Friday, January 3, 2014

Snowden: National Review v. The Times

The New York Times recently called on the government to offer amnesty to Edward Snowden (see post here). The Times' arguments were clear, cogent. So, it seemed appropriate to the Editor to find a different perspective, a rebuttal of a sort, so readers can get a sense of the range of argumentation. In the Editor's view, National Review would generally be a great place to find such a device ...

The Editors of National Review describe Snowden as "the NSA contractor who broke his oath" to the government and "severely damaged the work it does to keep the U.S. safe." The Times had described him as "the former N.S.A. contractor who stole a trove of highly classified documents after he became disillusioned with the [National Security Agency's] voraciousness."

In NR's mind, only a "tiny proportion" of Snowden’s disclosures "if any at all" have concerned "unequivocally illegal work" (further in the piece the phrase "clearly illegal" is employed)by the government. NR, further, is content that the NSA's metadata system is "overseen by Congress" and is "regularly reviewed by a classified federal court" - an assurance offered up, somewhat ironically, after the piece criticizes the Times for relying on the opinion of a federal court.

The Times praised Snowden for revealing "the vast scope of the National Security Agency’s reach into the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the globe" and how it "has exceeded its mandate and abused its authority." NR sees these "accomplishments" as "less impressive" arguing:
He revealed that the NSA has exploited, for the sake of intelligence gathering, many of the systems private firms use to encrypt information, a practice “damaging [to] businesses that depended on this trust.” It is a strange day when the New York Times believes breaking the law is justified — laudable, even — if it might protect the competitiveness of American businesses. 
... which seems more of a gratuitous attack on the motives / sincerity of the Times than anything like rigorous assessment of Snowden's "accomplishments."

In NR's opinion, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper did not lie to Congress (you know, the group doing the oversight) so much as he was "less than honest." How Clintonesque!

NR also holds that internal audits of  the NSA revealed only "isolated instances of mistakes and overreach" and they all amounted to a "minuscule number among the NSA’s operations" (quantity being, obviously, more important than quality?)  We should, however, be comforted by the fact that the "secret court" that "oversees" the NSA has "reined in the agency’s domestic work" and "criticized" it for "not being more honest." The NSA has thus been "reformed." NR expresses no concern whatsoever that these problems developed in the NSA while it was under the oversight of Congress and the secret court ... National Review's faith in the power, efficiency and judgement of the federal government being almost as "strange" as the Times' concern for American businesses?

NR argues that Snowden could have taken the information that bothered him to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and laments that fact that a great deal of his revelations "have nothing to do with Americans’ privacy at all"
Snowden stole and has now helped publish documents that lay out the entirety of the U.S.’s classified budget, detail American-run intelligence programs abroad that have no effect on the privacy of those protected by our laws, and reveal the intelligence work of our allies, too. Regardless of the efficacy of the programs that may now be halted, exposing reams of data on the work of U.S. intelligence agencies sets their work back years, and leaves America less safe. 
The Times, of course - equally talented at word play - noted that it found not the "slightest proof that his disclosures really hurt the nation's security." So, in sum, says NR:
He should therefore be punished like anyone else who breaks his oath to keep classified information secret. Maintaining otherwise sets a dangerous precedent for protecting future leakers on the grounds that they expose something that is, say, merely politically unpopular. Snowden has done huge damage to the work of his country’s security services — now and in the future — and is hiding from the due punishment by seeking refuge in a hostile foreign country that benefits from the fallout of his work. This sounds more like a defector than a whistleblower. 
See National Review piece here.

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