Snowden, Manning and Tsarnaev: is the only difference a pressure cooker?

March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Mart...

March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Joachim Prinz pictured, 1963 (Photo credit: Center for Jewish History, NYC)

If we answer this question with a tentative yes, uncover a deeper problem for liberal democracy. Exasperated by politics, the political process, and society’s failure to change the political system, the three men[1] acted in their respective ways to “blow the whistle” on the United States government. Through a deed, a public act, they would alert the public to what they believed were the government’s illegal and immoral acts. Their deeds and their words connect them as each justified his act by claiming to serve a higher good, either the public interest, their conscience, or both. They acted because the government was either criminal, (Tsarnaev) or it was misleading the public (Manning and Snowden).

How they justified their acts helps us to consider whether they should be called whistleblowers and if they engaged in an act of civil disobedience. On the surface, the difference is stark Tsarnaev and his brother were [alleged] killers.** They [are alleged to have] used bombs made from pressure cookers to kill and maim people in revenge for the United State government’s murder of Muslims. Despite their apparent differences their acts share a common theme.[2] Even though only Snowden and Manning appear to fit the definition of whistleblower, I will argue that Tsarnaev, when compared to the others shares an important similarity. In that similarity, though, we find that they are not whistleblowers. What connects them at a deeper level is that they engaged in propaganda by the deed, instead of whistle blowing or civil disobedience. To understand this argument, we need to consider their motives and what they mean for America.

Chelsea Manning: can an individual decide the public is wrong?

Chelsea Manning justified her act as being necessary for telling the American public what was being done in their name. She believed that if the public knew what she knew, then it would change the public debate on the Iraq war because they would either stop or modify the government’s policy. When the mainstream media failed to take an interest, she turned to the Wikileaks Organisation. They published the information about an alleged war crime and the larger amount of documents that revealed details of America’s diplomacy. Her statement to the court set out her motive and intent.

j. I believe that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the CIDNE-I and CIDNE-A tables this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as [missed word] as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan. I also believed the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to even to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the effected environment everyday.

The public had to be told because the political process did not reflect what she knew. The democratic process that delegates responsibility through a representative government, from the public to the government and on to its agents such as the military, was flawed. It was flawed because the public could not want the outcomes she saw on the ground. She assumed at the time of disclosure that more information would change the public’s view. The unasked question before disclosure, though, is whether the public wanted those outcomes and chose them with knowledge and intent. After her sentencing, when she accepted that she broke the law she explained the information she disclosed could justify the war, which negates her claim of being a whistle blower. Edward Snowden has a similar approach, in that he wants to inform the public so they can make better choices, which undermines his label as a whistleblower.

Edward Snowden: what would replace comfortable self-preservation?

Edward Snowden has also been described as a whistleblower because he appeared to reveal illegal and immoral acts by the government. Snowden, like Manning, wants the American public to be better informed because he believes that if they have the information, they will make a better choice.[3] They would awaken from their slumber and change the government’s policies. Like Manning, he seems unaware of or indifferent to the political process of representative government as it works through an administrative state. Unlike Manning, though, he has a political goal beyond telling the public. He wants to change American society and change the regime. Despite their similarities, Snowden agenda is more radical.

“But at the same time you have to make a determination about what it is that’s important to you. And if living unfreely but comfortably is something you’re willing to accept, and I think it many of us are it’s the human nature; you can get up everyday, go to work, you can collect your large paycheck for relatively little work against the public interest, and go to sleep at night after watching your shows.”

“But if you realize that that’s the world you helped create and it’s gonna get worse with the next generation and the next generation who extend the capabilities of this sort of architecture of oppression, you realize that you might be willing to accept any risk and it doesn’t matter what the outcome is so long as the public gets to make their own decisions about how that’s applied. [Emphasis added in bold]

Snowden’s statement, near the middle of his interview, at 6:27 of the 12:34 interview, shows he wants to rescue the United States from its slumber of comfortable self-preservation. He seems unaware that the regime is founded to achieve comfortable self-preservation.[4] He wants to change the American regime and, by extension, reform the American public. His call to act is like a sermon, a jeremiad.[5] Like a preacher, he is calling the people back to the path of righteousness. They must reject the false pursuit of comfortable self-preservation because it has culminated in an architecture of oppression. Unless Americans change their ways, a turnkey tyranny through a technologically enabled surveillance programme will be their future. We are never told or shown how the American people are oppressed. We are told to overlook the system’s intent and design and to look only at its potential as a tool of oppression. We must accept that its existence is by default oppressive. What is implied, but unsaid, is that any government programme, by its existence, is a tool of oppression. The census, social security, even the postal system have the potential to be a tool of oppression. We must accept that America is no longer a democracy, with the rule of law, where the government serves the people. Instead America is becoming or has become a technological tyranny where the individual is losing or has lost (Snowden never clarifies) his autonomy.

Snowden, though, faces more unasked questions than Manning. What remains unasked is whether Americans want their comfortable self-preservation. When did the government stop being the people’s protector and become its oppressor. If comfortable self preservation is our ruin, what is Snowden’s alternative? His motive provides an implicit and, an unstated, explicit alternative[6], but does America want them? The explicit alternative is Americans reject the surveillance state and achieve the same safety and security by some other unstated means as if the digital domain will police itself because it is benign. Or that the threats in the digital domain do not require NSA surveillance.

Snowden’s implicit alternative requires a radical change in American politics. It would appear that America must either accept individualist anarchism or the unrestrained pursuit of civic virtue. Either will need the public to forgo their comfortable self-preservation. The whole system, not just the NSA programme, has to be rejected. The system of comfortable self-preservation has created the architecture of oppression. Without a viable an alternative, his criticism, no matter how radical or how widely published and promoted, remains incomplete, incoherent, and ultimately ineffective. We can summarize it as follows: He does not like the surveillance system because it makes him uncomfortable. Anyone who wants to protect individual autonomy will agree with him that the government must change its ways.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: whistle blowing by explosive

Tsarnaev had a different motive. Instead of informing the public to make a better choice, or reforming the regime, Tsarnaev had one [alleged] goal; kill Americans in revenge for America’s crimes.  He is not a whistleblower as it is commonly understood. Unlike Snowden and Manning he has not made a public statement that a blogger or Wikileaks have amplified and exploited for their purposes. To the extent that his act and his views are amplified it is not in the Western media markets. Even though, like Manning, he opposed American actions in Iraq, he [is alleged to have] wanted to kill Americans. Even though, like Snowden, he wanted to wake America up to an issue, he did this through violence. However, he is not simply a lone wolf terrorist as some have called him because that reduces him to an operational problem for the security forces. He is, like the others, a harbinger. As an extreme version of Manning and Snowden’s disaffected and technologically enabled autonomous individual response to the liberal democratic state, Tsarnaev is only a difference of degree not kind.

Conclusion: neither civil disobedience nor whistle blowing but harbingers

Ultimately, none of these individuals are whistleblowers nor will their acts lead to a substantive change in America or its policies. If they were to change America they would have had to be true whistleblowers.[7] They would have practiced civil disobedience rather than criminal disobedience through the propaganda of the deed. If they had followed Martin Luther King, a true whistleblower, a true conscience of America, then we could consider them. In his justly famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, he explained that before any direct action could occur four steps were required. The steps had to be followed to be sure the right action happened for the right reason for the right outcome.

“In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action.”

Neither Manning, nor Snowden, nor Tsarnaev followed these steps. They did not articulate the higher law they served unless we believe it includes the “public interest”, a vague notion of “privacy”, or [alleged] murder in Allah’s name. King, like Socrates, stayed to defend himself before the laws. He invoked the higher law, the natural law, at the heart of the American Declaration of Independence. The natural law is that all men are created equal and deserve equality before the law. His act of civil disobedience, like that of Socrates, demonstrated that the laws were inconsistent with the promise of the founding. King echoed Lincoln in his call to act. Lincoln had had argued that America could not remain half-free and half-slave. King argued that America could not claim to be founded in equality and practice inequality. King came to redeem not to destroy or change the American regime. What Lincoln had argued in the Gettysburg Address was that King was asking of America. They both wanted the people to live up to promise of a regime founded on the proposition that all men are created equal.

Neither Manning, nor Snowden, nor Tsarnaev have invoked a higher law. Manning accepts the document disclosure could justify the war, while Tsarnaev[is alleged to have] wanted to kill Americans. To the extent that Snowden has, he accepts self-preservation as the highest good, just as long as it is not comfortable self-preservation. Yet, for self-preservation to succeed, the state must act to protect the public interest, the reason why we have a government and why the NSA programme expanded after the attack on 11 September 2001. Instead of being whistleblowers, Manning, Snowden and Tsarnaev, represent a deeper problem, a deeper threat, to America and to liberalism, which is the topic for a future blog.

Part two of this blog will published shortly.

**Please note that Dzhohar Tsarnaev has entered a plea of not guilt to all the charges he faces. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/10/boston-marathon-explosions-dzhokhar-tsarnaev


[1] At the time of his deeds, Chelsea Manning was Bradley Manning. He was a man. She is now a woman.

[2]  I follow Michael Davis’s work Avoiding the Tragedy of Whistleblowing, Business and Professional Ethics Journal, vol 8, no. 4, pp. found here: http://ethics.csc.ncsu.edu/old/12_00/basics/whistle/rst/avoiding_tragedy.html (last accessed 25 December 2013).

[3] A representational democracy, from an information point of view, is designed to avoid information overload. We elect representatives to make these choices. In turn, they create and administer institutions and agencies to put our indirect choices into force. The whole process has to accord with the constitutional principles so that the public and the representatives can see the legitimacy or illegitimacy of any given choice. In this scenario, the simplest choice for the citizen is whether they want to be safe and to what constraints are they willing to tolerate for that safety.

[4] See for example Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History, p. 236. For an understanding of Locke’s influence on the American founding see generally the following Toward a Republican Synthesis: The Emergence of an Understanding of Republicanism in American Historiography by Robert E. Shalhope The William and Mary Quarterly Third Series, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Jan., 1972), pp. 49-80, The spirit of modern republicanism: the moral vision of the American founders and the philosophy of Locke Thomas L Pangle, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. The liberal tradition in America; an interpretation of American political thought since the Revolution, Louis Hartz: New York, Harcourt, Brace [1955]

[5] For a discussion of jeremiad in American politics see Errand into the wilderness, Perry Miller Cambridge, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1956 and Sacvan Bercovitch The American jeremiad, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978.  More generally, see Lawrence Serewicz America at the Brink of Empire, Rusk, Kissinger, and the Vietnam War Baton Rouge: Louisiana University Press, 2006 pp.112-130

[6] I have not included the third alternative that the whole spectacle was simply to have better oversight for two reasons. First, Snowden did not try to go to official channels. Second, it seems strange to think that the only outcome from this public act is Congress will do a better job than it already does given that it was briefed by the Executive about intelligence issues. If better oversight is the outcome of this spectacle, then the regime has to look closely at how it recognises and acts on “bad news” that challenges the executive branch and by extension the government. One wonders whether such “bad news” can be conveyed in any other way than through loudspeakers like a blogger and wikileaks. Is Congress no longer capable of listening for “bad news?” or that the “whistleblower” no longer trusts it to act? Either conclusion raises questions for the viability of American democracy.

[7] I consider Paul Moore an ideal example of a modern whistleblower. He did his duty and reported the risk to HBOS. He acted according to the chain of command. He was fired. Even though he was fired, he maintained his legal duty of confidence. However, when he saw the testimony of the former HBOS CEO he felt compelled to speak out. He did this at great risk and reluctantly only doing it after a period of soul searching. His duty to the truth was paramount and he was willing to face the consequences so that he could bear witness. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/2dd0f0de-ab70-11e2-8c63-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2oWJ1G9Qw see also http://www.christianstogether.net/mobile/default.aspx?group_id=75042&article_id=169798, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/4592025/HBOS-whistleblower-Paul-Moore-breaks-silence-to-condemn-Crosby.html

About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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20 Responses to Snowden, Manning and Tsarnaev: is the only difference a pressure cooker?

  1. Contrary to your opinion, Mr. Tsarnaev has made a public statement. Before a federal judge, he said “Not guilty.” x 30.

  2. Sasha says:

    You talk about Ed Snowden who is for transparency and truth, then go on to insinuate that the Tsarnaevs are guilty of something which has never even been proven, or for which there has been no trial! Very poor.

    • Thanks for the comment, I have updated the page to explain that Mr. Tsarnaev’s crimes are alleged. As to Mr. Snowden, he admitted he leaked the documents. He also explained why he leaked them, because he wanted to wake up Americans from their slumber of comfortable self-preservation. I am not sure how that is for either transparency or truth.

  3. Oliver H says:

    Your argument regarding self-preservation is dependent on the fact that the actions by the NSA are actually conducive to self-preservation. It can very easily be argued they are not: As far as the mass surveillance is concerned, it is statistically unfit to provide information conducive to a general improvement, as it is highly likely to generate more false leads than good ones, thereby swamping other agencies in wild goose chases. Above and beyond the mass surveillance, the operations are fit to alienate allied countries, thereby endangering not only their willingness to assist the US in general, but also their willingness to allow the NSA to operate facilities in their country.

    • Dear Oliver,
      Thank you for the comment. The NSA, and by extension the United States government, are by definition designed for the preservation of the constitution and the state. I disagree that they have conducted mass surveillance. They have done mass collection but surveillance is directed at specific individuals for specific reasons. They are not looking at every single person they collect. They are simply collecting a lot of information to sift it for the gold dust that may be a terrorist. They are literally panning for gold dust in a data waterfall where people throw yellow colored sand. They have neither the time nor the capacity to collect, surveil, or monitor that much information. In a sense the problem is two fold. So much new information is created everyday they literally cannot keep up. Imagine trying to draw a 1 to 1 map of the world. You could do it, theoretically, but how would you fold it? Second, they have no way to link the data to the people because data is not always structured for searching.

      What they do, and all intelligence agencies do, is they connect the known dots backwards faster than the subject can move, hide, or conceal those dots. Thus, the goal is not to create a map of every individual, it is to be able to create a map of those of interest. They cannot sustain the map indefinitely, ie create mass surveillance of high detail, because they do not have the collectors, processors, or storage for it. As you say, they have to prioritise so they focus on known or suspected threats ie not people like you or me. Once targeted they try to connect the dots backwards and look for the links and references to other known figures. By the way no one, only God, can connect the dots forward.
      Far from swamping other agencies, the reliance on the NSA actually shows a blindness within the USG over its intelligence systems. It needs more human assets in the field to make the connections and the reliance on technology shows an American bias, almost a blindness, for technology over culture and human assets. In time this may change, but it is unlikely given that America’s culture is strongly technological.

      Other governments will continue to cooperate with the USG because it is in their best interest. The USG can do what they cannot do. Once the USG cannot do that, then the web will be larger than any state and we will have serious problems. We may think we have problems today but imagine a world where hackers like Anonymous can topple states. At that point the strong will do as they will and the technologically weak will suffer as they must.

      Thanks again for a stimulating comment.
      Lawrence

      • tyelko says:

        You are arguing semantics, dodging the actual point.

        Let me use your analogy: “They are literally panning for gold dust in a data waterfall where people throw yellow colored sand. ”

        They have two options in that: They can either be very careful, double-checking every single grain to make sure it is gold dust, and not sand. If they do that, they will miss plenty of sand, because they will only accept grains identified beyond any doubt. However, this means that they will put on a whole lot of work for minuscule yield possibly not even worth the work.

        The alternative will be to make sure you get all grains of gold dust by being far less rigorous. In doing so, however, they will end up also keeping plenty of yellow sand. Possibly more sand than gold dust.

        And that’s the problem: Either they generate only genuine leads – then the effort made to do so is so huge that the same number of leads could likely easily be generated at half the cost or less with other methods – or they will generate plenty of false leads, thereby bringing plenty of honest, law-abiding people under suspicion. Given that it was just shown how prone the US judicial system is to false convictions, that’s quite a problem.

        The system is simply not conducive to improve security from terrorism. The risk of a terrorist attack is minuscule to begin with. It is not a credible explanation for the use of resources to reduce it even further with means not capable of doing so.

        “As you say, they have to prioritise so they focus on known or suspected threats ie not people like you or me. ”

        That is incorrect. They themselves stated that they have a “three hops” system. Use the same car insurance, the same doctor as a terrorist suspect and that means you.

        You ignore in your argumentation that we know they have specifically targeted non-terrorists with directed operations: Which member of the EU Council is a suspected terrorist? Which member of the Petronas board is a suspected terrorist? Is Gerhard Schroeder a terrorist? Is Angela Merkel?

        “Other governments will continue to cooperate with the USG because it is in their best interest. The USG can do what they cannot do.”

        Just because the USG can do it does not mean that they have, or are allowed to have, any interest in doing the same things. You miss that other nations do not have courts operating outside the eye of the public. And politicians in other countries want to get elected, too.

        “We may think we have problems today but imagine a world where hackers like Anonymous can topple states.”

        Sorry, but coming from someone defending an operation that eliminates the very concept of national sovereignty, that is not a credible concern. As long as you see no problem with violating not only sundry international agreements but actually having both US government agents but also US companies break foreign law on foreign soil, you are actively advocating toppling states, even allied ones, eliminating any and all sovereignty the local electorate has.

        “At that point the strong will do as they will and the technologically weak will suffer as they must.”

        We are already at that point, and the strong currently is the US government,

        When the US gets upset that someone taped a diplomat saying “F*ck the EU”, but US diplomats themselves get railed up any time foreign diplomats dare have a meeting in a surveillance-proof room, filing complaints that these foreign diplomats were undermining US interests, it gets ridiculous. When the NSA claims it is merely concerned with terrorism but bugs EU buildings and violates international law to keep tabs on the conversations of foreign heads of government, your argumentation that this was about terrorism is hardly credible.

        It isn’t. It would be a giant waste of resources to conduct these operations for reduction of risk of a terrorist attack. It is about economic profit and political leverage, within and without.

      • Thanks for the long reply. I will try to answer the substantive points. First, we are not talking semantics, we are talking epistemology. How do we know something and how does the NSA know something. As we all know by now, everyone on the planet is connected by six degrees of separation. However, that does not mean that we know all those links or that there is any traffic through those links or that network. Anyone, like the NSA, trying to work through those networks needs to do a lot of work to figure out the noise from the signals.

        Second, my analogy was only to show to the problems with trying to find the leads they need to work. Imagine if they were trying to fish in the ocean. They cannot fish the whole ocean simultaneously so they try to go to the known fishing grounds first. They have an idea of the fish once they catch it but the fish can also disguise itself. Thus, the problem of fishing is figuring out if they are getting the right place for the right time with the right nets. A minnow net is not going to catch a whale and a whale net is not going to catch a minnow. I believe God has the ability to thresh out men seperating the wheat from the chaff, but the NSA does not have that capacity because it cannot see into our souls.

        As for choosing all or nothing, neither option is useful. They are stuck in a technological middle ground because they lack the technological and human intelligence to make directed choices. Until they improve their search capacity (it is all Google’s fault as someone once said) they cannot find what they are looking for except through brute crunching methods like the older systems. In large part because the data is not one type and not structured. It is crude, raw, and unweildy because it is unstructured. All attempts to structure it creates biases and flaws that may influence the final result. Again, this is a technical problem not a political problem. The problem of surveillance is not a technical one it is a political one.
        At the same time, intelligence work is never like a court. The burden of proof is a lot lower because it is the point of contact not something like domestic police work that exists within a legal framework. Again, we have a political issue that technology cannot resolve it can only try to deliver the result that is wanted. Double checking at the collection stage would slow the process to the point of uselessness. Hardly an outcome the NSA or anyone other customer of it wants. Do we ask that the census double check every entry? Where the double checking occurs is at the next stage and beyond when the information collected becomes operatioanlized ie someone starts to do something with it beyond analysis. Even then we are not even close the point of someone acting. We still need to get past the analysis stage.

        As to the system’s effectiveness, it is only one part of a huge web of interconnected systems to prevent and deter terrorism. By itself, it is only a very small part of it. In many ways, it is almost insignificant. However, it appears sexy when the brunt of the work is actually done by the immigration controls. The issue is not like in a movie with Jack Ryan rushing in with a pistol and stopping the terrorist firing a missile at the last minute. What you find is that the NSA is a system deigned to disrupt and deter other organisations from developing their capacity to organise an attack. In the same way that Israel stops suicide bombers by attacking the source, the people who train, arm, and encourage the bombers with some effort to stop the bombers. If an organisation that is trying to attack knows that it has to organise itself with a view that its computers are under surveillance, it is under physical surveillance, and its members may have been compromised into double agents, then it will have to spend a lot of time and money just trying to assure itself of its internal security even before it can begin to organise an attack. In that regard, the NSA adds to the deterrence issue. It is literally not stopping attacks, it is doing a very good job of making it a lot harder for anyone to organise them effectively or in such a way that would not attract attention of physical agents. Therein we see what is missing from the public discussions, the boring and routine work, that ensures public safety while everyone focuses, almost hysterically, on data collection that has only a tangential effect on the issue.

        The three hops is only an epistemological solution to the problem of opening up the networks for deeper analysis. As I mentioned above, everyone has 6 degrees of seperation. Thus, the three hops would only start the process. It is like quickly mapping connections to see if there is a “hit” that requires greater attention. Even then it is a very crude system. You and I are in correspondence. Your friends and my friends may continue their correspondence. However, the government has no way to know if may friends are corresponding with your friends through our correspondence. Even if it could, it would have to find out if the content of the correspondence was even of interest. We are so far off the grid that we would not even be in the system. This assumes their decision matrixes are designed on these terms and their decisions engines are not containing self-defeating biases that make it difficult to find meaning from the correlations that it discovers. As we all know, correlations do not mean causation.

        The above covers the terrorist work. Now the NSA does a lot of signals work unrelated to terrorist work but still important for all aspects of what the USG wants to achieve. Thus, it will hoover up signals from its allies and its competitors for political intelligence. All sides will do this to the extent that they can. In the same way that diplomats gather intelligence from their meetings and provide intelligence to their host country when they convey what the president and the government want and intend. In that sense, communication is a part of the surveillance and can be used for the same purpose. Does this mean it is automatically wrong or that it has to be for stopping terrorism? No. The USG may want to know what is intended on a trade negotiation so that it can negotiate effectively and efficiently. Will that mean that it can negotiate a better deal out of a bad one? No. The gathered intelligence may not be effective or useful. Moreover, it may not be used effectively. However, it may be enough to confirm positions or help shape the context for decisions. In most cases, the underlying reality is apparent to both parties. The additional intelligence while nice only adds to the margins, it is not going to be the central issue. Again, this is not like the movies where people find the smoking gun or silver bullet to unlock a deal. This is not poker, it is like Go or Chess where most of the board can be seen. Even in poker the other players will have a strong hunch as to what the other players hold and whether they are bluffing.

        FISA is not a secret court. Other countries do have courts that do not meet in public. For example, adoption courts or family courts will often be done in private. This does not mean they are beyond public acccountability, they are just beyond public attention. In the same way in trials there can be closed sessions to discuss confidential material. Without that system, justice could not be served effectively. Is that what you would prefer?

        National sovereignty has been permeable since it was created. Sovereignty is a temporal issue that ebbs and flows with the issue. As a malleable or fungible term, it comes into existence when the state needs it. Surveillance by other states does not end sovereignty just as TV and radio do not end it. The issue of sovereignty is not about how states support it. I am more interested in the way that non-state actors will dismantle the state system that has allowed citizens to develop within a relative peace and prosperity unknown in human history. I certainly would not want to return to a period of digital warlords and digital feudalism.

        I suggest you consider the second sentence that follows the one I paraphrased from Thucydides. I think the USG does a better job on the second issue than many people care to understand or admit. To put it differently, but provocatively, if you want less rights and freedoms from the state then insist on removing surveillance. The power of the state to defend and promote your rights is inseperable from its surveillance and its work to secure those rights and freedoms.

        As to the last issue, that is simply politics and personalities. Everyone gets a bit miffed and much of it is mediated by the media reporting them to make it man bites dog situation with its usual understated hysteria. Such issues have nothing to do with surveillance technology.

        On your final sentence, the USG does have the responsibility to promote the general welfare and economic security is as important as physical security.

        I would recommend that you read this thesis and consider whether the NSA has time to worry itself with anyone but the essential threats. The work to collect large amounts of data is just to map out whatever links are emerging from other sources, it is hardly a mass surveillance programme because there is literally not enough time or interest to peer into the lives of the average yahoo or google users.
        http://media.philly.com/documents/Nolan_Dissertation.PDF

        Sorry for the long reply. I will try to be briefer next time.

        Best,

        Lawrence

      • tyelko says:

        “Anyone, like the NSA, trying to work through those networks needs to do a lot of work to figure out the noise from the signals.”

        Thanks for proving my point. But you clearly do not understand what that means for the issue at hand. Namely that figuring out the noise from the signals has statistical limits.

        ” They cannot fish the whole ocean simultaneously so they try to go to the known fishing grounds first. ”

        That’s precisely NOT what they do. They dredge the whole ocean and then see what they find at what corresponds to known fishing grounds. But in the dredging process, a lot of things get mushed around and not everything that they look at is what it seems to be.

        ” It is literally not stopping attacks, it is doing a very good job of making it a lot harder for anyone to organise them effectively or in such a way that would not attract attention of physical agents. ”

        That flies in the face of both statistics and empirical data. Quite the contrary, the NSA was sitting on data about the 9/11 attackers and did not relate it to the FBI.

        “FISA is not a secret court. Other countries do have courts that do not meet in public. For example, adoption courts or family courts will often be done in private.”

        Please. That comparison is a joke, Adoption courts and family courts have representatives of the party at issue. The public may not participate, but the parties concerned certainly are aware of what has been said – and what’s more, they have legal recourse against the decision. To compare FISA with such courts is declaring due process irrelevant.

        “Without that system, justice could not be served effectively. Is that what you would prefer?”

        Sorry, but I don’t see any more than a bold claim that flies in the face of fundamental human rights.

        “Surveillance by other states does not end sovereignty just as TV and radio do not end it. ”

        Hilarious. When TV and radio infringe on my constitutional rights, they will get slapped by a court. With secret surveillance by a foreign nation, I have no recourse against them whatsoever.

        “I am more interested in the way that non-state actors will dismantle the state system that has allowed citizens to develop within a relative peace and prosperity unknown in human history. I certainly would not want to return to a period of digital warlords and digital feudalism.”

        Yet you are advocating just that.

        “To put it differently, but provocatively, if you want less rights and freedoms from the state then insist on removing surveillance. The power of the state to defend and promote your rights is inseperable from its surveillance and its work to secure those rights and freedoms.”

        Neither I nor any other citizen of my nation ever charge the USG with defending or promoting my rights. And any usurpation of that task is a demonstration of not caring about rights or freedoms at all but merely about brute force, opportunism and selfishness. The action of the USG, far from bringing prosperity, are endangering jobs in my country due to illegal acquisition of intellectual property. In fact, after China and the CIS states, the US is cited as #3 in IP theft. Given that we allow the NSA to operate on our territory for issues of actual joint security, we do not take too kindly to that hospitality being used to rob us blind and strip us of our constitutional rights.

        “On your final sentence, the USG does have the responsibility to promote the general welfare and economic security is as important as physical security.”

        Within a certain legal framework, for which you evidently have little respect. Maybe the next thief running away with your possessions should also argue that their responsibility is to promote the general welfare and economic security of their family?

        “I would recommend that you read this thesis and consider whether the NSA has time to worry itself with anyone but the essential threats. The work to collect large amounts of data is just to map out whatever links are emerging from other sources, it is hardly a mass surveillance programme because there is literally not enough time or interest to peer into the lives of the average yahoo or google users.”

        And I would recommend pondering a bit on the relevance of that question. You might realize it is nil, because what constitutes an “average” yahoo or google user, given the amount of data and noise, is determined essentially by a roll of dice.

      • Dear Oliver/Tyleko,
        I am now uncertain as to your point. You want the NSA to either not do any surveillance or have surveillance so good that it can pinpoint the terrorists. Neither is possible regardless of the statistical issues. We remain where we started, surveillance, in particular signals intelligence, is messy because of the noise to signals ratio always favour the noise. If the signal is clear, there is no need for surveillance.

        Uh, do you understand how much stuff is on the web, and being added every day, and the storage capacity of the NSA? It is literally impossible for anyone, let alone the NSA to store and then analyze more than a fraction of the web. Even the NSA storing huge amounts cannot keep up with the flow. This is *the* technological dilemma because they need to find a way to be better at what they do. See my post here: http://lawrenceserewicz.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/does-the-nsa-want-to-collect-everything-lets-check-the-facts-and-then-decide/

        The NSA does not have an operational arm by law. They only do signals intelligence. I am certain a number of people knew about the attack, but they had no intention to tell the USG. Even those who had some of the parts could not put it together. The issue has never been collection, it is about analysis. The crude method is to collect more to hope the pattern emerges. The better way is to improve the searches to find the patterns. However, both have the difficulties and we are very far away from the central issue. Which causes more conformity surveillance or public opinion?

        How did FISA develop and how does it work? Also, if these are so “secret” how did Senators Leahy and Kenney introduce legislation about surveillance? In DC people will and do talk about these issues. That the general public does not know about them does not mean that there is no accountability. FISA is not the same type of court in that it is judging an administrative issue not an issue of guilt or innocence. Thus, the burden of proof and the way the court operates is going to be different.

        The juries operate in privacy. With a public jury system, we would not have justice. We would have popularity contests or something open to abuse and influence. The same would happen if we published everyone’s vote. We have secret ballots for a reason. I am not hearing that we now need to open up juries and ballot boxes so that they can be counted in the newspapers.
        Hmm. You may recall in the UK there has been a bit of furore over the BBC screening images of Muhammad. Thus, one could say that constitutional rights and sovereignty are challenged when television and radio transmit these messages where they are received in religious countries.
        States are accountable to an electorate. Anonymous technological hackers are not mandated nor are they accountable to an electorate. They operate for their own good not the public good or the common good as expressed by a countries customs and laws. I will take my chances with a state that follows due process than with the arbitrary justice served by the technologically strong against the technologically weak.

        Hmm. I do recall that Germany is a part of NATO so in effect they are linked together by treaty and by security arrangements to share and to cooperate. So, yes they are reliant on each other. If the USG was unable to support NATO, it would only be a matter of time before Europe fell under the political influence of another state that was less interested in their autonomy or sovereignty.
        The only one capable of stripping you of your constitutional rights is your government. You still have your rights and the NSA has no role in that process.
        As to the thief, that is a different issue in that they have committed an illegal act. You asked by what right did the USG act in the international arena where all signals reside. In large part, they act because, like all governments, including yours, they derive their legitimacy from their ability to protect their citizens and promote the public good, the common good, or the general welfare. If a state cannot or will not do that, it will lose its legitimacy.
        Like I said, please read the thesis and then decide whether the average Yahoo user or Google user is going to be even on the radar screen. Really, they have such large fish to catch they have no time for krill like us.
        Thank you for the stimulating comments. However, we have moved away from the point of the original post, which was about the difference between surveillance and public opinion for creating conformity. If you can provide me with evidence that surveillance creates more conformity than public opinion, I would welcome it.
        Thanks

        Lawrence

  4. Pingback: Edward Snowden and America’s suicide | Philosophical Politics

  5. American Kulak says:

    “If you can provide me with evidence that surveillance creates more conformity than public opinion, I would welcome it.” East Germany.

    “I will take my chances with a state that follows due process than with the arbitrary justice served by the technologically strong against the technologically weak.”

    There is no evidence Larry Klayman, to name the current plaintiff in Klayman vs. Clapper who won a victory thanks to federal judge Richard Leon, ever had due process. He like thousands of other Americans has no recourse, no way of determining whether they’ve been surveilled by the NSA, because as McClatchy reports of a precedent involving the use of a submarine called the Glomar Explorer to uncover a sunk Soviet sub during the Cold War. How exactly the Glomar legal precedent should allow NSA to stiff arm every single FOIA request from every single American since 2010 who has asked whether they have an ‘NSA file’ or whether NSA has logged their calls/emails, I do not understand. But what is clear is twofold: WITHOUT Snowden’s leaks there would be NO LEGAL STANDING for Larry Klayman to sue the NSA and allege harm to he and his clients from the Verizon metadata bulk collection order. Nor would the ACLU (and NRA) vs. Clapper or Sen. Rand Paul vs. NSA lawsuits be able to proceed without any exhibits or evidence to present to allege harm and misuse of the metadata, including seeking discovery as to whether the NSA has stored metadata gathered on Members of Congress separately (what Sen. Bernie Sanders implied the other day) from the general population of billions.

    One thing I’ve found in all my communications with NSA defenders is that they constantly invoke a ‘no individual has been harmed or found to have been targeted’ argument, despite eyewitness testimony to the contrary from NSA whistleblower Russ Tice (who says future President Obama and future Supreme Court Justice Alito both had NSA Stasi style ‘files’), FreedomWatch NGO founder and American political dissident (in Russia that’s what he’d be called) Larry Klayman, and Erie, Pennsylvania-area based Blog Talk Radio host Doug Hagmann.

    [Snip]

    It’s as if eyewitness testimony concerning NSA wrongdoing or politicized spying does not count, unless one presents documentation. But the only way to present documentation as Tice points out is to take it and either risk prison time or going into exile in a place beyond US government reach like Russia. Hence heads the government wins, tails its critics lose.

    • Thanks for the response. I edited it slightly as you provided a number of links that reiterated the point you had made rather than adding new information. I am not sure you are arguing the right point. I am not aware of anyone arguing that the NSA surveillance has not had an effect on an individual, as many terrorists are dead as a result, instead they are arguing that the effect they believe occurred is sufficient for the court to grant them relief. However, the NSA, by definition, is dealing with national security so the legal requirements are going to be slightly different from pursuing a law enforcement issue. Is this the best way to run a system? I am not sure, but in any democracy, the community standards can and will be suspended or amended when public safety is the criteria. It has always been this way with successful democracies. Otherwise, the constitution becomes a suicide pact. In the US there is legislative and legal oversight as necessary and within the framework of national security. Is it perfect? No. Is it tyrannical? No. Why? it is ultimately accountable to the sovereign, the people, by the job it does in keeping them safe and abiding by the laws and oversight that the government conducts, which we have seen over the past 50 years can, and has been, quite robust.

      Here is my response to your substantive points.
      Thanks for the response. I think you and other readers have missed the point I was making with this comment. The political ideology and political system within tyrannies is what creates conformity not the surveillance. The other citizens of east Germany were spying. They were part of the surveillance system because that is what the political ideology and political culture required. The issue, I was trying to raise, perhaps too subtlety was about the political system being more important than the technology that the regime uses. A weapon used by a liberal democratic state is going to have a different intent and ethos around its use than a weapon used by a tyrannical state.

      The second point was taken straight from Thucydides in his famous quotation that the strong do as they will, the weak as they must. Only between equals is there justice. In the United States, we have a regime predicated upon the belief that all men are created equal. To the extent that we forgo self-government we surrender our own equality. The lawlessness is not from the government but from citizens surrendering their self-government, which leads to the increased lawlessness and the distrust of government, which Lincoln warned us against well before he became president.

      • American Kulak says:

        This will be my last comment here, as we will simply continue talking past each other as you do with the other commenters.

        Your entire argument essentially consists of ‘it is impossible for democracies to become tyranny, because then we’d be tyrannizing ourselves because the government is us’. [Snip] [Edited for length]

      • Hi,
        Sorry for the delay in responding. I fear you are right. We are talking past each other if you believe that I have written or implied that democracies cannot become tyrannies. On the contrary, I have been trying to suggest that democracies can become tyrannies. However, where I believe we disagree is whether America is a tyranny now not whether American, or any democracy, can become a tyranny.

        I believe, from what you have written, that America is a tyranny, in large part because you disagree with the government. I do not believe that America has become a tyranny.

        Thanks again for your many stimulating comments.

        Yours sincerely,

        Lawrence

      • tyelko says:

        “The political ideology and political system within tyrannies is what creates conformity not the surveillance. The other citizens of east Germany were spying. They were part of the surveillance system because that is what the political ideology and political culture required. ”

        Sorry, but you seem not to understand how the system in East Germany operated. If the Stasi had the technological means of the NSA, they would have used them. Instead, they used what technological means they had to turn the citizenry against itself, to reach those they could not reach with the technological means they had.

        Incidentally, the US intelligence community is doing precisely that by constantly reiterating the actually negligbly small risk of running into a terrorist. The result is mass discrimination against people with a Middle Eastern look, up to and including Secret Service agents…

        “A weapon used by a liberal democratic state is going to have a different intent and ethos around its use than a weapon used by a tyrannical state.”

        So what you say is if the UK had simply nuked Afghanistan into oblivion, that would be ethically totally different than if the Soviet Union had done the same thing – sorry, this argument doesn’t hold a single drop of water. Quite the contrary: The use of a weapon can define whether a given state is tyrannical or not.

      • Tyelko,
        Thanks for the comment. I think what I was trying to explain was that the ideology created the consequences. The surveillance was a tool that enabled it. Surveillance does not create a tyranny or a repressive regime. Just as weapons do not create killers. The way they used the technology and the purpose to which they used it reflected the horrifically vicious and destructive ideology that justified the East German regime. To put it simply, they were not a misunderstood liberal democracy using technology to further their political ends.

        I am not sure how the NSA’s admissions about the statistical capacity of its systems indicates that it is like the Stasis. I was unaware the Stasis were seeking to defend liberal democracy and were an expression of a regime that believed in the natural rights of citizens to form a more perfect union.

        If the use of the weapon, rather than its intent, was what mattered, then all policemen and soldiers are murders and collective self defence is impossible. In other words, justice properly understood is impossible. Is that what you are suggesting by equating the UK and the USSR?

        Thanks for the interesting comment. What do you think is the future of liberal democracy in the face of the technological individual? Is Kojeve right that we are on the cusp of a world state and if so, is that something you want?

        I look forward to hearing from you.

        Best,

        Lawrence

      • tyelko says:

        “Just as weapons do not create killers.”

        Weapons do not create killers, but using a weapon makes you one. Just as using certain methods makes a government illiberal.

        “To put it simply, they were not a misunderstood liberal democracy using technology to further their political ends.”

        But that’s precisely what they claimed. Which should teach us that just because someone claims their goals are benign, we should not take those claims as holy writ.

        “If the use of the weapon, rather than its intent, was what mattered, then all policemen and soldiers are murders and collective self defence is impossible. In other words, justice properly understood is impossible. Is that what you are suggesting by equating the UK and the USSR?”

        Collective self DEFENCE very much is possible. But defence is characterized by being specific against an aggressor, not indescriminate. And please, don’t repeat your claims that the NSA operations were not indescriminate. I’ve explained to you repeatedly that that claim is statistically not tenable. It is pure fantasy.

      • I am not sure of your point now. You are saying certain methods are automatically illiberal regardless of their intent. How? If the purpose of a government is justice and self preservation, how can any method that sustains those be wrong if the regime is founded on the liberal democratic principles? To paraphrase someone more famous than I, the constitution is not a suicide pact.

        Are you sure East Germany claimed to be a liberal democratic government? I would be grateful for the evidence of this point.

        On the NSA monitoring, why the focus on statistics? I believe Sonar and Radar are equally indiscriminate. Does this mean they should not be used?

        Thanks again for the stimulating comment.
        Yours
        Lawrence

  6. Pingback: Snowden, Manning and Tsarnaev: is the only difference a pressure cooker? (Part 2) | Philosophical Politics

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