Snowden’s Pyrrhic Victory? *

Episode Recap

State of play so far since our last episode. Putin bemoans now being stuck with an unwelcome Christmas present (Snowden). Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia offer Snowden asylum but can’t get him there. The man of the hour meanwhile finally seeks asylum in Russia yet’s vague about ceasing public ‘anti-U.S. activities’, a pre-condition set by Putin.

Greenwald in turn threatens the U.S. with the worst disaster in history should anything ever happen to Snowden – while decrying that people pay too much attention to Snowden. And the U.S. hints about canceling a tete-a-tete with Putin after the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg.

So we ask you to join in our poll:

To date, voting is split between the media and U.S. government as winners. Did you weigh in yet? (Surprised no one wrote in China).

Snowden, Comic, Moscow, NSA
Limited Collector’s Edition

What About Reform At Home?

Some U.S. reform conversation manages to emerge, modestly, on narrow grounds. Comprehensive congressional reform of Community oversight isn’t on the table. At best, particular sections of PATRIOT Act are receiving initial and tangential scrutiny. We’re all in favor of rolling back PATRIOT Act wherever possible – we opposed it at the time and argued the case on the Hill. We firmly believe that L’Affaire Snowden, how it was handled and by whom, squandered the best chance in a generation to make more than cosmetic changes.

The House in particular shows tentative signs that some ranking members are reconsidering Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. That provision on its face blew the doors open on the old Section 501 of the FISA Act. Previously, the government could request business records of truck rental companies, hotels, etc. by applying to the FISC. The government had the burden of producing evidence to support its claim and the entire application would be reviewed by a judge.

Section 215 essentially erased any restrictions on obtaining business records. And it allows NSA and others to seek records without needing to provide any evidence to support their claims. A statement of a need is all that’s required. Judges have essentially no discretion and are a de facto rubber stamp. Unsurprisingly, the Community took that carte blanche and ran with it. What the Executive did then is simply claim entire databases are business records. Tardy congressional interest now in examining Section 215 authority is welcome. But claims of shock over what happened under Section 215 and other PATRIOT Act provisions are way too late and Casablanca-esque.

Snowden, NSA, Greenwald, World of Warcraft
An American Abroad

* Thanks to @Blckdgrd for catching typo re ‘Pyrrhic’. One of those words. Double checked it before posting and still blew it. The hazard of blogging sans caffeine.


  1. Dr Leo Strauss says

    The failure of the so-called Amash amendment to the House Defense Authorization Bill probably pre-destined, regardless of how the White House chose to handle it. The final vote was close, but as you may know, often votes are closer than they really are when representatives feel they call make a free vote without affecting the outcome. (Many Rs in particular fell into this category, wanting to cover their primaries).

    An appropriator making an amendment on an authorizations bill in internal House jurisdictional frames is not necessarily welcome, either. Aside from HPSCI intelligence grandees, there were a number of authorizing chairs who sided with the status quo.

    To win this game, as we wrote in answer to readers’ questions about Community reform in 2008 (see first Snowden post here below), one must be prepared for the long game of Verdun like political combat. Flash mob politics from Reddit, Twitter and FB won’t cut it. Nor will casual alliances of sentiment and emotions of the moment among so-called progressives and libertarians.

    First, politics as a profession of addition demands that the message be FOR something, rather negatory, against. For restoring privacy, for restoring accountability, for reforming congressional oversight, etc. For replacing Section 215 with ————, curtailing sneak and peak, information sharing, roving wiretaps, etc.

    Second, change must be sustainable, that is institutionalized, to function when ardor and Twitter passions move on. This means working with and using congressional platforms. Not as a one-off. But to create the foundations to last at least as long as the last cycle, say from 1980-2001. We see little of the necessary work.

    Third, no agenda that is based on wishing to tear down, destroy or harm U.S. power will succeed. Beyond energizing the forces of reaction and status quo. And enabling the proponents to indulge in questionable moral superiority.

    We’re still doubtful that proponents of change have the vision, discipline and organizing skill to create a durable politics of reform. Much can change in a week or a month. Keep watching this space.

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