Streetwise Professor

December 6, 2013

What is the Guardian Guarding? Names of UK Intelligence Personnel: No. The FSB: Yes.

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Uncategorized — The Professor @ 1:58 pm

To put it in Navspeak, the egregious Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has really screwed the pooch.  In testimony before a Parliamentary committee he admitted that (a) documents sent out of the country had names of British intelligence personnel on them, (b) he couldn’t be bothered to vet all the documents to ensure no names of intelligence agents were included in what he shipped out of the UK (to the NYT, specifically), and (c) paid Greenwald’s partner Miranda to mule the documents out of the UK (in stark contrast to his previous denials that the Guardian had paid Miranda).  Blogger Louise Mensch covered the hearing in detail.

This is a big deal because it is a crime in Britain to transport the names of UK intel personnel out of the country.  Even if it wasn’t a crime, it would be a very grave matter because it would put lives at risk, and would jeopardize British national security.  Not to mention the national security of UK allies, including the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

His defense? That release of the Snowden material is self-evidently in the public interest, and that there is no evidence that UK intel people had been put at risk.

In other words, Alan Rusbridger, elected by nobody, and who claims he should not be accountable to anybody, and especially not to the British government or law enforcement, has appointed himself the final arbiter of what is in the public interest.  What’s more, he claims to be able to know how people operating in the very clandestine world of intelligence cannot possibly be threatened by disclosure of their names.  (I would note that even if individual agents do not come to harm, their disclosure can lead to the harm of those they have interacted with, or the undermining of operations that would have otherwise reduced the risk of actions that could harm UK national security, or the lives of innocent individuals.)  (As Mensch notes, moreover, any individual whose name was leaked has suffered a severe career setback, as they are essentially undeployable in a covert role: something the Guardian understood when it came to Valerie Plame.)

And then there are the suck-ups who work for Mr. Rusbridge.  Luke Harding (@lukeharding1968) is a very special case. Bravura performance? Get a room, please.

Harding is a special case because he co-authored a book on Wikileaks in which he-wait for it-blasted Assange for not redacting the names of individuals named in the State Department cables stolen by Manning and released-via the Guardian-to the world.  So let me get this straight, Luke:  Assange was treacherous, but Alan I Couldn’t Be Bothered to Redact Names Because There Were Just So Many Bleeding Documents Rusbridge is a hero bravely defending liberty and a free press before Parliament.  Have I got that right?  What is it?  That was then, this is now?  Or, is it that Assange screwed the Guardian, so you had to find a club to beat him with, but wouldn’t dare turn the same club upon yourselves?  I guess I don’t qualify as a first rate intelligence by the F. Scott Fitzgerald definition, because I am having a really hard time of holding two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retaining the ability to function.  And believe me, your criticism of Assange and your defense of Rusbridge are about as totally opposed as ideas can get.

Harding is also a special case because he wrote a book about his experiences in Russia that was very critical of the Putin regime and the FSB in particular.  Yet he is mute on the subject of Snowden’s flight to Russia and control by the FSB, even though any sentient being without an axe to grind realizes that the greatest beneficiary of Snowden is Putin and the FSB that Harding claims to despise.

Luke Harding is the exemplar of a form of transitivity that characterizes the Guardian.  Yes, it often writes things that are very critical of Russia and Putin.  But its dislike of Russia pales in comparison with its hatred of the US and the UK government-at least the defense and intelligence establishments thereof.  So when it becomes an issue of the US vs. Russia-as is the case with Snowden-all criticism and even questioning of Russia is silenced, and screeching about the US and UK government reaches a deafening pitch.  In the Snowden matter, Ed’s complicity with and aiding and abetting of the FSB is never mentioned: indeed, anyone who suggests it is slimed as an NSA/GCHQ lackey.  When the FSB follows Harding, or breaks into his apartment, now that’s important.  That deserves a book!  But when the Guardian’s pet project provides incredible aid and comfort to that very same FSB, nary a word is spoken.  FSB?  What FSB?  This is all about NSA and GCHQ.  Snowden is a crusader for freedom, even though he is a tool in the hands of a regime that is inimical to freedom.  Following the party line.  Jot and tittle.

So when push comes to shove, when there is a choice to be made, the Guardian-and Luke Harding-make it plain where their real sympathies lie. They deserve no respect and no credibility.  And at least some-notably Alan Rusbridger-deserve the tender mercies of the law, with all the protections and procedures it affords him in the UK.  If it were Russia, not so much.

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  1. It seems that you’re using the word transitivity to mean double standards or hypocrisy. I haven’t seen that usage before.

    Comment by aaa — December 6, 2013 @ 5:08 pm

  2. One quibble, of course anytime anyone leaks anything they decide whether or not it is in the public interest. If you go to the people you are leaking *about* and say, “Hey, guys, is it in the public interest to know this?” invariably they will so, “No.” That is the whole point of leaking.

    Comment by ThomasL — December 6, 2013 @ 8:10 pm

  3. @ThomasL. Yes. Leakers often believe they are acting in the public interest. I wouldn’t say anytime: some leak for purely personal reasons, with the reasons including revenge, desire to obtain political advantage, etc., thought they inevitably cloak themselves in the public interest.

    But there are at least two issues here. First, this is a matter of black letter law. Duly constituted authority has decided that it is contrary to the public interest to release the names of British intelligence personnel. Who is Rusbridger, on his own, to override that judgment? Especially inasmuch as his real defense is laziness? (Here Rusbridger is playing a bait and switch, confusing the issue of the publication of specific documents, with the issue of his handling and distribution of tens of thousands of others. This deceptiveness calls into question his motives.)

    Second, and relatedly, mere assertion of acting in the public interest cannot be sufficient to immunize a leaker against any punishment. Mere assertion-and even genuine subjective belief-that a leak is in the public interest cannot make one invulnerable to legal action. There must be a mechanism for accountability. Notably a public process to determine whether in fact a particular leak/leaker is in the public interest. You can argue that the burden of proof should be on the state to prove that a revelation is not in the public interest, and that burden should be high. But what Rusbridger-and even more so, Snowden-demand is that they be complete immunized. That is not sustainable, and would lead to incredible mischief, and worse.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 7, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

  4. “Second, and relatedly, mere assertion of acting in the public interest cannot be sufficient to immunize a leaker against any punishment.”

    I think that is the key point. If you are going to take it on yourself to leak something contra to law, then you are implicitly saying that leaking it was so important that you were willing to risk prosecution. You can’t expect to change the law simply by leaking. The law or the application of the law might change as a result of an unsuccessful prosecution, but not just by the fact that something was leaked.

    Snowden and Greenwald obviously understood this. They scarpered to Moscow and Brazil. They didn’t stick around to tell a congressional committee that stealing NSA documents is in everyone’s best interests.

    I think that this is a pretty big deal with the UK right now. Is Parliament actually sovereign any more, or can any NGO or private person make their own law? If they let Rusbridger get away with what amounts to the claim that if the public is interested in something, then the public have a legitimate interest, then they are on a very slippery slope.

    Comment by jon livesey — December 7, 2013 @ 3:55 pm

  5. What’s graver is that if the GCHQ etc agents broke the law in my country by hacking, breaking into locations to plant bugs etc, planting malware or generally targeting me, then someone should be extradited and face the full might of the law.

    Just because the GCHQ did it, doesnt make it any better – or less illegal in my country – than some scumbag 419 scammer or similar mafiaso hackers stealing credit card numbers or other valuable personal details.

    And as you say:
    “But what Rusbridger-and even more so, Snowden-demand is that they be complete immunized. That is not sustainable, and would lead to incredible mischief, and worse.”

    So too then, if you want Rusbridger prosecuted, then surely it is right insist on the prosecution of Clapper for blatantly lying to congress and that he NOT be immunized.

    Not prosecuting Clapper would, in your own dogmatic words, lead to incredible mischief, and worse.

    After all, whats the point of (international) laws if you only want it (selectively) applied to Rusbridger?

    Comment by OpenUp — December 7, 2013 @ 3:55 pm

  6. OpenUp:

    Pls explain 2 Vlad why Clapper is in league with [or a parallel case to] Snowden/Assange/Rusbridger/Manning?

    Vlad must B missing something.

    We prob do not agree, but Vlad w/b respectful about it.

    PM VP

    Comment by Vlad — December 8, 2013 @ 3:21 pm

  7. Vlad – its a point of order:

    There seems to be from the pundits – especially those with a nastsec bend such as the Prof – two parallel streams of enforcing legal liability: one for Rusbringer, and another for Clapper.

    The clamour is for Rus to be jailed for breaking UK law, but no clamour whatsoever from the pundits for Clapper to be prosecuted for (admitting to!) lying to Congress. Why not even a peep about Clapper? Is he above the law?

    Again, this delta in logic and application considerably weakens statements from the Prof that Rus’s actions are “not sustainable, and would lead to incredible mischief, and worse.”

    Indeed, the entire premise of the nastsec pundits such as those from the Prof is two-faced.

    Comment by OpenUp — December 8, 2013 @ 6:33 pm

  8. @Vlad. I really don’t see the parallel. Rusbridger/Snowden/Greenwald/Manning are revealing things that were supposed to be secret, and which at Snowden and Manning had sworn oaths to keep secret. Clapper allegedly lied in order to keep secret things that should have been kept secret. Ron Wyden, whom I am sure you are not down with, basically sandbagged Clapper.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 9, 2013 @ 5:23 pm

  9. @Vlad and @OpenUp. Here’s a different take. Under the Naval Academy Honor Code (and I presume the same is true at the other service academies) your honor cannot be used against you. That is, you cannot be convicted of an honor offense if you are asked a question, the answer to which would be self-incriminating. The information Wyden asked about was classified. To answer it honestly, Clapper would have violated his obligation to maintain the secrecy of that information. Wyden, in other words, was a putz who used Clapper’s honor against him.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 9, 2013 @ 5:31 pm

  10. @Prof

    No sandbagging: its a matter of public record that Clapper was given the question a few days before by Wyden, so he had plenty time to finesse his answer. He chose to lie.

    Even Feinstein said in the latest New Yorker article on the NSA that she was “startled” by his (lying) answer. And Patriot Act author Jim Sensenbrenner said Clapper should be prosecuted for lying to congress.

    But to the larger question: you now believe that, no matter the circumstances, it is OK to lie to congress? The ‘honor’ system trumps any law or forum?? Really? Wow! Clearly tho then, if your honor system OK’s lies, then just lie – even to congress. Even if thats accepted, it presupposes that what is being lying about is 100000% legal. I think the Snowden revelations since May/June have largely shown many of the programs Clapper was lying about were NOT legal. See the many FISA court rulings on these violations of the law.

    Lastly, Snowden was a lowly third party IT contractor, not bound by any military honor oath. It was a simple non-disclosure contract. Dogmatic enforcement of non-disclosure contacts though would kill any whistleblowing where wrong is discovered, anywhere. As an third party IT contractor tho, there are/were none of the whistleblower protections ostensibly afforded to government employees. He had nowhere //practical// to go with his concerns and was forced to go public.

    The world reaction I think shows that what Snowden has revealed is a public and global service. Almost half of congress who voted for the Amash amendment think so.

    Comment by OpenUp — December 10, 2013 @ 7:25 am

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