Tuesday, June 11, 2013

One man's whistleblower is another man's traitor

i) I’ve been reading some of the feedback on NRO articles regarding the NSA programs. The feedback seems to be dominated by libertarians, even Paulbots. Admittedly, I don’t know for a fact that they are libertarians or Paulbots. That’s just my impression–based on stereotypical language and arguments. It’s sounds like standard fare at LewRockwell.com. It’s also reminiscent of things I’ve heard from John Lofton. So I could be mistaken, but with that disclaimer in mind, I’ll proceed under that assumption.

ii) I think one of the grievances of commenters is the NRO generally represents “establishment” Republicans who are out of touch with the concerns of grassroots conservatives. And I think there’s some truth to that.

We might ask why so many NRO pundits automatically backed the NSA programs. One reason is that former Bush operatives feel vindicated by Obama’s continuation and escalation of Bush’s counterterrorism policies. And I can understand how they’d derive moral satisfaction from Obama eating his own words.

Conversely, the antagonism of Paulbots to Obama policies is a carryover from antagonism towards Bush policies.

In addition, conservatives are traditionally hawkish, so their default position is to support national security initiatives. Of course, that assumes the NSA programs genuinely advance national security.

iii) Some libertarians (or Paulbots) have already crowned Snowden as a folk hero, on par with Bradley Manning.

Although I think Snowden has performed a public service by exposing NSA spying on millions of private citizens, I’m not prepared to make him a hero–much less Manning.

Snowden has been issuing self-serving, self-gratulatory statements about his motives. But, of course, we’d expect him to say that. We don’t expect him to impute unworthy motives to his conduct. I’m sure that Kim Philby felt morally justified in his own actions.

If you take his statements at face value, Snowden is a disillusioned Obama supporter. Well, I don’t respect people who voted for Obama.

iv) Alan Dershowitz has an ironic article on the NSA scandal. Among other things, he says:

The initial revelation was made by a man named Glenn Greenwald, who wrote about them in The Guardian and has been all over the media taking a victory lap. Greenwald is the personification of the paranoid streak in American politics. He is more of an ideologue than a reporter. He has long been an apologist for terrorism—a word he believes serves only as an excuse for violence and oppression by America and its allies. He has pushed false stories that his paper was forced to backpedal on, such as an AP report blaming the incendiary video “The Innocence of Islam” on an Israeli Jew living in California. He is Chomsky-like in his willingness to blame most of the world’s ills on the United States, Israel, the Obama administration, and liberals who do not buy into his radical worldview.

Now he is pushing the view that the Obama administration’s surveillance program is not really designed to prevent terrorism but rather to gather information for less salutary purposes. Greenwald’s hard-left conspiracy theories are attractive to far-right talk-show hosts and bloggers who share a common suspicion of liberal government. This suspicion has been nurtured by the recent IRS scandal and the Justice Department’s overzealous pursuit of journalists.

Of course, it’s unintentionally comical to see Dershowitz attacking the far left.

But that aside, Dershowitz makes a valid point. Some of the leakers don’t have the best interests of Americans at heart. We need to take their own agenda into account.

v) An NRO article that elicited a predictably hostile reaction was one by John Yoo (“Prosecute Snowden”). Now, just as I’m not prepared to treat Snowden as a folk her, I also don’t share Yoo’s indignation.

That said, some of the commentators attacked Yoo as the author of the famous or infamous (depending on your viewpoint) “torture” memos.

Ironically, I think this is one area in which some libertarians or Paulbots (if that’s what they are) become the flipside of the Obama administration. On the one hand, libertarians rightly fault the Obama administration for failing to distinguish between ordinary Americans and our real enemies.

On the other hand, when libertarians fault the Bush administration for failing to accord full due process rights to foreign-born terrorists, they are guilty of the very same attitude in reverse. They, too, are failing to distinguish between American citizens and our real enemies.  So I think some libertarians need to stop emoting and starting developing a coherent position. The way some libertarians or Paulbots (if that’s what they are) are talking is often indistinguishable from the rhetoric of rag-tag bans of anarchists and ecoterrorists who riot against Wall Street, the WTO, &c.

vi) Then there’s another inconsistency. On the one hand, libertarians are decrying “secret law.” On the other hand, they also decry lack of judicial oversight during the Bush administration.

Yet that generates a dilemma. I share the libertarian fear of a shadow gov’t. But if you demand judicial oversight of covert operations, then you’re going to get a covert court system. Counterterrorism does require a measure of secrecy. That means judicial rulings about classified programs will be classified rulings.

vii) Now, I think this may be a false dilemma because it goes back to the general failure to distinguish between citizens and terrorists (although those two groups sometimes overlap). Offhand, I don’t think we need judicial oversight of programs that target foreign nationals, for I don’t think non-citizens should enjoy the same panoply of civil rights as citizens.

And let’s not forget that you can still have Congressional oversight without having judicial oversight. Congress holds closed-door briefings on counterterrorist programs. 

If you don’t like secret courts, don’t insist on judicial oversight for secret programs targeting terrorists.

Of course, some terrorists are citizens. In the case of Muslims, that’s because we’re so lax about naturalizing Muslims. The solution is to tighten up screening procedures for applicants. Likewise, we shouldn’t be letting all these Muslims flood into the US. There are solutions that could eliminate the need for FISA. Or so it seems.

viii) Another problem is how the Obama administration selectively and cynically prosecutes leakers. For instance, a Navy Seal is facing criminal prosecution for publishing a book that sets the record straight on the Bin Laden operation. Yet the very same administration is guilty of leaking classified details of the Bin Laden operation for political advantage. So the Obama administration uses classification and declassification as a political weapon. The Obama administration is, itself, guilty of compromising national security.

ix) There’s also the naïveté of imagining that programs on the scale of the NSA programs could be kept secrete indefinitely. But surely the scope of the programs requires too many participants, both inside gov’t and outside of gov’t (e.g. telecommunications companies) for that to remain a secret for the duration.

x) BTW, I’m not clear on why we even need the NSA. When we already have the FBI, CIA, and military intelligence, why do we also need the NSA? Isn’t that duplication?

xi) Finally, I’d like to comment on the rise of a hacktivist subculture. This can be good or bad depending on the issue. For instance, a few months ago a “newspaper” decided to out gun owners by publicly mapping their location and identity. It didn’t occur to the shortsighted journalists that gun owners could retaliate by outing the journalists (although I don’t if  hacking was involved). I doubt a future news outlet will repeat that mistake.

Likewise, hacktivists threatened to out Westboro Baptist cult members. That’s poetic justice.

At its best, hacktivism can be a counterthrust to illicit gov’t snooping. But hacktivism is no better than the ideology which motivates any particular hacktivist.

No comments:

Post a Comment