Former CIA employee, most recently Booz Allen employee Edward Snowden was already the intel community’s biggest nightmare, and now this:
You could not have done better if you had gone to central casting and had a professional scriptwriter. He’s on the nerdy side of attractive, sensible-sounding and relaxed, articulate, and able to deliver key points in a compact, mass market friendly manner. Sadly, who carriers the message matters a great deal to Americans, and Snowden has revealed himself to be credible and likeable. In other words, as Foreign Policy noted a couple of days ago, the PR battle is on, and Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian team have played this very well. The releasing of key pieces over a series of days has kept the story on a full boil, and having Snowden agree to the taping and releasing it towards the end was astute, witness:
But putting the effectiveness of the strategy of the packaging of the story aside, the message in the video is even more disturbing than the program overviews released so far. If nothing else, listen to the section starting at 3:16 to 3:40, where he described the untrammeled access analysts have to information. Your information.
And we’re already seeing serious fracturing on political lines. Some vocal members of the right are alarmed about the reach of the surveillance state. Glenn Beck and Rod Dreher of the American Conservative have come out supporting Snowden by name. Rand Paul, Neil Cavuto,
Peggy Noonan, Jim Sensenbrenner,Heather Ginsberg and Ed Morrissey have all criticized the programs discussed in the Snowden revelations.
Andrew Dittmer sent these comments from the very conservative site TheBlaze, picking the most recent ones expressing a clear point of view on Snowden:
“Regardless this guy is an American hero. Thank God for his courage and integrity.”
“Just finished listening to the video and analyzing his body language;this guy is a good guy and nothing like that POS Bradley Manning. Manning should spend life in prison or be shot and this guy needs an Independent seat in the Senate and head an Intelligence Committee.”
“I’m glad that this information is exposed, but I don’t believe this “whistleblower” had purely honorable intentions. He could have given this information to Constitution friendly politicians, NY Times, Fox News, but he chose to give it to a well known anti-American journalist that works for a foreign news organization.”
“I find it interesting that you think Glenn Greenwald is anti-American because he recently went to work for a british newspaper (bigger money offer, American capitalism and such) and that he is willing to speak out against the gubment. Is that not an American ideal – to speak out against the gubment when you think it is wrong?”
“The difference is simple, Manning was trying to hurt America, this guy is
trying to save her.”
“As for me, this dude is a freedom fighter for humanity and against tyranny.”
“not very bright for an ex-spook. Guess he doesn’t read the news, Obamy is out for leaker blood.”
“One day when we elect an American again as president I hope we can put this man on a Quarter as an anniversery coin.”
“The govt program is illegal, so I’d like to think he’s a good guy. I’m concerned he could be seeking publicity, but I hope he’s a true believer in freedom & liberty, though I see globalism in his word choices, which sets off my alert signals.”
“Watched the video. Can’t say the young man is a patriot and hero, nor can I say that he is a wacked liberal. More needs to be seen and revealed. The man definitely has humility and is not arrogant, but very bright. Some would say that he is not very bright doing what heis doing.”
As Chris Engel pointed out yesterday, a number of sites, particularly tech oriented sites, have tried attacking Greenwald’s work for inaccuracy. Ed Harrison has been keeping tabs on the reporting (see here and here) and describes it as falling into two camps, the first being techies who take issue with the use of terminology. This is similar to the sort of finance pedantry which was routine during and after the crisis. While getting the fine points right matters, too often the critics are simply trying to confine the discussion to experts, who also happen overwhelmingly to be pro status quo. The second is more obvious: journalists who are affiliated with the technology industry (and may not be experts but translate for them regularly) and will defend their meal tickets (the tech industry gets huge amounts of funding from the defense and intel communities).
The other element that Ed highlighted by e-mail is that this shows the dangers of outsourcing government functions. Here are some sections of a blistering, must-read 2007 Salon article by Tim Shorrock on Booz (hat tip Richard Smith):
With revenues of $3.7 billion in 2005, Booz Allen is one of the nation’s biggest defense and intelligence contractors. Under [J.Michael] McConnell’s watch, Booz Allen has been deeply involved in some of the most controversial counterterrorism programs the Bush administration has run, including the infamous Total Information Awareness data-mining scheme. As a key contractor and advisor to the NSA, Booz Allen is almost certainly participating in the agency’s warrantless surveillance of the telephone calls and e-mails of American citizens…
U.S. intelligence budgets are classified, as are nearly all intelligence contracts. But the overall budget is generally understood to be running about $45 billion a year. Based on interviews I’ve done for an upcoming book, I estimate that about 50 percent of this spending goes directly to private companies. This is big business: The accumulated spending on intelligence since 2002 is much higher than the total of $33 billion the Bush administration paid to Bechtel, Halliburton and other large corporations for reconstruction projects in Iraq…
Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Booz Allen was hired by the CIA to audit the agency’s monitoring of trillions of dollars in international financial transactions moving through a European cooperative called SWIFT….
The ACLU and Privacy International, an organization that monitors government intrusion, jointly issued a scathing report on the issue last September. “Though Booz Allen’s role is to verify that the access to the SWIFT data is not abused, its relationship with the US government calls its objectivity significantly into question,” the two organizations said….
Booz Allen served as the NSA’s chief advisor on one of its most significant outsourcing projects. Called Groundbreaker, this huge project was launched shortly before the 9/11 attacks to overhaul the NSA’s internal I.T. systems. Booz Allen’s work on this project was outlined in a Booz Allen magazine piece on “Government Clients.” Working with the NSA, the article states, Booz Allen “helped create a new model of managed competition that outsourced key pieces of the agency’s IT infrastructure services.” Its work on Groundbreaker “included source selection support and evaluating vendor proposals.”
Last year, however, the Baltimore Sun investigated the project and concluded it was a failure. Over the course of the project, Groundbreaker’s $2 billion price tag had doubled, and the problems with the system, according to insiders who spoke to the Sun, were legion. “Some analysts and managers have said their productivity is half of what it used to be because the new system requires them to perform many more steps to accomplish what a few keystrokes used to,” the paper reported. Another NSA program that Booz Allen was involved in, Trailblazer, which was designed to overhaul the NSA’s signals intelligence system, is widely considered an even worse failure.
Oh, and guess who the majority owner of Booz is? Carlyle Group, the long-time DC heavyweight private equity firm with deep connections to the Bush family. We can see how clever it is proving to be to have outsourced big chunks of the defense, security, and intelligence apparatus to mercenaries, even worse, ones with really high return targets (the traditional public service model led to screening for true believers. By contrast, Snowden touches on his discomfort with his well-paid lifestyle and his power).
And even though a lot of the tech community benefits directly from military-industrial complex largesse, there’s also a good deal of soul searching and consternation in some quarters of that world as well.
We finally may have seen the abuse where Obama’s default strategy, that any problem can be solved by better PR, has met its match. The fact that Greenwald and the Guardian have played this story well and gotten it the airing it deserves is very important. But it’s also that Snowden has been able to provide concrete examples that put the spotlight on the scope and lack of real checks on a massive police state apparatus. And it isn’t just Americans that are alarmed. It’s going to be very hard for the officialdom to minimize or explain away this information, and we should all be very grateful for that.
This piece is cross-posted from Naked Capitalism with permission.