Transcript of this segment from my Radio show of June 1-2 2014. You can hear the segment as I delivered it by clicking http://www.blogtalkradio.com/lesersense/2014/06/02/analyzing-snowden-interview-russia-ukraine-china-bullying-and-more and fast forwarding to 37:55
I watched a replay of the Edward Snowden interview with NBC's Brian Williams this past week. I'm struck by how he provided inadequate or demonstrably untrue answers to the two central issues around his actions.
The two central questions are
#1 - Did NSA Surveillance programs amount to lawbreaking or wrongdoing and if so are they bad enough to justify taking the massive steps he took.
#2 - Did Snowden do enough to try to address whatever was concerning him through appropriate channels.
We can talk about other issues but everything else, in my opinion, is window-dressing compared to those two central questions.
The problem with Snowden's actions with regard to my first question, did the surveillance programs amount to wrongdoing, is that Snowden had no legal training and thus did not have the background to answer those questions, nor did he apparently consult someone who did before acting.
The NSA Surveillance programs, at least from what we have been told from the documents Snowden and Greenwald presented us, and we don't really have confirmation if that information is accurate, but from what we've gathered from the documents they are the subject of a lot of debate between fourth amendment experts. There is no consensus about whether they are Constitutional or not. I've previously covered on this show the evolution in fourth amendment court cases with regards to surveillance.
The important two things to know are that prior to the FISA Law of 1978, the appellate Courts repeatedly ruled that the President has the inherent right to conduct surveillance for national security purposes and that this constitutes an exception to the fourth amendment. an example of one of these rulings is US v Duggan in 1984. FISA passed in 1978 basically stated that to conduct national security surveillance in the US the President had to go through a FISA court to get a warrant. And President Obama has been going to a FISA court to get warrants. So its understandable that people are making the argument that what he is doing is constitutional. Obviously there are additional details there but the law basically is as I've laid out.
Some critics say the FISA court is almost a rubber stamp. That's right, because the FISA court is acting on prior Appellate Court precedents that say, as I just mentioned that the President has the inherent right to conduct national security surveillance.
The FISA court is not there to prevent surveillance per se, but to ensure there is oversight and a paper trail to ensure that if congress wants to come back and investigate why the President spied on someone and take action, they have the ability to do so.
Snowden was repeatedly asked by Brian Williams last week to detail the wrongdoing by the NSA and he mentioned the Constitution 22 times and he talked about a few issues but the question is did those things violate the fourth amendment. Were they illegal or Constitutional. Of course, Snowden can't answer that, he doesn't have the background. Nor can we take his word for a number of things including, did this surveillance help the fight against terrorism. The folks who really know the answer to that question are prevented from answering because the information is classified. But we don't need to ask that question to show Snowden's claims to be invalid.
The question is did he have a reasonable basis to conclude that the government was doing something illegal or Unconstitutional or generally wrong, and the answer is no. He could have gotten that information. He could have retained an attorney that was an expert in fourth amendment appelate cases and asked that attorney to go over what he found. He didn't do that.
That in my opinion is a critical problem with his actions. A late 20's guy with no legal experience or training made a very grave decision whose basis is a legal one that he was not qualified to make.
Now lets look at problem #2. Did Snowden take all possible actions within regular channels to get his concerns addressed. The answer to that is easily answered. No. He was asked this directly by Brian Williams and his answer was:
"I actually did go through channels, and that is documented. The NSA has records, they have copies of emails right now to their office of general counsel, to their oversight and compliance folks from me raising concerns about the NSA's interpretations of it -- legal authorities. Now, I had raised these complaints not just officially in writing through email -- to these offices and -- and these individuals, but to my supervisors, to my colleagues, in more than one office. I did it in Fort Meade. I did it in Hawaii.
Now folks, on its face you can see how ridiculous this is. This guy is about to take an extraordinary action, violate the oath he took to safeguard and not disseminate classified information to unauthorized people, he's going to flee the country, and he asserts as adequate attempts to address his concerns properly that he sent a few emails to his supervisors and the NSA's office of general counsel.
In fairness, I agree that this what Snowden describes are among the first steps you might take, yes, but not the last or even second to last or third to last. Before I took the radical step that he took, I would be knocking on the doors of every congressman or senator on Capitol Hill in particular all of the leadership of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. I would have gone to see the Inspector General of the Office of the Intelligence Community in person. I would have tried to see as many people in the administration as possible. I would have sent emails and letters to the President that I worked for the CIA and NSA and Booz Allen and needed to see him regarding an urgent national security issue. He probably wouldnt have gotten in to see the President but he might have gotten as far as a deputy Chief of staff or maybe even the Chief of staff.
And the President was clearly interested in having a discussion about this. The President gave a speech in May of 2012 indicating a desire to have a dialogue on the appropriateness of a number of programs including drones and NSA Surveillance. That's two weeks or so before Snowden's first documents were leaked to the public.
But even giving Snowden credit for emailing the NSA Office of General Counsel with his concerns is giving him too much Credit.
Get this folks, when asked about it, the NSA initially denied that Snowden ever emailed the general counsel expressing concerns.
Do you know why? Well, let me explain it this way. After Snowden kept trying to assert he had sent such an email, the NSA went back and looked for any correspondance between Snowden and the general counsel and they found one, but it had very little to do with raising security concerns. The NSA has published the full email correspondance online.
The upshot is, its Snowden asking about a training class where an Executive order was discussed as carrying the same weight as federal law. The general counsel replied, yes they have the same power. If you would like to discuss, call me.
Thats it. I am not omitting anything relevant. That is Snowdens claim to trying to get this addressed through official channels.
After the NSA posted that email online, Snowden started backing up and claimed that the emails that really expressed his concern was sent to the NSA Signals Intelligence folks. If that's true, why didn't he mention that instead of mentioning the Office of General Counsel email during his interview with Brian Williams?
Those two problems with his actions, the failure to have an expert look over what his concerns were to determine the legality of them and totally inadequate attempts to address his concerns through legal means take what he did out of the realm of whistleblower and hero and put them squarely in the position of criminal and betrayer of his countries trust and secrets. There is no amount of spin that will make those two issues go away. They are the central issues in what Snowden did and he should be judged on his failure to act responsibly in both cases.
For other odd statements by Snowden, an article by Bob Cesca titled "The 13 Most Bizarre Things from Edward Snowden’s NBC News Interview" is a good place to get that information, and includes such mentions as:
Snowden claimed he has auote “no relationship” with the Russian government and that he’s quote “not supported” by it but that’s odd, given how the Russian government has twice offered him asylum and one of his lawyers, Anatoly Kucherena, is an attorney with the Russian intelligence agency, the FSB (formerly known as the KGB).
Early on after the documents he took were first leaked, Snowden was adamant about saying he is not a spy.” But this past week on tv with Brian Williams he not only confessed to being “trained as a spy.” and taking on assignments as a spy, he pumped up his spying credentials.
When you examine all of this, I think that anyone who still finds Snowden credible needs to have their heads examined.
Edward Snowden wins the award for worst and most shameful nonsense of the week.