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“Modest Encroachments”? The NSA Spying Scandal, the Significance of Snowden and Manning, and the Duplicity of Barack Obama

“Modest Encroachments”? The NSA Spying Scandal, the Significance of Snowden and Manning, and the Duplicity of Barack Obama

By Dennis Loo (6/10/13)

It is hard to overestimate the significance of this moment.

As I wrote at the end of my last article on June 7,

The revelations that the NYT is reporting about come from an unidentified U.S. intelligence individual who is whistleblowing. Despite Obama’s vicious and vindictive retaliation against the heroic Bradley Manning in order to try to stem the tide of whistleblowers, Obama’s efforts based on this week’s fresh revelations have not worked in intimidating others from speaking the truth about the horrid lies and practices that this government and Obama in particular are committing.

Edward Snowden has since stepped forward to identify himself as the unidentified whistleblower. Obama’s efforts to repress whistleblowers’ dramatic revelations of crimes – despite prosecuting twice as many whistleblowers than all of the previous U.S. presidents combined – are faltering.

Snowden has come forward voluntarily in full knowledge of the probable consequences to him, including the possibility of being killed for daring to reveal the truth. Obama and the U.S. government, after all, have made no secret that they are trying to do to whistleblowers what they do to those they kill via drones: annihilate them.

The contrast between what Snowden and Manning - the most famous of the growing ranks of whistleblowers - represent and what Obama and his kind represent could not be sharper. To use a sports analogy here: when one side in a contest takes out all of its stops and does everything that is within its power to do, and still is not winning, and when the other side in the contest has yet to do anywhere nearly all that it is capable of, then what does the future hold for each side?

What did Snowden say about his motives?

“I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in…. My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”

If I had been writing a novel about the state of the world and wanted to create a protagonist who could articulate the exact terms of the struggle, I could not have created words any better than Snowden’s. What is being done in our names and what is being done against the people? This is what authorities cannot allow to happen in a full-blown and public way because if they did then they know that their days for their rule and their system are numbered.

What is remarkable about this latest whistleblower is that he is coming forward of his own accord in the face of grave danger, he is extremely articulate about why he is doing it and what he is trying to accomplish, and it is occurring during the Manning trial and the fight over Guantanamo with hunger strikers risking death and Obama’s use of drones. These factors are not going to be lost on people. The stakes are as high as it gets: which program rules the world - liars, torturers and murderers or truth-tellers with a conscience?

This scandal is just beginning and we can see the forces that are going to come forward in this very big and consequential fight just visible on the horizon. Shadows now but full-fledged, living individuals as they approach and join this fight. The system chose Obama as its front man to carry forward the Bush Doctrine and Obama as the one to adeptly deceive people as authorities carried out their horrid program.

No one else in their ranks has the same level of ability to do this, both because of how Obama looks to people – a black person, a man of the people – and how much of a political opportunist he is who knows how to make what he’s doing sound progressive. But actions and words can only be stretched so far from each other. You can already hear the whipping sounds as some of the bands holding them together snap from being stretched to the breaking point.

Let us compare Snowden’s words to that of President Obama who called these programs – programs more massive than anything ever attempted in history that intrude into not only every American's lives but untold numbers of others outside our borders - “modest encroachments on privacy…” His program of massive interdiction of all electronic communications is the very definition of immodest. The only way it could be more immodest is if he was also trying to grab up interstellar communications of aliens.

Obama’s skillful use of words to deceive people about what he is doing is showing cracks. He cannot continue to do terrible things and continue to cover his tracks with fancy rhetorical footwork without more and more people waking up to the reality of what’s afoot.

He claims to welcome this moment as an opportunity to debate these matters about surveillance.

If he welcomed a healthy debate, then why did he not reveal what his administration has been up to instead of having everyone find out through a whistleblower named Snowden?

If he wants a healthy debate about government secrecy versus national security, then why did he torture Bradley Manning and why is he still viciously going after Manning even though Manning has already confessed to leaking documents to Wikileaks?

If he wants a healthy debate, then why is his administration barring Manning from presenting his reasons in court for releasing classified documents and why is he making the outrageous claim in court that Manning shared secrets with the enemy by virtue of the fact that Osama bin Laden had access to Wikileaks the same way that every single person on earth does?

If Obama wants a healthy debate, then why does he continue to claim that Congress has approved of his massive warrantless spying and been apprised of it when Congressional representatives who have been given special access to the spying program have been saying in cryptic ways for years that the program that the public thinks is being implemented and what is actually being implemented are two different things? Here is how Obama put it:

In summary what you’ve got is two programs that were originally authorized by Congress, had been repeatedly authorized by Congress, bipartisan majorities have approved of, then Congress is continually briefed on how these are being conducted, there are a whole range of safeguards involved and federal judges are overseeing this throughout.

(Obama may think that people will forget that when he was in Congress that he voiced objections of this program and stated that he would support a filibuster against the Telecom Amnesty bill, a promise that he subsequently reneged on.)

See, by contrast, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore)’s comments on December 12, 2012 before the U.S. Senate:

[U]nder the FISA Amendments Act the government does not have to get the permission of the FISA Court to read particular emails or listen to particular phone calls. The law simply requires the court to review the government’s collection and handling procedures on an annual basis. There’s no requirement in the law for the court to approve the collection and review of the individual communications even if the government sets out to deliberately read the emails of an American citizen. And even when the court reviews the government’s collection and handling procedures it’s important to note that the FISA court’s rulings are made entirely in secret. It may seem hard to believe but the court’s rulings that interpret major surveillance law and even the U.S. Constitution in significant ways, these are important judgments and the public has no absolutely no idea what the court is actually saying. And what it means is that our country is in effect developing a secret body of law so that most Americans have no way to finding out how their laws and their constitution is being interpreted. That’s a big problem Mr. President. Americans don’t expect to know the details of how government agencies collect information but Americans do expect those agencies to operate within the boundaries of publicly understood law. And Americans need and have a right to know how those laws and the constitution are being interpreted so that they can ratify those decisions that elected officials make on their behalf. Putting it another way Mr. President, I think Americans understand that their government must sometimes conduct secret operations but they don’t expect that their government is relying on secret law. 

Sen. Wyden is one of these individual congresspeople who has been apprised of the NSA spying program and he has been saying that he objects to it and that the American people would object if they were told what has been going on.

As the wonderful line in the movie Animal House goes, the American people and the people of the world are under “double-secret probation.” If we knew, we would object and rebel. As authorities try to seal the hatches against leaks, new leaks spring up and their ship of state is in danger. They hope for “100% security" for their plans and their rule(s) but that is a foolish and impossible dream.

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