• Editorial was way off base
    August 07,2013

    There is overwhelming evidence that U.S. government officials (and certain members of Congress) have included a sustained and substantial amount of lies and dissembling in their allegations regarding the National Security Agency intelligence-gathering activities and Edward Snowden (who was a former employee of a contractor hired by the NSA, and who released a lot of classified information about NSA surveillance activities to The Guardian newspaper).

    However, The Times Argus recently offered an editorial titled “Snowden fallout” (Aug. 3) that parrots the falsehoods and other nonsense from U.S. government officials.

    The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

    As a result of news articles that have relied on information in government documents furnished by Snowden, and as a result of previous information furnished at different times by former NSA employees Thomas Drake, Russell Tice and William Binney, it is clear that U.S. intelligence agencies have been engaged in the bulk collection of phone messages and other electronic communications such as emails since at least 2001. The Obama administration and many members of Congress insist that government data collection is done in accordance with legal safeguards under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Patriot Act, but FISA and the Patriot Act do not require the government to establish individualized probable cause (as is required by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution), and FISA and the Patriot Act do not require an individualized search warrant (as is also required by the Fourth Amendment) prior to a search and seizure of a person’s electronic communications.

    Although in practical terms the law is whatever the Supreme Court says it is, it is worth noting that any law that is contrary to the Constitution is not legal. No reasonable person denies that our government has some legitimate intelligence-gathering needs, but that does not include bulk surveillance of the electronic communications of the general public. Rather than pursue any amendment to the Constitution that would expose the deceit and hypocrisy of U.S. government surveillance operations, our government and members of Congress prefer to withhold information from the public and to give misinformation to the public about constant government surveillance of the general public that violates the Constitution.

    The Times Argus editor states: “(W)e may never know precisely how much damage Edward Snowden has done to the United States with his penchant for leaking sensitive security information.” Despite the editor’s improper use of the word “penchant” and despite numerous allegations made by government officials, our government has not provided any actual evidence that Snowden has damaged the United States. Government allegations about terrorist threats thwarted by NSA’s unconstitutional bulk surveillance of electronic communications are not supported by any credible evidence furnished by our government. This is confirmed by Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, who is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

    Truth is the first casualty of the “war on terror” that will never end. Many government officials and members of Congress have stated previously that information released by Pvt. Bradley Manning in 2010 had endangered the lives of U.S. soldiers and diplomats, but U.S. government officials testifying recently at the sentencing phase of the court-martial for Manning were forced to admit they did not have any evidence to link the information released by Manning to the death of any U.S. soldier or diplomat. Similar allegations by government officials and members of Congress condemning Snowden have lacked any objective evidence. Conversely, it is true that misguided U.S. military interventions in the Middle East and in Afghanistan and Pakistan have killed, and endangered the lives of, thousands of U.S. soldiers and U.S. diplomats.

    When they are not making baseless allegations against Snowden, government officials have tried to manipulate public opinion about the information Snowden has released by falsely insisting that our government gathers only “megadata” about the source and destiny of electronic communications, and these government officials also falsely insist they are not accessing the content of these illegally collected electronic communications. However, the truth is that the government is collecting the content of massive amounts (trillions upon trillions) of electronic communications of U.S. citizens and legal U.S. residents without establishing individualized probable cause and without obtaining individualized warrants. The government can and often does access the content of these electronic communications at any time government officials decide it is necessary.

    The Times Argus editor states: “For a moment, put aside the intelligence issues Snowden’s behavior has raised (and their possible effects on national security) and consider how, because of his behavior and his flight from American justice, the tensions between the United States and Russia on such volatile issues as the brutal civil war in Syria, international missile deployment and even, indirectly, our nation’s rivalry with China, have been dangerously heightened.” If the release of information by Edward Snowden made the diplomatic situation regarding Syria more difficult (which is unlikely), it is certain that the U.S. decision to supply weapons to support terrorists in Syria caused much greater difficulties than those caused by Snowden.

    The Times Argus editor even lowered himself to applauding the empty-headed rhetoric of John McCain, who has a penchant for accusing Vladimir Putin of engaging in the sordid types of political intimidation and government surveillance that were used in the U.S. against the Occupy Wall Street protest-campaign. Sen. McCain urges President Obama to pursue anti-missile defense system deployments in Europe against a threat from Russia that will exist only in response to a deployment of these anti-missile defense systems. In effect, the Times Argus editor is arguing on behalf of a return to the Cold War. If diplomatic relations between the United States and Russia have been damaged, it is primarily due to the international arrogance and dishonesty that is exhibited repeatedly by the U.S. government.

    The Times Argus editor concludes his hypocritical and illogical verbal tantrum against Edward Snowden by stating: “In his heart, Snowden may be an idealist, but by fleeing prosecution he proved he lacks principle. Besides, why should his judgment on critical security issues be trusted?” However, our government’s heavy-handed investigations of Russell Tice and William Binney, and the lack of justice in our government’s excessive prosecution of Thomas Drake, have demonstrated that there is no effective way to release information about illegal NSA surveillance operations through official channels, and there is no American justice for those who try to go through official channels to report abuse by government intelligence agencies.

    The Times Argus editor would rather believe misinformation and disinformation about Snowden from government officials and members of Congress, who have done nothing to hold anyone responsible for torture directed by U.S. government officials, and the Times Argus editor does not question why the Department of Obstruction of Justice does not investigate illegal government surveillance because it is much easier for the DOJ to pursue whistleblowers who release information that never should have been withheld from the public in the first place.

    Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to the Senate Intelligence Committee at a hearing March 12 when he denied that the National Security Agency was collecting any data on millions of Americans, and David Sirota wrote an article for Salon magazine on July 1 about how Clapper is now lying about his lie to the Senate Intelligence Committee. However, the Department of Obstruction of Justice would prefer to chase allegations that Roger Clemens lied about jabbing a needle in his butt.

    Obama administration officials and many members of Congress have made a surplus of false statements about the nature and extent of government surveillance, and they are currently trying to convince the public that national security requires the level of government surveillance about which these government officials cannot tell the truth. However, despite the claims of our elected and appointed government officials, these government officials have not provided any evidence that our national security surveillance state has made the United States safer (e.g., consider the intelligence agency failures and FBI investigation failures leading to the Boston Marathon bombings), and these government officials have not furnished any evidence that Edward Snowden has endangered anything other than the credibility of those government officials (and their apologists in the media) who consistently make false statements about our national security.

    Blaine R. Kinsey lives in Montpelier.

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