Proving once again that he is neither the radical reformer the Right pretends that he is, and that the non-Right had hoped he would be, President Obama attempted to conservatively thread an impossible needle in his speech today [full transcript] calling for a number of reforms to the government's current, sweeping collection of the private telephone data of Americans who are in no way related to terrorism investigations.
Once again, while ignoring many of the recommendations offered by his own special commission convened to make such recommendations for reform of NSA surveillance and other intelligence gather techniques, Obama is trying to split the baby and, in doing so, appears to be gaining the great admiration of...largely no one.
During a speech at the Dept. of Justice on Friday, he announced what he described as "a series of concrete and substantial reforms that my administration intends to adopt administratively or will seek to codify with Congress." Those reforms are, in fact, a series of limited changes that, almost all honest brokers agree, would never have happened were it not for the historically-important leaks by former NSA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden. The President side-stepped what should have been "thanks" offered to the now federally-charged fugitive forced into political asylum in Russia.
"Given the fact of an open investigation, I'm not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden's actions or his motivations," the President said, before taking a shot at him by referencing the importance of "the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation's secrets" and "the sensational way in which these disclosures have come out." Those disclosures, of course, led to this moment and these reforms, however meager and/or cosmetic they may turn out to be. "Regardless of how we got here though," Obama continued quickly, in hopes of marginalizing the facts of Snowden's contributions to the reality of the moment.
Since he was not given his proper due this afternoon by the President himself, it fell to the Huffington Post's front page splash today to offer exactly that...
Still on the road (back full time as of next week), but thought this video from yesterday's The Lead with Jake Tapper on CNN was well worth popping here quickly, if you've yet to see it.
It's a fantastic and very lively debate about Edward Snowden and, perhaps most-interestingly, Obama's Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, between journalist Glenn Greenwald and Washington Post op-ed columnist Ruth Marcus. Greenwald describes Marcus here --- much to her apparent consternation --- as an Obama Administration "loyalist" for, among other things, what he sees as a double-standard for her calls for the prosecution of whistleblower Snowden, versus the seeming free pass she's willing to give to Administration officials such as Clapper who has admitted to misleading Congress with false testimony (aka Lying to Them). That would be a felony crime...if anybody bothered to prosecute it.
Greenwald is tenacious (as usual) in forcing Marcus to answer his question about whether Clapper should be prosecuted. For her part, she does a decent job of acquitting herself, sort of, even as the entire conversation --- and the two staked-out positions here --- really do help to illustrate, as Greenwald describes it, how "the D.C. media" and "people in Washington continuously make excuses for those in power when they break the law."
"That's what people in Washington do," he charges. "They would never call on someone like James Clapper, who got caught lying to Congress, which is a felony, to be prosecuted. They only pick on people who embarrass the government and the administration to which they are loyal, like Edward Snowden. It's not about the rule of law."
"People in Washington who are well-connected to the government like she is, do not believe that the law applies to them. They only believe that the law should be used to punish people and imprison people who don't have power in Washington or who expose the wrongdoing of American political officials," Greenwald argues. I'll let you watch to see how Marcus responds.
This one is very much worth watching in full. If you prefer, the complete text transcript is posted here...
A federal judge has found the bulk collection of metadata of U.S. phone calls to be "indiscriminate" and "arbitrary" and, therefore, in violation of the Constitution's 4th Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. His opinion was hailed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden who has been asserting that point as the central basis for his having leaked thousands of classified documents in regard to programs run by the federal agency.
A federal judge ruled Monday that the National Security Agency program which collects information on nearly all telephone calls made to, from or within the United States is likely unconstitutional.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon found that the program appears to violate the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. He also said the Justice Department had failed to demonstrate that collecting the information had helped to head off terrorist attacks.
Acting on a lawsuit brought by conservative legal activist Larry Klayman, Leon issued a preliminary injunction barring the NSA from collecting so-called metadata pertaining to the Verizon accounts of Klayman and one of his clients. However, the judge stayed the order to allow for an appeal.
Now, Klayman is, in fact, a Rightwing loon who is separately in the process of, literally, attempting to overthrow the U.S. government. But, as journalist Glenn Greenwald --- the man who has been most intensely reporting on Snowden's leaks --- notes today: "the ACLU has a virtually identical lawsuit against the NSA as the one where the judge today ruled against NSA".
Judge Leon went on to write in his scathing opinion...
New revelations and global protests by ordinary citizens and world leaders --- including U.S. allies --- over NSA surveillance, have now settled into an almost daily affair.
In the meantime, during an interview on Democracy Now! this week, journalist Glenn Greenwald offered up an analysis that may help explain what he now describes as an "institutional obsession" with surveillance by the U.S. government.
"If you reveal to populations around the world that their calls are being spied on by the millions, they’ll first wonder, 'Why are my calls of interest to the U.S. government?'," Greenwald observes. "But when it becomes apparent that the United States government is doing this for economic advantage, they start to feel personally implicated, like they’re being actually robbed."
While readers would do well to watch the entirety of the interview (see video below), the analysis offered within by Greenwald is especially poignant because it ties the NSA’s massive surveillance state in many of these foreign countries, not to the prevention of terrorism, but to the seemingly insatiable quest on the part of the U.S.-based, corporate global empire to secure economic advantage...
By now, you've certainly heard of the outrageous 9-hour detention of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald's partner David Miranda at Heathrow Airport under Great Britain's supposed "Terrorism Act" over the weekend. As Rachel Maddow amazingly, but justifiably, found it necessary to point out loudly last night, "journalism is not terrorism", and both the British government and U.S. government (which has admitted receiving a "heads-up" about the planned detention by British authorities in advance, but didn't stop it from happening) should be ashamed of themselves and held accountable for the outrage.
Many have opined, since the detention of Miranda, what an outrage something like that would have been had a similar harassment and the seizure of personal property of, say, a New York Times journalist doing his or her job, occurred in this country or by a country so closely allied with the U.S.
Well, before we took our short break last week, I had been covering some of the increasing citizen protests in several states around the U.S. in reaction to the extreme and radical Republican policies being put in place by states where the GOP has recently taken control of state government. I covered the ensuing arrests of an 83-year old Korean War vet peacefully demonstrating for voting rights in NC (as he did with MLK in Selma, AL in 1965) and of an 80- and 85-year old couple in WI arrested in a crackdown by Republican Gov. Scott Walker's Capitol Police for participating in a daily protest sing along in the state capitol building.
While I was gone, it seems, things have gotten worse in Wisconsin, as an elected official was also arrested for singing along, and even the editor of a progressive news magazine was arrested for having attempted to record it...
Earlier this week we detailedThe Guardian investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald's dismantling of CNN/New York's Jeffrey Toobin in regard to the Bradley Manning verdict, and Toobin's vigorous defense of the U.S. surveillance state, long and cruel sentences for patriot whistleblowers and his support of the elitist establishment media who often publish "approved" administration leaks of Top Secret material to great aplomb from folks like Toobin.
Greenwald was back with Toobin on CNN Wednesday night, this time to talk about NSA leaker Edward Snowden. And this time, they were joined by New York Times investigative journalist James Risen, who is being forced to testify concerning his reporting on an alleged U.S. cyberattack against the Iran nuclear program.
This debate between Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald and New York's Jeffrey Toobin, both legal experts, is very enlightening and much worth watching. As those who know me may guess, I tend to side with Greenwald here...
By the way, since Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg is invoked in the above, please see what he had to say about Bradley Manning when I interviewed him in 2010, as I quoted him yesterday here. My entire 2010 Ellsberg interview (text transcript and audio), including more of his thoughts on Manning is posted here.
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UPDATE 8/3/2012: Greenwald and Toobin returned for Round 2 on CNN. This time with New York Times investigative journalist James Risen as well. It didn't go any better for Toobin. Details, video here...
A bi-partisan amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations bill sponsored by Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI) and former House Judiciary Chair John Conyers (D-MI), was defeated late today in the U.S. House of Representatives. The measure would have brought an abrupt halt to the NSA's warrantless blanket collection of Americans' telephone records. It failed by a narrow margin of 205 to 217.
The Amash-Conyers amendment represented the first Congressional challenge to the NSA's bulk collection of domestic phone records in the wake of recent disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The vote came just one day after a speech by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who has served on the the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee since January 2001, in which he not only warned about the unlimited scope of the NSA's ever-expanding surveillance capabilities but the unnecessary development of a secret body of laws that, he argued, threatens to eradicate the very essence of democracy and accountability.
Ironically, NSA Director General Keith Alexander, did his best to underscore Wyden's warnings. Where the Obama administration and other members of both the Senate and House Intelligence Committee publicly lobbied against Amash-Conyers, Alexander scheduled "a last-minute, members-only briefing" to lobby against the measure behind closed doors.
Alexander, whom James Bamford, author of The Shadow Factor: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America, has described as "the most powerful person that's ever existed in the American intelligence community," took pains to insure that his own efforts to privately lobby against this public bill be classified as "Top Secret," thereby precluding public consideration as to the reasons why publicly-elected officials might refuse to rein in unfettered access to the telephone records of millions of law-abiding Americans.
Rather than look at today's vote as a defeat, the ACLU's Michelle Richards told The Guardian's Spencer Ackerman that the vote's narrow margin reflects "a 'sea change' in how Congress views bulk surveillance," describing the bi-partisan debate on the House floor as "a great first step."
Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who originally broke a number of the stories related to Snowden's disclosures, tweeted during the floor debate: "Edward Snowden did what he did to make everyone aware of all this, and to prompt precisely this debate. That was his motive." He also observed this irony, after the House Democratic leadership rallied against the amendment and the measure ultimately went down to narrow defeat: "A majority of Dems supported the Amash/Conyers amendment to defund NSA bulk spying - majority of GOP joined [with the White House]."
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UPDATE 7/25/13:According to AP today, Congressional "Opponents of the National Security Agency's collection of hundreds of millions of Americans' phone records insist they will press ahead with their challenge to the surveillance program after a narrow defeat in the House"...
Earlier this week, CNN's Anderson Cooper interviewed The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald about the baseless claim made by Rep. Peter King (R-NY), on Fox "News", that Greenwald was "threatening to disclose" the identities of covert American CIA operatives.
Cooper and Greenwald then discussed the claim that American national security has been harmed by the disclosures made by Snowden, and why both citizens and journalists should never merely accept, at face value, such claims from public officials...
ANDERSON COOPER: King also says that you should be prosecuted because of what you've already published, saying it puts American lives at risk…When Wikileaks released huge amounts of information…a lot of people said, you know, "They had blood on their hands. Julian Assange has had blood on his hands." But then U.S. officials privately admitted to people in Congress and even publicly that even though the revelations were embarrassing, were a problem, that they couldn’t name anyone who really had lost their lives because of it. So now, when people are saying that you have put American lives at risk, do you believe that at all?
GLENN GREENWALD: No. And Anderson, that point that you just made, in my opinion, is really the crucial point, for anybody listening, to take away. Every single time the American government has things that they’ve done in secret exposed or revealed to the world and they're embarrassed by it, the tactic that they use is to try and scare people into believing that they have to overlook what they have done --- they have to trust American officials to exercise power in the dark, lest they be attacked; that their security and safety depend upon placing this value in political officials. And I really think it’s the supreme obligation of every journalist and every citizen when they hear an American official say --- 'this story about us jeopardizes national security' --- to demand specifics; to ask, what exactly it is that has jeopardized national security.
King's blatant lies about Greenwald ought to underscore his point that such officials are not to be merely trusted.
Video of Anderson Cooper's 6/12/2013 interview of Glenn Greenwald follows below...