The University of Connecticut hosted a keynote speaking event with former United States senator and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on April 23. She was asked a question about former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and proceeded to express puzzlement and mock him for disclosing information on top secret surveillance programs.
Much of what Clinton said deserves a rebuttal, particularly if this is going to be the talking points that Democratic Party politicians repeat throughout the next fear years. So, I have decided to go line by line through her remarks.
The moderator said to Clinton, “I’m going to ask about the emergence of Edward Snowden and whether you think his emergence had any positive effects on either American security policy or discourse about security.”
She began her answer:
I look at it from a slightly different perspective, obviously, because when [Snowden] became a public figure the president had actually given a speech and many of us were beginning the process of trying to figure out more than ten years after 9/11 what we needed to do to get our liberty/security balance right. Because after 9/11, laws were passed. People were desperate to avoid another attack. I saw enough intelligence as a senator from New York then certainly as secretary, that this is a constant. There are people right this minute trying to figure out how to do harm to Americans and to other innocent people. So it was a debate that needs to happen so that we make sure that we’re not infringing on Americans’ privacy, which is a value cherished, personal belief that we have. But we also have to figure out how we get the right amount of security… [emphasis added]
This is similar to what President Barack Obama claimed in his speech at the Justice Department in January, when he announced how his administration would be responding to the information disclosed.
Obama declared, “After an extended review of our use of drones in the fight against terrorist networks, I believed a fresh examination of our surveillance programs was a necessary next step in our effort to get off the open ended war-footing that we have maintained since 9/11. For these reasons, I indicated in a speech at the National Defense University last May that we needed a more robust public discussion about the balance between security and liberty. What I did not know at the time is that within weeks of my speech, an avalanche of unauthorized disclosures would spark controversies at home and abroad that have continued to this day.”
Both Obama and now Clinton want the public to overlook the administration’s history of support for spying, as presented by The New York Times, prior to the disclosures. Obama aides anonymously told the Times that the president had been “surprised to learn after the leaks…just how far the surveillance had gone.” The administration fought groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in the courts as they tried to convince judges to release documents that would at minimum confirm the secret legal interpretations of surveillance authorities under the law. So, it is fraudulent for Obama, Clinton or any other politician to claim to Americans that the White House was about to bring transparency and promote debate on government surveillance.
…When he emerged and when he absconded with all that material, I was puzzled, because we have all these protections for whistleblowers. I mean, if he were concerned and wanted to be part of the American debate, he could have been…
The presidential directive that Obama issued in October 2012 for “protecting whistleblowers with access to classified information” does not explicitly offer protection for contractors like Snowden. It continued the practice in government of not granting statutory protections to intelligence agency employees who decide to blow the whistle on waste, abuse, fraud and illegality.
Snowden could have provided information to the NSA’s inspector general, but that person, George Ellard, who Snowden was supposed to trust, said publicly he would have tried to show Snowden that he was wrong to be concerned.
NSA whistleblowers William Binney, Thomas Drake, Ed Loomis and Kirk Wiebe went to Democratic senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall. They listened to information about programs similar to the PRISM program that Snowden revealed and never acted upon any of the information shared.
Moreover, had Snowden gone to Congress, he would have been taking the risk that the US intelligence community would place him under investigation for leaking. His name may have been provided to the Justice Department for criminal investigation just like what happened to Drake, who was prosecuted under the Espionage Act.
…But it struck me as—I just have to be honest with you—as sort of odd that he would flee to China, because Hong Kong is controlled by China, and that he would then go to Russia, two countries with which we have very difficult cyber-relationships, to put it mildly…
As Snowden showed, the “cyber-relationships” are “very difficult,” meaning the NSA is engaged in hacking operations similar to the kind of Chinese operations US officials regularly condemn publicly. It targeted the corporate secrets of the Chinese telecommunications company, Huawei, because it felt it was necessary to help American and Western network infrastructure businesses maintain their dominance. It had nothing to do with “national security,” as explained by US leaders, and everything to do with maintaining America’s economic power by engaging in economic espionage. (more…)