How Edward Snowden Destroyed The Obama Presidency

Yesterday afternoon, President Obama held a rare, hour-long news conference in the East Room of the White House.  Topics varied from the Republicans’ bizarre, unrelenting fixation with repealing the Affordable Care Act (40 unsuccessful attempts thus far) to the Administration’s strained relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Perhaps the most crucial moment came when Chuck Todd of NBC News rose to speak:

“Given that you just announced a whole bunch of reforms based on essentially the leaks that Edward Snowden made on all of these surveillance programs, does that change — is your mindset changed about him? Is he now more a whistle-blower than he is a hacker, as you called him at one point, or somebody that shouldn’t be filed charges? And should he be provided more protection? Is he a patriot? You just used those words.”

Obama’s lengthy answer was very revealing:

“I don’t think Mr. Snowden was a patriot. As I said in my opening remarks, I called for a thorough review of our surveillance operations before Mr. Snowden made these leaks. My preference — and I think the American people’s preference — would have been for a lawful, orderly examination of these laws; a thoughtful, fact-based debate that would then lead us to a better place, because I never made claims that all the surveillance technologies that have developed since the time some of these laws had been put in place somehow didn’t require, potentially, some additional reforms. That’s exactly what I called for.

So the fact is, is that Mr. Snowden’s been charged with three felonies. If in fact he believes that what he did was right, then, like every American citizen, he can come here, appear before the court with a lawyer and make his case.

If the concern was that somehow this was the only way to get this information out to the public, I signed an executive order well before Mr. Snowden leaked this information that provided whistle-blower protection to the intelligence community for the first time.

So there were other avenues available for somebody’s whose conscience was stirred and thought that they needed to question government actions. But having said that, once the leaks have happened, what we’ve seen is information come out in drips and in drabs, sometimes coming out sideways. Once the information is out, the administration comes in, tries to correct the record. But by that time, it’s too late or we’ve moved on.

And a general impression has, I think, taken hold, not only among the American public but also around the world, that somehow we’re out there willy-nilly just sucking in information on everybody and doing what we please with it. Now, that’s not the case. Our laws specifically prohibit us from surveilling U.S. persons without a warrant. And there are whole range of safeguards that have been put in place to make sure that that basic principle is abided by.

But — but what is clear is that, whether because of the instinctive bias of the intelligence community to keep everything very close and probably what’s a fair criticism is my assumption that if we had checks and balances from the courts and Congress, that that traditional system of checks and balances would be enough to give people assurance that these programs were run properly. You know, that assumption I think proved to be undermined by what happened after the leaks.

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.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, August 10, 2013
3:30 p.m.

Published in: on August 10, 2013 at 3:31 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] Scared Of Edward Snowden, Obama’s Latin American Insult A Clear Sign Of Growing Desperation, How Edward Snowden Destroyed The Obama Presidency and Why President Obama Can’t Distance Himself From The Growing NSA Scandal each expanded […]

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