Eddie Snowden’s Girlfriend is the Key

NEW SLAUGHTERMaybe the “celebrity-fugitive-with-hot-girlfriend” aspect of the massive NSA spying “scandal” is what will keep it alive long enough to have an intelligent national discussion of what it all means, how we want to conduct our war-without-end on terror … and how much we’re willing to pay for it.

Because, as it is, this one is disappearing faster from radar contact than Darrell Issa’s IRS investigation.

The NSA/PRISM/Snowden story has a lot of interesting facets, few of them all that surprising to me.

My first reaction to the SHOCK!!! of the Guardian/Glenn Greenwald story was, “Well, what do you think they’ve been doing with all that money?” But then I’ve never quite gotten over the collective freak-out in the aftermath of 9/11 that so seamlessly transitioned the country’s military-industrial complex (beatin’ on the Rooskies) to the intelligence-industrial complex (beatin’ on the jihadiis). America’s warrior lobbyists fully exploited a national disaster and over the course of the decade that followed turned five of the counties surrounding Washington DC into the most affluent in the country and sucked thousands of whip-smart kids into “top-secret” jobs, not as lowly-paid, grey gummint employees, but as quite nicely remunerated for-profit junior executives, with stock bonuses from their work in The War on Terror for Shareholder Value.

While there just might be a hint of disingenuousness to the Obama administration’s claim to “welcome a discussion”, I think it’s abundantly clear that this program, PRISM, far exceeds anything Team Obama could ever assemble. In fact, this is a classic view into the country’s permanent government, the agencies and contractors who outlive all but the hoariest, senile Dixie legislator. The staggering amount of money freaked-out Congress threw at “national intelligence” after 9/11 — as much as an additional $80 billion a year (or closing in on $1 trillion for 12 years … plus of course the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan) — reinvigorated a contractors-at-the-trough feeding frenzy that hasn’t stopped since Word War II.

Hell, I doubt you could win in a district as blue as Manhattan’s Upper West Side if you were accused of being “soft on terrorism”.

Overall, I’m pleased young Ed Snowden connected with Greenwald and all this spilled out. Pleased, because I seriously doubt the revelation that the US can track patterns in phone and internet connections is news to any terrorist mastermind, and might … not likely, but might … lead a few courageous voices to demand the same kind of efficiency and reduction in fraud and waste in intelligence-gathering that so many in Congress routinely demand for food stamps, Head Start and college loans.

The classic line about the Pentagon is that its in-breeding with defense contractors has created a “self-licking ice cream cone”. Ditto, with the NSA, the CIA and the blizzard of corporate spooks nuzzled up against them just outside the DC Beltway. This is a system that creates and sustains itself, with every cycle of fear-mongering adding octane/tax dollars to the tank.

One way to judge Obama’s commitment to an open discussion of how we protect the country against stateless villains is if he issues a blanket pardon to Snowden. The kid’s been fired by his private contractor firm. That’s good enough for me. That precedent alone will chill any further “disclosures” from those thousands of young brainiacs now paying on fat mortgages, BMW payments and booking kids into private schools in the rolling hills outside DC.

The better move is to bring an immunized Snowden up on Capitol Hill and have him (and his former employer) explain how exactly he got into a position to have access to what he did, and what he really knows.

Better yet, set up a Booz, Allen terminal in the Congressional hearing room and let Snowden access the phone and internet records of a couple of Senators sitting right in front of him  — (come on, you want to know what Ted Cruz downloads after a tough day at the office) — and a couple of media news stars, too. I’ll suggest Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs. Let him show the country how this stuff really works, and what we’ve paid (another) trillion bucks for.

But the way our media culture operates today, it’ll take racy pictures of his dancer girlfriend to sustain this story at the supermarket checkout lane.

37 Responses

  1. What happens when China hacks “Prism”?

    • Well that’s part of the discussion. Kind of like drone warfare. We’re doing it first and most … but eventually the Chinese, or the Israelis or some Saudi-funded terrorist hacker is going to do something nasty to us. Let’s start by making it clear that this is the world we’re living in and that there was hefty majority support for “doing whatever is necessary” … without of course disclosing what that was. I don’t particularly like this. But this 2013, not 1954. Whatever is technologically possible to do will be done by someone.

      There was a great irony in Obama meeting with his Chinese counterpart simultaneous with this NSA flap. Real Spy v Spy … .

      Mainly — since I accept that there is no interest in rolling back these programs — I want a full(er) accounting of cost. There has to be at least one other scandal in profiteering off paranoia.

      • What kept us all safer than we’d been previously during the Cold War wasn’t secrets, but transparency. That the Soviets knew assuredly what we had and vice versa is what averted nuclear catastrophe. If that information actually had been kept secret, some neocon-like fool would’ve thought they were calling a bluff and catastrophe would have resulted.

        So let the disparate groups of disaffected soreheads who we now consider our greatest threat (with some fear mongers actually portraying them as existential threats) know (one assumes they already do) that one moment’s failure to be guarded about every communication within their rag tag networks of semiliterate operatives (that’s how we found Bin Laden) will likely end with a visit from special forces in the dark of night.

        And let the American citizenry know the parameters of the bargain they’ve struck between liberty and security, especially those whose private logic allows them to say they’re sanguine about Prism, but cannot countenance the thought of a firearm registry to combat the far more likely threat of death by firearm from within our borders.

        Were I a member of Congress, or a holder of a high-security clearance in government or a private contractor, I’d be worried about how a foreign power hacking Prism’s metadata might use my phone and on-line behavior to blackmail me one day.

      • Is it? I’ve yet to hear the question raised, much less addressed? Not like drones, really. I don’t think we’re worried that the Chinese will turn our own drones on us.

        It’s my impression that nothing is hacker-proof. So, as the NSA and other agencies assemble these metadata caches with the assurance they’ll be tapped only after getting proper permission from a FISA judge; if/when foreign powers hack in, they’ll not be abiding by any of these vestiges of the 4th Amendment.

  2. But, but, but… Ed Snowden wants to live free in China where he says, “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent.” Really, that might come as a surprise to, for instance, the group of experimental artists called the Xingxing or Stars who put up the Xidan Democracy Wall in 1979. And the students in Tiananmen Square in June 1979. Maybe the Chinese artists and students had no idea what they were talking about and Snowden has access to documents that disproves all that dreadful and dreary history… this guy Snowden must be a cyber-hacking genius with great moral insight! Why would Snowden ever except a pardon from Obama (whom you can be sure he hates as much as his idol Rand Paul does) to come back to his $200,000 a year job (lowly?) at Booz Allen Hamilton as a college dropout when he’s got China and he can live the life of a celebrity in Hanfu silks? And you know, he can already start plotting his western world come back with a best selling book, a tour of… oh that’s right there are no bookstores for book tours anymore… of cyberbooks stores and digital cafes. Just like Assange, Snowden is looking for his confinement in a 40-room English country estate with servants to cook his meals or the Chinese equivalent because it is SO FRICKIN boring to be an American with a $200,000 paycheck at Booz Allen when you can be a cyber-superstar.

    • I ask again … how did little Eddie get that job and that kind of access? Would he have done as well if he had to jump through murky, dark government employment hoops? And if Booz Allen was OK with his world view, discretion and “loyalty”, are there more like him?

      He’s a 29 year-old with an exalted sense of himself. But that said, it’s better this stuff is known than not.

      • I don’t think the job is that hard to get. I’ve had similar jobs with government contractors as IT drone and illustrator. And you must be willing to submit to a security clearance, which isn’t that hard to do but you must pledge not to steal information and give it to the Chinese or back when I was a foot-loose and fancy-free temp worker (we we called loadies not just because of our “over-load capacity” status but for other reasons that will go unmentioned) we had to pledge not to give the insider documents we were working on to the Soviets as well. Chinese. Soviets. All those guys. I think making Snowden out to be a paragon of moral virtue might be a stretch.

        • BTW, I refused to submit to TOP SECRET clearance for moral and conscientious objection reasons but there was plenty of work that needed to be done of a non-Top Secret nature.

          • For the sake of the argument then, how much different would this be if it were all government-employee work … without a profit-motive?

            • It would be more like the IRS. These guys could never be fired and they’d be free to abuse the public.

        • Just so we’re not confused here. I’m not calling Snowden a paragon of virtue. He is pretty much what he appears to be, is my guess. But the ego-driven “outer” or whistleblower isn’t the problem. The problem is the system which we all pretty much consented to, albeit indirectly by ignoring what any reasonable assessment would tell you was going on.

          • I don’t think anyone has denied both inside or outside government that PRISM has been going on. I don’t think many people fail to understand (or appreciate) the scope of the Patriot Act and Snowden’s actions should NOT come as much of a surprise as all the feinted outrage (i.e. Shawn Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Michael Moore) that has been expressed as conspiracy theory steppingstones to outright tyranny and an Obama dictatorship as they want us to believe. At the end of the day, yes, the scope of the Patriot Act needs to be debated and, as Obama himself said months ago, some privacy rights and values we hold dear as “American values” should be returned to the citizens. I just find all of the language used to be the hyper-inflation of the sensationalist times in which we currently live. It is always fun to go back and read newspapers in the teens and 1920s – it the golden age of yellow journalism. The huge headlines of prohibition and bloody crime scenes of gangster New York, Chicago. Las Vegas, and Minneapolis/St. Paul. You really get a sense of the inflammatory and over the top language used to inflame and agitate the public to buy more newspapers. And now, we are going through another phase of this and people will construct their speech and even slant their ideas to draw extraordinary attention to themselves while at the same time gray matter thinking and writing is thrown off as unprintable and too long and involved for the internet. If you can’t say it in 144 words, or a few sentences and get two or three inflammatory flag words that pop on the search engine than you better not say it because it has no value to the digital pipeline.

  3. Brian sez, “I think it’s abundantly clear that this program, PRISM, far exceeds anything Team Obama could ever assemble. In fact, this is a classic view into the country’s permanent government, the agencies and contractors who outlive all but the hoariest, senile Dixie legislator.”

    A permanent government of bureaucrats and contractors? You mean that an alliance of public and private sector actors has perpetrated a coup? That the actors allow the elected government to go on pretending to be in charge, while the perpetrators make such decisions as are made?

    Brian, in recognition of your keen insight and earnestness, I hereby present to you your very own tinfoil hat. Just say the magic word. Go ahead, it won’t hurt: “Conspiracy” That wasn’t so bad, was it?

    • You’re exactly the sort they’re relying on … .

      • I can’t imagine how you would know what “sort” I am. Point is, you’ve set up an arbitrary boundary around your usual forthrightness. A “permanent government of agencies and contractors” operating behind the scenes, exerting some effort to conceal its machinations from the public, is just a plain olde-fashioned, vanilla-flavored, all-American conspiracy. U too shy to call it like it is?

        • You’re on a familiar tangent arguing a pulpy myth. Perhaps I need to be clearer for you. By “permanent government” — a common enough phrase if you follow politics — I and others who use it — are referring to the cadres of lobbyists, career-bureaucrats and corporate contractors who are always working (and profiting from) the government machinery … as politicians arrive and then leave the city. If this is “tin foil hat” stuff to you, I’m guessing you slept through high school civics and watch way too much Bill O’Reilly.

          • Yes, the on-camera personalities come and go. Meanwhile, the shadow government that you describe decides policy. This arrangement is evident enough. But the office holders and their stenographers (journalists) pretend that elections transfer decision-making from old on-camera personalities to new ones. This is a pretense. The bureaucrats, lobbyists and contractors remain the deciders. This conspiracy might not conform to a film-noir stereotype, but there’s no need to paper is over with euphemisms. Come out of the closet.

  4. This whole thing is fascinating, for a number of reasons.

    1. The data is out there, and with the ever increasing power of computers and the ability to do meta analysis, it is going to become increasing difficult to prevent people (our government, corporations, other governments, eventually even other individuals/organizations, like criminals) from doing exactly this type of analysis (or even more). Google and Facebook are already doing similar things, and so are the credit card companies and Amazon. There is an arms race going on, with the advantage rapidly swinging from individuals to institutions and back, as the technology changes and develops. Right now the power seems to be on the side of the large institutions, yet it was one individual who has upset this entire applecart….

    2. The exact same point that I made above can also be made using the battle between secrecy and transparency that Jim referred to earlier. Just as technological changes drive the back and forth between individuals and institutions, it also drives the battle between secrecy and transparency. it is amazing what information you can collect about people without their knowledge, but it is really hard to keep it secret. Again, all it took was one person…

    3. I think one of the interesting aspects of this has to do with the power and limitations of data analysis. Get enough meta data and you can predict with astonishing accuracy the behavior of people (as an average). It is still almost impossible to predict the behavior of every individual person. The NSA didn’t predict the behavior of Snowden, for example–but they probably should have been able to see that someone would be a whistleblower. I suspect that the same will be true of terrorists–we can predict averages and likelihoods, but not exactly who will choose to explode a bomb at a marathon. This stuff can give us insight, but not actual hard predictions.

    4. Most of us do not really understand what this is all about, and a lot of us don’t seem to care a whole lot. I think a lot of that is because we see this as a trade off between security (something concrete) and privacy (something much more abstract). Further complicating all of this is the question of trust–as in who do you trust? Or maybe it would be better to ask if we trust anyone at all?

    5. We (as a group) are clearly interested in the personal side of the whole issue –Snowden as a geek, his salary, the fact that he is a high school drop out, his girlfriend, etc. Our voyeuristic tendencies seem to be a constant!

    6. Our military industrial complex lives on–and grows. Seriously, it isn’t the poor that are parasites on our body politic, but consultants! How much of this stuff gets farmed out to private industry, and why is the focus on government spending always on the “undeserving” poor, as opposed to those who are really getting rich–the undeserving consultants?

  5. Makes on nostalgic for the good old days: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/modern-art-was-cia-weapon-1578808.html

  6. I think a tin foil hat is the ideal jaunty accessory for Messieur Lambert to accessorize his t-shirts with.

    http://www.customink.com/designs/exactly/sjp0-000v-esh9/hotlink?pc=HL-76684&cm_mmc=hotlink-_-3-_-Body_txt-_-button1

    Oh, and of course, a miniature poodle of some sort.

  7. OK, all you PR experts:
    do you think that Snowden is too professional? Too polished? Too well spoken? Or that his girlfriend is too pretty? Could all of that be evidence that his is a false flag operation?

    Well, apparently, Naomi Wolf thinks that might be the case…..

    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/06/naomi-wolf-edward-snowden-false-flag-conspiracy.html

    …but why?

    (just goes to show that conspiracy thinking is not exclusively on the right)

    • It’s almost always a matter of means, motive and opportunity. What what exactly is Snowden’s motive in Wolf’s imaginings? Or rather who benefits most from using a kid like him to blow the cover on this stuff? I don’t see the upside for either the spooks or the contractors. Are the Chinese better off because of this?

      It is a uniquely polished “presentation”, though.

    • Ms. Wolf is a member of the chattering classes whose members feel an unquenchable need to be talked about or die. She has nothing to offer us in terms of facts or reporting here, just her unbuttressed opinion. But we’re talking about her, so, mission accomplished.

      • Yes. Is the distinction between “laughing with” and “laughing at” lost on her?

  8. These guys ain’t a bunch of damn hippies. Note the closing remarks:

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/06/16/snowden-whistleblower-nsa-officials-roundtable/2428809/

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