Thursday, June 27, 2013

America finally pays for its hypocrisy

The United States government, which is literally spying on the entire world -- and on its own people with drones, by the FBI's own admission -- has had the audacity to charge Edward Snowden with espionage.

As of this writing, Snowden is sitting in an airport in Moscow, waiting to see whether his request for asylum to Ecuador will be granted. The WikiLeaks legal team says it assisted him in his exit from Hong Kong, where the government said he left legally. The U.S. government had cancelled Snowden's passport the day before, so it remains unclear how he was able to leave, but Hong Kong released a statement after Snowden was in the air, announcing that he'd left. The United States had asked Hong Kong to hold him and allow him to be deported, but Hong Kong said the paperwork wasn't completed properly and needed further information. In the meantime, Snowden slipped away.

It seems pretty clear that Hong Kong thumbed its nose at the United States' demands, especially considering that on top of letting Snowden get away, it told the U.S. that it wanted more information on Snowden's revelation that the U.S. has been spying on the Chinese and hacking computers, including those of civilians. Snowden also said later that the NSA hacks into Chinese mobile-phone operators to steal millions of customers' text messages.

Those revelations, as Beijing's official news agency put it, have "put Washington in a really awkward situation. Washington should come clean about its record first. The United States, which has long been trying to play innocent as a victim of cyber attacks, has turned out to be the biggest villain in our age."

It's clear that Russia, too, by allowing Snowden on its soil, is telling America to take a flying leap.

Nor are Russia and China the only ones. Many of our European allies are upset over the allegations of spying, but Germany in particular is furious. One lawmaker decried Obama's "American-style Stasi methods" of surveillance. Another said:
The more a society monitors, controls, and observes its citizens, the less free it is. The suspicion of excessive surveillance of communication is so alarming that it cannot be ignored.
When Obama visited Berlin this past week, protestors took to the street to make their feelings known.

And in Ireland, Clare Daly, a member of parliament, ripped Obama during his visit for the G8 summit, calling him a war criminal and a hypocrite.

Daly blasted Obama for claiming to stand for peace when he's been arming rebels in the Syrian civil war (on a pretext about as flimsy as the one the Bush administration used to justify war with Iraq, I might add) and has increased drone strikes around the world.

At the G8 summit, Obama was also confronted by British Prime Minister David Cameron regarding the release of British resident Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo. The detainees there are in the midst of a hunger strike, and according to Aamer, the glorious Americans, defenders of all that is right and good, are force-feeding the inmates with "'metal-tipped' feeding tubes, which Aamer said were forced into inmates' stomachs twice a day and caused detainees to vomit over themselves."

It was surely also an awkward moment for Obama at G8 when he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, after the Guardianpaper released another Snowden leak -- this one revealing that the U.S. spied on the top-secret communications of Russia's then-president, Dmitry Medvedev, at the 2009 G20 summit in London. 

The United States has become a laughingstock and an embarrassment. It's been called out for the violent, intolerant bully that it is. And in true form, the bully is going on the attack, with inflammatory rhetoric that proves bringing Snowden home to face a trial isn't about justice -- it's purely about retaliation.

In Congress, Peter King, Dianne Feinstein, and John Boehner all called Snowden a traitor. That's right -- the people who are apparently just fine with an unaccountable spy program that violates the privacy of every American, in blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment, are not traitors. The guy who uncovered and revealed it is.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss says the "bad guys" now know how we're tracking them. Right, by spying on Americans. It's not as if any terrorists are dumb enough to think the U.S. wasn't watching them in the first place.

Sen. Chuck Schumer threw a tantrum over Russia's involvement in the Snowden ordeal: "The bottom line is very simple: Allies are supposed to treat each other in decent ways, and Putin always seems almost eager to put a finger in the eye of the United States." But it's OK if the United States doesn't treat Russia "in decent ways" and spies on its communications at an international summit. Hypocrisy at its ugliest.

NSA director Keith Alexander said Snowden has caused "irreversible and significant damage to our country and to our allies." No, a government that rapes its own Constitution is what causes potentially irreversible damage.

But you don't understand, Alexander whined. Spying on all of you helped us stop 50 terrorist attacks. Sure it did. It really worked on stopping the Boston bombing, didn't it? Furthermore, I don't care if it stopped five hundred attacks. When the program being carried out destroys our own Bill of Rights, the price we all pay is too high. If we're no longer free, then what are we fighting for?

The personal smears are continuing, too. John Kerry mused: "I wonder if Mr. Snowden chose China and Russia as assistants in his flight from justice because they're such powerful bastions of Internet freedom."

Meanwhile, Obama's press secretary, Jay Carney, said Snowden's choice of destinations reveals that "his true motive throughout has been to injure the national security of the United States."

What these idiots leave out is that there were very few places Snowden could go without being handed right back over to the United States. It's not about becoming a sympathizer with hard-line countries. It's about escaping and surviving. Kerry and Carney obviously know this, but the character assassination will surely work well on an ignorant public that's easy to inflame when you wave an American flag in their faces.

And if you think going on the run is an unseemly thing to do, consider the story of journalist Michael Hastings, whose expose for Rolling Stone was instrumental in the resignation of Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was then heading U.S. operations in Afghanistan. He's done several other provocative pieces since then. Earlier this month, Hastings sent an e-mail to his colleagues at BuzzFeed, saying "the feds" were interviewing his friends and associates and adding that he might be lying low for a while as he worked on a big story. WikiLeaks said Hastings reached out to one of their lawyers.

The next day, Hastings died in a fiery car accident. His car, traveling at a high rate of speed, slammed into a tree and caught on fire.

Was it sabotage? Richard Clarke, a former chief counterterrorism adviser on the National Security Council, says Hastings' accident was "consistent with a car cyberattack," in which a car with built-in cellular capabilities, can be hacked into:
Clarke said that not only does the technology to hack cars exist, but "there is reason to believe that intelligence agencies for major powers," like the United States, are already equipped to stage such an attack. "What has been revealed as a result of some research at universities is that it's relatively easy to hack your way into the control system of a car, and to do such things as cause acceleration when the driver doesn't want acceleration, to throw on the brakes when the driver doesn't want the brakes on, to launch an air bag," Clarke said. "You can do some really highly destructive things now, through hacking a car, and it’s not that hard."
With the way this administration demonizes whistleblowers of any kind, is it really that much of a stretch to suspect foul play here? And would it be any surprise if Snowden meets with an untimely accident, or is kidnapped by the U.S. government even after he wins asylum somewhere? The government has no problem snatching people out of foreign countries. It's even done so in Ecuador, so even if Snowden wins asylum there, his safety is still far from guaranteed.  

The knee-jerk response to all of this nonsense from the "I have nothing to hide" brigade and the "Snowden sold us out" contingent is that all of the spying Snowden uncovered is perfectly legal, functioning under the supervision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the FISA courts that "oversee" the programs. But the FISA courts have been little more than a rubber stamp for any request the government makes, and there's no external oversight once the NSA gets the go-ahead from the FISA courts to enact whatever new spying program it may have requested. Furthermore, the Obama administration has repeatedly shot down challenges to the constitutionality of the spying programs, invoking the need to keep state secrets -- something Obama criticized the Bush administration for doing -- and making the outrageous claim that the government is immune from litigation over spying. Makes you wonder what the Most Transparent Administration in History is trying to hide.

It should go without saying that just because something is legal, that doesn't make it moral or constitutional. Slavery was once legal. The argument that all the spying is "legal" is a hollow and cowardly cop-out that refuses to engage with the facts.

Russ Feingold, the only senator brave enough to vote against the so-called "Patriot" Act back in 2001, warned that this kind of overreach was going to happen. He said at the time the bill was being debated:
[U]nder this bill, the government can compel the disclosure of the personal records of anyone -- perhaps someone who worked with, or lived next door to, or went to school with, or sat on an airplane with, or has been seen in the company of, or whose phone number was called by -- the target of the investigation. 

[ … ] 

Under this provision, the government can apparently go on a fishing expedition and collect information on virtually anyone. All it has to allege in order to get an order for these records from the court is that the information is sought for an investigation of international terrorism or clandestine intelligence gathering. That's it. On that minimal showing in an ex parte application to a secret court, with no showing even that the information is relevant to the investigation, the government can lawfully compel a doctor or hospital to release medical records, or a library to release circulation records. This is a truly breathtaking expansion of police power.
Even Jim Sensenbrenner, who drafted the "Patriot" Act, says things have gone way too far:
Congress intended to allow the intelligence communities to access targeted information for specific investigations. How can every call that every American makes or receives be relevant to a specific investigation? 

This is well beyond what the Patriot Act allows. 

President Obama's claim that "this is the most transparent administration in history" has once again proven false. In fact, it appears that no administration has ever peered more closely or intimately into the lives of innocent Americans. The president should immediately direct his administration to stop abusing the U.S. Constitution.
But remember, it's not the programs running in secrecy with no oversight that are the problem here. Oh, goodness, no. The problem is the person who proved that sunlight is the best disinfectant and brought the world's attention to the American government's malfeasance. In fact, D.C. is flipping out so much over having its sins laid bare that Satan himself, Dick Cheney, decided to weigh in and shoot the messenger in grand fashion. Not only is Edward Snowden a traitor, Cheney spat, but he might also be a Chinese spy!

Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American, and the more panicked talk we hear from people like him, Feinstein, and King, the better off we all are.
As for the ludicrous assertion of being a spy:
Ask yourself: if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn't I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now.
And as for who the real traitors are, WikiLeaks' Julian Assange had something to say about that in a recent statement:
The word "traitor" has been thrown around a lot in recent days. 

But who is really the traitor here? 

Who was it who promised a generation "hope" and "change," only to betray those promises with dismal misery and stagnation? 

Who took an oath to defend the U.S. constitution, only to feed the invisible beast of secret law devouring it alive from the inside out? 

Who is it that promised to preside over The Most Transparent Administration in history, only to crush whistleblower after whistleblower with the bootheel of espionage charges? 

Who combined in his executive the powers of judge, jury and executioner, and claimed the jurisdiction of the entire earth on which to exercise those powers 

Who arrogates the power to spy on the entire earth -- every single one of us -- and when he is caught red handed, explains to us that "we're going to have to make a choice." 

Who is that person? 

Let's be very careful about who we call "traitor." 

Edward Snowden is one of us. 

Bradley Manning is one of us.
Ron Paul, meanwhile, made a great observation about the government's espionage charge against Snowden:
My understanding is that espionage means giving secret or classified information to the enemy. Since Snowden shared information with the American people, his indictment for espionage could reveal (or confirm) that the U.S. Government views you and me as the enemy.
That might sound over the top, but just look at the culture of paranoia in our government that this incident has exposed. Even before the NSA story blew up, Obama was pushing for a so-called Insider Threat Program that would essentially have federal workers keeping an eye on their co-workers and would press managers to punish anyone who failed to report their suspicions. Watch your neighbor and be a snitch -- this is actually happening in the United States of America.

I imagine the government will double down on projects like that now. There's already talk of a buddy system, whereby another person has to be present when someone is placing data on removable media. So the next Snowden -- and let's hope there are many more -- will unfortunately have a tougher time getting the news to the American people. And it's anyone's guess how much more stringent something like background checks will become before people can go to work for government spy agencies in the future. Snowden left the entire government -- this massive apparatus that we're supposed to trust with our private information -- with egg on its face, with one official claiming that the NSA thinks "he copied so much stuff that almost everything that place does, he has," and with Snowden himself saying he took the contractor position with Booz Allen Hamilton for the express purpose of gathering as much evidence of its surveillance methods as he could. And even if anything happens to him, he's given encoded files to his trove of remaining discoveries to several people around the world.

Now that's bold. 

Snowden, however, said he's been disappointed by the U.S. media's reaction to his leaks:
Initially I was very encouraged. Unfortunately, the mainstream media now seems far more interested in what I said when I was 17 or what my girlfriend looks like rather than, say, the largest program of suspicionless surveillance in human history.
He's absolutely right. This should be the top story on the news, night after night. The press should be screaming about this. Their virtual silence on the relevant aspects of this story equates to complicity with the government's illegal behavior, and they should all be ashamed to call themselves journalists. 

Even worse, some of these alleged "journalists" think their fellow reporters should be arrested for giving leakers a forum. Do that, and Obama's wildest dreams of shutting down an investigative media come true. Reporters' confidential sources would cease to exist, as would a free press.

But the story isn't being ignored elsewhere on the planet. While the U.S. government threatens and bullies the likes of Russia and China, they aren't taking it sitting down. Quite the contrary:
Aleksei K. Pushkov, chairman of the Russian Parliament's foreign affairs committee, said in a Twitter post early Wednesday that "the U.S. threats toward Russia and China over the Snowden affair will not give results, but only bring Moscow and Beijing together even more strongly."
Blowback rears its head again.

And how could Moscow and Beijing notfight back, when America's Secretary of State comes off sounding like a mafia boss? 
"They are on notice with respect to our desires," Kerry said of Russia. "It would be deeply troubling if they have adequate notice and notwithstanding that they make a willful decision to ignore that and not live within the standards of the law." 
It would be deeply troubling. Or as Luigi "The Claw" Russo might whisper in your ear, "It would be most unfortunate if you were to meet with an untimely accident."

This is America's top diplomat. Using threats, not diplomacy.

But wait. It gets better. 
"But there are standards of behavior between sovereign nations," Kerry said. "There are -- there is common law. There is respect for rule of law. … So we simply call on [Russia] to -- they don't have to enforce the law, but they certainly can allow [Snowden] to be subject to the laws of our land and our Constitution."
Obama said much the same thing a few days later:
[M]y continued expectation is that Russia or other countries that have talked about potentially providing Mr. Snowden asylum recognize that they are part of an international community and that they should be abiding by international law. And we'll continue to press them as hard as we can to make sure that they do so.
Wow. How rich is that? "Respect for rule of law"? Making sure that other countries are "abiding by international law"? This from a government and an administration that:
  • Spies on its own citizens in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
  • Launches illegal invasions of foreign countries with no input from Congress whatsoever.
  • Props up corrupt dictatorships that serve its ends.
  • Assassinates its own citizens.
  • Has a president who reviews a secret kill list and decides who on the list dies.
  • Believes it has the right to detain its own citizens indefinitely without charge or trial.
  • Intimidates journalists who dig too deep for its liking.
  • Prosecutes whistleblowers at a pace never before seen in American history.
  • Uses the IRS to harass and discriminate against groups based on their political beliefs.
  • Denies criminal defendants the right to a fair and speedy trial.
  • Maintains a series of secret prisons around the world.
  • Brutally tortures detainees, in violation of international treaties.
  • Drone-bombs women and children.
The brazen hypocrisy is astounding. But it's nothing new for a country that thinks the rules apply to everyone but itself.

Hey, Kerry and Obama, here's a clue: If you want other countries to respect the rule of law, do it yourself.

As for subjecting people to the laws of our Constitution -- again, let's start with the criminal class in Washington. D.C.

Set the example, guys. Do something other than look down your nose at the world when you're pressed regarding what you're going to do about Snowden, the way Obama recently did:
I'm not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.

[ ... ]

I have not called … President Putin personally and the reason is because, number one, I shouldn't have to. 

[ ... ]

Number two, we've got a whole lot of business that we do with China and Russia, and I'm not going to have one case of a suspect who we're trying to extradite suddenly being elevated to the point where I've got to start doing wheeling and dealing and trading on a whole host of other issues.
In other words: This entire discussion is beneath my contempt. Just do what I say and hand Snowden over. I'll be the one to dictate the terms here. I'll be the one to say who has to abide by international law and who doesn't.
The smugness is nauseating.

And please, Washington, spare us any lectures about telling Russia to take the moral high ground and hand Snowden over, when we shelter foreign criminals from their own governments -- including former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, whose security forces opened fire on civilian protestors, killing dozens and injuring hundreds. Or Venezuelan terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, whom we won't turn over because -- get this -- he might be tortured. Only we can torture people! U-S-A! U-S-A!

So here we are, bullying and threatening other nations in our ruthless pursuit of someone whose only crime is telling the truth. In other nations, leaks are met with much less aggressive legal penalties, and those who commit the leaks can sometimes avoid prosecution altogether if it can't be proved that the leaks caused harm. Anywhere else in the world, Snowden would probably walk free. Here, he faces a draconian heavy hand, charged under a law that was designed to suppress free speech during World War I, and whose most severe punishment is the death penalty.

But elsewhere, it seems the world is looking on and finally rising up against the arrogance, hypocrisy, double standards, and evil that are today's American government.  

In response to Kerry's hysterics, for example, Putin said: 
Any accusations against Russia are nonsense and rubbish. … As for extradition, there is no possibility. We can hand over foreign citizens to countries with which we have an appropriate international agreement on the extradition of criminals. We don't have such an agreement with the United States. 

And even if there was an extradition agreement between the United States and Russia, Putin didn't make it seem very likely that he'd turn Snowden over: 
Assange and Snowden consider themselves human rights activists and say they are fighting for the spread of information. Ask yourself this: should you hand these people over so they will be put in prison?
China's state-run newspaper People's Daily was even more blistering over the whole affair:
In a sense, the United States has gone from a "model of human rights" to "an eavesdropper on personal privacy," the "manipulator" of the centralized power over the international internet, and the mad "invader" of other countries' networks."  

[ … ] 

The world will remember Edward Snowden. It was his fearlessness that tore off Washington's sanctimonious mask.
Even Ecuador's foreign minister had some choice words for the United States:
Confirming Snowden's asylum request, the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino on Monday said Snowden was being "persecuted" because he revealed "rights violations," calling it "paradoxical."

"It should be asked, who betrayed whom," said Patino at a press conference in Hanoi, defending the American whistleblower who leaked U.S. intelligence program of monitoring online activities and communications of its people.

"Is this betraying the citizens of the world, or betraying some elites that are in power in a certain country?" asked Patino.

[ … ]

When asked about the possible impact of protecting Snowden, the minister said that the U.S. government in the past had denied the extradition of several Ecuadorian bankers charged in Ecuador.

"The relationship between the U.S. and Ecuador should be based on respect for the sovereignty of both countries and our actions are founded on our principles. We consider the consequences of our decisions, but we act in the name of our principles," said Ricardo. 
Ecuador now wants a written explanation from the United States for why it shouldn't grant asylum to Snowden. In the meantime, it has taken the extraordinary step of breaking a trade pact with the United States, in response to U.S. threats if Ecuador ends up granting Snowden asylum. The Andean Trade Preference Act allows Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru to sell goods to the United States without paying import duties, and Sen. Robert Menendez, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said this week he would block renewal of the pact if Ecuador gave safe haven to Snowden. Says the Guardian:
President Rafael Correa's government said on Thursday it was renouncing the Andean Trade Preference Act to thwart US "blackmail" of Ecuador in the former NSA contractor's asylum request.

Officials, speaking at an early morning press conference, also offered a $23m donation for human rights training in the US, a brash riposte to recent US criticism of Ecuador's own human rights record.

[ ... ]

"Ecuador does not accept pressure or threats from anyone, nor does it trade with principles or submit them to mercantile interests, however important those may be," said Fernando Alvarado, the communications secretary.

"Ecuador gives up, unilaterally and irrevocably, the said customs benefits."
Standing ovation, Ecuador. Bravo.

By ignoring the rule of law for so long, for its tiresome bullying tactics, and because of the revelation of a spy program that reaches to every other corner of the planet, the U.S. is going to find that many countries will be less likely to play along. Knowing America's reputation for torturing people and denying them fair trials, they will certainly be less likely to hand over Snowden. Having loose cannons like Mike Huckabee running around and calling outright for Snowden's execution will give pause to any nation that opposes the death penalty. And the rabid condemnations on Capitol Hill darken the prospect that Snowden would ever get a fair trial.

Even Amnesty International has come out in Snowden's defense. "It appears he is being charged by the U.S. government primarily for revealing its and other governments' unlawful actions that violate human rights," an Amnesty official said.

In short, the U.S. has overplayed its hand one too many times. The arrogant bully is finally getting an embarrassing, humiliating, and long-needed smackdown.

And we owe much of it to Edward Snowden -- a hero, a freedom fighter, and a patriot who's had to go on the run for his service to the American people.

"[T]he U.S. government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me," Snowden told the Guardian. "Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped."

As Assange summed it up brilliantly:
It is getting to the point where the mark of international distinction and service to humanity is no longer the Nobel Peace Prize, but an espionage indictment from the U.S. Department of Justice.
May Edward Snowden wear it like a badge of honor.

No comments:

Post a Comment