from the ignoring-the-facts-to-hang-a-moniker dept
Marc Thiessen, contributor to the American Enterprise Institute's blog and, perhaps more relevantly, former speechwriter for George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, has issues with the New York Times' latest NSA leak. As he sees it, there's no "public interest" angle to justify revealing the NSA's ability to compromise computers not connected to the internet.
The Times reports, “There is no evidence that the N.S.A. has implanted its software or used its radio frequency technology inside the United States.” And an NSA spokeswoman, Vanee Vines, says, “N.S.A.’s activities are focused and specifically deployed against — and only against — valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements.”As he sees it, revealing this allows terrorists to alter their hardware habits to further avoid surveillance. The American public, however, is supposedly completely unaffected, at least according to the New York Times' conclusions and an NSA spokeswoman's statement. Whether or not one agrees with Thiessen's claim that there's nothing here that warrants exposure to the general public, where he goes next is just completely wrong.
So what is the redeeming social value of the story? What “abuse” is being revealed? What threat to American civil liberties has been exposed here? Why is this something the public needs to know?
The answers are: None. None. None. And it isn’t.
As one former senior intelligence official told me recently, stories like this are nothing more than “espionage porn.” They serve no greater social purpose than to titillate."Espionage porn" is a nifty catchphrase and some leaks have been less "revealing" than others. But to label Snowden an "espionage pornographer" makes two assumptions -- one of them questionable and the other laughable. To call Snowden's leaks "espionage" rather than whistleblowing is to buy into the NSA's and the administration's stance. There's plenty of gray area between those two terms and sometimes what the government pursues as "illegal" is nothing more than inconvenient. (See also: the panic proceeding Manning's leaks and the multiple deaths and diplomatic fallout that failed to occur.)
And the man behind so many of these revelations, Edward Snowden, is nothing more than the Larry Flynt of the intelligence world – a shameless espionage pornographer.
Except for one big difference: pornography is legal. Sharing America’s espionage secrets is a crime.
Pinning this particular release on Snowden and painting him as a "pornographer" is willful ignorance in search of a tantalizing pull quote. Snowden isn't guiding the release of these leaks. The entities he turned the documents over to are. If anyone's a "espionage pornographer," it's the New York Times -- the outlet that decided to publish these documents. If Thiessen wants to argue this release serves no greater interest than "titillating" the public, fine. But don't pin it on the guy who isn't making editorial decisions.
But this is just more of Thiessen's ongoing antipathy towards the former NSA analyst. He responded to the NSA's supposed consideration of granting Snowden amnesty for the return of the documents (as if that were possible) with this:
Amnesty? Have they lost their minds? Snowden is a traitor to his country, who is responsible for the most damaging theft and release of classified information in American history. His actions have exposed not only the NSA terrorist surveillance programs, but our intelligence collection efforts against foreign governments, including Russia and China. He has aided our enemies, shared intelligence with potential adversaries, and has damaged our ability to defend against future terrorist attacks. Maybe we offer him life in prison instead of a firing squad, but amnesty? That would be insanity.Almost everything Thiessen says here is debatable, at best. "Aided our enemies" is just a talking point used to justify espionage charges. Little evidence exists that our enemies are in a better position to harm us than they were pre-leaks.
"Sharing" documents with "potential adversaries" sounds worse than it is. Any public release of these documents would "share" with "potential adversaries." That's the nature of publication. Anyone (excluding certain government employees) can read it. And that's a whole lot of speculation to pack into one short sentence. How can anyone logically worry about "potential" adversaries, especially when the US seems to have plenty of existent adversaries.
And the last part -- "damaged our ability to defend against future terrorist attacks" -- is just ridiculous. Even the NSA itself is having trouble coming up with examples of how its programs have averted attacks. The longer this goes on, the weaker these arguments become.
Thiessen doesn't care for Snowden or his leaks. That's fine. He disagrees with others about what is or isn't "public interest." Again, that's a matter of opinion. (Although, given his general stance on Snowden, I'm of the opinion that no document that has been released meets his standard for "public interest," at least not if weighed against all the speculative "damage" it does to national security.) But when he blames Snowden for a New York Times' editorial decision, he's just taking a cheap swing at the target he likes least.