U.S. and World Politics

Drop the Charges Against Snowden!

By Barry Sheppard

Division continues to deepen in U.S. and international ruling circles about what to do about the revelations of NSA spying.

The speech by President Obama, which was supposed to move the discussion forward, was a flop; polls indicate it didn’t change anyone’s mind. Obama gave his usual “on the one hand, and on the other” speech attempting to appease both sides, but came down in defense of the NSA program.

Where he did seem to offer changes, there were caveats. For example, he said the NSA’s bugging of foreign leaders would cease—except in cases of “national security.” But that is the justification for the whole NSA spying program.

The New York Times reports that in the case of Germany, attempts to come to an agreement on spying on each other’s leaders are “floundering.” The sticking point is, “American officials have refused to extend the ‘no spying’ guarantee beyond [Chancellor] Merkel, telling German officials in private sessions that if the White House agreed to forgo surveillance on German territory, other partners would insist on the same treatment.”

These discussions don’t even touch on the spying on hundreds-of-millions of citizens in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. Reports of views of most Europeans are dismissive of Obama’s speech.

Another example: Obama promised to find a way to provide some kind of advocate for targets of NSA spying brought before the kangaroo Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA). But the targets themselves would not be present and would not even know of the secret FISA proceedings. Such “advocates” would be chosen from a government-appointed list, and be present only when FISA decided to have them.

The word “foreign” in FISA’s name is misleading. FISA is the only court that oversees NSA’s operations, including the sweeping up of all “metadata” of every phone call, tweet, email or text of all U.S. citizens, which it has given carte blanche to.

Scathing report

On January 23, six days after Obama’s speech, an independent federal privacy watchdog issued a 238-page report concluding that the NSA’s collection of bulk “metadata” of U.S. citizens provided only “minimal” benefits in counterterrorism efforts, is illegal and should be shut down.

This was the first major public statement by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which Congress made an independent agency in 2007.

Commenting on the report, the New York Times says it “lays out what may be the most detailed critique of the government’s once-secret legal theory behind the program: that a law known as Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the FBI to obtain business records deemed ‘relevant’ to an investigation, can be legally interpreted as authorizing the NSA to collect all calling records in the country.

“The program ‘lacks a viable legal foundation under Section 215, implicates constitutional concerns under the First and Fourth Amendments, raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties as a policy matter, and has shown only limited value,’ the report said. ‘As a result, the board recommends that the government end the program.’”

The Times noted that the “report also scrutinizes in detail a handful of investigations in which the program was used, finding ‘no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.’”

Of course Section 215 and the whole Patriot Act are a violation of civil liberties. The “war on terrorism” is a bogus rationale for the wars the U.S. has waged since and the setting up of this vast spy operation.

Growing divisions

Snowden’s revelations of the extent of international spying, including economic spying, have also caused concern. On January 23, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, set up a commission to “scrutinize the future of the web in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations,” according to the Financial Times.

“Marissa Mayer, chief executive of Yahoo, said [in Davos] trust in her company and others had been damaged by the disclosures.” Her concerns were echoed by other company heads.

Microsoft has now said it will not store international users’ information in the U.S. The Financial Times reports: “Brad Smith, general counsel of Microsoft, said that … it had become necessary after leaks showed the National Security Agency had been monitoring data of foreign citizens from Brazil to the EU.” Whether this move by Microsoft will calm concerns, given the worldwide reach of the NSA, remains to be seen.

Why is it important when such divisions occur in ruling class circles? Because it helps our side, the working class side, to expose ruling class attacks on us. Polls now show that around 70 percent of U.S. citizens think NSA spying on them should be curtailed or eliminated, for example.

The division over the NSA program also extends to differences over how Edward Snowden should be treated.

Previously, the New York Times editors called for clemency for Snowden, given the great value of his revelations. Calls for clemency have increased in the last several months by other news organizations as well as civil liberties organizations. Attorney General Eric Holder rejected those appeals. He said that Snowden should return to face the charges against him, and then and only then the government would consider a plea deal.

A bipartisan attack on Snowden was launched by the heads of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on the Sunday Meet the Press TV program on January 19.

Mike Rodgers, the Republican head of the House committee, was joined by Democrat Dianne Feinstein of the Senate’s in accusing Snowden, without a shred of evidence, of working for Russian spy services.

Rodgers said that Snowden’s possession of a “go bag” to get out of Hawaii and his smooth entry into Hong Kong indicated preplanning beyond his individual capacity.

“I don’t think it was a gee-whiz luck event that he ended up in Moscow under the handling of the FSB [the Russian spy agency],” Rodgers said. “He may well have [been a Russian spy],” Feinstein chimed in.

Last month, Jesselyn Radak, a legal adviser to Snowden and a lawyer with the Government Accountability Project, already replied to this nonsense: “I absolutely think the tide has changed for Snowden. All these things taken together counsel in favor of some sort of amnesty or pardon.”

Red Flag, January 25, 2014