This is odd. In talking about Ed Snowden, President Obama referred to him as a “hacker.” After being asked about what kinds of efforts the administration was making to capture Snowden, the President (thankfully) claimed that they weren’t going to go too crazy over it, but chose an odd descriptor for Snowden:
“I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker,” he told reporters during a news conference in Senegal.
Leaving aside the fact that Snowden recently turned 30, calling him a “hacker” seems like a calculated move to try to reframe these leaks as something nefarious where someone “broke in” to get classified info, rather than a whistleblower on the inside, who saw what was going on, the widespread abuses, the lying to the American public and Congress, and decided to do something about it. This attempt at reframing whistleblowing is all too consistent with the administration’s practice of declaring war on whistleblowers.
It really was just a few months ago that we were pointing out how ridiculous it was that some were calling for the arrest of Meet the Press’ David Gregory for doing journalism. DC’s attorney general chose not to go after Gregory, and you might think this would make David Gregory a bit more sensitive to the idea that doing journalism around reporting on the law and legal issues is different than doing a crime. But, on this week’s Meet the Press, Gregory had on Glenn Greenwald, and towards the end of their initial Q&A (around the 9:30 mark), Gregory pretty directly suggests that Greenwald should be charged as well for “aiding and abetting” Ed Snowden.
The specific question (though, watching the video gives you much more of a sense of the tone and style in which it was asked) was:
“To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?”
After Greenwald hits back hard and points out the ridiculousness of a reporter “embracing” a theory that would outlaw nearly all investigative reporting on the government, Gregory insists he wasn’t “endorsing” the idea, but merely raising the questions that others had. However, watching his initial question, it sure looks like he’s directly suggesting that Greenwald committed a crime in reporting on such a huge story, making a huge leap in claiming that reporting on some leaked information is akin to “aiding and abetting.”
Later in the show, Gregory’s NBC colleague Chuck Todd made even stupider comments, suggesting — based on nothing — that Greenwald was more “involved” with Snowden than just as a reporter because Greenwald used to be a lawyer.
Of course, as Trevor Timm points out, during the interview, David Gregory himself repeated information that government officials leaked to him concerning a secret FISA court ruling (information that appears to be incorrect, based on the details that Snowden showed Greenwald, by the way). Given that, if Gregory believes that leaking classified information is a criminal act, then shouldn’t Gregory be asking himself if he should be prosecuted?
Ah, Congress. It appears that it’s moving fast in response to the revelations, leaked by NSA contractor Ed Snowden, that the NSA is scooping up a ridiculous amount of digital data about all of us. But that atypically fast response is not about stopping the NSA from this overaggressive collection of data. No, it’s to try to ban contractors from having access to highly classified material. This is straight out of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s playbook: focus on demonizing the action of whistleblowing, rather than what was revealed by the whistleblower. And, of course, as always, that’s a really stupid move. It may generate some headlines, but it does nothing to deal with the underlying problem of abuse of the law (which has been done with full knowledge of Feinstein) or the fact that plenty of people have access to this information. Locking out contractors won’t stop the next insider from leaking information — and it will actually likely inhibit the NSA from using the best technical talent out there in building and maintaining its computer systems. Either way, it’s a weak attempt at treating the symptom, rather than the actual problem.
We saw this back when Wikileaks released a bunch of documents and the Defense Department and other government agencies told employees that they weren’t allowed to look at any of the documents, even though they were being splashed all over the press. Now, it appears, the same thing is happening concerning the NSA leaks. The Defense Department quickly sent out a memo to staff, saying:
Classified information, whether or not already posted on public websites, disclosed to the
media, or otherwise in the public domain remains classified and must be treated as such until it is
declassified by an appropriate U.S. government authority. It is the responsibility of every DoD
employee and contractor to protect classified information and to follow established procedures
for accessing classified information only through authorized means.
This included instructions, such as the following:
DoD employees or contractors who inadvertently discover potentially classified
information in the public domain shall report its existence immediately to their
Security Manager. Security Managers and Information Assurance Managers are
instructed to document the occurrence and report the event to the Director of
Security Policy and Oversight, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for
Intelligence (OUSD(I)). The offending material will be deleted by holding down
the SHIFT key while pressing the DELETE key for Windows-based systems and
clearing of the internet browser cache.
Given how much these documents are now showing up in the news, you have to imagine that Defense Department “Security Managers” are up to their eyeballs in “reports” from staffers who “inadvertently” run across such classified materials. On top of this, staff are told to not even acknowledge the existence of these documents:
DoD employees or contractors who seek out classified information in the public
domain, acknowledge its accuracy or existence, or proliferate the information in any
way will be subject to sanctions.
I’ve seen people defend these policies in the past, but they make no sense. All they do is encourage a head-in-the-sand mentality within the government, in which employees are told to pretend that public information isn’t public. As we’ve said before, in the business world, non-disclosure agreements are generally considered null and void the moment the same information becomes public via other means. Because that’s dealing with reality. Pretending that these documents aren’t out in the world, and having to fill out a report every time a government employee happens to hit a news article with one of these documents shown, seems like a tremendous waste of time and energy, all in an attempt to deny reality.