(Jeff Danziger’s website)
Via Alec MacGillis at TNR (“Edward Snowden, Exemplar of the Beltway’s Economic Boom — Washington is full of high-earning contractors just like him”), the NYTimes follows the money:
WASHINGTON — Edward J. Snowden’s employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, has become one of the largest and most profitable corporations in the United States almost exclusively by serving a single client: the government of the United States…
The government has sharply increased spending on high-tech intelligence gathering since 2001, and both the Bush and Obama administrations have chosen to rely on private contractors like Booz Allen for much of the resulting work.
Thousands of people formerly employed by the government, and still approved to deal with classified information, now do essentially the same work for private companies. Mr. Snowden, who revealed on Sunday that he provided the recent leak of national security documents, is among them.
As evidence of the company’s close relationship with government, the Obama administration’s chief intelligence official, James R. Clapper Jr., is a former Booz Allen executive. The official who held that post in the Bush administration, John M. McConnell, now works for Booz Allen…
Farhad Manjoo, at Slate:
If the NSA Trusted Edward Snowden With Our Data, Why Should We Trust the NSA?
Let’s note what Snowden is not: He isn’t a seasoned FBI or CIA investigator. He isn’t a State Department analyst. He’s not an attorney with a specialty in national security or privacy law.
Instead, he’s the IT guy, and not a very accomplished, experienced one at that. If Snowden had sent his résumé to any of the tech companies that are providing data to the NSA’s PRISM program, I doubt he’d have even gotten an interview. Yes, he could be a computing savant anyway—many well-known techies dropped out of school. But he was given access way beyond what even a supergeek should have gotten…
The worst part about the NSA’s surveillance is not its massive reach. It’s that it operates entirely in secret, so that we have no way of assessing the sophistication of its operation. All we have is the word of our politicians, who tell us that they’ve vetted these systems and that we should blindly trust that the data are being competently safeguarded and aren’t vulnerable to abuse.
Snowden’s leak is thus doubly damaging. The scandal isn’t just that the government is spying on us. It’s also that it’s giving guys like Snowden keys to the spying program. It suggests the worst combination of overreach and amateurishness, of power leveraged by incompetence. The Keystone Cops are listening to us all.
James Fallows, at the Atlantic:
I’m glad we have this information; I am sorry we are getting it from Hong Kong….
I believe what I wrote two days ago: that the United States and the world have gained much more, in democratic accountability, than they have lost in any way with the revelation of these various NSA monitoring programs. That these programs are legal — unlike the Nixon “Plumbers” operation, unlike various CIA assassination programs, unlike other objects of whistle-blower revelations over the years — is the most important fact about them. They’re being carried out in “our” name, ours as Americans, even though most of us have had no idea of what they entailed. The debate on the limits of the security-state is long overdue, and Edward Snowden has played an important role in hastening its onset…
Timothy B. Lee, in the Washington Post:
Has the US become the type of nation from which you have to seek asylum?
… Americans are familiar with stories of dissidents fleeing repressive regimes such as those in China or Iran and seeking asylum in the United States. Snowden is in the opposite position. He’s an American leaving the land of his birth because he fears persecution.
Four decades ago, Daniel Ellsberg surrendered to federal authorities to face charges of violating the Espionage Act. During his trial, he was allowed to go free on bail, giving him a chance to explain his actions to the media. His case was eventually thrown out after it was revealed that the government had wiretapped him illegally.
Bradley Manning, a soldier who released classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010, has had a very different experience. Manning was held for three years without trial, including 11 months when he was held in de facto solitary confinement. During some of this period, he was forced to sleep naked at night, allegedly as a way to prevent him from committing suicide. The United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture has condemned this as “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 16 of the convention against torture.”…
If Snowden had surrendered himself to U.S. authorities, he almost certainly would have faced charges that carry penalties of decades in prison. He might have rationally feared being subject to years of pretrial detention and the kind of degrading treatment Manning faced. And if he had chosen to fight the charges, he would have risked spending decades in prison if he lost.
There’s no question that the United States has stronger protections for free speech and the rule of law than repressive regimes like China or Iran. But it’s also clear that our courts defend constitutional rights less zealously today than they did in Ellsberg’s day. Snowden wasn’t crazy to question whether he’d be treated fairly by the American justice system.
Noam Scheiber, at TNR, “Why’d He Do It?“:
Since the 29-year-old intelligence contractor Edward Snowden outed himself as the source of the NSA leaks on Sunday, reporters and pundits—heck, even Snowden himself—have compared him with Bradley Manning, the Army private on trial for passing classified material about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to Wikileaks. There’s obviously something to the comparison—both men were apparently dedicated enough to the cause of transparency to risk their lives for it. But, after reading the early biographical reporting about Snowden, I can’t help recalling another transparency activist in the news recently: Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide in January while awaiting trial for downloading millions of pages from JSTOR, the online database of academic articles.
… Over time, I think Swartz came to fear that the technology could be co-opted far more easily than he’d realized—that the wall protecting the good, noble uses of the Internet and from the greedy or nefarious uses was pretty fragile. If the small handful of people who had the power to police this wall—people like him, who were both extremely able technically but also politically aware enough to appreciate the stakes for society—didn’t take it upon themselves to do it, then the situation was pretty much hopeless. Instead of being a revolutionary tool for distributing knowledge, the Internet would become an exclusive club.
Snowden’s mindset seems similar to me. He told The Guardian that, as a teenager, he considered the Internet “the most important invention in all of human history” because it connected him to “people with all sorts of views that I would never have encountered on my own.” But, as an adult, he increasingly worried that surveillance was destroying the web. The same invention he believed could liberate mankind was becoming a tool of oppression.