There's a reason I argued we are now living on Planet Partisan the other day. In what is now, apparently, our continuing series on partisans attempting to justify their all-new positions on the massive, secret, US national security surveillance state by completely ignoring and/or reversing their very strong previously held positions, we first had...
EXCLUSIVE: Legendary 'Pentagon Papers' whistleblower offers frank comment on the NSA whistleblower; the dangers of our privatized surveillance state; the failure of Congressional oversight; and journalists 'discrediting their professions'...
"I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America," Church said, "and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return."
On Wednesday, during a fascinating interview on The BradCast on KPFK/Pacifica Radio, Ellsberg said directly, in the wake of Snowden's disclosures: "We're in the abyss. What he feared has come to pass."
The Guardian has asserted that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden "will go down in history as one of America's most consequential whistleblowers alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning," do it seemed the perfect time to chat with Ellsberg about all of this.
He offered a number of thoughts about Snowden himself, from one of the few people in the world who may have real insight into what the 29-year old leaker must be thinking and dealing with right about now, and why he may have chosen to both leave the country and then come out publicly. He describes Snowden as "a patriotic American, and to call him a traitor reveals a real misunderstanding of our founding documents."
"What he has revealed, of course, is documentary evidence of a broadly, blatantly unconstitutional program here which negates the Fourth Amendment," Ellsberg said. "And if it continues in this way, I think it makes democracy essentially impossible or meaningless."
As usual, Ellsberg pulled no punches in his comments on the dangers of our privatized surveillance state; the failure of our Congressional intelligence oversight committees (which he describes as "fraudulent" and "totally broken"); and on those who have been critical of Snowden and of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist from The Guardian who has broken most of the scoops on Snowden's leaked documents.
He said that folks like attorney Jeffrey Toobin at the New Yorker and author Thomas Friedman at New York Times and Senator Dianne Feinstein "are being very strongly discredited," by their attacks on Snowden. "The criticisms they're making, I think, are very discreditable to them in their profession," he says.
And, while answering to my request for a response to Josh Marshall's recent piece at TPM, in which Marshall weights his own conscience on this matter and frankly revealing his natural tendency to support the government over whistleblowers in cases like this, Ellsberg was particularly pointed. "Marshall has a lot to be said for him as a blogger," he said, before adding: "I think what he said there is stupid and mistaken and does not do him credit." He went on to describe some of Marshall's comments as "slander" against Snowden.
One other point that merits highlight here for now, before I let ya listen below. The difference between Ellsberg's circumstances and those in play today.
Ellsberg noted that after leaking top secret Defense Department documents to the New York Times in 1971, detailing how the Johnson Administration had lied the nation into the Vietnam War, President Nixon, at the time, ordered a break-in of his psychiatrist's office and discussed having Ellsberg "eliminated".
"All the things that were done to me then," he noted chillingly, "including a CIA profile on me, a burglary of my former psychiatrist's office in order to get information to blackmail me with, all of those things were illegal, as one might think that they ought to be."
"They're legal now, since 9/11, with the PATRIOT Act, which on that very basis alone should be repealed. In other words, this is a case right now with Snowden that shows very dramatically the dangers of that PATRIOT Act, used as it is. So the fact is, that all these things are legal. And even the one of possibly eliminating him"...
Ever since last week's disclosures about our massive surveillance state began pouring out from the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, via leaked documents from NSA contractor Edward Snowden, detractors of the leaks have been pillorying them both for, among other things, supposedly putting national security at risk.
The attacks have come from both the Right and non-Right this time around, unlike during the Bush Administration when the attacks on whistleblowing came largely from the Right (and from some elected Democrats.)
At the end of this article over the weekend, I wrote a bit about how bizarre it's been to see partisan Obama supporters literally switching places with their partisan Bush-supporting counterparts, using arguments that are virtually identical to those by made by Republicans to defend Bush on these very same matters during his administration. Those same arguments, almost to the phrase, are now employed by many Democrats to defend the Obama DoJ's crackdown on whistleblowers, secret subpoenas of journalists and, now, as a call to arms against Snowden and Greenwald both for, somehow, putting the nation in danger. (At the same time, as I've also noted on severaloccassions, it's also amazing to witness some Republicans who've suddenly discovered a new found concern about Big Government Executive Branch overreach and the secret surveillance of U.S. citizens.)
Related to all of this, and true to many of those who have been critical of Snowden and Greenwald from both the Democratic and Republican side, is that while the recent disclosures have put us at risk (or something), as they argue, the issue of our massive, secret, privatized, surveillance state is, nonetheless, a very important issue about which we must have a public debate as a nation. On that, detractors from both sides seem to agree.
Here are just a few examples of that and some thoughts on how twisted this logic seems to be...
I was on Abby Martin's Breaking the Set program on RT America this evening. The video is posted below.
We discussed the NSA leaks and everything related to it, including, briefly, my own disturbing experience --- which I have in common with Glenn Greenwald --- when we were both targeted by a cyber-scheme devised by government defense contractors set to turn tools developed for the "War on Terror" against us, at the behest of major corporate interests.
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Whistleblower Edward Snowden did more than simply expose a level of NSA surveillance that suggests the entire system has grown dangerously close to that of "Big Brother" in George Orwell's 1984.
In disclosing that he served at the NSA as a third-party contractor employed by Booz Allen Hamilton, Snowden's revelations touch upon the disturbing fact that the U.S. has become not only a national security surveillance state, but a privatized national security surveillance state. Our national security apparatus is now run, in no small part, by massive private corporations whose financial interests may be better served by operating in secret and by exploiting and exaggerating public fears.
As reported by The New York Times on Monday, Booz Allen "has become one of the largest and most profitable corporations in the United States almost exclusively by serving a single client: the government of the United States." The company "reported revenues of $5.76 billion for the fiscal year ended in March."
The majority shareholder in Booz Allen is The Carlyle Group, the massive global asset management firm whose defense industry contracts raised questions of a conflict of interest during the George W. Bush administration in light of the direct financial ties and active rolls in Carlyle maintained by Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush, his Sec. of State, James Baker, III, Ronald Reagan's Defense Sec. Frank Carlucci and even Shafiq Bin Laden (Osama's brother).
These new revelations serve as a reminder that 9/11 did more than serve as an economic boon for the military-industrial complex. The events of that horrible day gave rise to an endless "war on terror," to the starkly swift passage of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 and eventually, along with it, --- as Sen. Russ Feingold, the only U.S. Senator to vote against the Act, predicted at the time --- to the massive reach of the NSA surveillance state. Feingold's prediction echoed the ominous warning provided by Sen. Frank Church (D-ID) some thirty years earlier, that if the NSA's surveillance capabilities were ever allowed to go unchecked, there would be "no place to hide."
But what Senators Feingold and Church do not seem to have anticipated was that this Orwellian level of surveillance capabilities would be placed into the hands of private cyber security contractors, and their billionaire benefactors, whose financial interests lie in an exaggerated state of fear and secrecy. The merger between the NSA and private corporate power raises the specter that this never-ending "war on terror" has given rise to a national security apparatus whose real purpose is to protect wealth and privilege against the threat democracy poses to our increasingly stark levels of inequality.
So, is it terrorism or democracy which is the real target of an omnipresent NSA surveillance capability? Or is it something else entirely?...
29-year old former CIA technical assistant and current NSA third-party contractor Edward Snowden has decided to out himself as the source of the leaked national security documents exposing the U.S. government's massive secret telephone records collection and secret access to nine major Internet services providers, as published by journalist Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian over the course of the past week.
"Any analyst, at any time, can target anyone...anywhere," he tells Greenwald in a video interview published this morning by the Guardian, as recorded in Hong Kong where Snowden has taken refuge for the time being. He adds that, "increasingly", secret intelligence collection is "happening domestically."
"Not all analysts have the ability to target everything," he explains. "But I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge or even the President if I had a personal email."
Prior to his decision to leak certain classified and top secret documents about "this massive surveillance machine" he said is being secretly built by the government --- documents which, he says, he reviewed specifically to make sure nobody was personally exposed by them --- Greenwald reports, in a separate article, that he "had 'a very comfortable life' that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves."
"I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest," he is quoted as telling the Guardian. "There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn't turn over, because harming people isn't my goal. Transparency is."
Thanks to his leaks from the NSA, "Snowden will go down in history as one of America's most consequential whistleblowers alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning" writes Greenwald, with fellow Guardian journalists Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras today.
"The public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong," Snowden tells Greenwald in the fascinating video interview...
NSA and the intelligence community in general, is focused on getting intelligence where ever it can by any means possible, that it believes, on the grounds of sort of a self-certification, that they serve the national interest. Originally, we saw that focus very narrowly tailored, as far as intelligence gathered overseas. Now, increasingly, we see that it's happening domestically. And to do that, they --- the NSA, specifically --- targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default. It collects them in its system, and it filters them and it analyzes them and it measures them and it stores them for periods of time, simply because that's the easiest, most efficient and most valuable way to achieve these ends. So while they may be intending to target someone associated with a foreign government or someone they suspect of terrorism, they're collecting your communications to do so.
A decade ago, Snowden had enlisted in the U.S. Army in hopes of going to Iraq with the Special Forces, the Guardian reports. He became disenchanted, he says, when "Most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone." Following a serious injury during training, he was discharged, and eventually made his way into the intelligence field, and now the pages of history.
When asked why he decided to expose these programs, and now come out publicly about them at this time, as opposed to staying in the shadows until otherwise discovered, Snowden explains in the video...
The first part of this segment from last Thursday night's Last Word on MSNBC includes a quick summary by NBC's Pete Williams of the first two different blockbuster releases of classified NatSec documents by the UK Guardian's Glen Greenwald this week. (Those two stories are here and here, and came before his third one on Friday.)
If you're familiar with those stories, you can skip to the 5:15 mark in the video below, where Greenwald's appearance begins, and as he responds to threats of investigation, etc. by Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) and others concerning his release of these documents journalism.
The first part of Greenwald's response: "Let them go ahead and investigate. There's this document called the Constitution, and one of the things it guarantees is the right of a free press. Which means, as a citizen and as a journalist, I have the absolute Constitutional right to go on and report on what it is my government is doing in the dark and inform my fellow citizens about that action ... And I intend to continue to shine light on that and Dianne Feinstein can beat her chest all she wants and call for investigations and none of that's gonna stop and none of it's gonna change"...
That's what journalism should look like, and what every journalist should sound like, in my opinion.
I'm very proud to call Greenwald both a colleague and a fellow target of secretly planned cyberattacks back in 2011 by incredibly powerful corporate/government forces (one of whom, by the way, may well be one of the government Defense Dept. contractors involved in the second of Greenwald's leak reports this week.)
One more point on all of this I'd like to cite, for now...
This one is a classified 18-page Presidential Policy Directive issued by President Obama last October detailing "Offensive Cyber Effects Operations (OCEO)" which "can offer unique and unconventional capabilities to advance US national objectives around the world with little or no warning to the adversary or target and with potential effects ranging from subtle to severely damaging".
It is said, by an Administration national security spokesperson, to be an update to "a similar directive dating back to 2004."
In truth, they've never given a damn about any of it, unless it seemed to be something they could use to hurt Barack Obama and Democrats in some way. But, even then, the fake outrage was extraordinarily selective.
With yesterday's revelation by Glenn Greenwald at the UK Guardian, exposing the Obama NSA's secret FISA court order to obtain blanket access to months of records from "all telephone calls in [Verizon's] systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries," one might be dumb enough to think that Fox and the Republicans and, especially, U.S. House Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Darrel Issa, would be in an absolute uproar upon learning of the President's tyrannical Big Government overreach and invasion into the private lives of American citizens.
But, of course, we're not that dumb.
Other than Sen. Rand Paul, apparently, few on the Right could care less about any of it. That is, of course, because they never actually cared about Big Government or tyranny or invasions into the private lives of American citizens in the first place.
Alex Seitz-Wald at Salon explains it well, noting that between the time the story broke last night and about 2pm ET this afternoon, Fox "News" and Fox Business, together, had mentioned the story only three times. "Two were quick straight news segments, while the third was a little riff from the 'Fox and Friends' crew." At the same time, he writes, "Fox and Fox Business have mentioned the nine-month-old Libya scandal over 25 times"...
This is why conservative scandal mongers can’t have anything nice. When they’re handed a real scandal that should confirm all of their worst suspicions about government overreach, they fail to take the bait and fall back on a stale non-scandal that cable news has chewed over for months already. They know Benghazi is safe territory for them and that their viewers like it, but it’s too bad the most popular cable news network isn’t doing a better job of informing their viewers about legitimate Obama administration problems.
This afternoon, World Net Daily, the Birther news website, blasted out an email to readers: "Mother of all scandals: Obama’s war on Christians."
"This should be a litmus test for Republicans: either take action against this program, or never invoke liberty or limited government again," Conor Friedersdorf tweeted, regarding the NSA story.
And, of course, that was all beforeGreenwald and Ewen MacAskill's arguably even more alarming story today (also confirmed by Washington Post) revealing a massive, previously undisclosed, top secret NSA program named PRISM which now affords the agency "direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian." The program, they report, allows "officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats."
Fox and friends are, no doubt, scrambling, even now, to ignore that story as thoroughly and as quickly as possible as well. Because, ya know, Benghazi! Or something...Or, maybe its the fact that both programs were begun under George W. Bush, back when Fox and friends didn't even pretend to give a damn about Big Government overreach --- other than when they were calling for more of it.
In case you can't read it, the text of the identical letters, believed to contain deadly ricin --- as sent last week to President Barack Obama, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and to his gun safety organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns (as well as to an Air Force Base and the CIA) from a Shreveport, LA post office --- follows below...
You will have to kill me and my family before you get my guns. Anyone wants to come to my house will get shot in the face. The right to bear arms is my constitutional God given right and I will excersice [sic] that right til [sic] the day I die. whats in the letter is nothing compared to what ive [sic] got planned for you.
Well, that tears it! I'm convinced by his water-tight argument. We must fight to ensure every American --- just like the guy who wrote the letter above --- is able to buy any weapon he likes, with as much ammo as he likes, with as many magazines, of any size, as he likes, with no oversight, tracking or background checks whatsoever! I see no down side.
It is, after all, a "constitutional God given right" and who are we to put limits on what God wants (and wrote directly into our Constitution)?
Sure, laugh now. But, to paraphrase, "First they came for the attempted assassins," etc...
* * *
Rachel Maddow's quick take on the above, and a spate of similar incidents of late, follows below...
AP and others are reporting that President Obama plans to nominate, for FBI Director, Republican James Comey, former Deputy Attorney General under then AG John Ashcroft, during some of the darkest days of the George W. Bush Administration.
The news offer a moment to revisit what a real White House scandal looked like --- back when Republicans had no interest in them and back when there were real investigative Congressional hearings and no need to create pretend "whistleblowers" in order to gin up political "outrage" and "scandal"!
For those of you who believe Benghazi is an actual scandal, or even that the IRS idiocy has anything to do with "tyranny" or "abuse of power", you need only look back to Comey's riveting, could-hear-a-pin-drop, 2007 testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, as he described publicly, for the first time, a very real Executive over reach and astonishing abuse of power that concerned not only the federal government spying on all Americans without warrant or cause, but a White House willing to secretly take advantage of a critically ill Attorney General in order to get approval for a program by having it "certified as legal", even when it clearly was not.
That's what Comey described in his May 15, 2007 testimony --- during hearings on the U.S. Attorney Scandal (another very real one) --- about a remarkable event that took place on the night of Wednesday, March 10, 2004, which threatened to result in the mass resignation of the Attorney General, his Deputy AGs, much of their top-level staff, as well as the Director of the FBI. When asked during the hearing why he had determined to submit his resignation after what he saw and what had happened on that fateful night, he responds to Sen. Chuck Schumer: "I believed that I couldn't stay if the Administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice said had no legal basis. I just couldn't stay."
His testimony describes the night that the Bush's NSA warrantless eavesdropping program was set to expire, as then AG Ashcroft lay in a hospital Intensive Care Unit with a critical case of pancreatitis. Comey, designated as Acting AG during the AG's illness, had refused the White House demands to certify the NSA program as "legal", as was needed for it to continue. The White House was said to have been furious about it, so Dubya, reportedly, personally called Ashcroft's wife to inform her that his own legal adviser Alberto Gonzalez (who was not yet AG) and Chief of Staff Andy Card, were on their way over to the hospital to have the ailing AG personally sign off on the program.
What happened next, as Comey describes it in his testimony below, was an astonishing moment in a very real Constitutional crisis...