I'm finding the coverage of the Edward Snowden/NSA surveillance story increasingly frustrating in that it circles around all these distractions and ignores the real issues that Snowden's revelations have brought forth. I don't really care if the Beltway media doesn't consider Glenn Greenwald a real 'journalist' or if Edward Snowden is a hero or a criminal.
The latest meme amongst the Beltway crowd to distract from the issues that should be discussed is that we need not take Snowden seriously because he won't face criminal charges here in the US, opting to apply for asylum to Equador via Moscow. Besides, nervous Americans, don't you know that this program is totally legal? But Government Accountability Project Director Jessalyn Radack knows better than most how fallacious that logic is and zeroed in on exactly that issue with host George Stephanopoulos.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me bring that now to Jesselyn Radack, who is also here with me right now. Julian Assange mentioned Edward Snowden’s father, who has also written -- his attorney has written a letter to Eric Holder, the attorney general, saying that he believes that his son would be willing to come back to the United States if he would not be detained or imprisoned prior to trial, if he would not be subject to a gag order, if he would be tried in the venue of his choosing. Do you think it would make sense for Snowden to return under those circumstances?
RADACK: I actually don’t. I have represented people like Thomas Drake, who was an NSA whistle-blower, who actually did go through every conceivable internal channel possible, including his boss, the inspector general of his agency, the Defense Department inspector general and two congressional committees, and the U.S. turned around and prosecuted him. And did so for espionage and threatened to tie him up for the rest of his life in jail. I think Snowden’s outlook is bleak here, and instead of focusing on Snowden and shooting the messenger, we should really focus on the crimes of the NSA. Because whatever laws Snowden may or may not have broken, they are infinitesimally small compared to the two major surveillance laws and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution that the NSA’s violated.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But these surveillance programs, as the president has pointed out, were passed by the Congress, are overseen by a court.
RADACK: Well, both of those are incorrect. Congress has not been fully informed. Only the--
STEPHANOPOULOS: They passed the laws, there is oversight, or there is (inaudible).
RADACK: OK, but there is a secret interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which nobody knows, except for the Intel Committee of Congress, and even they say that they think most Americans would be appalled by that. And to say that it’s been approved by the courts is a misnomer, because it gives the impression that federal courts have approved this, when in reality, it’s the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has rubber-stamped every single--
STEPHANOPOULOS: Which is a federal court.
RADACK: No, it is a secret court set up at the Justice Department that has federal judges on it. But last year, it approved 2,000 out of 2,000 applications. They hear only the government’s side, and they have never -- they have rejected an application one time since 1978.
Look how quickly Stephanopoulos moves on...can't bring the real issues to the forefront instead of the shiny distractions about Edward Snowden's gullibility or culpability. As Ben Smith points out in Buzzfeed:
But Snowden’s personal story is interesting only because the new details he revealed are so much more interesting. We know substantially more about domestic surveillance than we did, thanks largely to stories and documents printed by The Guardian. They would have been just as revelatory without Snowden’s name on them. The shakeout has produced more revelatory reporting, notably this new McClatchy piece on the way in which President Obama’s obsession with leaks has manifested itself in the bureaucracy with a new “Insider Threat Program.”
Snowden’s flight and its surrounding geopolitics are a good story; what he made public is a better one. I’m not sure why reporters should care all that much about his personal moral status, the meaning of the phrase “civil disobedience,” or the fate of his eternal soul. And the public who used to be known as “readers” are going to have to get used to making that distinction.