Top 5 US Government Decisions that put Troops more at Risk than Snowden Did

(By Juan Cole)

The propaganda wars in Washington continue over Edward Snowden’s revelation that the National Security Agency and other Federal government departments have in the past decade quietly abolished the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, without even telling us that is what they were doing. All Americans, once proud, free citizens of a republic with a rule of law, are now under 24/7 surveillance by their own government, which insists on storing information on their cell phones, including their whereabouts and everyone they call. Via cooperation with the British GCHQ, the US government actually sweeps up American email texts and telephone calls that happen to bounce off servers in Europe and Asia. President Obama and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) keep denying the latter, but the Snowden material demonstrates it.

NSA employees were given talking points in defending their trashing of the Constitution suggesting they change the conversation to terrorism, even though there is zero evidence that the massive domestic surveillance of Americans has forestalled any terrorism at all. And, that consideration is beside the point if what the NSA is doing is illegal and unconstitutional, i.e. if it is conducting warrantless searches of the papers and effects of innocent people. When police use excessive force and kill an innocent bystander, we don’t say “aw, that’s all right. The police keep us safe from criminals.” Breaking the law is breaking the law and there is no instrumental excuse for it.

When I was young in the Cold War, we were constantly told that Communists (they meant Stalinists) believe that the ends justify the means, whereas American traditions of law and practice insist that the ends must be reached legitimately. The Federal government has morphed into the very thing it preached against. Now they are saying that the ends justify the means, even if the means are blatantly unconstitutional.

The latest salvo in this disinformation campaign is to claim that Snowden has endangered US troops by revealing surveillance methods. That allegation is highly unlikely to be true. The enemies of the US abroad knew very well of US surveillance capabilities.
The latest salvo in this disinformation campaign is to claim that Snowden has endangered US troops by revealing surveillance methods. That allegation is highly unlikely to be true. The enemies of the US abroad knew very well of US surveillance capabilities. Al-Qaeda in particular has been using hard copy and face to face communication for a decade. That is why they couldn’t find Usama Bin Laden all those years. Or as W. used to say, “He’s hidin’.”

But since they’re bringing up endangering US troops, here are all the ways the Washington politicians have put soldiers’ lives unnecessarily at risk in recent years:

1. Going to war on false pretenses. The invasion and occupation of Iraq, which killed over 4000 troops, wounded over 30,000 badly, and inflicted some injuries on some 100,000, was sold on the incorrect allegation that Iraq was near to having a nuclear weapon and had deadly Weapons of Mass Destruction that it might use on the US. That case was false, and most likely an outright lie. You can’t endanger US troops in a more thorough way than by sending them into a dangerous country based on false allegations.

2. Going to war in the teeth of international law. The Bush administration was not authorized to attack Iraq by the UN Security Council. Under the UN charter, one country may attack another only in self-defense or as a result of a call for the use of force by the UNSC.

3. Extending tours from 6 months to 18 months and making troops do 3 and 4 tours. Before the Iraq War the exposure of soldiers to the deadliest situations in war was somewhat limited. Because of the relatively small professional army, the Bush administration over-used the troops.

4. Trying to militarily occupy large, rugged Muslim countries. After the horrors of the age of colonialism, Muslim populations are touchy about white people tramping around their country in army boots and ordering them around. Where they can’t forestall such neo-colonialism politically, they turn to guerrilla war to get rid of the invading troops. Former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates said that anyone contemplating another Asian land war should “have his head examined.”

5. Sending troops into dangerous situations, including exposing them to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), without the proper equipment. When challenged on the need for armored shields for military vehicles in a bomb-rich environment, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, “you go to war with the army you have.” But Rumsfeld didn’t need to go to war at all, and had plenty of time to plan for procurement of needed equipment (or could have made time if he hadn’t been in such a hurry to get to Baghdad.)

Mike Rogers and the others accusing Snowden of endangering US troops are the ones who made the fatal decisions that left thousands of them dead in fruitless wars.

To the extent that the FBI and other law enforcement or intelligence agencies have over the decades attempted to quash dissent and have been happy to spy on dissidents in an effort to get information with which to ruin their reputations, they have prevented public discussion of poorly thought out war efforts such as Vietnam and Iraq. In a democracy such a discussion and such dissent is essential to public decision-making.

That is why Snowden’s revelations, in potentially allowing us to have an informed public discussion of the issue, are the service of a whistleblower to the public. And they may well end up protecting our troops from the rash decisions or unfounded of chickenhawk politicians.

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Related video:

Euroenews reports on European Parliament’s interest in interviewing Snowden:

18 Responses

  1. No issue here. My question is whether he believes that he will not get a fair trial in the US. If it is the case and he may be right, shouldn’t we be discussing the independence of the Judiciary branch as well and its impartiality in this country.

    As for endangering troops, the vast majority of Americans now believe that the Republic is more important than the Empire.

    I am for saving and preserving and strengthening the Republic and we should let go of the Empire but in a orderly way that leaves us immune to the upheavals of the ME first and foremost.

    Pox on all their houses, our Republic is more important. As for Snowden, my only objection is that he is stupid enough to allow Putin to use him in his revived Cold War Propaganda with the US.

    He should have gone to some other country. Russia is not my idea of refuge especially under Putin.

    • Whether he believes he’ll get a fair trial???

      Ask Jose Padilla. And yes, your premise about the underlying question is the right one. Its that rule of law thang.

      Snowden at this point is really irrelevant, except for his utility as an example to be made of, and how he can be used to distract people into discussions like this one. This seems pretty obvious as well as is his awareness of his status.

    • “He should have gone to some other country. Russia is not my idea of refuge especially under Putin.”

      He should have remained in the United States and faced the consequences of his actions like other dissidents, whistle-blowers, and those who exposed what they perceived to be U.S. wrongdoing. Individuals such as Henry David Thoreau, Daniel Ellsberg, and Bradley Manning, to name just three of many, did not expose what they perceived to be wrongdoing, only to hide and cower behind the borders of another state.

      Snowden, on the other hand, has shown himself to be a poltroon, unable to stand on his own two feet and defend his actions in a court of law, and lacking the courage of his convictions (such as they are). That he skipped first to China and then to Russia just demonstrates what little regard he really has for combating what he no doubt terms “surveillance societies.” Snowden could have shown some integrity and courage. As it is he has demonstrated that he lacks both.

      • So unless he accepts years in solitary confinement and decades in prison he’s a coward in your view? Oh, and I have some questions for you.
        1)Do you believe Bradley Manning’s punishment was fair?
        2) If you do you’re paid off by the National Security State.
        3) If you don’t then why would you recommend it for anyone else?
        By the way, you can’t just say he would be charged in civilian courts–because you don’t know that.

    • “He should have gone to some other country. Russia is not my idea of refuge especially under Putin.”

      Any suggestions as to where he might have gone (easy) and how he might have gotten there (far from easy)?

    • Snowden did the right thing, just like the Soviet dissidents who defected did.

      There’s no point in a quixotic imprisonment under a Stalinist government with no rule of law when you can get out, which he did.

      It’s embarassing and weird that he’s safer in Putin’s Russia — Putin’s government has said, basically, that they would have loved to turn Snowden over to the US, but that the US’s dramatic and blatant violations of US and international law while attempting to kidnap Snowden made it politically impossible (in terms of international and Russian politics) for them to turn him over.

      • “There’s no point in a quixotic imprisonment under a Stalinist government with no rule of law when you can get out, which he did.”

        To suggest that the United States is governed by a Stalinist” regime reveals how little you know about the Soviet Union under Stalin. Laughable! Utterly risible!

  2. From the very beginning, the core and recurring complaint against Snowden boiled down to How Dare You Little Man. Further discussion of Snowden, past identifying himself for the sake of the materials credibility, distracts from the real issues, as he was the first to point out. However, being another “Little Man,” as are most of the other readers here, I think that concept is worth mulling over seriously.

    The real issues with regards to these systems (including those at the NSA) is who is responsible and are they living up to their responsibilities. The answer is clear-cut. Since the Genie is out of the bottle, and it’s really no surprise given the exponential increases in technological power over the last 50-odd years, the only response we should expect from the Establishment are calls to shoot the messenger.

    Whatever we may think of Gates, he was a guy who had assumed responsibility for weighty issues throughout his career. Similarly, that Bush was in over his head and made such a hash of things is beside the point that we, collectively, empowered him to do so. That Snowden was not so anointed has marked him for the vilest retribution, because when you get right down to it, he has been MORE responsible than all these other jokers combined. That Snowden took the responsibility necessary, given effective congressional (and presidential?) abdication, is something it appears they just cannot get over.

    Another issue, as Snowden (That Little Man), was also the first to point out (others certainly have, but I heard it first from him), is that we have to decide whether we are a Nation effectively governed by law, or rather by policy which is evidently now the case.

    So, I wonder, just who really are the Big People and just who really are the Little People. Who else, Little or Big, is going to be responsible for pressing these issues, with whatever tools they may have, so as to have more than just another effete “conversation,” as Obama so artfully (gratuitously?) put it.

    • “Another issue, as Snowden (That Little Man), was also the first to point out (others certainly have, but I heard it first from him), is that we have to decide whether we are a Nation effectively governed by law, or rather by policy which is evidently now the case.”

      The cops indeed!!

      When they have beaten or shot the mentally retarded Child to death, they never say, we were following the Law, but we were following Police Dept Policies (That they wrote !!!).

      Monte Haun mchaun@hotmail.com

  3. More assaults on the troops:

    1. Trying to reduce government liability for care of vets with PTSD.

    2. Trying to shortchange military retirees on their earned pensions.

    And, what about the banksters who put the entire nation at risk?

  4. Snowden brought a debate to the surveillance and Abu Ghraib scandal whistle blower brought a debate about torture. Both remain unresolved.

    One issue that the eminent Professor has not brought is why are we inserting ourselves again in a sectarian war in Iraq and delivering weapons to the sectarian Maliki regime?

    Where is the outrage as this will lead to another blow back and is far more endangering to our troops and our nation than this leak gate.

  5. The vitiolic attacks against Snowden are nothing new.

    When James Bamford had “The Puzzle Palace” published in 1982, the Justice Department threatened to have him prosecuted after having the President Reagan re-classify, as “secret”, materials disclosed to him previously by the Carter administration pursuant to FOIA requests. Bamford’s lawyer rejected this assertion as an “ex post facto” reclassification that was immaterial.

    The Puzzle Palace was published and became the seminal published treatise on the inner workings of the NSA. Bamford interviewed former NSA director Marshall Carter for the book and discovered in the NSA parking lot at Fort Meade numerous vehicles with diplomatic license plates – suggesting to him that foreign governments had a significant relationship with the NSA.

    Bamford was a former naval intelligence analyst who had a law degree but pursued a career as a journalist. His subsequent book on the NSA – “Body of Secrets” – won acclaim.

  6. America crossed its Rubicon in the Mekong Delta over four decades ago. We had a slim chance during the 1970s to take back our government and our civil liberties. Sen. Frank Church made a valiant effort, bless his soul, when he chaired his Senate committee hearing that investigated abuses by the CIA and the FBI. That unique historical moment has passed and faded into the mists of history. So Snowden’s revelations about spooks at the NSA spying on us and the world was bound to happen in the future. Our fearless leaders inside the beltway bubble had to wait for the high tech revolution with smart cell phones and super fast computers to kick in during this age of the Internet, and of course the revolution in robotic warfare that brought about our current fleet of 7,000 drones for these air strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, etc..Then like manna from heaven – Hallelujah! Oh Happy Day! Mein Furher, I can valk!- came the 9/11 attacks. Out flew paranoia, xenophobia, war hysteria, etc. They have been exploiting these demons in their propaganda campaign since then for their long war on terror. Whatever that is. Professor Marshall McLuhan was this leftist guru from the ivy halls of academia. And he predicted way back in the good old hippy dippy days of the Sixties, when a lid was really a lid, we would all be living in a global village. But he unfortunately had a serious flaw in his character. Besides being a professor. Just kidding, Professor Cole. He never realized how dark the human heart really is. Nor how corrupt and depraved our politicians really are with their craving for absolute power.And his global village has turned into their global panopticon. Now William Burroughs, gentleman junkie and famous author of Naked Lunch, observed right about the same time McLuhan became a celebrity, that in a true police state citizens never really see the police who are spying on them. He understood power is the ultimate addiction. Well of course, he would? Wouldn’t he? He was a junkie all his life. So I tend to lean more toward his dystopian school of thought. Snowden really scares the living hell out of these politicians, because they are definitely hooked on power. And the prospect, though even as slim as it may seem to be, there might be a legal reformation of their abuses to our civil liberties must conjure up nightmares of withdrawal and detox. What a trippy scene that would be! I csn then now.They would be jonesing in the streets, frothing at their mouths, shaking with wild abandon, speaking in tongues and babbling about the apocalypse like evangelicals do at those big-tent revival meeting. I’m getting carried away with my fantasy. And I’m looking around my computer desk right now for my nitroglycerin tablets. Please excuse me. I’d better leave.

    • George: I agree with much of what you have had to say, but I’m not ready to share your dystopian view. I see our situation as just another continuation of the contest of good versus evil with evil almost always prevalent. But the good can’t surrender. At the same time, people who would make excuses for our “leaders” should remember Acton’s dictum about the corrupting influence of power. That’s one we can safely bet on.

    • The current police state will collapse due to its own incompetence; the NSA can blackmail Congressmen, but it can’t even tell who has access to the information it’s illegally collected, and as a result *anyone* can hijack it. Remember, a Soviet mole was running large portions of the CIA for over a decade!

      The question is really what comes next after this pathetic incompetent police state collapses. It could be a new era of peace, democracy, and the rule of law. Or it could be a much more competent police state. Or, worse, it could be a long series of civil wars.

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