The NSA Leaks Put Our 'Methods' At Risk, But Bragging About Monitoring Al Qaeda Emails Doesn't?
from the double-standards dept
Throughout the whole Snowden leaks, one thing we keep hearing from defenders of the NSA’s surveillance programs is how this is revealing “sources and methods” that we use to do surveillance on our [classified] enemies. Of course, what he actually revealed was not so much the sources and methods used to spy on enemies of the US, but the method by which the government seems to spy on everyone by scooping up a ton of data that most people expected to be private. But… contrast that to the story we’ve heard over the past few days concerning the terror alert, and the US pulling people out of embassies and ramping up the fear about an impending attack. Even though no such attack has happened as yet, the NY Times has already revealed details of the email intercepts by the US:
The Obama administration’s decision last week to close nearly two dozen diplomatic missions and issue a worldwide travel alert resulted from intercepted electronic communications in which the head of Al Qaeda in Pakistan ordered the leader of its affiliate in Yemen, the terrorist organization’s most lethal branch, to carry out an attack as early as this past Sunday, according to American officials.
The intercepted conversations last week between Ayman al-Zawahri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden as the head of the global terrorist group, and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the head of the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, revealed one of the most serious plots against American and other Western interests since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, American intelligence officials and lawmakers have said.
So… revealing that we collect data on everyone somehow turns Snowden into a traitor, while having officials in the government tell the NY Times that we directly intercepted emails between Al Qaeda’s top leaders is somehow perfectly fine? How does that work?
I don’t think anyone thinks it’s a bad thing that the feds are spying on Al Qaeda’s leaders and their communications. That’s to be totally expected. But if you’re comparing the two “leaks”, it’s not difficult to see how the leak revealing exactly which kinds of communications we can see from the folks planning an attack seems a lot more revealing on the “national security” front than anything that Snowden revealed. What he focused on was how those same tools are being used on millions of totally innocent Americans.
And, of course, the skepticism level is high about all of this, because some people feel that these warning and closures are just part of the game to try to justify NSA surveillance. Indeed, Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member (and massive NSA apologist) Senator Saxby Chambliss has been using these closures to claim that this is evidence we shouldn’t push back on NSA spying:
They are what lead us to have the – or allow us to have the ability to gather this chatter that I referred to. If we did not have these programs, then we simply wouldn’t be able to listen in on the bad guys.
Of course, that’s hogwash. The programs people are complaining about go way way beyond that. They’re not objecting to the ability to “listen in on the bad guys.” Glenn Greenwald hit back quickly, explaining why this is completely bogus:
“Nobody has ever questioned or disputed that the U.S. government, like all governments around the world, ought to be eavesdropping and monitoring the conversations of people who pose an actual threat to the United States in terms of plotting terrorist attacks,” Greenwald says. Pointing to the recent revelations by leaker Edward Snowden that he has reported on, Greenwald explains, “Here we are in the midst of one of the most intense debates and sustained debates that we’ve had in a very long time in this country over the dangers of excess surveillance, and suddenly, an administration that has spent two years claiming that it has decimated al-Qaeda decides that there is this massive threat that involves the closing of embassies and consulates around the world. … The controversy is over the fact that they are sweeping up billions and billions of emails and telephone calls every single day from people around the world and in the United States who have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism.”
I don’t deny that there may be an actual threat and that Al Qaeda and various affiliates really are (or were) planning something major. But just because a group that we already know is trying to launch attacks is planning to launch an attack is, in no way, a justification for collecting the information of everyone.