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« Building our moon base | Main | More on Congress' NSA oversight process »

So does that change anything?

When the Snowden news first broke, Josh Marshall at TPM put out an honest if surprising post where he said that he personally didn't see Bradley Manning as a whistleblower and while he's a little more on the fence about Snowden, he basically feels the same way.

Let me put my cards on the table. At the end of the day, for all its faults, the US military is the armed force of a political community I identify with and a government I support. I'm not a bystander to it. I'm implicated in what it does and I feel I have a responsibility and a right to a say, albeit just a minuscule one, in what it does. I think a military force requires a substantial amount of secrecy to operate in any reasonable way. So when someone on the inside breaks those rules, I need to see a really, really good reason. And even then I'm not sure that means you get off scott free. It may just mean you did the right thing.
The Snowden case is less clear to me. At least to date, the revelations seem more surgical. And the public definitely has an interest in knowing just how we're using surveillance technology and how we're balancing risks versus privacy. The best critique of my whole position that I can think of is that I think debating the way we balance privacy and security is a good thing and I'm saying I'm against what is arguably the best way to trigger one of those debates.

But it's more than that. Snowden is doing more than triggering a debate. I think it's clear he's trying to upend, damage - choose your verb - the US intelligence apparatus and policieis he opposes. The fact that what he's doing is against the law speaks for itself. I don't think anyone doubts that narrow point. But he's not just opening the thing up for debate. He's taking it upon himself to make certain things no longer possible, or much harder to do. To me that's a betrayal.

In response, Daniel Ellsberg, the guy that leaked the Pentagon Papers, said "I think what he said there is stupid and mistaken and does not do him credit."

Readers won't be surprised to learn that i side with Ellsberg over Marshall here, although i think the question of whether Snowden should be prosecuted is secondary to the matter of the program that Snowden is bringing newfound attention to, which i think needs to get shut down or at least greatly reduced in scope.

Today, though, TPM has an unusual story. They tried to put out what was meant to be a routine educational piece where they explain how the Senate Intel Committee provides oversight on the NSA program. It was just meant to explain to readers how the procedures work; if you want to attribute motive considering Marshall's earlier declaration of loyalties, you could view it as a propaganda piece that says to people "It's ok; your elected officials are supervising this, so you technically have control through the democratic process". But the person they reached out to for info on the article, the former General Counsel for the Committee, wound up getting gagged by the Committee and was disallowed from going on record about anything, which is really suspicious. Very strange story and worth a full read. Here's Marshall's lead-in and here's the full article.

One commentor speculates:

1. The committee has perhaps taken some things at face value, assuming they had a level of understanding of the information that in fact they did not have. Now that a whole bunch of people are saying "are you sure about that?" they have realized, that they are not, in fact, sure at all. They don't want to reveal details about the process because it could lead to questions like "at a briefing on date Z, you were told something classified about program X. Did you realize that your assent meant that consequence Y would become a certainty?

In other words, committee members have figured out that metadeta about their process might be just as useful as the data itself....irony anyone? I think that may be the "committee sensitive" part.

2. Given the discussion of the previous administration, there may have been some decisions to "let sleeping briefing policies lie" rather than bring them to light, change the procedure, and then take heat for being "soft on terror" in the event of a disaster. Again, information about how the briefing system worked would tend to shed light on this issue.... So that would be the "out-of-date" part, that Divoll would be working from a 2003 understanding, not realizing that the procedures had been secretly changed later by Bush officials, and then secretly changed again by Obama officials, but not perhaps as much as it should have been. These would not be good things to put down on paper when hundreds of thousands of wonky folk are paying attention.

Anyway, just wondering if all of this in any way affected Josh Marshall's confidence or opinions in any way.

(By the way if you want to torture yourself, read the comments in any TPM article about the NSA or PRISM programs. The mind-numbing "debate" between the Obama loyalists and the civil liberties-minded liberals is absolutely cringe-worthy.)

By fnord12 | June 18, 2013, 2:31 PM | Liberal Outrage