Not Snowden but *Keith Alexander*: Hero or Traitor (the debate we should be having)

By Juan Cole

NBC News’s Brian Williams interviewed Edward Snowden in Moscow on Wednesday night. But then Mr. Williams followed it up with a panel discussion of whether Snowden is a hero or traitor. It was a cowardly and venal thing to do, and Mr. Williams should be ashamed of himself. By framing the post-interview discussion in these inflammatory and black-and-white terms, NBC nearly undid all the good journalism they accomplished with the interview. It was one more sad example of the broken ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ model of news that dominates the US airwaves, which gave us the Iraq War (Saddam Hussein: WMD menace to the US or mere evil dictator?) and global warming denial as equal to science.

Mike McFaul, former US ambassador to Russia and now at Stanford University embarrassed himself by answering the question of whether Snowden harmed anyone by saying that he hurt German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s feelings when she found out her personal cell phone was tapped. Really, Mr. McFaul? I think we were asking whether any NOCs got their identity revealed by Snowden as Bush-Cheney outed Valerie Plame, or whether any US military personnel were endangered. Snowden didn’t hurt Angela’s feelings. The US government did.

The question Mr. Williams and his guests should have been discussing is whether Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former National Security Agency head Keith Alexander are criminals.

What happened is fairly obvious. The US national security apparatuses took advantage of the rise of the internet and its dominance by US firms to subvert the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution and mountains of case law. They collected and stored the cellphone records and therefore the private lives and locations of tens of millions of innocent Americans. They inserted themselves secretly into Google’s servers and those of many other giant tech companies. They weakened encryption standards. They turned much American technology and software into spyware. They scooped up not only information about who Americans called, and when and where they were when they did it, but also used the transnational character of the internet to collect the actual texts of emails and the electronic files of telephone calls.

They used this data collection not against terrorists but in drug and other petty crime cases, sharing the illegally-gathered information with the DEA and local law enforcement agencies, who then lied to judges about how they had come to investigate these individuals in the first place. The domestic surveillance not only undermined the Constitution, it corrupted the entire justice system. Lest you reply that you can hardly shed tears for criminals, it should be pointed out that in some instances the Feds were prosecuting people for doing things not illegal in state law, and using illegal methods to do it. In other instances, they appear to have targeted civil society groups, interpreting their civil disobedience campaigns as criminal conspiracies.

They also engaged in political and economic spying on American allies such as Germany and France and friendly countries such as Brazil, and even tapped the personal phones of leaders like Merkel and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff.

These guys went wild. A beat cop who entered somebody’s apartment without a warrant and used evidence found there to build a case against the person would be drummed out of the force if he got caught. But these high-tech rapscallions rampaged around in the private records of millions of Americans and it is still being debated whether they did anything wrong!

We don’t know the full damage they did to civil liberties when ordered to by their superiors. We know someone in the Bush White House instructed the CIA to destroy my own reputation because of my opposition to the Iraq War. Isn’t it likely that this sort of thing was routine? I’m not very important.

Not only was this massive domestic spying operation going on with impunity, but it was carefully hidden from the American public, with brutal and unconstitutional methods. Poor Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Or) got a whiff of some of it, but was forestalled by the [un-] Patriot Act from revealing it, even on the Senate floor. When sitting senators are being muzzled from discussing a massive US government program with the public, that is no longer a democracy. Who do they think is paying for their national security state? And when Wyden asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper whether the NSA was spying on Americans, Clapper told a bald-faced lie. No, he said. He lied under oath. Clinton was impeached for a white lie over oral sex. Clapper lied to cover up a gargantuan violation of the constitution, but nothing has happened to him.

We can debate till the cows come home about whether Snowden had any other choice but to make his reveal, or had any other avenue to do something about these violations. Given that Barack Obama was briefed into them and let it go on, the likely answer is no. For all we know, the intelligence agencies blackmailed him into acquiescence. We know they spy on the other branches of government for their own purposes. And if it went to the Tea Party Supreme Court, we have reason to suspect that Mssrs. Scalia and Roberts would be perfectly happy to assign a policeman to every bedroom in the US.

But now that Snowden’s revelations are there, the American state faces a profound crisis. It can either return to constitutional values, or it can continue on its path to American Stalinism. That so many Americans seem completely undisturbed by what was done makes me think it is too late for democracy.

In any case, binary journalism only hurts the public debate, making it appear that people who want to trash the Bill of Rights are on the same footing as those who want to defend it.

Edward Snowden NBC NEWS FULL INTERVIEW

19 Responses

  1. “A beat cop who entered somebody’s apartment without a warrant and used evidence found there to build a case against the person would be drummed out of the force if he got caught.”

    That would have made a great talking point for Snowden. Bringing home the reality of in the unlawful intrusions we as citizens nor the court would ever allow.

    Snowden’s interview has government officials repsonse reaching comical proportions. Political reporters such as Chuck Todd and embarressed political insiders are howling at the moon. When Ken Doll Brian Williams asked Sec. Kerry if Snowden was, as Snowden claimed he was in the interview, a patriot., Williams knew he was throwing red meat to a hungry pit bill and that the answer would be disparaging and undercut Snowden’s heroic and yes patriotic service to his country.

  2. Apparently, John Kerry missed the obvious: Mr. Snowden has already “manned up” by revealing the horrific things the American government is doing to its own people. He tried 10 times to get the NSA to pay attention when he took his concerns to superiors, only to be ignored or dismissed out of hand. In the end, he was left with no choice but to carefully pick two journalists to take the documents and reveal to the world the horrors of our secret state.

    As Charles Pierce wrote yesterday, “”If he cares so much about America and he believes in America, he should trust the American system of justice,” Kerry said.

    Here’s the problem: Edward Snowden trusted the American system of justice more than ten times, and it told him to put up with and aid government overreach, or go to prison.”

    Instead of being prosecuted, Mr. Snowden should be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

    • Apparently, John Kerry missed the obvious: That he is no position to criticize the patriotism of others when he supported and voted for one of the most obscene crimes of this century – the war on Iraq.

    • The Middle East would be much better off if Kerry “manned up” and explained some facts of life to the Israelis who are violating international laws and abusing the human rights of Palestinians with impunity because of craven submission by the US government to the Israel Lobby.

  3. Very good points well spoken. Americans are undisturbed because they cannot safely speak what they suspect due to economic tyranny, and prefer to be sheep surrounded by wolves, letting the lambs at the perimeter be taken by the dark state. Hypocrisy is so much more profitable until one is the victim. Indeed “it is too late for democracy” so far as can be seen, unless a new generation finds a path to defeat economic tyranny and its control of mass media and elections and the dark state. That is a tall order indeed.

  4. It’s amazing how your Democratic partisanship shows in this piece. The one time you mention Barack Obama, it’s to say he could have been blackmailed by the intelligence agencies. I don’t think you would have said that about George Bush. You don’t want to hold Obama accountable for his actions. You oppose this unrestrained surveillance, but you avoid pointing the finger at the person who’s authorized it. Yes, Bush started it, but Obama has continued it and gone further. Your Democratic Party stripes are showing too much.

    • Obama revealed when he first ran for president that he was in league with the ruling oligarchs. If he hadn’t been so inclined he wouldn’t even have gotten on the stage at the Democratic (sic) Party convention in Boston.

  5. Complaining about corporate-controlled media and the Bush/Obama surveillance society is very “old-hat” Professor Cole.

    Before anything can be fixed and progress reinstated the above-cited national travesties must be corrected.

    Otherwise, valuable time is wasted.

  6. “A beat cop who entered somebody’s apartment without a warrant and used evidence found there to build a case against the person would be drummed out of the force if he got caught.”

    That probably wouldn’t apply in New York, Chicago and other cities.

  7. “Mike McFaul, former US ambassador to Russia and now at Stanford University embarrassed himself by answering the question of whether Snowden harmed anyone by saying that he hurt German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s feelings when she found out her personal cell phone was tapped. … Snowden didn’t hurt Angela’s feelings. The US government did.”

    But like a good trooper, she has submitted to the ruling authority.

    Reference Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”

  8. The actual interview with Snowden was highly informative and should have put to rest much of the Obama administration’s disinformation campaign against Snowden. For reasons of mental hygiene I decided against watching the post-interview discussion — “Hero or Traitor” that Brian Williams followed up with. The title alone was enough to give me pause. So, my hat off to Juan Cole for covering NBC’s hatch-job on Snowden.

    In regard to Snowden’s revelations, as in so many other areas, the Obama White House is no different than the Bush gang. And, one can safely bet the farm that a Hillary administration will continue trudging along the same path. Yes, these folks are out of control. They are mad with power, giddy with a technology that allows them total spying on the actions and even the thoughts of billions of people. In my opinion there is no stopping them. They will take the country — at least in terms of civil liberties — into an irreversible decline.

  9. “Kerry tells Snowden to “man up” and come home” by Peter Van Buren – link to commondreams.org … “U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who at this point has all the credibility of a minor Kardashian just out of rehab, somehow was allowed on national television to say this …”

  10. “By framing the post-interview discussion in these inflammatory and black-and-white terms…”

    But that is ALL THE MSM DOES! Everything is a black and white “scandal” or “crisis” or “terror” or “controversy”. They frame almost all news in those terms to get RATINGS. That is all TV is — ratings seeking. That is why they all mimic each other, always following what generates ratings. That is all.

  11. “That so many Americans seem completely undisturbed by what was done makes me think it is too late for democracy.”
    Quote of the century right here…

    • “That so many Americans seem completely undisturbed by what was done makes me think it is too late for democracy.”

      On the one hand it encourages the belief that Snowden made a big mistake if he was willing to sacrifice his life for these Americans.. On the other hand, people sometimes have a way of proving they have good qualities after they appear to be beyond redemption. You never know.

  12. Next, 6’4″ John Kerry will dress up like John Belushi on Saturday Night Live and challenge the 5’10″ Edward Snowden to an old fashion duel, using BROADSWORDS.

    “If broadswords were good enough for Abraham Lincoln, they are good enough for John Kerry. Come back to our Homeland and man up Mr. Snowden, IF YOU DARE.”

    “I’M JOHN KERRY, REPORTING FOR DUTY.”

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