North Carolina native Edward Snowden can stay in Russia the rest of his life if he wants, the Russian government has decided. The decision this week to grant the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor permanent residency comes just weeks after a federal court ruled the NSA’s massive surveillance program, which Snowden exposed, was illegal and possibly unconstitutional.
It also comes a few months after President Trump floated the idea he may consider pardoning Snowden for his alleged violation of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act in leaking those documents.
Snowden was the key topic of an interview Jonathan Michels of the Durham, North Carolina-based Southern Discomfort Podcast conducted of yours truly of Labor South earlier this month.
Here are a couple links to that podcast (you may have to copy and paste if the link doesn’t connect you, as is sometimes the case with blogging):
Snowden’s exposure of the NSA’s unbelievably vast surveillance of practically any American it chose shook the nation’s intelligence community to its very foundation along with leading to the Pulitzer Prize for The Guardian and the Washington Post. Many in that community and beyond still want his head, including Trump’s Attorney General William Barr, whose response to the president’s pardon idea was this: Snowden “was a traitor and the information he provided our adversaries greatly hurt the safety of the American people. He was peddling it around like a commercial merchant. We can’t tolerate that.”
Well, according to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, what Snowden was “peddling” was the illegally accumulated metadata that the nation’s largest snoop agency had collected, and which the American people needed it know that their privacy was in serious danger as well as the Constitution that hopefully protects them.
Snowden’s Russian attorney, Anatoly Kucherena, has this view. “He was acting not only in the interests of the American citizens, but in the interest of all the humankind,” Kucherena told the RIA news agency.
Trump’s floating of a possible pardon says more about the president’s own dislike of the nation’s intelligence community as a whole than it does any conviction he might have about the case. For Trump, this is a poke in the eye to all those federal snoops who helped keep Russiagate on life support all those months.
Soon after Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA back in 2013, Trump himself was calling for his head. Snowden is “a spy who should be executed,” he said. In August of this year, the president had this to say to the New York Post: “There are a lot of people that think that he is not being treated fairly,” Trump said. “I’m going to start looking at it.”
Hmmm. He’d better hurry. Trump faces re-election in a couple weeks, and Labor South’s prediction is that he’s going to lose, possibly big. All those thousands of early voters standing in lines for hours to cast their ballots don’t look like Trumpsters to Labor South. Could be wrong, but here’s betting they want to throw the bum out!
In his podcast interview with yours truly, Jonathan Michels asked about my book The Mission: Journalism, Ethics and the World (Iowa State University Press, 2002) and specifically Chapter Four in that book, “A Sinister Zone of Silence”, in which I discuss at length the spy and surveillance agencies that flourished in authoritarian societies such as Nazi Germany, Communist East Germany, Junta-ruled Argentina, and Mississippi before and during the Civil Rights Movement.
East Germany’s Stasi collected 6.5 million files—enough to fill 120 miles of shelves—on its 16 million citizens, utilizing the testimonies of 160,000 informers. Hungary’s counterpart collected information from 140,000 informants. Here in Mississippi, the state’s Sovereignty Commission, a taxpayer-funded agency that spied on suspected pro-civil rights citizens, collected 132,000 pages of information on everything from subjects’ integrationist ideas and activities to their sex lives. In fact, sex was a fascination for all these agencies, a delicious source of potentially embarrassing and ruinous little tidbits that could be used for threats and discrediting.
Even former NSA top official Bill Binney has decried the ever-expanding network of security measures that has developed since 9-11. A senior technical director who helped develop the mass surveillance program, Binney told media outlets in 2014 how the NSA shared its information with federal, state, and local governments and their agencies. “We are now in a police state,” he said.
The scholar Samuel P. Huntington once described government’s penchant for secrecy. “Power remains strong when it is in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate.”
It’s interesting how little attention major mainstream media give Snowden or WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s ongoing extradition case in England these days, given the importance of these cases to journalism as a whole. Corporate-owned mainstream media like to talk about the First Amendment and their watchdog role, but too often they’re more like government lapdogs because they share the government’s desire for maintaining the status quo.