from the no-free-speech dept
As you may have heard, Ed Snowden is speaking at the famed SXSW conference this morning (by videoconference, obviously). It got a fair bit of attention when it was announced, in part because, so far, Snowden has been incredibly reticent to speak out publicly over everything he’s been involved in. He has done so on a few occasions, including last week for the EU Parliament, but for the most part he has avoided all of the typical TV interviews and the like.
You may also know that there are some people who don’t like Ed Snowden very much. One of those is Rep. Mike Pompeo, one of Rep. Mike Rogers’ key attack dogs on the House Intelligence Committee. You may remember that back when Rep. Justin Amash was trying to defund the NSA’s bulk metadata program, that Pompeo was the sponsor of the “competing bill” to try to trick Reps. into supporting reform that actually further allowed the NSA to continue. Pompeo also believes that spying on all American citizens by collecting their metadata is the way “our government is supposed to operate.”
So, as you might imagine, Pompeo is not particularly happy with Ed Snowden. And he seems particularly livid at SXSW for allowing Snowden to speak there. Pompeo sent the conference organizers a letter so full of misleading statements to flat out lies, condemning their decision to invite Snowden, and asking them to cancel Snowden, that it makes you wonder just what Pompeo is so afraid of. Since when is a little free speech so scary?
Let’s dive in and look at some of the lies and misleading claims from the letter:
I share your passion for educating the American public on the intersection of civil
liberties and technology, but I am deeply troubled to learn that you have invited Edward
Snowden to address SXSW on privacy, surveillance, and online monitoring in the United States.
Certainly an organization of your caliber can attract experts on these topics with knowledge
superior to a man was hired as a systems administrator and whose only apparent qualification is
his willingness to steal from his own government and then flee to that beacon of First
Amendment freedoms, the Russia of Vladimir Putin.
Kicking it off on a high note. First of all, given his previous statements, I’m skeptical that Pompeo actually gives two shits about anyone’s civil liberties, but frankly, I’m much more “deeply troubled” by an elected US official sending a letter on Congressional stationery, trying to influence who can and who cannot speak at a conference. That screams of intimidation by the federal government.
Furthermore, the whole “fled to Russia” myth has been debunked so many times it just makes Pompeo look foolish to bring it up again. Snowden didn’t flee to Russia. He ended up being stuck there because the US government pulled his passport while he was enroute elsewhere, via Russia. Furthermore, the idea that Snowden is somehow unqualified to discuss US surveillance on its own people is simply crazy. It is difficult to think of anyone more qualified. Even many of his detractors begrudgingly are willing to admit that Snowden has helped kick off this big debate we’re having.
Mr. Snowden’s appearance would stamp the imprimatur of your fine organization on a
man who ill deserves such accolades. Rewarding Mr. Snowden’s behavior in this way
encourages the very lawlessness he exhibited. Such the ongoing intentional
distortion of truth that he and his media enablers have engaged in since the release of these
documents–undermines the very fairness and freedom that SXSW and the ACLU purport to
foster. I strongly urge you to withdraw this invitation.
I don’t think Snowden’s appearance at SXSW makes one iota of difference in terms of encouraging or discouraging others. Nor do I think that without SXSW’s “imprimatur” anyone thinks any less of Snowden. That whole argument makes no sense. Furthermore, for Pompeo to call some of the best journalists in the world “media enablers” is just sickening. It’s taking a page from the playbook of his buddy Mike Rogers.
Furthermore, a very large percentage of the American public see Snowden as a whistleblower, which actually is the kind of activity that we should wish to encourage.
In case you did not have access to the full facts in making your initial decision to extend
your invitation, I want to call a few undisputed facts about the actions taken by Mr. Snowden to
Warning: when someone like Pompeo announces he’s going to highlight “undisputed facts,” you can bet pretty strongly that what he’s about to describe are neither undisputed, nor facts.
The overwhelming majority of the materials stolen had nothing to do with
the privacy of U.S. persons
Only a tiny sliver of the materials stolen by Mr. Snowden had anything to do with United
States telecommunications or the privacy rights of Americans. Rather, the majority of the
material taken, now in the hands of other countries, provides detailed information about
America’s intelligence sources and methods. By divulging this information, Mr. Snowden has
put the lives of our soldiers, sailors and airmen at risk–in addition to the lives of the people who
will attend your conference.
Almost none of the above is accurate. The claim about him taking other information is based on the faulty assumption in a DOD report that every document that Snowden “touched” he took. Snowden, from the very beginning, made it clear that he carefully went through documents and removed those that he thought should remain classified. Second, government officials have repeatedly stated that there is no evidence that Snowden gave those documents to officials in other countries. For Pompeo to argue that this is an “undisputed fact” is laughable. Finally, the whole “put lives at risk” thing is again totally unsubstantiated. It’s the same argument that government officials have repeatedly made in response to leaks. They said it about Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. They said it about Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks, and now they’re claiming it about Snowden. Every time they’ve eventually had to admit the claims were bogus.
Mr. Snowden cares more about personal fame than personal privacy
Mr. Snowden’s continued pursuit of the limelight has little to do with online privacy and
everything to do with ensuring that he stays in the good graces of his new home nation. Once he
stops doing interviews attacking America’s ability to collect intelligence lawfully, he stops being
useful to the Kremlin. This helps to explain why, since arriving in Moscow single word about the number of political dissidents jailed in Russia or about Russia’s suspected state-sponsored cyber-attacks against other countries and private entities.
Again, this is laughable. Anyone who has followed this story has to note just how little Snowden has done “in pursuit of the limelight.” He’s turned down almost every media opportunity, only granting interviews to the key reporters he initially trusted. The claim that he’s been continually doing interviews attacking the US is a flat out lie. That he hasn’t spoken out about political dissidents in Russia is certainly a valid claim, but a meaningless one. Snowden need not fight every fight — especially one that he has little to do with. Furthermore, if you were in his shoes, with Russia currently being the only country willing to offer him some form of asylum, it seems reasonable that you’d focus on the area of your actual expertise (US surveillance) rather than attacking the host.
Mr. Snowden gives real whistleblowers a bad name
Mr. Snowden had–and was fully aware of–multiple opportunities to correct what he
perceived as unlawful practices, but he chose not to go to his superior, to Congress, to the
Inspector General, or to anyone save for Russia and Team Greenwald. This fact proves that his
goal was not to fix what he saw as wrong, but rather to inflict harm upon the very nation that
provided him with the rights he chose not to exercise. He is no more a whistleblower than were
Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, or Benedict Arnold.
This is not true. Snowden has repeatedly talked about how he went to his superiors and colleagues and told them of his concerns. Meanwhile, just a few weeks ago, the NSA’s Inspector General made it clear that if Snowden had gone to him, he would have done nothing to fix things, but rather attacked Snowden. The idea that going to the Inspector General was a realistic option is laughable. And going to Congress? Who would he have gone to? You, Rep. Pompeo? Yeah, right.
Pompeo is simply out of step with the American public, a very large percentage of whom see Snowden as a whistleblower. The fact that two separate government review boards have each found the NSA metadata collection program problematic, to potentially illegal and unconstitutional and the President has committed to changing the program sorta confirms that he was, in fact, a whistleblower — and that his other “options” would not have worked.
Finally, the fact that Snowden went to the press rather than dead end options that would have gotten himself labeled a “troublemaker” somehow proves he wanted to harm the US? How so? That makes no sense. It’s just Pompeo spouting nonsense.
When I served in the Army along the Iron Curtain we had a word for a person who
absconds with information and provides it to another nation: traitor. We also had a name for a
person who chooses to reveal secrets he had personally promised to protect: common criminal.
Mr. Snowden is both a traitor and a common criminal.
Again, Snowden didn’t provide information to “another nation.” He provided it to the press, so that the American public could learn about it. Pompeo might also want to familiarize himself with the official definition of treason. Also, I’m curious if this elected member of the legislative branch can possibly point to what criminal statute says that revealing information you promised not to reveal makes you a criminal?
While reasonable people can and should disagree on major policy issues in a free society,
Mr. Snowden has, through his own actions, demonstrated he has no interest in contributing to a
free society, choosing instead to live in Russia–a country in which political dissidents are jailed
and individual rights have not been respected since at least 1917. The ACLU, which is
moderating this panel, would surely concede that freedom of expression for Mr. Snowden has
declined since he departed American soil.
He didn’t choose to live in Russia. Why must Pompeo lie?
As the Russians work to reestablish their empire by seizing neighboring territory and
aiding the bad actors of the world such as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah, they will no
doubt take comfort in the ample information Mr. Snowden can provide them–information Mr.
Snowden swore an oath to protect. Because of Mr. Snowden, our adversaries–terrorists and
state actors alike–have access to our intelligence sources and methods. This security breach has
degraded and will continue to hamper America’s and our allies’ efforts to fight terrorism,
cybercrime, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
As has been pointed out by former CIA guy Barry Eisler, Snowden did not break his “oath.” The “oath” you sign is to protect the Constitution, not to protect secrecy. And, as has been pointed out plenty of times, the fear mongering about adversaries having access to “sources and methods” is quite overblown. Of the things revealed to date, while many are shocking for how far the NSA goes to get access to information, none of them are likely to surprise or concern actual adversaries, who were taking precautions a decade ago against the possibility of all of these things.
In fact, almost nothing revealed to date is likely to have changed terrorists’ communications. Instead, it’s created fear and uncertainty among innocent people around the globe, including American citizens — the ones who Pompeo is supposed to be defending, but Pompeo is defending the surveillance state.
Mr. Snowden has absconded with sensitive national security information that goes well
beyond programs potentially related to privacy, yet the American press makes it sound as though
he only sought to reveal a few NSA programs. Even more damning is his willingness to put
American soldiers’ lives at risk, as he may have revealed where our troops are stationed. Surely
that privacy interest deserved respect too.
Again, as noted earlier, this is no indication to date that Snowden revealed any such information. That’s all conjecture on Pompeo’s part. Yet he claims this is an “undisputed fact”? He’s lying.
We must protect the very things that make America so special–most certainly including
our civil liberties. But we cannot do so without strong national security and a thoughtful and
Until Snowden blew the whistle there was no discourse on this issue. Now there’s a wide-ranging one.
This discourse is undermined when a music, film, and interactive
conference and festival provides a venue to an at-large criminal who has refused extradition to
answer for his crimes in court. His presence will not advance the debate; it will merely create a
circus. Mr. Snowden doesn’t need a softball interview. What Mr. Snowden needs is to present
himself, in the finest tradition of American protest and courage, to a court of law that will
adjudge his actions.
The idea that Snowden has no part in the discussion that he kicked off is so ridiculous as it boggles the mind that Pompeo thinks anyone will take this letter seriously. As for his ability to “present himself” to a court of law, well, under the law the DOJ has charged him under, he is barred from presenting evidence that he is a whistleblower. That’s hardly a fair trial. Having seen how Chelsea Manning was railroaded in her trial, Snowden made the only reasonable decision, which was to make sure he was out of the country when this story broke, and not subject to being tortured by the US government, as Manning was.
As your organization makes its decision about how best to exercise its cherished First
Amendment freedoms, it may choose to proceed with granting Mr. Snowden this undeserved
opportunity to pretend to speak for “the protection of American privacy.” If so, I hope you will
at least do what no journalist has yet had the courage or competence to do and ask Mr. Snowden
a few pertinent questions:
Oh boy. Here they come. Let’s be helpful and answer them for Pompeo, who appears to have ignored the fact that nearly all these questions have been answered already:
What is Mr. Snowden’s relationship with Russia, financial or otherwise? Has he
ever received money or other compensation from Russia, in cash or in-kind, and
will he provide bank statements to support his answer to this question?
To date, Snowden has denied any relationship with Russia, as have the Russians. More importantly, so have US intelligence officials. Multiple times.
Why, instead of going to the Inspector General at his agency or a Member of
Congress, did Mr. Snowden go to Russia with several stolen laptops full of
Already discussed above. Given how Pompeo himself is bloviating in this letter, it seems rather obvious why he didn’t go to Congress. How would that have done any good? And we already described how the NSA’s Inspector General has made it clear that he wouldn’t have helped Snowden at all. Furthermore, as was revealed ages ago, the laptops never had any information on them. They were empty laptops. Finally, as stated above repeatedly, Snowden did not choose Russia. The US did — by pulling his passport while he was traveling via Russia.
If he believes he did the right thing, why is he not willing to come back to the
U.S. to face the consequences for his actions?
Because the law he is charged under prevents him from making the case that he did the right thing.
Why should the audience at SXSW find credible a man who broke his oaths and
deliberately deceived not only his employer, but his country, in order to commit a
Again, he didn’t break his oath, which was to the Constitution, not to secrecy.
Thank you for considering this request to withdraw your invitation to Edward Snowden.
I would be happy to speak with you further about why I have made it, at your convenience.
We know why you made it. What would be better, however, is if Rep. Pompeo could explain why almost every one of his “undisputed facts” are either lies or very much disputed? Furthermore, if he could explain why a government official is browbeating a conference in an attempt to silence an important discussion by a person perhaps most qualified to lead that discussion?
Somehow, I doubt we’ll hear any answers from Rep. Pompeo. However, I expect Snowden’s discussion later today will be quite interesting.
Filed Under: edward snowden, free speech, mike pompeo, nsa, sxsw