Streetwise Professor

June 17, 2013

Snow(den) job

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:44 pm

Snowden pulled a couple of stunts in the last couple of days.  The first was to release a document describing British and US successes in hacking into the communications of other nations-including Russia’s Medvedev-during a G20 Summit in London in 2009.

A couple of things stand out about this.

First, the timing.  The Guardian released the information just when Cameron and Putin were meeting.  Meaning that Snowden is either willingly or witlessly participating in political games to discredit Cameron.  (BTW: why didn’t Greenwald have a byline in the article disclosing this information?)  (And it also undercut Obama, who met with Putin on Monday, a day after the Guardian story.  A meeting which gave the world this priceless photo of two people who would rather be anywhere than with one another.  Like getting a root canal or colonoscopy.  Anything.) (Note too: undermining Cameron and Obama, and boosting Putin and Russia enables slaughter in Syria.  Just saying.)

Second, this has nothing-zero, zip, nada-to do with alleged invasions of the privacy of ordinary individuals, let alone the violation of the Constitutional rights of American citizens.  This is about as shocking as gambling at Rick’s Cafe Americain.

So much for Snowden’s high-minded principles and delicate conscience about the violations of privacy and Constitutional rights.  Political manipulator or political tool of the likes of Greenwald and the Guardian?  Does it mattter?

His second stunt was a webchat from Hong Kong.  Most of it was additional unsubstantiated and lurid accusations for which he claims he will provide confirming evidence “later”.  The rest of it was more grandiose statements about his impending martyrdom, e.g., his claims that the US government was going to murder him, and his justification for taking flight, stating that the US government was “openly declaring me guilty of treason.”  Um, the “government” can’t “declare guilt” on anything, least of all treason, a crime that is unique in that the Constitution specifically sets out requirements for conviction (which is different than “declaration of guilt”).  You’d think that someone who pontificates on the intricacies of FISA and the 4th amendment rights of Americans would be aware of the black letter Constitutional language on treason.

In other news related to Snowden’s credibility, or lack thereof, the President of Switzerland expressed doubts on Snowden’s account of an alleged CIA operation in Geneva, and said that the Swiss government would support his prosecution:

“It does not seem to me that it is likely that this incident played out as it has been described by Snowden and by the media,” Maurer was quoted as saying in the Der Sonntag and SonntagsBlick newspapers.

“This would mean that the CIA successfully bribed the Geneva police and judiciary. With all due respect, I just can’t imagine it,” SonntagsBlick quoted him as saying.

He added that Snowden was just 23 at the time, and unlikely to have had knowledge of such an operation, and that the CIA usually dealt with terrorism rather than financial espionage.

Most of Maurer’s argument is circumstantial, but that’s to be expected.  No doubt he’s been briefed by American officials (recall that Switzerland demanded an explanation), and more importantly, by the very excellent Swiss intelligence and law enforcement services.  He would not be pulling a statement like this on such a highly charged issue out of his . . .ear.  (And don’t tell me that the Americans have coerced him into covering up.  That would just mean you don’t have a refutable hypothesis, and it’s no point engaging you.)

Another interesting aspect of Snowden’s webchat.  He explained the discrepancy between the Guardian report that he earned $200K at Booz Allen Hamilton with BAH’s statement that he earned only $122K thus:

I was debriefed by Glenn and his peers over a number of days, and not all of those conversations were recorded. The statement I made about earnings was that $200,000 was my “career high” salary. I had to take pay cuts in the course of pursuing specific work. Booz was not the most I’ve been paid.

Pursuing specific work.  Very, very interesting.  Like, maybe, taking a  job at a big pay cut for the specific work of getting access to classified information with the intent of releasing it?  Note well: he was in touch with Poitras (and perhaps Gellman) and Greenwald before he took the BAH job.  Hatching a little plot were they, perhaps?  If not, what was so appealing about the “specific work” he took (and left after a little more than a month) that made him willing to take a 40 percent pay cut?

One last thing.  For Beck and various libertarians who are grabbing the Snowden-Greenwald banner, perhaps you might want to take a close look at whom you’re bedding down with.  Greenwald spoke at a meeting of the International Socialist Organization (a hardcore Marxist group), and defended Al-Awaki, and said that the damage from 9-11 attacks was “minimal in scope.”  He also endorsed the view that the US is the “most brutal, sprawling prison state on earth” (though perhaps he’ll take the “retweets are not an endorsement weasel”, though the “Yep” in his RT kind of forecloses that option).  Greenwald is virulently anti-American (as is the other pusher of this story, Poitras).  That’s material in assessing the credibility of Greenwald and Snowden.  Again, fools rush in where angels fear to tread.  Beware snow jobs.  Or Snowden jobs, as the case may be.

One last last thing 🙂  Scroll to about the last 20 minutes of this podcast with Richard Epstein (and John Yoo).  Epstein rightly excoriates the foolish-consistency-is-the-hobgoblin-of-little-minds libertarians, and advances a very persuasive classical liberal position on NSA surveillance that is predicated on the fundamental libertarian/liberal position that protection of human life and property from violence is the primary principle that should guide policy.  For his labors (notably his Chicago Tribune oped on this issue with Roger Pilon of Cato, for crissakes) Epstein has been subjected to shrieks of outrage.  Libertarian stridency on this issue also brings to mind my post from a couple years ago: “What’s My Name Again?” (Warning! Hyperbolic comparisons of Ron Paul-esque libertarians to the Khmer Rouge! Make sure you take these totally literally! Totally!)

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  1. The government’s decision not to allow the American to know the overall framework of the domestic survellience apparatus directly empowers lunatics like Snowden. Had the government simply been forthright with the American people and disclosed there was indeed a survellience structure in place, the American people would have rightfully demanded some reasonable oversight and control, but probably not rejected the scheme.

    As things stand, without having to be accountable to anyone, the system that was put in place was so mismanaged, it allowed an outside contractor with serious background issues access to information he had no business having access to. This individual also was able to work in concert with journalists having a personal agendas to embarrass the U.S. Government.

    The domestic survellience program is no doubt still riddled in ineptitude and lacking proper security safeguards. No one knows who else has highly sensitive information or who they are sharing the information with. Secret government programs where no individuals are ever held accountable for their administration are just bad ideas.

    Comment by Charles — June 17, 2013 @ 7:59 pm

  2. @Charles. I agree that the government’s excessive secrecy has been counterproductive. Though I would note that a long article in the WSJ in 2008 did disclose most of the details that Snowden and the Guardian so breathlessly trumpeted.

    I aslo agree that letting an 8-ball like Snowden within a country mile of any important information is a scandal.

    Re your last remark, I am reminded of Proxmire’s statement that the only thing that saves us from bureaucracy is its inefficiency.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — June 17, 2013 @ 8:20 pm

  3. “Stunt” is cute. Of course, most “stunt” artists don’t risk criminal prosecution, especially not on principle, or rendition, or placement on the “disposition matrix” of an out-of-control and trigger happy executive department. But wevs, dude. Any stick to beat a dog.

    Comment by lambert strether — June 17, 2013 @ 8:49 pm

  4. @lambert. They are stunts precisely because they have nothing to do with his ostensible mission, but are instead intended to attract attention to himself and indiscriminately cast suspicion on the UK and US governments on subjects totally related to the subject of his crusade. So yes. Stunts.

    He deliberately did something that’s illegal. If he’s so dedicated to his cause, he should have the courage of his convictions and stand trial in the US. He could demand a trial by jury. Or is he convinced that 12 fellow citizens would be unable to hear him out, and unable to see whether the government’s case built on lies?

    And by the way, if he chose that (honorable) route, he would be in the hands of the judiciary, not the “trigger happy executive department.” Checks and balances, and all that, dude.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — June 17, 2013 @ 9:54 pm

  5. Well judging by the response over at to the 2 libertarians on the planet Pirrong keeps citing who apparenty approve of infinite, rubber stamped NSA data mining of citizens, SWP is a legend in his own (and a few Twitter followers’) minds. What Professor no rebuttal of CATO’s Julian Sanchez dismantling the doddering Epstein on both recent GPS tracking SCOTUS jurisprudence and 4th Amendment objections to the radically broad scope of the Verizon ‘warrant’?

    How about William Binney? It’s as if we’re in a video game where if you bash Snowden’s and co enough you win the game and the NSA is exonerated because there are no more bosses, WR, leakers to be ‘defeated’. In the work you may get grudging shrugs of ‘well what can I do about it’ but no one will ever trust the NSA post Sheryl Atkinson hacks, post Benghazi lies, post IRS and post Holder judge shopping for a warrant to spy on Rosen (checks and balances, DUDE, as you put it).

    The Pirrong method appears to be; destroy one witness/leaker, ignore another (Binney) completely etc. Oh and act like Glenn Beck is your toughest opponent or a real leak facilitator as opposed to an admitted rodeo clown and weapon of mass distraction.

    Truly you deserve the Andy Kauffman wrestling championship belt. But I think Sanchez would tear you up. But I suppose your fans can console themselves with the fact that he doesn’t have enough letters behind his name. Why don’t you go debate Epstein’s critics at Ricochet instead of proving yourself here against the handful of people who bother to comment out of your minuscule readership?

    Comment by Nobody — June 17, 2013 @ 10:22 pm


    Here ya go Pirrong lizardoids, give it your best shot. And while you’re at it, convince us the wonderful people at the NSA would never dream of sending a member of Congress’ juicy metadata to Obama’s minions.

    Comment by Nobody — June 17, 2013 @ 10:38 pm

  7. @Nobody. We should all be as doddering as Richard Epstein. If you would actually listen to and read Epstein, you’ll see that he’s not “infinitely elastic” on this issue. Try again.

    And what about William Binney, Occupy Wall Street’s favorite ex-spook, circa 2011-2012? I suggest you take a look at Catherine Fitzpatrick’s blog. She did quite a bit on Binney last year.

    Uhm, Snowden is leaker du jour, and in the news, and given limited bandwidth he’s who gets the attention. So be it.

    Beck is an issue because he has a cult following, and because he makes it all too easy for the Obama crowd to paint everyone in opposition as a loon.

    The most interesting thing about Epstein/Pilon v. Sanchez is that it demonstrates that there is vigorous debate in the libertarian-ish community. Progville-not so much.

    Re the rest. Yawn. Good choice for a pseudonym, by the way. And in some quarters, lizardoid is a compliment!

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — June 17, 2013 @ 11:05 pm

  8. For stunt read flailing agitprop to ignore or divert people from the truth. Just the timing alone re the China intellectual property disputes and their serious hacking (as opposed to warranted acquisition of data) should give pause.

    the issue of secrecy is a troubling one – not so much that it is secret – it never really was as your citing of the WSJ article shows, but that secrecy is more often used to hide incompetence, particularly when it can be applied as a blanket. a vigorous debate is going on, and that is good, but it does not include the PROGS. Nor would it.

    Most of these are typical Frankfurt school (lobotomized division) critics who do nothing but criticize: they carefully ignore what the alternatives are. I suggest we answer them with only five words: Joe Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot.

    Comment by Sotos — June 18, 2013 @ 9:13 am

  9. SWP, if you combine your knowledge of markets with “information” as a commodity, then I can dream up an ideal exchange to match buyers and sellers of information. Valuable secrets are expensive, and cheap touts may have day in the sun, but the the market punishes them and the value goes to zero. It is a dream world. Currently there is no price discovery on information, and there is little way to put a price on Snowdens secrets or value his credit risk (credibility). But maybe that is the solution to your complaints about Snowden. Information has a price attached to it by its owners, or keen buyers and seller who are informed.

    Corporations and governments go to great lengths to protect secrets, and that creates a “cost” to keep it secret, but as in all commodity markets, the cost is not market clearing price. I wonder if the market clearing price for Snowden’s knowledge is higher than the cost the government is willing to spend in protecting it. Maybe it is less.

    We need a commodity market to find out, not a bunch of demagogues.

    Comment by scott — June 18, 2013 @ 4:00 pm

  10. Did Social Distortion play Ball and Chain?

    Comment by Tom Henderson — June 18, 2013 @ 4:50 pm

  11. Snowden is the Monica Lewinsky du jour. And while he will be briefly grateful for his fame, he w/ come to regret it as she did. And he didn’t even have a ‘friend’ tell him to keep the dress to protect himself from the character assassination. At least it appears he was well-paid to spy on a spy agency. So Vlad appreciates the self-interested motives in invalidating his own vows to uphold secrets, so it seems pre-medetated. This is just too rich.

    Comment by ObamaPutin — June 18, 2013 @ 7:43 pm

  12. @scott-the problem is that it is very difficult to set up markets for information. Not impossible, but difficult. This is particularly true for one-time sales: reputation for delivering good information can overcome some of the difficulties.

    @Tom. Yes. Yes they did. Is that your favorite SD tune? Mine is Far Behind. I’ve only seen them play that once.

    @Vlad-good analogy.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — June 19, 2013 @ 4:53 am

  13. So I have read Prof Epstein’s efforts to defend himself from Julian Sanchez and other Cato scholars dismantling of his earlier blind defense of the NSA and misstatements in the Chicago Tribune op ed. And I am deeply unimpressed that such an erudite legal scholar’s arguments essentially amount to an appeal to ignorance, to the truthfulness of Gen. ‘least misleading way possible to answer’ Clapper, or that mass collection of metadata can help identify terror suspects when it seemed to be useless in the Tsarnaev case even with specific warnings about Tamerlane from Russian authorities.

    Epstein plays lawyer word games and appeals to the current debauched state of SCOTUS jurisprudence when denying that the 4th Amendment establishes any specificity requirement for searches. He distorts the history of the 4th Amendment and the intent behind it to a single case rather than the entire train of rubber stamped ‘general warrants’ that were issued to the Redcoats to search indiscriminately for Sins of Liberty prior to the revolution. And he insists that recent SCOTUS rulings on GPS tracking are irrelevant while a late 70s ruling about landline telephone records is relevant to the vastly greater amounts of data, including geolocations, Internet usage and perhaps sites visited that the NSA admits to swallowing up forever with the so called Verizon FISA warrant, which ought to be declared null and void due to it’s unconstitutionally broad nature. He also pretends that SCOTUS rulings on probable cause searches by police of individuals can be compared to soaking up the data of billions of calls. One warrant less search is a court case, but billions a week is a statistic, to paraphrase Josef Stalin.

    Last but not least, Epstein and Pirrong’s argument that libertarians should support PRISM because it protects us from force and fraud is NO DIFFERENT than the Rev. Al Sharpton going on MSNBC and claiming that a kid’s right not to get shot in the ghetto trumps an NRA member’s 2nd Amendment right to own a handgun. The ‘logic’ is identical.

    Basing a whole argument on appeals to (failure to rule since Miller) authority, and ignorance about a secret program is not a solid foundation. One leak to someone far more credible than Greenwald or Beck and your entire argument and that of the NSA collapses.

    Comment by Nobody — June 19, 2013 @ 3:23 pm

  14. Sons of Liberty rather than sins of liberty. Typo above. Sent from my NSA tracking collar with ChiCom backdoors aka Apple iPhone.

    Comment by Nobody — June 19, 2013 @ 3:29 pm

  15. I like Bad Luck very much, that is number one, this Saturday Social D is playing The Stone Pony in Asbury Park NJ,I’m going. I have a friend that tunes Springsteen’s guitar and I have already checked with him to see if Bruce will show- have not heard back yet.

    Comment by Tom Henderson — June 19, 2013 @ 5:26 pm

  16. As for ‘Snowden should’ve stayed and faced the music’ ie get black holed without trial fur years, here is William Binney and two other whistleblowers experience for future reference:

    Comment by Nobody — June 19, 2013 @ 6:21 pm

  17. As Charles noted in an ealier thread and The Professor has made very clear Snowden is motivated by something other than his “patriotic duty”. However that does not justify the NSA programs. The wording used in the congressional testimony seems possibly carefully disingenuous. I was under the impression the NSA uses very sophisticated software to scan telephone and written correspondence looking for key phrases. So when the testimony is “we” do not read or listen in is technically true since evaluation is done by software. Admittedly i could be wrong.

    Appaently the NSA system doesnt work very well hen the caller is a Muslim domiciled in the US.

    The Professorr’s earlier comments about metadata being held by various private concerns is a point well taken but these programs are hugely expensive and i question their efficacy.

    Comment by pahoben — June 20, 2013 @ 12:44 am

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