and will be left alone. The genius is that those who accept this bargain are easily convinced that repression does not exist in the US, that it only takes place in those Other Bad countries, because, as a reward for their compliant posture, they are not subjected to it.
But even in most of the worst tyrannies, those who are content with the status quo and who refrain from meaningfully challenging prevailing power systems are free of punishment. Rights exist to protect dissidents and those who challenge orthodoxies, not those who acquiesce to those orthodoxies or support state power; the latter group rarely needs any such protections. The effect, and intent, of this climate of fear is to force as many citizens as possible into the latter group.
The true measure of how free a society is how its dissidents are treated, not those who refrain from meaningful anti-government activism and dissent. To apply that metric to the US, just look at what the American citizens quoted in this Times article this morning are saying and doing.
Over the past two and a half years, all of which he has spent in a military prison, much has been said about Bradley Manning, but nothing has been heard from him. That changed on Thursday, when the 23-year-old US army private accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks testified at his court martial proceeding about the conditions of his detention.
The oppressive, borderline-torturous measures to which he was subjected, including prolonged solitary confinement and forced nudity, have been known for some time. A formal UN investigation denounced those conditions as “cruel and inhuman”. President Obama’s state department spokesman, retired air force colonel PJ Crowley, resigned after publicly condemning Manning’s treatment. A prison psychologist testified this week that Manning’s conditions were more damaging than those found on death row, or at Guantánamo Bay.
Still, hearing the accused whistleblower’s description of this abuse in his own words viscerally conveyed its horror. Reporting from the hearing, the Guardian’s Ed Pilkington quoted Manning: “If I needed toilet paper I would stand to attention and shout: ‘Detainee Manning requests toilet paper!’" And: "I was authorised to have 20 minutes sunshine, in chains, every 24 hours." Early in his detention, Manning recalled, "I had pretty much given up. I thought I was going to die in this eight by eight animal cage."
There is no way to become a Julian Assange in Cuba and stay alive, believe me.
What the US wants, the US gets from its allies - regardless of if it’s legal or if it’s ethical or in breach of human or legal rights.
— Christine Assange, Julian Assange’s mother claiming that the United States are behind the British threats to Ecuador’s embassy (where Assange has been granted asylum).
We are not a British colony.
— Ricardo Patino, Ecuador’s foreign minister, in response to the British government demanding he turn over Julian Assange.
I highly recommend clicking above to read Greenwald’s three cases, but here’s the takeaway:
The Rules of American Justice are quite clear:
(1) If you are a high-ranking government official who commits war crimes, you will receive full-scale immunity, both civil and criminal, and will have the American President demand that all citizens Look Forward, Not Backward.
(2) If you are a low-ranking member of the military, you will receive relatively trivial punishments in order to protect higher-ranking officials and cast the appearance of accountability.
(3) If you are a victim of American war crimes, you are a non-person with no legal rights or even any entitlement to see the inside of a courtroom.
(4) If you talk publicly about any of these war crimes, you have committed the Gravest Crime — you are guilty of espionage – and will have the full weight of the American criminal justice system come crashing down upon you. …
It’s long past time to rip those blindfolds off of the Lady Justice statues. When the purpose of American justice is to shield those with the greatest power who commit the most egregious crimes, while severely punishing those who talk publicly about those crimes, it’s hard to imagine how it can get much more degraded or corrupted than that.
For three reasons, AP’s findings [that accusations about the damage done by WikiLeaks’ latest release are — yet again — wildly overstated and without any factual basis] are anything but surprising.
First, that the U.S. Government declares something Very Secret hardly means it is; this is a secrecy-obsessed government that reflexively declares even the most banal matters to be “sensitive” and off-limits to the public, as proven by the release of hundreds of thousands of “secret” documents that reveal nothing.
Second, there is an established history of extremely exaggerated government and media claims about the harm done by WikiLeaks releases; that’s why, when examining the events last week that prompted the release of the unredacted cables, I wrote: ”Serious caution is warranted in making claims about the damage caused by publication of these cables.”
Third, and most important for present purposes, this is what the U.S. government and its media-servants do; it’s their modus operandi. Whomever the government wants to demonize at any given moment is subjected to this same process. On a moment’s notice, the full propaganda system is activated against the New Enemy, indiscriminate accusations are unleashed, personal foibles are exposed, collective hatred among all Decent People is mandated, and it then instantly becomes heretical to question the caricature of evil that has been manufactured.
That’s how dictators and other assorted miscreants with whom the U.S. was tightly allied for years or even decades are overnight converted into The Root of All Evil, The Supreme Villain who Must be Vanquished (Saddam, Osama bin Laden, Gadaffi, Mubarak). Americans who were perfectly content to have their government in bed with these individuals suddenly stand up and demand, on cue, that no expense be spared to eradicate them. Often, the demonization campaign contains some truth — the nation’s long-time-friends-converted-overnight-into-Enemies really have committed atrocious acts or, as a new innovation of Nixonian tactics aimed at Daniel Ellsberg, even harbored some creepy porn (!) — but the ritual of collective hatred renders any facts a mere accident. Once everyone’s contempt is successfully directed toward the Chosen Enemy, it matters little what they actually did or did not do: such a profound menace are they to all that is Good that exaggerations or even lies about their bad acts are ennobled, in service of a Good Cause; conversely, to question the demonization or object to what is done to them is, by definition, to side with Evil.
Directing all this passionate hatred toward the state’s identified Enemy and their Evil Acts has an added benefit: the resulting mass contempt, by design, distracts all attention away from of the evil committed by those stirring that passion. Thus do we all stomp our feet in righteous fury over the potential, speculative harm caused by WikiLeaks while steadfastly ignoring the actual, massive death and destruction on the part of our own leaders which WikiLeaks reveals…
The vast gulf between what America was, and what it has become, can be measured by the distance between [typical] uplifting rhetoric about “American exceptionalism” and the degraded reality of handcuffed children murdered by US soldiers. What we were was admired, and even loved, by freedom-seeking people the world over: what we have become is rightly hated by those same freedom-starved peoples.
The history of the last decade or so proves, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the US government, far from being this great liberating force, the greatest factor for good in the international equation, is instead a force for naked evil. It isn’t that “we are not angels,” it’s that we’re devils. It’s as simple as that.
markellison asked: I'm sorry, how exactly have the WikiLeaks disclosures helped spark democratic revolutions and reforms across the Middle East? WikiLeaks published incriminating material about the Arab regimes, corruption and so forth, which the US diplomatic missions abroad knew about for years but never revealed in public. In that sense, the cables were more of a prologue than an epilogue to the protests -- and not one of the cables predicted the collapses of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, nor the unrest that hit Jordan, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain.
I suppose there's the idea is that the whole wave of transparency spearheaded by the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables release, and AlJazeera's publishing of the Palestine Papers, kind of fits into the narrative of pro-democracy protests in the Arab world... But this is first time I've heard of anyone describing the WikiLeaks cables as a catalyst for the Middle East revolutions. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on this.
The post was actually a link to an article I was quoting, but it’s fairly widely recognized that WikiLeaks and the corruption it exposed was a catalyst to much of the uprising in the middle east:
[Amnesty International] singles out WikiLeaks and the newspapers that pored over its previously confidential government files, among them the Guardian, as a catalyst in a series of uprisings against repressive regimes, notably the overthrow of Tunisia’s long-serving president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
"The year 2010 may well be remembered as a watershed year when activists and journalists used new technology to speak truth to power and, in so doing, pushed for greater respect for human rights," Amnesty’s secretary general, Salil Shetty, says in an introduction to the document. "It is also the year when repressive governments faced the real possibility that their days were numbered."
And this started with Tunisia:
Events in Tunisia have led to it being called the ‘First Wikileaks Revolution’.
For an overall assessment on the role WikiLeaks played in the Middle East / North African uprisings, see here.
The true catalyst, of course, was the actual corruption and despotism perpetrated onto the respective populaces, and the brave people who would take it no longer - but WikiLeaks seems to have played at least a small part in illuminating and confirming those offenses.
- At great personal cost, Bradley Manning has given our foreign policy elite the public supervision it so badly needs.
- Knowledge is powerful. The WikiLeaks disclosures have helped spark democratic revolutions and reforms across the Middle East, accomplishing what Operation Iraqi Freedom never could.
- Bradley Manning has exposed the pathological over-classification of America’s public documents.
- … Bradley Manning has upheld a great American tradition of transparency in statecraft and for that he should be an American hero, not an American felon.