Saturday, January 4, 2014

just punishment for Snowden

Maybe I spent too many years in government and had access to too many useful intelligence products, but I've been disturbed by the overreaction of outrage, especially in the media, over the Snowden leaks. The New York Times editorial calling for clemency reflects its interest as a newspaper but falls short in considering the consequences for U.S. security of such an aciton. I'm ready to admit that NSA has done too much because it could, without more carefully decided what it should. But I also agree with John McLaughlin that its work is valuable in keeping America safe and we would punish NSA at our peril.

I grew up thinking Daniel Ellsberg was a hero for leaking the Pentagon Papers. Snowden is no Ellsberg and should be punished, not venerated for what he has done.  Fred Kaplan has written an excellent piece that captures my own views and distinguishes Ellsberg from Snowden very effectively. He also details the many ways in which Snowden betrayed his oath and his colleagues and his purported principles.

As Kaplan notes,

It is true that Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s surveillance of American citizens—far vaster than any outsider had suspected, in some cases vaster than the agency’s overseers on the secret FISA court had permitted—have triggered a valuable debate, leading possibly to much-needed reforms.
 If that were all that Snowden had done, if his stolen trove of beyond-top-secret documents had dealt only with the NSA’s domestic surveillance, then some form of leniency might be worth discussing.

But Snowden did much more than that. The documents that he gave the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman and the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald have, so far, furnished stories about the NSA’s interception of email traffic, mobile phone calls, and radio transmissions of Taliban fighters in Pakistan’s northwest territories; about an operation to gauge the loyalties of CIA recruits in Pakistan; about NSA email intercepts to assist intelligence assessments of what’s going on inside Iran; about NSA surveillance of cellphone calls “worldwide,” an effort that (in the Post’s words) “allows it to look for unknown associates of known intelligence targets by tracking people whose movements intersect.” In his first interview with the South China Morning Post, Snowden revealed that the NSA routinely hacks into hundreds of computers in China and Hong Kong.
Those disclosures of sources and methods harm U.S. security and are not justifiable.

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