No, There is No Blood On Snowden Hands

The director of the CIA is claiming that the attacks in Paris are at least partially the fault of Edward Snowden:

In a pair of public appearances this week, CIA Director John O. Brennan made clear that he blames leaks by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden for enabling terrorists to evade detection.

“Because of a number of unauthorized disclosures, and a lot of hand-wringing over the government’s role in the effort to try to uncover these terrorists,” Brennan said, the CIA and others agencies have lost use of critical tools needed “to find these terrorists.”

Brennan’s assertion has become a refrain in the two years since Snowden exposed details about a range of U.S. surveillance programs. And former CIA director R. James Woolsey went further, saying on Sunday, “I think Snowden has blood on his hands from these killings in France.”

I guess this was to be expected. Ever since Snowden revealed the scale of the NSA’s domestic spying program, our government has been trying to blame him for … well, everything. But even the WaPo’s coverage is deeply skeptical:

The revelations that were the source of greatest controversy involved programs that would likely have been of little value in disrupting the Paris plot, experts said. The National Security Agency’s collection of data about the times and durations of billions of domestic phones calls was not designed to pick up calls entirely outside the United States.

A second program that relied heavily on cooperation from companies including AOL, Microsoft and Google was aimed at intercepting e-mail and phone calls between foreign operatives and individuals in the United States. Nothing has changed since that revelation to restrict the NSA’s ability to sweep up communications exclusively among foreigners, as was apparently the case for the plot in France.

“Aspiring terrorists already knew the U.S. government was doing everything it could to track and monitor their communications,” said Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “What Snowden disclosed was the astonishing extent to which the government’s surveillance power had been turned on ordinary citizens. The CIA director knows this. He’d just rather we talk about Snowden’s disclosures than about the intelligence community’s failures.”

Glenn Greenwald, Snowden’s amanuensis, makes similar points in his detailed response, pointing out that the FBI itself was warning about terrorists avoiding e-mail and electronic communications as early as 1997. Osama bin Laden did not use electronic communications but used couriers precisely because he was concerned that US electronic intelligence was too good.

Moreover … and this is important to repeat … Snowden’s revelations were not about our ability to spy on terrorists. What he revealed was mass domestic surveillance of Americans, almost all of which has been used to help the DEA and the IRS pursue criminal charges without all that pesky fourth amendment stuff.

So why would the CIA director be spewing this line of bullshit? Why would he be spewing it before the bodies are even cold? Two reasons. One, to cover up his own incompetence. Greenwald again:

For most major terror attacks, the perpetrators were either known to Western security agencies or they had ample reason to watch them. All three perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo massacre “were known to French authorities,” as was the thwarted train attacker in July and at least one of the Paris attackers. These agencies receive billions and billions of dollars every year and radical powers, all in the name of surveilling Bad People and stopping attacks.

So when they fail in their ostensible duty, and people die because of that failure, it’s a natural instinct to blame others: Don’t look to us; it’s Snowden’s fault, or the fault of Apple, or the fault of journalists, or the fault of encryption designers, or anyone’s fault other than ours. If you’re a security agency after a successful Terror attack, you want everyone looking elsewhere, finding all sorts of culprits other than those responsible for stopping such attacks.

This need to deflect blame is especially acute when it comes to ISIS, which arose from the disbanded Iraqi armed forces, took advantage of the vacuum created by Bush’s invasion and Obama’s retreat, has been empowered by our stupid decision to throw in against Assad because we hoped that “moderates” would appear, and drawn support both from our “allies” in the region and our own lack of concern of where weapons provided to anti-Assad forces ended up.

There’s another another reason. NYT:

American and French officials say there is still no definitive evidence to back up their presumption that the terrorists who massacred 129 people in Paris used new, difficult-to-crack encryption technologies to organize the plot.

But in interviews, Obama administration officials say the Islamic State has used a range of encryption technologies over the past year and a half, many of which defy cracking by the National Security Agency. Other encryption technologies, the officials hint, are less secure than terrorist and criminal groups may believe, and clearly they want to keep those adversaries guessing which ones the N.S.A. has pierced.

Some of the most powerful technologies are free, easily available encryption apps with names like Signal, Wickr and Telegram, which encode mobile messages from cellphones. Islamic State militants used Telegram two weeks ago to claim responsibility for the crash of the Russian jet in the Sinai Peninsula that killed 224 people, and used it again last week, in Arabic, English and French, to broadcast responsibility for the Paris carnage. It is not yet clear whether they also used Telegram’s secret-messaging service to encrypt their private conversations.

(Actually, it appears that the terrorists used unencrypted SMS.)

There has been an enormous push from “security experts” to pre-emptively cripple digital encryption methods by demanding “back doors” for the government that would essentially render encryption useless. For the past few years, companies that support and provide digital encryption have been outright accused of aiding and abetting terrorism. And now the security state supporters have found an actual terrorist attack to pin on the door of companies that provide encryption, regardless of whether encryption was involved or not.

But encryption does not destroy the government’s ability to stop terrorists. They can still use human intelligence assets. They can still track metadata, they can still … maybe … answer the phone when the relative of a guy with a bomb in his underwear tries to warn them. They can still use Patriot Act powers. What they can not do is snoop through everyone’s e-mail in the hopes that they’ll catch a tax dodger, a drug dealer or, once in a blue moon, maybe a terrorist.

The encryption debate is currently at high heat. Obama has, to his credit, resisted efforts to demand back doors to encryption and Congress has been reluctant. What Brennan is doing is trying to exploit a tragedy to bypass this debate and expand his power.

We’ve been here before. In the 1990’s, our law enforcement agencies sought the power to have warrantless wiretaps, roving wiretaps, sneak-and-peak raids and other surveillance methods to use in pursuit of the War on Drugs. The Republican Congress refused to give them those powers because they believed they violated the Fourth Amendment. After 9/11, before the bodies were even cold, the CIA and FBI insisted that this was a the reason 9/11 happened; that had Congress given them those powers, they would have prevented it.

It was bullshit, of course. As we later found out, both agencies ignored critical pieces of evidence. They’d also taken an overzealous view of “the wall” between the agencies and refused to share information with each other. But the CIA and FBI were not actually that interested in how 9/11 happened. What they were interested in was getting the surveillance powers they had craved for so long. Americans were scared and the agencies cravenly exploited that fear to get the Patriot Act (Bob Barr, a sponsor of the Patriot Act and now opponent, has a good segment on this in an episode of Penn and Teller: Bullshit!). They then went on to use those powers to … pursue the War on Drugs.

Now we’ve had another awful terrorist attack. And the same leaches who exploited 9/11 to weaken our civil liberties now want to exploit Paris to weaken them again. To hell with them. To hell with them and their security state. To hell with them dancing in the blood of 130 dead Parisians. They were granted the powers they demanded after 9/11 and abused them. They shouldn’t get another bite at the apple of our liberty.

And here’s my challenge to supporters of the security state, Republican or Democrat. If you really think that our civil liberties are outdated or dangerous … if you really think that we shouldn’t mind these intrustions if we have nothing to hide … then you first.

Seriously. Put every e-mail you send on a public server so we can all look at them. Every single one. Broadcast your meta-data on a website so we can see exactly what you’re up to at all hours. Record your phone conversations … every one … and put them on YouTube. Show us every text message, tell us about everyone you meet, report every conversation. Because if you’re going to smear the blood of Paris on your face and demand that rest of us surrender our privacy, I want to see you leading by example. Show us that you have nothing to hide. Then … maybe … we’ll consider letting you snoop around our affairs.

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  1. Christopher

    There’s one thing about Snowden that I don’t understand (my knowledge of this matter is very limited, so bear with me): Why didn’t he go to the Office of Special Counsel?  Isn’t it their job to protect whistleblowers?

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