On Edward Snowden

Joel Brenner writes truth:

When Snowden asserts that the National Security Agency listens to encrypted Russian diplomatic traffic, it takes the Russians about twenty minutes to shut it down.  An operation like that can take many years to put in place.  When he explains exactly how NSA can implant devices that make it possible to extract information even from isolated networks of hostile governments, those operations will die on the vine.  When he identifies specific networks of adversaries that we have penetrated and the exact locations from which we have done it, he effectively shuts those operations down.  When he and his backers assert that NSA penetrates Google and Yahoo and Facebook servers overseas—when the truth is that NSA may target the foreign terrorist-linked users of those services—he wounds the businesses of creative, successful American companies.  When he identifies legitimate, and legitimately secret, arrangements by which foreign governments cooperate with the United States in pooling resources to track foreign terrorists, he sows pandemonium among Western allies.  When you educate terrorists day after day with these and other revelations, they learn their lessons, and indeed collection against terrorist networks has fallen off sharply.  These are the hostile actions of a self-righteous megalomaniac—hostile to the United States, hostile to liberal democracy, hostile to the West—and it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that their results were intended.

That Snowden also started an overdue public discussion of a metadata collection program authorized by Congress and more than a dozen federal judges—but not understood by many Americans—cannot be denied.  But those disclosures comprise only a fraction of his program of stealing and broadcasting classified information that otherwise has nothing to do with the privacy and civil liberties of citizens of the United States and allied nations.

It should be noted–again–that Snowden has not revealed any illegal activities on the part of the NSA. I understand and respect the fact that there are people who are disturbed by the NSA’s collection program. I count myself as one of those people, and I remain willing to stand by the following words I wrote: “. . . While I am open to the possibility that the monitoring of Verizon phone calls and the PRISM program might have been necessary in order to prevent future terrorist attacks, I am uncomfortable with these programs. Very uncomfortable, in fact.” But I am also willing to stand by these words I wrote as well:

. . . That having been written, I am also uncomfortable with vigilantes inside the United States government deciding what will and will not be kept secret. Yes, I am aware of the fact that without Snowden, we might never have known about these programs, or that we may have had to learn about them from another leaker, and obviously, I struggle with the irony of decrying a leak that informed me of a government program I don’t particularly like and would like to see come to an end if at all possible. But I will be the first to admit that the United States government needs to be able to keep some secrets in order to be able to do its job, and that people like Edward Snowden make it very difficult for the United States government to carry out its legitimate functions, even as they may shine a spotlight on a disturbing government activity.

And of course, when it comes to Brenner’s description of Snowden’s activities, the fact that those activities are taking place ought to surprise no one at all . . . because just about any intelligence agency worth its salt engages in those activities as well. And yes, that includes allies of the United States, who conduct espionage operations against us that are much like the operations the NSA has conducted.


  1. “It should be noted–again–that Snowden has not revealed any illegal activities on the part of the NSA.”

    That is an opinion, not a fact, and it is an opinion that at least one federal judge so far has disagreed with. All we know about the legality of the NSA’s activities is that government lawyers have offered interpretations holding they are legal in legal opinions that were kept secret. It’s pretty easy to win an argument when only one side is permitted to participate.

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