The personae introduced as Edward Snowden appears to be no more than a composite character.

The Government would like you to believe that a GED degree would give you a $200K career path by age 29.

Plus full access to all CIA assets and wiretapping ability with no restrictions.

Sadly, no.

That sort of thing only happens in fiction.

It’s a Lie.


Possibly confirming my suspicions, we have this:

Fools Rushing In, or, the Strangest of Bedfellows

From Streetwise Professor

The NSA story has dominated the news in the past couple of days.  The initial allegations were indeed explosive, and I was outraged, but upon further review, and considering the source, and who’s pushing the story, there is little that is truly news.  Indeed, it’s quite possible that this is anti-news: that is, that the claims are fundamentally wrong. Moreover, the political response has created the strangest of bedfellows, and reveals the fundamental cluelessness of far too much of the right.

The gravamen of the allegation is that the government is collecting vast amounts of information, including metadata from at least one phone company (Verizon), and pretty much every electronic communication that goes over the Internet.  The insinuation of the leaker, Edward Snowden, as pushed by the reporters who wrote the story, notably Glenn Greenwald, is that the government is routinely accessing this information, or can do so at will.  The response from the administration, and throughout most of the Congress, is to draw a distinction between what information was collected, and how the information is used.  Despite the initial mischaracterization by DNI Clapper, it  seems that it is widely acknowledged that yes, the NSA does collect this vast amount of information, but access to that data for any investigative purpose requires a warrant approved by a court, the FISA court for intelligence purposes, for instance.  This access is supposed to be limited to foreign targets, though here the “51 percent confidence” standard means that the government no more than guarantees coin flip odds that this is true.

There are obviously major civil liberties concerns here about the misuse of this data.  It cannot be misused if it isn’t collected in the first place, and the absolutist, no risk of civil liberties violation view that the government should not collect this data is predicated on that view.  If you believe that it is possible to design safeguards that permit use of this data for legitimate national security purposes (and note, under there is no legal way to use this data for domestic law enforcement purposes), the collection may be worrisome, but the issue becomes whether the safeguards in place strike the right balance.

Based on what I know now, I believe that a thoroughgoing re-evaluation of the process, and possible change in the law, is warranted.  The old expression is that the power to tax is the power to destroy: in the information age, information gives the power to destroy.  We need to be constantly vigilant to ensure that this power is securely fenced in, monitored, and controlled, and subject to popular oversight through the democratic process.

All that said, there are more than enough reasons to be highly skeptical about those who are pushing this story, and the ultimate source.  There is a serious danger that people with an agenda hostile to the US down to their last fiber will stampede us into an overreaction that will lead to an entirely unhealthy balance between privacy and national security.  And sadly, many who are taking up their call claim to be patriotic Americans.

The reporters, namely Greenwald and Poitras, are highly hostile to the US.  Indeed, it would not be overstating things to say that they are virulently anti-American: Greenwald believes the US is evil.  Greenwald does not believe there is such a thing as Islamic terrorism; to the contrary, he believes that the US is waging an aggressive war against Islam, and that the very word “terrorism” is racist.   Poitras is also  a “who is the real terrorist?” type. These people have an agenda.  An anti-American agenda that aligns quite nicely with the interests of Islamists.  Moreover, Jake Appelbaum, he of the perv protecting Tor, is lurking around this thing.

As for Snowden himself, despite all the fawning coverage, it is pretty clear that he is an exaggerator, not to say fabulist.  He is grandiose, bordering on the narcissistic: hell, he might even have crossed that border, with amnesty.  Many of the details he provided to Greenwald and Poitras are highly implausible.  A 23 year old IT geek under CIA diplomatic cover in Geneva?  Really?  Despite the well-known principles of compartmentalization and access to information on a need to know basis, this guy had a hunting license to access virtually any highly sensitive information held by the NSA?  Again-Really?  Experts are calling BS: note well the description in the article of the extensive monitoring anyone like Snowden would have been subjected to.

His timeline also raises questions.  He claims he received the Rosetta Stone Powerpoint while working at Booze Allen Hamilton, where he started to work in February.  But he contacted Poitras in January.

Even his biographical details are dubious.  Greenwald hypes his enlistment in a Special Forces training program, and claims that he had to leave before completing it due to two broken legs.  The Army confirms that Snowden did enlist in the 18X program, which provides a path to SF school without prior military service.  This enlistment option involves a 17 week program at the outset that combines Basic with Advanced Infantry Training; after completion of those programs, the enlistee goes to Special Forces training-where the washout rate is high, meaning that even many of those who get past Basic plus AIT never become Green Berets.  But Snowden didn’t complete even the first part of the program.  The Army says he did not complete “any training”, meaning he might not have even made it out of Basic (though since Basic and AIT are combined int he 18X program, it’s possible the Army means that he washed out during AIT).  He also received an administrative discharge-sometimes this can be routine, and characterized as Honorable, but often not.  Did Greenwald ask to see Snowden’s DD-214 (i.e., his discharge papers)?

The alleged broken legs may have-may have-occurred in parachute training.  (Why no certainty? Why no proof?)  But note that 18X recruits don’t go through Airborne training until after completing AIT.  Er. Glenn?

A lot rides on this guy’s credibility, and given the prominence Greenwald gives to Snowden’s military background, it would seem imperative to verify the basic facts of his service career, including the terms on which he left it.  Isn’t a guy willing to reveal national secrets willing to do the Full Monty on his personal background?

The high likelihood that Snowden is a grandiose serial exaggerator should make people very reluctant to take what he says at anything close to face value.  (He reminds me of the rogue traders at UBS and SocGen.) Every aspect of his account should be scrutinized skeptically and carefully, especially given the weightiness of the charges and the gravity of the information he purports to have revealed.  Moreover, one should be very alive to the inherent problems of letting someone-anyone-take the law into his own hands, as Snowden has done.  And particularly in the way he has done it.  He provided zero evidence that he attempted to find some other way to make proper authorities aware of his concerns.  Indeed, since it is unclear that anything he alleges is actually illegal, rather than just an affront to his conscience, it is hard to consider him a whistleblower in the true sense of the word.

Moreover, Snowden has provided little real evidence, beyond a rather cheesey Powerpoint of unknown provenance.  He claims to have a lot more.  Claims. Given the likely constraints on access to some of this information, if he does have it, he probably would have have to have hacked it.

And look who Snowden went to to air his grievances.

Now to the politics. Snowden and Greenwald have been lionized by certain loud elements of the right, notably Glenn Beck-but there are many others too-just check out Twitter if you have your doubts about that.  Yes, the same Glenn Beck who said Obama should resign for covering up the involvement of a Saudi student in the Boston bombing (or something).  The same Glenn Beck who thinks that Obama is basically a front man for the Muslim Brotherhood.  The same Beck who has gone off on Bradley Manning-who is one of Greenwald’s heroes.  The same Greenwald who savaged Margaret Thatcher on the occasion of her death.  Furthermore, Beck had another NSA whistleblower-William Binney-on his show the other day, and paid Binney fawning attention.  Um, does he know about Binney’s associations with Occupy? Talk about strange bedfellows. (Full disclosure: I did not listen to Beck voluntarily. It was the result of a spillover from my mother’s headphones:-P)

Uhm, do y’all know how to use Google? (And BTW, Google et al have all your data: NSA either gets it from there, or on its way there-more likely the latter.  The data is Google’s: they just let the NSA use it for far more limited purposes than Google does. Yes, they don’t have the coercive power of the state, but the Power to Abuse Information Is the Power to Destroy or Manipulate is there even if the information is in private hands too: or haven’t you noticed that Larry Page is funding a For Democrats Only political consulting/data mining operation?)

I definitely agree that the government is vastly too large and intrusive, and this is evidently part of the motive for Beck et al to embrace Snowden-and hence Greenwald and all his fellow travelers.  But methinks that Beck et al really see this as another cudgel to take up against Obama.  As much as I dislike and disagree with Obama, I groan every time I see one of these campaigns, all of which have not just failed miserably, but have actually strengthened Obama by making it possible for him to discredit his most vocal critics as loons.  Word up: the mushy middle may have its doubts about Obama, but they have no doubts about you, especially when you go on fact-free diatribes.  And believe me, going all in with Greenwald and Snowden is likely to be a totally fact-free diet.

It’s not like this hasn’t happened before.  I was going to compare Beck et al to Charlie Brown and the football, but then I remembered that at least Charlie Brown hesitated and agonized before talking off towards the ball.  Beck et al, not so much.

And it’s even worse here, because in the search of short-term political gain they are vouching for the credibility of someone who hates them, and who is categorically and furiously opposed to most everything the US right believes in.  Beck may hate Obama, but Greenwald hates the US.  There’s a difference. And Greenwald would hate it all the more, if that’s possible, if Beck’s guy was elected president.  Moreover, not only would the advancement of Greenwald’s agenda empower Islamists, other beneficiaries would include countries like China and Iran: is that really what those on the right who have taken the bit in their teeth on this issue really want?  And once you’ve bedded down with Greenwald, don’t think for a moment that the world won’t be reminded of that the next time you attack him, or any cause he is associated with.  It’s like political VD.  It’s just one night, but the gift keeps on giving.

So on the substance, the magnitude of the surveillance state is disturbing, but not really surprising.  It needs a thorough review-as does the corporatist symbiosis between the big tech companies and the government, which is far more likely to involve an intrusion on the privacy of American citizens. The Augean Stable that is the IRS also needs a thorough cleaning.  Obamacare is another impending privacy disaster, especially given that Obamacare and the IRS are joined at the hip.  All of these programs are far more likely to result in a true invasion of your privacy than what the NSA is doing, and have nothing to do whatsoever with protecting national security.  The trade-offs are hard to evaluate on security issues.  On the IRS or Obamacare-not so much.

Crucially, moreover, the specifics of the Snowden revelations are dubious, and the specifics matter if you want to make a reasoned judgment about the trade-offs involved.  He is a very flawed and uncredible accuser who seems prone to wild exaggeration-both of his own importance, and of the programs he is allegedly unveiling.  Most worrisome, his message is being broadcast by those with a well-known antipathy to the US, especially on matters related to terrorism and national security.  So I’d step back, and wait for a more sober appraisal of the Snowden story, before drawing any new conclusions from it.  Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, and sadly, too much of the American right, and most notably its loudest voices, fit that bill all too well.


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