NSA: Now Selecting Anybody (to Work Here)

by Jim Geraghty

Today’s Morning Jolt features a quick look at U.S. diplomats behaving badly, a GOP name considering a comeback, the “Twelve Visions Party” of Massachusetts, and then . . . 

Don’t Come Crying to Us, NSA; You Guys Are the Ones Who Hired This Goofball.

Everybody’s going to have an opinion on Edward Snowden, today the world’s most famous leaker.

In the coming days, you’re going to see a lot of people talking past each other, conflating two issues: One, did he do the right thing by disclosing all these details of the vast NSA system to gather data on Americans? And two, should he be prosecuted for it?

Of course, you can do the right thing and still break the law.

John Yoo argues that the government has to pursue prosecution of Snowden, considering what they’ve done in response to much lesser leaks:

The NSA leak case will reveal if the Obama administration really means what it said about its foolish and unconstitutional pursuit of the AP and Fox News in other leak cases. Recall that the Obama Justice Department claimed that Fox News reporter James Rosen was a co-conspirator in the alleged leak of classified intelligence. If the Justice Department truly believed what it told the courts when seeking a wiretap on Rosen, then it should indict the reporters and editors for the Washington Post and the Guardian newspapers who published information on PRISM. They clearly “conspired” with Snowden to publish classified information, information that was much more harmful to the national security than in the Rosen case (on North Korea’s predictable response to sanctions). Personally, I think that the Post is protected by the First Amendment, but Holder’s Justice Department clearly doesn’t think so.

So either the Justice Department will indict not just Snowden, but also the Post and Guardian reporters, or it will have been shown to have been untruthful to the courts in the Rosen case (which I think has become clear) . . . 

Yoo also points out that Snowden’s claim to noble motives is muddied quite a bit by his decision to run to Hong Kong. (By the way, the last guy to run to Hong Kong, certain that he was beyond the reach of American law enforcement and extradition treaties, was Mr. Lau, the money-keeper for the Gotham City mob. And we all remember how that turned out.) When Snowden declares, “Hong Kong has a reputation for freedom in spite of the People’s Republic of China. It has a strong tradition of free speech,” we have to wonder if A) he’s already working for the Chinese or B) he’s an imbecile.

This may be a story with no heroes. A government system designed to protect the citizens starts collecting all kinds of information on people who have done nothing wrong; it gets exposed, in violation of oaths and laws, by a young man who doesn’t recognize the full ramifications of his actions. The same government that will insist he’s the villain will glide right past the question of how they came to trust a guy like him with our most sensitive secrets. Who within our national-security apparatus made the epic mistake of looking him over — completing his background check and/or psychological evaluation — and concluding, “yup, looks like a nice kid?”

Watching the interview with Snowden, the first thing that is quite clear is that his mild-mannered demeanor inadequately masks a huge ego — one of the big motivations of spies. (Counterintelligence instructors have long offered the mnemonic MICE, for money, ideology, compromise, ego; others throw in nationalism and sex.)

Snowden feels he has an understanding of what’s going on well beyond most of his colleagues:

When you’re in positions of privileged access like a systems administrator for the sort of intelligence community agencies, you’re exposed to a lot more information on a broader scale then the average employee and because of that you see things that may be disturbing but over the course of a normal person’s career you’d only see one or two of these instances. When you see everything you see them on a more frequent basis and you recognize that some of these things are actually abuses.

What’s more, he feels that no one listens to his concerns or takes them seriously:

And when you talk to people about them in a place like this where this is the normal state of business people tend not to take them very seriously and move on from them. But over time that awareness of wrongdoing sort of builds up and you feel compelled to talk about. And the more you talk about the more you’re ignored. The more you’re told its not a problem until eventually you realize that these things need to be determined by the public and not by somebody who was simply hired by the government.”

My God, he must have been an insufferable co-worker.

‘Look, you guys just don’t understand, okay? You just can’t grasp the moral complexities of what I’m being asked to do here! Nobody here really gets what’s going on, or can see the big picture when you ask me to do something like that!’

‘Ed, I just asked if you could put a new bottle on the water cooler when you get a chance.’

Of course, all of this is presided over by a guy who thought that civil liberties were a useful cudgel against a Republican president back when he was outside the Oval Office. John Sexton turns the wayback machine to 2005, when then-Senator Obama, from the floor of the Senate, sternly declared that the Patriot Act “didn’t just provide law enforcement the powers it needed to keep us safe, but powers it didn’t need to invade our privacy without cause or suspicion” and added:

If someone wants to know why their own government has decided to go on a fishing expedition through every personal record or private document — through library books they’ve read and phone calls they’ve made — this legislation gives people no rights to appeal the need for such a search in a court of law. No judge will hear their plea, no jury will hear their case. This is just plain wrong.

Ace of Spades:

James Rosen could not be reached for comment, but secret government surveillance into all of his phone calls and emails indicates he’s pretty pissed.

Glenn Reynolds, in USA Today yesterday:

As for abuse, well, is it plausible to believe that a government that would abuse the powers of the IRS to attack political enemies, go after journalists who publish unflattering material or scapegoat a filmmaker in the hopes of providing political cover to an election-season claim that al-Qaeda was finished would have any qualms about misusing the massive power of government-run snooping and Big Data? What we’ve seen here is a pattern of abuse. There’s little reason to think that pattern will change, absent a change of administration — and, quite possibly, not even then. Sooner or later, power granted tends to become power abused. Then there’s the risk that information gathered might leak, of course, as recent events demonstrate.

Most Americans generally think that politicians are untrustworthy. So why trust them with so much power? The evidence to date strongly suggests that they aren’t worthy of it.

“The kid’s been okay for the month since he arrived. Time to let him see the really secret stuff.”

The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.