Snowden Veers Into Useful Idiocy

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
June 17 2013 11:43 AM

Snowden Veers Into Useful Idiocy

Hypothetical question time. It's early June. You are a defender of America's spying programs—you're Dianne Feinstein, let's say. There's fresh new heat on those programs thanks to a leak that at first is anonymous, but after a couple of days is revealed to come from a 29-year old consultant working with the NSA, named Edward Snowden. How do you get out of your pickle? You've got to hope that Snowden pulls a Full Assange, first turning into the story (as the NSA spying story recedes) then turning into a messy story.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

You're in luck. Snowden's live chat with Guardian readers. Snowden, asked why he fled to Hong Kong:

[T]he US Government, just as they did with other whistleblowers, immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home, openly declaring me guilty of treason and that the disclosure of secret, criminal, and even unconstitutional acts is an unforgivable crime.

This is nitpicking, but only a few people in the legislative branch rushed to call Snowden a "traitor." Dianne Feinstein did, and Peter King did, but the White House has dodged the question and other legislators have withheld judgment on the "T-word." You see where Snowden's coming from, but this is a broad brush he's using. He's a fan of the broad brush—he says this to imply that spying programs affecting foreigners are affronts to the rights of man, so we should oppose them.

[T]he "US Persons" protection in general is a distraction from the power and danger of this system. Suspicionless surveillance does not become okay simply because it's only victimizing 95% of the world instead of 100%. Our founders did not write that "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all US Persons are created equal."

He also denies that he's working with China (he's only shared information about America's spying in China, and criticized it), adding that "the US media has a knee-jerk 'RED CHINA!' reaction to anything involving HK or the PRC." That, he says, is naive. This, he says, is not naive.

Congress hasn't declared war on the countries -- the majority of them are our allies -- but without asking for public permission, NSA is running network operations against them that affect millions of innocent people. And for what? So we can have secret access to a computer in a country we're not even fighting? So we can potentially reveal a potential terrorist with the potential to kill fewer Americans than our own Police?

Again, imagine you're one of the pols who wanted to nail Snowden from the get-go. He's making a terrific case for you, arguing that the American government has no right to snoop in countries unless they're at war with the United States -- a position that would have ruled out spying on the USSR or assets from 1946 to 1991, or spying on Iran now.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 



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