Sunday, August 04, 2013








Today that State Dept Tweeted:

  1. is issuing immigrant visas to same-sex couples. Answers to FAQs is available at .
  2. MT : "We are tearing down the unjust & unfair barrier that stood in the way of same-sex families traveling"

Good for the State Dept and good for John Kerry.  That said, the above does not erase The Drone War, the illegal war on Libya and assorted other actions of the US government in the last few years.  Nor does it erase Kerry's problem with regards to taking his oral promises regarding women's rights and failing to follow them (see Ava's "Secretary Kerry doesn't really support women's rights").  I know John Kerry, I like him (I like Tereasa as well and have strong admiration for her).  In 2003, there was no question that John would get my support and I have no regrets for that.  I also happen to agree 100% with what Ava wrote.

My point here is that there are contradictions.  The US government can take needed actions.  It can also do highly destructive things (actions which destroy lives).  NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden is in Russia and that's supposed to be suspect -- especially now that he has temporary asylum -- and supposed to discredit him in some way.

On Democracy Now! today (link is text, video and audio), Amy Goodman spoke with US House Reps John Conyers and Thomas Massie regarding the ongoing spying and the disclosures of the spying that whistle-blower Ed Snowden made.  Excerpt.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Massie, what are your thoughts about Russia granting temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, who really started this ball rolling by revealing what—what the intelligence officials of this country, from Keith Alexander to James Clapper, have long denied, but now admitted they weren’t telling the truth about, that the U.S. is spying on American citizens?

REP. THOMAS MASSIE: Well, clearly his disclosures have changed the course of human history, really. And I think his initial disclosures were a service to our country, because now we’re having this conversation. And we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I can’t speak for Mr. Snowden’s actions now. He’s basically a person looking out for his own life at this point. But what he did initially was a service to our country. We need to facilitate a way for whistleblowers to do that in a better fashion. And I don’t think our current whistleblower laws would have provided for him to do what he’s done in a better fashion, so I’d like to see some reform there, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Russia was right to grant him temporary asylum?

REP. THOMAS MASSIE: I’m not going to comment on what Russia should have done with Mr. Snowden.

AMY GOODMAN: But do you feel that Mr. Snowden did the right thing?

REP. THOMAS MASSIE: I think initially he did. And now, it would be hard for me to fault his actions at this point. He’s a person who fears for his life, and so, you know, he’s doing what he can, I think, to stay alive at this point.

Those were some strong statements that Massie made -- and good for him for making them at a time when too many in Congress are either silent or else attacking Ed.  He's right that Ed's choices are limited at this point.

But the point I want to make, as elements of the US press repeatedly attempt to churn up outrage, is that the Russian government's record does not make Russia evil.  Whatever country you live in, hopefully you're able to turn your head from one side to the other and see people you are glad to know.  People are not their governments.  Governments frequently lie to the people, mislead them, ignore them.  That's true in the US, that's true in Russia, it's true pretty much everywhere.

The Russian government's actions?  In some ways, the government of Russia is worse than the US.  If you look at the domestic actions of both, Russia's efforts at censorship and targeting its LGBT community are appalling.  But over one million Iraqis have not died in the last ten years as a result of the Russian government.  The State Dept does an annual report and its honest if you think it's fair for the US government to finger point at other countries while failing to examine itself in the same way.

Russia's a wonderful country with many wonderful people.  The government is flawed (as are all governments) and has some outrageous and criminal behaviors -- as does the US government.  Ed Snowden's options are limited -- as a direct result of shameful actions on the part of the US government.  He did not intend to stay in Russia, it was to be a stop on the way to somewhere else.  He now has a one year, temporary asylum.  His taking that fortunate offer does not make him suspect.

Amnesty International made this point very strongly (far better than I have above) in a statement yesterday:

Russia's decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum is a positive development and should allow governments and civil society to focus on the sweeping nature and unlawfulness of the US government’s surveillance programmes.
“The drama of the five weeks since Snowden’s arrival in Russia has distracted attention from the key issue: how the ever-burgeoning security apparatus in the US has used secret courts to undertake massive, sweeping and systematic invasions into the right to privacy of people living in the USA,”said Widney Brown, senior director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International.
“Let’s not lose sight of why Snowden was forced to seek asylum in Russia.  Once he disclosed the full scope of the US government’s actions, they cancelled his passport and called him a criminal.
“Freedom of expression – a fundamental human right – protects speech that reveals credible evidence of unlawful government action. Under both international law and the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution, the US government’s actions are unlawful.”
With regard to Snowden’s temporary asylum status, the organization is concerned that he has been told that he should not disclose any further information that could harm the USA.
“Everybody has the right to seek asylum. That right can’t be contingent on a promise not to speak out or disclose information on a matter of public concern,” said Widney Brown.
“We urge the Russian authorities to ensure that his rights are respected. He should be allowed to travel freely, including outside of Russia, if he wishes.”
“The US government has been more intent on persecuting Edward Snowden than in addressing or even owning up to its flagrant breaches of international law. It is time that the USA desists from its deplorable attempts to pressure governments to block Snowden’s efforts to seek asylum now or in the future.”

Prensa Latina reports on Snowden's attorney Anatoli Kucherena, "Although at first moment Kucherena announced that Snowden would stay in this country and could apply for temporary residence and then citizenship, he now admits that his client will decide that in the future. He himself will announce it, he said."  With the knowledge that Ed is (at least) temporarily safe, that he has found a place to live, and that he has at least one job offer,  let's turn to his revelations and the US government's response.

Ed Snowden is an American citizen and whistle-blower who had been employed by the CIA and by the NSA before leaving government employment for the more lucrative world of contracting.  At the time he blew the whistle, he was working for Booz Allen Hamilton doing NSA work.  Glenn Greenwald (Guardian) had the first scoop (and many that followed) on Snowden's revelations that the US government was spying on American citizens, keeping the data on every phone call made in the United States (and in Europe as well) while also spying on internet use via PRISM and Tempora.  US Senator Bernie Sanders decried the fact that a "secret court order" had been used to collect information on American citizens "whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing."  Sanders went on to say, "That is not what democracy is about.  That is not what freedom is about. [. . .] While we must aggressively pursue international terrorists and all of those who would do us harm, we must do it in a way that protects the Constitution and civil liberties which make us proud to be Americans."  The immediate response of the White House, as Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman (Guardian) reported,  was to insist that there was nothing unusual and to get creaky and compromised Senator Dianne Feinstein to insist, in her best Third Reich voice, "People want to keep the homeland safe."  The spin included statements from Barack himself.   Anita Kumar (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "Obama described the uproar this week over the programs as “hype” and sought to ensure Americans that Big Brother is not watching their every move."  Josh Richman (San Jose Mercury News) quoted Barack insisting that "we have established a process and a procedure that the American people should feel comfortable about."  Apparently not feeling the gratitude, the New York Times editorial board weighed in on the White House efforts at spin, noting that "the Obama administration issued the same platitude it has offered every time President Obama has been caught overreaching in the use of his powers: Terrorists are a real menace and you should just trust us to deal with them because we have internal mechanisms (that we are not going to tell you about) to make sure we do not violate your rights."  Former US President Jimmy Carter told CNN, "I think that the secrecy that has been surrounding this invasion of privacy has been excessive, so I think that the bringing of it to the public notice has probably been, in the long term, beneficial."  Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson explains, "Intelligence officials in the Obama administration and their allies on Capitol Hill paint the fugitive analyst as nothing but a traitor who wants to harm the United States. Many of those same officials grudgingly acknowledge, however, that public debate about the NSA’s domestic snooping is now unavoidable."

The more Barack attempted to defend the spying, the more ridiculous he came off.  Mike Masnick (TechDirt) reviewed Barack's appearance on The Charlie Rose Show and observed of the 'explanations' offered, "None of that actually explains why this program is necessary. If there's a phone number that the NSA or the FBI gets that is of interest, then they should be able to get a warrant or a court order and request information on that number from the telcos. None of that means they should be able to hoover up everything."  As US House Rep John Conyers noted, "But I maintain that the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable search and seizure to mean that this mega data collected in such a super aggregated fashion can amount to a Fourth Amendment violation before you do anything else.  You've already violated the law, as far as I am concerned."  Barack couldn't deal with that reality but did insist, in the middle of June, that this was an opportunity for "a national conversation."  He's always calling for that because, when it doesn't happen, he can blame the nation.  It's so much easier to call for "a national conversation" than for he himself to get honest with the American people. And if Barack really believes this has kicked off "a national conversation" then demonizing Ed Snowden is a really strange way to say "thank you."

The revelations continue.  Wednesday, Glenn Greenwald (Guardian) reported:

A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its "widest-reaching" system for developing intelligence from the internet.
The latest revelations will add to the intense public and congressional debate around the extent of NSA surveillance programs. They come as senior intelligence officials testify to the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday, releasing classified documents in response to the Guardian's earlier stories on bulk collection of phone records and Fisa surveillance court oversight.

Amy Goodman covered the report:


AMY GOODMAN:  On Wednesday, The Guardian newspaper revealed details about another secret NSA program called XKeyscore, based on leaked documents provided by Snowden. XKeyscore allows analysts to search, with no prior authorization, through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals. According to a slide presentation provided to The Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden, XKeyscore gives NSA analysts real-time access to, quote, "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet." In its own training materials, the NSA calls XKeyscore its "widest-reaching" system for developing intelligence from the Internet. While the program is supposed to target overseas Internet users, The Guardian reports XKeyscore provides the technological capability, if not the legal authority, to target even Americans for extensive electronic surveillance without a warrant. Edward Snowden first hinted at the program during an interview with The Guardian in June.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: Any analyst at any time can target anyone, any selector anywhere. Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge, to even the president, if I had a personal email.
AMY GOODMAN: The Guardian published its exposé on Wednesday morning just minutes before the Senate Intelligence Committee opened an oversight hearing on the NSA’s surveillance programs.

And Ed was right. Thomas R. Eddlem (New American) points out:

The XKeyscore was discussed on today's first hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR -- link is audio and transcript):

CBS News and Slate's John Dickerson:   The president said he welcomes a conversation. He doesn't welcome a conversation. But this is the conversation that's now taking place. And then the other big development was a new set of documents that were released about another program... 

Diane Rehm:  Called the XKeyscore.

John Dickerson: XKeyscore. And that is a basic scraping of the Internet for overseas or so, the administration claims, that basically captures people's conversations, email, basically everything that you can do online. 

Wall St. Journal's Jerry Seib:  I think what you got a sense of at that Senate hearing and then in the aftermath of it was a feeling that's -- which is a bipartisan feeling, to some extent at least, that the NSA took a program that Congress actually wanted to happen and legally authorize it. It wrote the law that allows the program to happen but then stretched it out of proportion to what the lawmakers intended. And there is now some pushback developing, which is -- but it's difficult because most people in Congress, and this is also bipartisan, actually want the program to continue. They just think the fencing around it ought to be a little sturdier, and that, I think, is something that you're gonna hear discussed. I don't think anybody wants to eliminate it. I think they wanna bring it more under control.  

If Seib's speaking of the ridiculous Senate Judiciary Comittee and it's cowardly members, he's correct, they don't want to eliminate it.  They don't want to protect the Constitution.  As Trina observed early this morning:

It's a good column [Dave Lindorff's]  but what it actually reminded me of was the Wednesday Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that C.I. reported on "Iraq snapshot," Wally's "THIS JUST IN! RUSS FEINGOLD WHERE ARE YOU NOW!" and Cedric's "Punchline: US Senate,Ava's ""Blumenthal disappoints (Ava)," Wally's ""Leahy and Feinstein are disgraces," Ann's ""The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing" and Kat's "The Constitution has been shredded."  Read their reports. The Committee didn't want to address how outrageous it was that spying was going on, they wanted to put a few limits on the spying so it could continue.  It was disgusting.

But they are not the only members of Congress and Seib should damn well know that the Amash - Conyers amendment came very close to passing last week -- an amendment that would have indeed ended it.  Diane would do her listeners a world of good if she'd pay attention to what her guests say and correct them.

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