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Doubting Edward, or Wolf cries boy

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What should we make of Edward Snowden, the whistleblower? The exclusive accounts of Glenn Greenwald and others from the Guardian, sourced from a week’s worth of secret interviews with Snowden in Hong Kong, are rock-solid, the proofs they offer incontrovertible.

The secret order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) on April 25 of this year, compelling the Verizon telecommunications company to provide copies of the “meta data” of all telephone calls in its system to the National Security Agency on an “ongoing, daily basis.” The secret 41-slide PowerPoint presentation of a massive monitoring program that allows the NSA to directly access the computer systems of Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple and other iconic tech companies, called Prism. The two petitions from US Attorney General Eric Holder to the Fisa, which sought broad powers to scour communications even without a warrant.

And yet some of those who may be expected to welcome Snowden’s revelations have raised doubts about the intelligence contractor’s story. Famous feminist Naomi Wolf, for instance, sounded the alarm about the United States turning into a police state in 2007. Last Friday, however, she wondered aloud on Facebook whether Snowden was the real thing.

“I hate to do this but I feel obligated to share, as the story unfolds, my creeping concern that the NSA leaker is not who he purports to be, and that the motivations involved in the story may be more complex than they appear to be…. It is just to raise some cautions as the story unfolds, and to raise some questions about how it is unfolding, based on my experience with high-level political messaging.” Her gut instinct told her: “Some of Snowden’s emphases seem to serve an intelligence/police state objective, rather than to challenge them.”

Her original post is worth reading in full, even though the eight bases she listed and on which her skepticism relied do not all have the same persuasive power. (She wrote a follow-up post the next day, defending her skeptical stance.) As expected, she got flak, a lot of it, for questioning the Snowden narrative. I think it was Gawker which put the rest of the Internet on her scent, but it may have been another kindred spirit—a leftist radical who thinks the United States has long betrayed its highest ideals—who wrote the most vociferous critique.

“I hate to do this, but I feel obligated to share, as the story unfolds, my creeping concern that the writer Naomi Wolf is not whom she purports to be, and that her motive in writing an article on her public Facebook page speculating about whether National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden might actually be still working for the NSA, could be to support the government’s effort to destroy him.”

Dave Lindorff’s post in The Counterpunch may have started with a satirical dig at Wolf’s own opening lines, but it quickly turned into a direct assault on Wolf herself: “wild-eyed speculation,” “touting her own now rather dated 2007 book The End of America,” “having reassured us how well-connected she is,” crescendoing to: “I have to conclude she has allowed her instinct for self-promotion and grandstanding in this case to let her do something truly treacherous and unconscionable: baselessly defaming and attacking the credibility of a brave whistleblower who is under official… attack.”

Another kindred spirit—Thomas Knapp of the Center for a Stateless Society—tried to strike a balance. It may be that there is in fact nothing to Wolf’s wondering-aloud; at the same time, he writes, “I don’t find Wolf’s musings outrageous. A bit paranoid, perhaps, but who can blame her? We’re well past the point where it’s become obvious that yes, they really ARE out to get us.”

So what should we make of Snowden? His flight out of Hong Kong, transiting through Moscow, and then possibly through Cuba, to eventual asylum in Ecuador, complicates an already murky picture. It may be that to the young man, Ecuador and Russia do appear to be the best place for him to escape the very long arm of the US military, intelligence and political apparatus. (He had initially said he saw himself in Iceland.)

But the irony: He said he leaked the NSA’s secrets to tell Americans that the federal government’s massive surveillance regime is “an existential threat to democracy”—but his range of options having dramatically narrowed, he will depend on the help of an actively anti-media government like Vladimir Putin’s, and live in a country determinedly seeking to curtail press and other freedoms.

About the United States, however, the pattern in the picture is easier to discern. First, there is an enormous disconnect between Obama’s stirring promise last May that “this war (the so-called war on terror), like all wars, must come to an end,” and his strained justification that the massive domestic spying program Snowden revealed was legal and even moral.

And second, the United States began to sacrifice its founding principles, and the civil liberties it had enshrined in its Constitution, when it became an empire.

“It is horrible, simply horrible. Surely there cannot be many born and bred Americans who, when they look at the bare fact of what we are doing, the fact taken all by itself, do not feel this, and do not blush with burning shame at the unspeakable meanness and ignominy of the trick?”

That was William James at the turn of the 20th century, writing about the despicable American treatment of Emilio Aguinaldo and the Filipino rebels. But reading that passage again, I cannot help but hear an echo of, well, of a wire being tapped.

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jnery@inquirer.com.ph/johnnery.wordpress.com

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  • Mang Teban

    Complicated democracy, that is what the USA is.
    There is a government within the government in Washington to refer to the Office of the American President. In some legend about the past presidents, the CIA runs the government and not what many Americans think the power their president holds as “Commander-in Chief” and other superlatives.

    With regards to Mr. Snowden’s flight, if only he can read this – I suggest he chooses Netherlands. See how the twin terrorists, JoMa Sison and Luis Jalandoni, have been having a grand time operating by remote control their vast extortion enterprise in our country. I don’t care what the Dutch will say about this but, their country is a refuge of escape artists.

    As for statements made by Ms. Wolf on Facebook, I can only say that her security has already been breached. But, for Filipinos, should we even care? Let the Americans untangle the web of deception shrouding their political landscape.

  • josh_alexei

    This intelligence sharing been going for quite sometimes among the Five Countries which are…the US, Canada, GB, Australia and NZ. Canada in co-operation with the US has been doing a warrant less meta data harvesting at the directive of the Minister of Defense and not even the Parliament is made aware of that..it was only exposed after the Snowden incident. But it seems that the Public really do not care since it was being done by every administration, Liberals, then the Conservatives..well that were the only two in Government anyways. I believe the objectives defeat the infringement of the violated rights..

  • tadasolo

    I think there is melodramatic response to Snowden on whether the program is compromise to detect a pattern among those who plan to inflict mass casualties like the 9-11 incident and/or infringes on the 4th amendment of the US constitution. The question is whether there is a balance and compromise in the program to protect the privacy guaranteed in the constitution and the security of the public. The exposure is not surprising considering the great latitude provided by technology and the seeming lack of oversight by the political process in understanding the need and breath on snooping in an international scale. The program is meant to target potential threats and I do not think the NSA is spending valuable time snooping on ordinary peaceful citizens but the “Thought” that they could do so is what turns people off and feel their rights are being compromise.
    By the way my privacy are already compromised by the massive amount of data collected on data farms by Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon on my likes and dislikes and behavior and from the massive snooping by the Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Koreans, Germans, British etc. to collect data for economic and military reason. This is the future of interconnectivity and reality of communication wherein your finger print is expose for the world to see due to economic and security. Knowledge and information are intertwined in a wired world and it means opportunities. Those who do not have it will be left behind. The big suspicion on Snowden is whether he has compromise security by going to the Russians and Chinese government on multi billion dollar investment employing upwards 500,000 people. Has he become a mole and compromise the program. The investigation seems to be leading to that by requesting protection from the communist Chinese and the dictator Putin.

  • buninay1

    Everybody including the President, the congress, the public is in the bind with the expose lavished on by the bigmouth Snowden. It is a catch 22 for everybody and we have to admit there is no easy and fast solution to the trail of mess in the wake of this expose. Suffice it to say though that the beef against the snooping is rooted in political malice nursed and harbored by the Tea partyers and their ilks. Assuming for the sake of argument that a dirty nuclear bomb is prevented from being detonated in NY, will the same beef and excoriation be as intense and as sustained as they are now?

    The US is perhaps in the face of a growing reality that the fourth amendment of their constitution is getting obsolete in the advent of cyber and information superhighway technology that advances in tremendous speed in a degree that boggles the imagination. One perhaps is safe to say that a geek just arrested for getting involved in a crime has already hacked the police vital records before the latter can finish reciting the geek’s Miranda rights and has erased the policeman’s identity from the govt files making the arrest highly questionable.

    Many institutions will be upended by the juggernaut that is cybermedia. The Wikileaks whose chief creator, Julian Assange is also trying to evade arrest and now the Snowden’s confession are just the foretaste of worse things to come for govts and public alike. A reality check should be conducted at once by those severely affected by this new hot item called cybersnooping. The US for instance is still engaged with a running war with the terrorists. It has to prevent the terrorist attacks by being so many steps ahead of the rogue groups. To do that, information has to be generated at all costs including civil rights. Therefore it boils down to choosing the lesser evil.

    Adam was handed an apple by the more vulnerable Eve. Adam locked his teeth on it and took a bite. Too late, a hacker had replaced it just in time with a hot potato. What should Adam do without displeasing the thoughtful and caring Eve? Adam swallowed it despite the burning sensation in his tongue. Anyway the hacker and the the devil will be always around the corner. They can be dealt with anytime in due time.

    • josh_alexei

      In this regards the Feds passed a law to infringe in our rights under Section 1 and has yet to be challenged under the Reasonable Limits that can be Justified and the Oakes Test will again be put to Test. The Law will allow the Minister of Defense to order a Warrant Less harvesting of Meta Data of any outgoing Electronic communication of Canada’s Resident and Citizen and share them with allies. And the Govt. still waiting for any challenger.

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