Spooky Trolls

A lot of the objections I hear about Snowden’s disclosures regarding the NSA center around “Who get’s to decide what to make public?” Well, it certainly shouldn’t be any of the top NSA leadership, the White House, or the Congressional committees who “oversee” the NSA.  Whatever wrongs Snowden is guilty of, they pale in comparison to the trampling of our rights to free speech, privacy, and freedom from unfounded persecution. He deserves the medal of freedom.

It doesn’t surprise me that people inside the system cannot admit this, but it’s really irritating when they troll your Facebook wall.

I don’t know many spooks and those I do know are, at best, acquaintances.  I am grateful to have made their acquaintance, they have instilled in me a baseline belief of good intentionson their side, albeit misguided.  One was a political activist in the 70’s and the FBI even put him under surveillance at one point.  But he had played it straight, keeping everything he did well within legal bounds.  When he later applied for a government position his FBI dossier was actually of benefit to him.

Spooks are normal people, they do what they think is best for themselves and their country.  Indeed, they are patriotic people and they lead their lives with a sense of purpose.  Snowden was a spook, he was willing to sign up and put his life on the line for others.  That’s more than I would ever offer.  But there are other spooks whom, despite everything that has come out about the intelligence agencies, still cannot reconcile what Snowden did with what he believes … and one in particular has been trolling my facebook wall.

After listening to immensely naive comments from relatives during Christmas1 , I have been leveraging Facebook to try and  explain to my friends and family the impact of what the NSA has done.  This includes countering NSA propaganda (they lie to the public, regularly), posting about the latest Snowden leak and sometimes times just affirming the moral high-ground of Snowden’s actions.  But I have a friend who is a contractor involved in some low-level government intelligence efforts who either degrades Snowden or calls me paranoid on nearly every post.

It is immensely irritating that someone who does this kind of work could be so blind to the harms of what the NSA has done.  Snowden is someone who once professed that leakers  should be shot, he kept a copy of the constitution at his desk, he was someone who had faith in the government he worked for did the best they could to preserve those rights.  There are three basic reasons why he did what he did and anyone with knowledge of the government should do.

First and foremost, the presidents own commission found that the NSA’s mass surveillance programs lacks efficacy. In that regard, this is no different than the torture methods pushed by the Bush administration or the invasion of Iraq: it simply lowers the US’s standing in the world, diverts energy from more efficacious efforts, and hampers our ability to act in the future.

But it is not just mass surveillance, they have systematically weakened encryption standards and subverted key online security infrastructure.  As detailed in the book The Puzzle Palace, the NSA has been using private companies which supply telecommunications equipment to include backdoors.  These companies happen to have roots in foreign intelligence operations: a security backdoor has no sense of national identity.

And then we get to the morality of it all.  This is simply illegal and it could have been done above board, but it wasn’t.  Again and again, all three branches of government were co-opted into a scheme which was ineffectual, hurt our national security interests, and were illegal from the beginning.  When all three branches of government fail function properly to protect our rights, then it’s up to individuals like Snowden and other NSA whistleblowers before him to let tell us what’s going on.

This is the most overlooked point in the moral contemplations of Snowden’s actions: there were NSA whistleblowers before him who did everything by the book.  He watched as they persecuted by the NSA, watched Clapper lie to congress, and he saw how politicians provided the agency political cover to keep Americans in the dark.

What the NSA has done is indefensible.  Snowden has done the best he could to let the public know what is going on while protecting individual agents identities and specific operational methods.  No, really, there is a lot more the security industry would like to know that the Gaurdian, the New York Times, and the Washington Post have held back.  Many of us would like to know the names of the authors of the documents Snowden has leaked, because they were breaking the law and they should be held accountable.  Snowden has had to pay a heavy price for what he has done2,  they should too.

I regard the people who claim that we need the NSA and their awful apparatus as no different than the people who claim we need torture or hundreds of nuclear missiles on hair triggers to keep us safe.  No really, these are the literally the same people that brought us the Nixon administration3, torture, guantanamo bay, Iraq, and all of the other insanities cooked up during the Bush years.

So, to all of the NSA apologists and outright trolls: there was a time when you could have convinced me (and the American people) that this stuff was worth the cost. But you and yours fucked this up, you lost the moral high ground a long time ago. Top NSA brass should be in a prison cell, Clapper should be held in contempt of congress, and the politicians who enabled all of this should be driven out of office.

You are upset because this drawn out exposé keeps rubbing your face in how wrong you were.  With any luck, the ongoing debate will eventually lead to another Church commission and we can restore faith in the government. But, worse case scenario, we will simply make it much harder for you to pull off the same tricks.

The brutal irony is that total privacy and anonymity makes it harder for us to hunt down bad people who are plotting to kill others. But that blood is on your hands, not ours.

  1. Such as conflating the Target credit card hack and the NSA’s operations (which would not have been possible had the cards had challenge-response chips on them).  There was also a lot of verbatim quotes from the propaganda in the 60 Minutes NSA fluff piece 

  2. A potential fiance and a lucrative job in an island paradise to living on the whims of a dictator.  His life sucks

  3. Cheney was a staffer for Donald Rumsfeld who worked in the Nixon White House and he disagreed with what happened to Nixon

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