If Only All 'Narcisstic Traitors' Were This Reasonable And Insightful

from the read-the-interview dept

Over the past few months, it’s been funny to watch the personal attacks on Ed Snowden — especially those that call him either a narcissist or a traitor. These seem to be based on little more than, well, a dislike of what Snowden has done, rather than any sort of logical or rational exploration of his statements and deeds.

On Thursday, Snowden did an online Q&A which is well worth reading (if you haven’t already) and what struck me about it — as with nearly every statement Snowden has made since he went “public” back in June — is how perfectly grounded and reasonable he sounds. Obviously, I tend to be on his side on these issues, so there’s a bias there, but I’ll readily admit that many others who are worried about the overbearing surveillance state sometimes do, quite clearly, come off as kooky extremists, at times unwilling to listen to reason (and yes, this is true about just about any controversial issue of folks on all sides of the issue). Yet, reading Snowden’s words (and not just in this interview), he consistently comes across as measured, thoughtful and reasonable (almost to a fault) in making his points clearly, concisely and powerfully. There was a recent article that highlighted some of his online comments from years ago, where he came off more brash and and insulting, but it seems clear that, assuming it is the same person, Snowden has matured greatly since then.

In the interview, Snowden does not come off as an “extremist.” He does not dismiss those who disagree with him, even giving a measured answer to a question about NSA insiders fantasizing about killing him:

It’s concerning, to me, but primarily for reasons you might not expect.

That current, serving officials of our government are so comfortable in their authorities that they’re willing to tell reporters on the record that they think the due process protections of the 5th Amendment of our Constitution are outdated concepts. These are the same officials telling us to trust that they’ll honor the 4th and 1st Amendments. This should bother all of us.

The fact that it’s also a direct threat to my life is something I am aware of, but I’m not going to be intimidated. Doing the right thing means having no regrets.

Snowden, unlike some others, doesn’t talk about totally dismantling the NSA. He notes that there are perfectly legitimate reasons for espionage and surveillance. But he also recognizes that there need to be limits. Take the following response, for example. This is not the response of a wild-eyed, narcissistic extremist “traitor.” This is someone recognizing that surveillance is necessary, but that bulk surveillance across the board goes way too far and has very real consequences around the globe:

Not all spying is bad. The biggest problem we face right now is the new technique of indiscriminate mass surveillance, where governments are seizing billions and billions and billions of innocents’ communication every single day. This is done not because it’s necessary — after all, these programs are unprecedented in US history, and were begun in response to a threat that kills fewer Americans every year than bathtub falls and police officers — but because new technologies make it easy and cheap.

I think a person should be able to dial a number, make a purchase, send an SMS, write an email, or visit a website without having to think about what it’s going to look like on their permanent record. Particularly when we now have courts, reports from the federal government, and even statements from Congress making it clear these programs haven’t made us any more safe, we need to push back.

This is a global problem, and America needs to take the lead in fixing it. If our government decides our Constitution’s 4th Amendment prohibition against unreasonable seizures no longer applies simply because that’s a more efficient means of snooping, we’re setting a precedent that immunizes the government of every two-bit dictator to perform the same kind of indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance of entire populations that the NSA is doing.

It’s not good for our country, it’s not good for the world, and I wasn’t going to stand by and watch it happen, no matter how much it cost me. The NSA and the rest of the US Intelligence Community is exceptionally well positioned to meet our intelligence requirements through targeted surveillance — the same way we’ve always done it — without resorting to the mass surveillance of entire populations.

When we’re sophisticated enough to be able to break into any device in the world we want to (up to and including Angela Merkel’s phone, if reports are to be believed), there’s no excuse to be wasting our time collecting the call records of grandmothers in Missouri.

Similarly, he provides one of the best answers I’ve seen to date for exactly why people should be concerned about the collection of all this data. Some of that comes out in the answer directly above this, but the key point is that this ability to dig back into your history, and find out anything you’ve done and everyone you’ve spoken to in the last five years becomes a real issue. People keep insisting that they have “nothing to hide,” but it’s amazing how much crap law enforcement can pin on you should you suddenly become a target. Today, at this moment, you have nothing to hide. But times change, and the fact that the government can dig back into your history with ease, and make connections that may seem benign to you now, but taken out of context could be incredibly damaging, is a real risk.

The first is the chilling effect, which is well-understood. Study after study has show that human behavior changes when we know we’re being watched. Under observation, we act less free, which means we effectively *are* less free.

The second, less understood but far more sinister effect of these classified programs, is that they effectively create “permanent records” of our daily activities, even in the absence of any wrongdoing on our part. This enables a capability called “retroactive investigation,” where once you come to the government’s attention, they’ve got a very complete record of your daily activity going back, under current law, often as far as five years. You might not remember where you went to dinner on June 12th 2009, but the government does.

The power these records represent can’t be overstated. In fact, researchers have referred to this sort of data gathering as resulting in “databases of ruin,” where harmful and embarrassing details exist about even the most innocent individuals. The fact that these records are gathered without the government having any reasonable suspicion or probable cause justifying the seizure of data is so divorced from the domain of reason as to be incapable of ever being made lawful at all, and this view was endorsed as recently as today by the federal government’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight board.

Fundamentally, a society in which the pervasive monitoring of the sum of civil activity becomes routine is turning from the traditions of liberty toward what is an inherently illiberal infrastructure of preemptive investigation, a sort of quantified state where the least of actions are measured for propriety. I don’t seek to pass judgment in favor or against such a state in the short time I have here, only to declare that it is not the one we inherited, and should we as a society embrace it, it should be the result of public decision rather than closed conference.

If you’d like to see more on “databases of ruin” check out Paul Ohm’s paper from a few years ago. Since it was written less than five years ago, the NSA can look up exactly what he was doing the day he submitted that paper, by the way.

But again, reading the above answer, you see pretty clearly that Snowden is laying out a well-reasoned and comprehensive response to a simple question, and isn’t acting in the manner you’d expect a crazed “narcissist” or “firebrand” to react.

In fact, from the beginning, he’s stayed almost entirely true to his word that his goal was to provide information and allow for the debate to happen. He has not twisted the meaning of things (contrary to some claims), nor has he agitated for any specific changes. Whenever he’s spoken, he’s simply laid out the facts in a pretty calm and logical way.

So, for those who believe that he really is this fire-breathing, narcissistic traitor, can you point to a single shred of evidence to support any of that?

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Comments on “If Only All 'Narcisstic Traitors' Were This Reasonable And Insightful”

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Anonymous Coward says:

‘So, for those who believe that he really is this fire-breathing, narcissistic traitor, can you point to a single shred of evidence to support any of that?’

can you wait a little while please? i just have to sift through the 5 years of data we have on him so the relevant bits can be pulled out.
oh! it’s all relevant! that’ll save some time. now we can have him for whatever we want to make up!!

Anonymous Coward says:

to be honest, that answer sounds too perfect for my taste.

don’t get me wrong, I fully support that disclosure and the reactions of the NSA and their ilk shows pretty clearly that the information are correct (and that they have more dirty laundry waiting to come out).

however, everything around the person snowden is way too perfect, way too convenient, almost engineered. I mean from everything he says he comes across as a bigger saint then Jesus, and that makes me suspicious.

Maybe I have become too cynical by now, but I have that nagging feeling that he is only a pawn in a bigger game, that someone else pulls the strings.

out_of_the_blue says:

"The power these records represent can?t be overstated." -- APPLIES TO GOOGLE.

Main problem with Snowden is he’s TOO good.

But at same time throws out this “If our government decides our Constitution?s 4th” — That’s fundamental misunderstanding of “We The People” as applies to telling “our” public servants the limits of their offices. — Also, Snowden has implied that all would be fine IF only the public were informed and accepted it. That’s exactly what I see as purpose of the “limited hangout” that I conjecture.

I’m willing to overlook much for slips and focus, but Snowden just keeps worrying me… And after several months, again, what has changed? Anyone indicted? NSA rolled back? Funding cut?

By the way, here’s Google’s Schmidt yet again saying he knew less than I did:

Google’s Eric Schmidt denies knowledge of NSA data tapping of firm


Just as Mike never puts Google in bad light, Snowden doesn’t really put NSA in its true light as center of massive Orwellian surveillance state that is certain to take all our liberties. — “Not all spying is bad.” is enough: they’ll just increase it gradually, as have done. In fact, ALL SPYING IS BAD should always be kept in mind so as to limit it, really the only way.

When you think surveillance or spying or snooping or censoring or pushing propaganda, think Google!


observer says:

Re: Re: Re:

Even if a victorious Third Reich – a far more implausible scenario than pop history would have us believe – had even wanted to eradicate the English language (it’s Germanic, after all) it’d have collapsed long before it ever succeeded. And Japan had even less chance – they as good as lost the war as soon as they provoked the Americans.

The spy programs probably did contribute to the Allies winning in 1945 rather than 1946, but that’s no justification for expanding them in peacetime.

cpt kangarooski says:

Re: Re:

In fact, ALL SPYING IS BAD should always be kept in mind so as to limit it, really the only way.

It’s funny that you say that.

I, and probably a lot of others here, think that ‘all copyright is bad’ should always be kept in mind, also in order to limit it. Like spying, it may have its uses from time to time, and be worth keeping around to some extent, but we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that it hasn’t got any downsides at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

This article and the statements from Snowden are very different from what we’ve been hearing on the pro-NSA proponents. You hear no such logical reasoning that leads to valid points in support of the NSA.

You hear slanderous accusations against Snowden (which he hasn’t returned), you hear statements of it’s legal to do so (but that is not what the Constitution says), you hear constant drum beats of how the NSA is so closely overseen (despite evidence to the contrary from everyone from Potus who says he learns more from the media to Congress holding hearings with Bruce Snider because they can’t get answers from the NSA, to Clapper purposely lying to the Congressional Committee to prevent that very oversight). In the long run it looks to be just what it is, any and every attempt at finding a reason the public will accept to allow it to continue despite it not being legal. The NSA’s mandate is outside the country, not the domestic citizens which is the FBI’s territory.

David says:

Re: Re:

This article and the statements from Snowden are very different from what we’ve been hearing on the pro-NSA proponents. You hear no such logical reasoning that leads to valid points in support of the NSA.

And that’s why the pro-NSA proponents are representative for the American public and its elected government and Snowden isn’t.

David says:

Re: Re:

All this proves is he can act.

Well, his “well-reasoned, competent statesman” act sure beats that of Obama, let alone the lying perjuring equivocating power-hungry and delirious former and current NSA lead clowns and the head of the Department of “Justice”.

Even if we consider this all acting: he’s got a way more convincing script than the U.S. government, and the government does not even manage to bring it off in a manner that does not look totally ridiculous and insincere, to boot.

Now whether we are talking about Lincoln, Martin Luther King, J.F.Kennedy and a few other statesmen: the U.S.A. fosters an attitude where the ability to deliver convincing, sincere, and effective evoking a consciounable response will lead to the sort of “kill him” fantasies spread by the media we currently see.

Yes, this will doubtless lead to “patriots” taking “justice” into their own hands (with a hard to trace direct amount of help by those in whose interest it is) when given the opportunity. Edward Snowden is a dead man should he return to the current United States.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s concerning the NSA dont have a better messaging post- cat-out-of-the-bag leaks.

They must have been expecting them. Surely just a matter of time. We’re they really so naive to be caught with pants at ankles.

The NSA must have thought that after such a leak: “Under observation, we act less free”. Was their strategy? Deny, berate, redact. Perhaps it’s NSAs incompetence to shelter us from secrets that makes the US gov’t so illiberal.

Anonymous Coward says:

So, for those who believe that he really is this fire-breathing, narcissistic traitor, can you point to a single shred of evidence to support any of that?

Hey, do you know who’s a fire-breathing, narcissistic traitor?
Someone who doesn’t like a guy, and then keeps publicly ranting and raving about how the guy should be executed without a trial. That’s who.

Anonymous Coward says:

Compare to CIA's Petraeus, and now Gov. McDonnel

Intelligence Agencies turf wars — turf wars.

If they are going to target anybody, they are going to target people in power.

O Looky looky – they already did – Petraeus.

And now Va’s ex-Gov. McDonnel and wife. Read the indictment. “One white striped Ralph Lauren golf shirt” Really?

Snowden acting alone?

Who’s team is he on?

Deadly silence from the CIA on this.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

All Grown up!

In this interview, it sounds like Snowden has indeed grown up or at least found some inner peace.

It’s obvious he’s given tons and tons of thought to what he’s done and how others view him. I’m sure that he has regrets, but not about what he’s done, thankfully.

It’s also very obvious he’s the classical ‘anti-hero’ who just wants to live his life, but for reasons beyond his control, he’s become larger than life to everyone.

And he’s still a hero to me-don’t care what the whole other world says, he’s it.

That’s why the entire government hates him so passionately-he’s done what they could never do:

The right thing, for the right reasons for the rest of us.

Even when we’re a bunch of whining morons who can’t spell Constitution, let alone read it.

Jay (profile) says:


Not all spying is bad. The biggest problem we face right now is the new technique of indiscriminate mass surveillance, where governments are seizing billions and billions and billions of innocents? communication every single day. This is done not because it?s necessary ? after all, these programs are unprecedented in US history, and were begun in response to a threat that kills fewer Americans every year than bathtub falls and police officers ? but because new technologies make it easy and cheap.

And here is where I disagree with Snowden. These programs aren’t unprecedented. The 1970s brought about a number of programs which were indeed the precedent.

MLK was watched and surveilled by Hoover for fighting for civil rights.

The FBI was called out for these programs in 1971.

The CIA is known for uprooting democracies all over the world for decades.

The NSA’s main objective is to cull dissent as has been shown so much by now.

COINTELPRO, anyone? How about Nixon and Cuba? JFK and Russia? Nixon and Iran?

The list goes on. We’ve had a number of precedents in the shadows where the law falls silent. America has uprooted lives and destroyed people in regards to witch hunts for Reds, Communists, Socialists, environmentalists and anyone with a hint of wanting new types of change in America. We punish the innovative with laws that work for Hollywood but not for the mass amounts of people. We have laws in place that support Monsanto’s globalization and leaves the rest of the world weak against them. We have trade agreements that support the largest companies and they employ a number of alphabet Law Enforcement… I’m sorry, “national security” groups… but leave the regular person in the dust.

And our society suffers from those disparities. How many people are locked up for private prisons to support the state? How many lives are destroyed thanks to the Drug War, the war on Piracy, the war on the Poor, and other issues?

There are indeed precedents set by the worst of men who went into the government to change it into a very large police state.

That’s what should scare us the most. We have a plutocracy instead of a democracy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Counters

Well, we’ve certainly seen precedents for this sort of program before. From the Church Committee report on the NSA (published 1976):

NSA?s monitoring of international communications comprises only a portion of its total mission, but the examination of this capability to intrude on the telephone calls and telegrams of Americans represents a major part of the Committee?s work on NSA. The watch list activities and the sophisticated technological capabilities that they highlight present some of the most crucial privacy issues facing this nation. Space age technology has outpaced the law. The secrecy that has surrounded much of NSA?s activities and the lack of Congressional oversight have prevented, in the past, bringing statutes in line with NSA?s capabilities. Neither the courts nor Congress have dealt with the interception of communications using NSA?s highly sensitive and complex technology.

The analysis presented here of the deliberate targeting of American citizens and the associated incidental interception of their communications demonstrates the need for a legislative charter that will define, limit, and control the signals intelligence activities of the National Security Agency. This should be accomplished both to preserve and protect the Government?s legitimate foreign intelligence operations, and to ensure that the constitutional rights of Americans are safeguarded.

For reference, they were referring to the NSA’s watchlist program, aka MINARET, which “intercepted and disseminated international communications of American citizens whose privacy ought to be protected under our Constitution” from 1945 to 1975. There was also a fairly lengthy addendum about Project SHAMROCK, which was basically a lower-tech version of PRISM that grabbed copies of telegrams.

That being said, the legislature (and the American people) didn’t just blindly allow this to happen; the Church Committee led more or less directly to the passing of FISA. The whole reason we have the FISA court in the first place is because people found out what the NSA was doing, and tried to stop it. For a time, they were successful. Heck, the NSA voluntarily dissolved MINARET after they were advised by the Nixon administration that it was probably illegal and unconstitutional.

Over the years, though, the oversight got weakened. In some cases, it got diluted entirely. Now the NSA is back to doing more or less what it was doing in the seventies, but with better technology.

To me, blaming the NSA’s actions on a group of plutocrats seems to be overly simplistic. It’s become pretty clear that the NSA has been lying to everyone: to their oversight committees, to Congress, to the courts, to the president, and now to the voting public. There’s no vast conspiracy here; this is what happens when people with lots of power and no oversight begin to lose all perspective.

If there’s anything to be learned here, it’s probably this:

“The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.”

— John Philpot Curran

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Counters

I think what he means is the scale is unprecedented. In the 70’s the shear amount of data wasn’t freely available for the taking by simply tapping the lines. Also technology at the time was such that the concept of collecting it all was an impossibility. Targeted collecting was the only possible way of gaining information. Sure you had people that were improperly targeted illegally for the wrong reasons, but it was still a targeted collection.

Spaceman Spiff (profile) says:

Personal maturity

It is amazing how much difference 1 or 2 years can make in the life and behavior of a person. My granddaughter was a mother at 23, yet she seemed totally under-prepared for her new role. Now, a year and a bit later, she is a totally different person – top in her class, a dean’s honor student, and ready to meet the world head-on! If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would not have believed it possible! I think that Snowden experienced a similar fugue when confronting his demons. It forced him to recognize just who, and what, he is – someone who CAN make a difference in the world we live in!

He has all of my respect, and well-wishes for his future.

Anonymoose says:

…and if our government truly believes that in the 21st century, the threats we face necessitate ignoring the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments they’ve sworn to uphold and protect, they should courageously stand up alongside their convictions and publicly initiate the process of repealing them.

Let that thought sink in a bit.

That they haven’t, and have had to rely on secret interpretations of secret laws to justify these programs indicates very clearly that they’re aware that the people who’s interests they’re supposed to represent would not agree.

They’re acting in violation of the public’s trust, in violation of the constitution and principals of law, and should be replaced wholesale (bureaucrats and politicians alike).

art guerrilla (profile) says:

acting alone ? ? ?

no, fucking way, he’s not alone:
*I’M* with him, as a LOT of people i’m proud to call fellow citizens are, too…

let’s see: approval rating on millionaire kongresskritters ?
about on par with used car salesscum or pedophiles…

approval rating of snowden around the WHOLE PLANET, about 100 times ANY of those traitorous slimeballs…

dog damn, you’ve got to figure The They ™ don’t want to see the handwriting on the wall, even though it is written big enough to see from the moon…

i’d sooner snowden, manning, kiriakou, browning, holland (sp?), or basically ANYONE being persecuted by Empire be in charge, than ANY of the slime who are in kongress or the white house…

Brian Dell (user link) says:

is this really Snowden's writing?

In June, Greenwald met Snowden in Hong Kong and Snowden him showed him a 1000 word essay Snowden wanted to send to the world. Greenwald talked him out of it, later telling Rolling Stone he thought it was too “Ted Kaczynski-ish”. Greenwald wouldn’t say that about this “new” Snowden though, would he?!

You are all aware that the website these remarks are hosted on, freesnowden.is, is registered to Julian Assage and is hosted on Wikileaks servers? The first thing you come to on that website is a request for donations.

Everyone remembers that statement Wikileaks put out last summer that was attributed in Snowden right? The one that aroused suspicions for being written in “fluent Assangese” as one wag put it?

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