I think people have questions about this program.
And so — so as a consequence, I think it is important for us to go ahead and answer these questions — what I’m going to be pushing the IC to do is rather than have a trunk come out here and a leg come out there and a tail come out there, let’s just put the whole elephant out there so people know exactly what they’re looking at, let’s examine what is working, what’s not, are there additional protections that can be put in place and let’s move forward.
And there’s no doubt that Mr. Snowden’s leaks triggered a much more rapid and passionate response than would have been the case if I had simply appointed this review board to go through — and I’d sat down with Congress and we had worked this thing through — it would have been less exciting and it would not have generated as much press — I actually think we would have gotten to the same place, and we would have done so without putting at risk our national security and some very vital ways that we are able to get intelligence that we need to secure the country.”
Notice how he didn’t use the word “traitor” to describe NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Also notice how he eventually admitted, despite all his whining about the leaks, that Snowden’s actions allowed this public debate about mass surveillance to happen in the first place. “[T]here’s no doubt,” he said.
Two months ago, when The Guardian first reported on what the NSA was actually doing, I declared that it was The End Of Obama. Now, we have confirmation. Unlike poor Bradley Manning, who is looking at the end of his freedom for also being a conscientious whistleblower, Snowden has outsmarted the National Security State. He’s landed temporary political asylum in Russia despite having his passport revoked. (He’s got up to a year to plot his next move.) The Guardian and other news outlets continue to reveal astonishing details about the NSA’s never ending assault on the Fourth Amendment which continues to outrage many worldwide. And despite initially vicious, unfair criticism by numerous media commentators and authoritarian government officials, most citizens support Snowden’s uncommon courage. At this point, it’s hard to imagine a successful Espionage Act prosecution for someone many consider to be an honourable man.
But back to the press conference. How has the media reacted to Obama’s latest comments? Glenn Greenwald, one of a small number of Guardian journalists who has written original stories based on Snowden’s leaked documents, has helpfully collected a small sample of the response here. Check out those headlines: “Whistleblower Wins”, “Somewhere In Russia, Edward Snowden Is Smiling”, “Edward Snowden, Patriot”.
Let all of that sink in for a moment. President Obama had just spent a considerable amount of time defending the actions of the intelligence community, offering possible legal reforms to limit its reach and even credited Snowden, albeit begrudgingly, for making it all possible. The result: more criticism.
For the first time that I can remember, the master orator has failed to dazzle with his words alone. It’s not hard to see why. We now have proof that he’s been lying about these secret surveillance programs and what they actually do. And once you’re caught in a lie, it’s very difficult to regain trust. Furthermore, this idea that Obama was going to bring up Prism and Boundless Informant and all these other needless, disturbingly named programs in an open environment to inspire a democratic debate amongst the citizenry and Congress before Snowden acted is so laughable even the constitutional lawyer, desperate to repair the permanent damage to his Presidency, can’t possibly believe what he’s saying. There’s no way he’d pass a polygraph.
Also ridiculous is his assertion that if Snowden believes wholeheartedly in what he did he should come home to face the music. Well, Bradley Manning didn’t run and looked what happened to him. In fact, shortly after his arrest, Obama pretty much declared him guilty three years before military judge Col. Denise Lind did in a secretive sham of a court-martial. Now he’s facing a possible maximum sentence of 90 years for exposing war crimes. (Originally, it was 136 years.) That doesn’t even include the nine months he was psychologically tortured while in military custody which only stopped because of a public outcry. (Manning’s sentence hearing wraps up sometime next week. He’s expected to make a statement.)
And what about these NSA “reforms” Obama proposed? A transparency website? A public advocate to argue against the government in the still-secret FISA court? A civil liberties board? As the Associated Press correctly noted, it’s all smoke and mirrors to try to appease an angry nation. No matter what, Obama continues to give full-throated support to the NSA’s unconstitutional activities. And he wants you to support them, too, so stop complaining about your privacy being violated!
Keep dreaming, Mr. President. No matter what you say and what you pretend you’re going to do, you are not at all interested in changing the status quo. (It’s not in your nature.) And the public is increasingly not interested in having it maintained. So you face a considerable dilemma: continue to defend the indefensible while hounding whistleblowers like Snowden & Manning which will create even more critics or just walk away.
If I were you, I’d choose the latter.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, August 10, 2013