Oh, Stewart Baker. It's getting to the point where I feel like we may even need a "Oh, Stewart Baker" topic here on Techdirt, given how often we seem to feel the need to utter that phrase. Baker, if you haven't been playing along with the home version, is the former NSA and DHS official who really
likes to support the ability of the government to spy on everyone and really
seems to dislike civil liberties. Oh, and he has this incredible way of making statements so blatantly ridiculous that, personally, I find it scary that the government apparently trusted him in multiple really important positions. Let's go through some of the examples before getting to the latest wacky claim.
- Right after the Boston Marathon bombing, Baker claimed that it proved civil liberties defenders like the EFF and ACLU were wrong about surveillance cameras in saying that they're not very useful at stopping crime. And, of course, they didn't stop crime. Also, their main complaint is with government surveillance cameras, and those weren't the ones used to identify the Boston bombers.
- Next, he argued that reporters like Glenn Greenwald and Bart Gellman, two of the three journalists who got original stashes of documents from Ed Snowden, weren't real journalists because they were "advocates." But, that's what a journalist should be: an advocate for truth and an informed public.
- From there it started to get odder and odder. He blamed civil libertarians for 9/11, saying their whining about privacy resulted in the NSA not being able to spot the plot, despite the 9/11 Commission's report completely debunking such a claim. The failure to stop 9/11 wasn't because of limits on the government, but the failure to do things the government was allowed to do.
- Next he attacked Senator Ron Wyden for trying to alert the public to the many things that the NSA was doing that were beyond what the public believed the law allowed. Baker called this "trolling for leaks," while everyone else recognized it as "telling us the government has secret laws it won't tell us about, which it uses to violate the Constitution."
- Then there's the time he claimed that we should blame privacy rights advocates for having the TSA grope you at an airport. Without those pesky privacy folks, he argues, the TSA could just snoop through all your data first and not have to grab your crotch. Apparently, the complete set of possible options for airport security in the mind of Baker is: "violate your private info or get molested." That there might be other options -- even more effective ones -- doesn't even seem to be on the table.
- Next up: the time he claimed that without the NSA spying on everyone, 9/11 happened, and that's all the proof he needs that spying on everyone is necessary to prevent the next 9/11. Got that? Apparently anything that wasn't in place at the time of 9/11 is fair game, because 9/11. For example: before 9/11, we didn't force everyone to walk around in public naked, and 9/11 happened. Clearly the "proof is compelling" that everyone should have to walk around naked. #StewartBakerLogic.
- More recently, he tried to argue that the NSA's "minimization" procedures, which require them to stop watching "US persons" in certain limited situations caused 9/11, despite the fact that the example he cited wasn't actually subject to minimization, and was the result of a failure of government spooks to take action, not because they didn't have the information, but because they had too much of it to know what to focus on.
- And, then, with the latest leak of the fact that the NSA plans to discredit non-terrorist activists by revealing their porn surfing habits, Baker staunchly defended the program as being better than being killed by drones. Because, clearly, those are the only two options. Either the NSA kills non-terrorist activists they don't like or they sift through their web surfing to reveal their porn habits.
You may notice a bizarre pattern in many of these, in which Baker leaps to an either/or claim when a whole multitude of other options exist. Either way, he's since tried to defend his statements concerning the porn exposure by noting that the reporter, Ryan Grim at the Huffington Post, left out the key point he tried to make
repeatedly: that what the NSA is talking about doing with these advocates is no different than what Glenn Greenwald has done in shaming politicians by showing how their actions do not match up with their words.
Think about that for a second. He's arguing an equivalence between government spooks snooping through all of your data
and using it to embarrass people they don't like with a journalist
reporting on information gleaned through journalistic activity
. If journalists could magically tap into the NSA's database, he might have a (weak) point. If journalists were able to hack into the internet backbone and scoop up all data on anyone, he might have a point. If journalists had the ability to arrest/detain/kill you, he might have a point. But, you know, the one time we know of where journalists were caught hacking into computer systems to get private info, it created a massive scandal
that brought down a well-established news operation.
That Baker can't see the difference between having access to that corpus of data through questionable means and journalism is, well, stunning. It gives you a picture into the mind of an NSA defender, however. It's a picture where he will cling to and distort pretty much any argument to try to defend the indefensible.