In the last week we covered two Snowden-related events: I went to a celebration of Edward Snowden’s actions at Cooper Union in New York, at which the national surveillance state was compared to Nazi totalitarianism; and Peter Voskamp watched a discussion by an Associated Press executive at the National Press Club about the Justice Department’s investigation of AP reporters’ phone records over alleged national security leaks.
Needless to say, the AP exec distanced himself from Snowden, even as he said that people will “rise up” against government overreach. While in New York they were doing just that– rising up. I’m combining the two reports in one post as they touch on similiar issues.
I. First the Emergency Event in support of Snowden, at Cooper Union last Wednesday, June 19.
“When we heard the news ten days ago about this vast surveillance network being revealed [we thought] It is time to get moving. It is time that we pulled people into the streets… Looking back to 1972, [I reflected that this] could be a bit of a Watergate moment… It [Watergate] was a tiny article in the Washington Post… It became a huge scandal. This has got to be an even bigger scandal. This is a scandal. The data of billions of people being vacuumed up to keep us quiet and silent in the service of war crimes is completely intolerable…. That which you do not resist you will learn or be forced to accept.”
Sweet noted that we probably would not be talking about Guantanamo prisoners today if not for Snowden. In March, maybe 12 people in New York were thinking about those prisoners and sincerely working to free them, she said. Now their cause was getting wide attention, because of Snowden’s intervention.
Author and activist Dennis Loo. (Video of his statement here). When you say that you have nothing to hide, you are “giving up your individual right to privacy and everyone else’s right to privacy too.” What Snowden has revealed is much worse than the nightmare that George Orwell exposed in 1984.
Loo was reminded of Eliot Spitzer. He was poised to expose the wheeling and dealing on Wall Street that led to the financial collapse. He was warned to stop his investigation. He refused. The bank interests revealed that information about his sexual practices “to get him out of the way.”
Heidi Boghosian of the National Lawyers Guild and Law and Disorder radio explained that Constitutional rights were designed to shield us from an overreaching government, and not the other way round.
Ray McGovern, the former CIA analyst, denounced the elites and compared the surveillance state to German totalitarianism.
His Irish grandmother warned him about the elite when he was caddying in the Hamptons as a boy: “The upper crust is a bunch of crumbs held together by a lot of dough.”
He was encouraged by the crowd of 200 in the hall. We shall overcome, he declared. The intelligence establishment and the elite are “all in this together… and we have to put a stop to it.”
There have been 34,000 requests for surveillance made to the US Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act Court [FISA] since 1979, and only 11 have been turned down.
McGovern likened public passivity to that in Nazi Germany. When he served in Germany he asked good people how they had allowed the Nazis to take over. “We couldn’t say anything.” Well: “We face that situation now.” He told the story of the marytr Albrecht Haushofer, a professor of geopolitics in Berlin who kept his mouth shut till he saw his colleagues being dragged away. Then he came out against the Nazis, and he was imprisoned and later asked to confess before he was shot. He confessed in the form of a sonnet that survived him, which McGovern read in German, and translated:
I am guilty,
But not in the way you think.
I should have earlier recognized my duty;
I should have more sharply called evil evil;
I reined in my judgment too long.
I did warn,
But not enough, and clear;
And today I know what I was guilty of.
McGovern said, “We’re not going to be obedient Germans. We’re going to seek the truth and we’re going to act on it.”
Sweet played a portion of Snowden’s interview with the Guardian, in which he explained that he had come forward after seeing routine abuse of privacy by the National Security Agency:
over time that awareness of wrongdoing sort of builds up and you feel compelled to talk about. And the more you talk about the more you’re ignored. The more you’re told its not a problem until eventually you realize that these things need to be determined by the public and not by somebody who was simply hired by the government.”
When the hall exploded with applause, Sweet said:
That was hearty applause from the big apple, from the belly of the beast for this courageous man, Edward Snowden. The story may not be about him ultimately, but if he had not done what he had done we would not be here tonight. This is really a big deal… This is a potential change in the whole climate of acceptance so that what happened 80 years ago in Germany does not have to happen now.
II. Voskamp’s report on Associated Press executive Gary Pruitt, speaking at the National Press Club last Wednesday.
Associated Press CEO Gary Pruitt said that the Department of Justice’s secret sweep of AP phone records may seem “minor” in comparison to the recent NSA revelations. However, he argued that the DOJ’s tactics in the AP matter were nevertheless quite troubling because they involved a “specific criminal investigation” into alleged leaks of national security information — not an all-consuming data sweep to feed into a computer.
What was especially galling to Pruitt was that the DOJ not only obtained the phone records in secret without notifying AP (which it is lawfully called upon to do… except in, well, exceptions…), but that it later argued that to do so would have potentially tipped off the government “leaker.” But, Pruitt argued, that risk is always is in play in these situations, so “the exceptions would swallow the rule.”
He suspects that in their zeal to identify their quarry, DOJ prosecutors simply “overlooked the First Amendment.” He said rules must be reformed to allow for judicial oversight in such matters: “Deciding Constitutional rights by Executive fiat is no way to go,” Pruitt, himself a First Amendment lawyer, said.
Among his suggestions was a federal shield law “to protect reporters from such unilateral and secret actions.” The DOJ “should not criminalize reporters.” “No one should ever be prosecuted for committing journalism.” The DOJ’s tactics have already had a chilling effect upon sources, Pruitt said, who don’t want their phone numbers revealed through phone records.
If these DOJ tactics remained unchecked, then “The public will know only what the government wants us to know.” In fact, he argued that the DOJ’s actions could not have been more “tailor-made” to provide comfort to authoritarian regimes around the world — “The U.S. does it, too.” He said that the Obama administration was elected “on a platform of transparency,” but, “like past administrations, has not lived up to those promises.”
He suggested that when the American people “sense that the government is overreaching, it offends their sensibilities… and they rise up.” He was asked which was worse: the DOJ’s actions against AP, or its treatment of James Rosen at FOX News. Pruitt said both had their disturbing aspects. In the AP’s case, the DOJ’s action was broad, overreaching and secret (where by law such subpoenas are supposed to be narrowly tailored), and in the FOX case, a journalist was accused of being a “co-conspirator under the Espionage Act.”
When asked about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Pruitt declined comment, ostensibly on the grounds that as the head of renowned wire service, to do so would be tantamount to editorializing. “I’m not going to speak to that.”
He said that what he thought about Snowden was “frankly, not important.” He would only go so far as to say that he “would agree with President Obama — I welcome that debate.”