Friday, June 21, 2013

Is Josh Jealous?

Damnit. I didn't plan on this being bash-Josh-Marshall week, but minutes after my last post, I see his introduction to another solid piece by Brian Buetler:
We’ve written at length about how the rules of the congressional intelligence committees make it difficult to do real oversight of the intelligence community, but at a more fundamental level, they stymie efforts to legislate on intelligence matters. 
Who exactly is the "we" he refers to? It was Marshall who first stated that he'd prefer surveillance info be revealed by elected officials instead of unauthorized leakers. It was not Marshall, but one of his reporters, Brian Buetler, that showed why that was a dumb thing to say. Now, rather than admit he was wrong, Marshall wants to pretend that he's been right all along.

Furthermore, Marshall seems to suggest that his company has been at the forefront of this issue, which is not the case. Buetler has written a couple of solid articles since the Snowden leaks, but others, specifically Glenn Greenwald, have been talking about excessive government secrecy and the potential for domestic spying for years.

Which gets me to thinking...

Josh Marshall is not the only blogger/reporter who has surprised me with his negative reaction to Edward Snowden and/or Glen Greenwald. It seems to run counter to his usual tendencies--enough that I wonder if what I'm seeing isn't just professional jealosy. It is disappointing, but I think Marshall's initial reaction would have been very different if Snowden had contacted him at TPM instead of Greenwald at The Guardian.

Is Josh Learning?

Maybe. Two days later, Josh Marshall echoes the exact point I was making when he said he'd prefer disclosures of domestic spying be revealed by elected representatives instead of leakers like Edward Snowden.
Our report on why congressional oversight of the intelligence community doesn’t work very well and maybe isn’t supposed to. Fascinating piece.
In that report, TPM reporter Brian Buetler says:
...reports and briefings are only as accurate and thorough as briefers are forthright and comprehensive [bold mine :c] — a variable that has hampered oversight efforts for years, according to members, aides and former aides who spoke with TPM. Likewise the sometimes arbitrary and legally dubious restrictions on what senior congressional aides with top-secret clearance are given access to, and what and to whom elected officials are allowed to tell even each other, can hobble the legislative branch’s efforts to understand what our spy agencies are really up to, let alone fulfill the government’s statutory obligation to fully and currently inform the Congress.
I found the piece to be more of a confirmation of the obvious rather than fascinating, and it disappoints me that someone in Marshall's position was apparently oblivious to this dynamic until his own reporter pointed it out, but hey, baby steps.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Missing the point

In response to Edward Snowden's revelations of our domestic spying programs, supporters are rushing to defend the programs by highlighting terrorist plots that were disrupted because of the program. One of these success stories was the Mumbai attack that resulted in 160 deaths, which is a weird way of defining success, but that's been covered by others. Others have also pointed out that despite the occasional success stories, we've had failures like the Boston Marathon bombing. It seems, at best, we have a domestic spying program that sometimes succeeds in stopping terrorist attacks.

But, whether or not these programs occasionally stop terrorist attacks is not the point. The Constitution contains The Fourth Amendment, which states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
There's no clause that says the president or congress can ignore the fourth amendment just because they've succeeded in scaring the people about low probability events and have expensive tools that might prevent some of those events. That is the point.

Say it ain't so, Josh

Josh Marshall was the first political blogger that I started reading, so it disappoints me to hear this from him regarding the Edward Snowden story:
Who gets to decide? The totality of the officeholders who've been elected democratically - for better or worse - to make these decisions? Or Edward Snowden, some young guy I've never heard of before who espouses a political philosophy I don’t agree with and is now seeking refuge abroad for breaking the law? I don’t have a lot of problem answering that question.
Given the stories that Josh has covered over the years, including breaking the states attorneys scandal under George W. Bush, I'm shocked that he's so willing to trust our elected officials to keep check on the intelligence community.

Snowden's leak proved that James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, flat out lied to congress when asked about the collection of data on American citizens. So, how can we trust congress to oversee the intelligence agencies when we can't trust those agencies to reveal the truth to congress? It's not like this is the first time that intelligence officials have lied to congress. Iran-Contra anyone? And even when not deliberately lying, our intelligence agencies get things spectacularly wrong. Anyone found those Iraqi WMD's yet?

Furthermore, there's very little evidence that congress has any interest in providing real oversight. Just like congress defers matters of war to the president, they don't want to know too much about our spying programs, otherwise they could be held accountable when inevitable leaks like this occur. This enables them to play all the angles--point fingers, feign outrage, or pound their chests depending on their constituency.

The administration, the intelligence agencies, and congress now disingenuously claim that they welcome a national debate about surveillance versus privacy, but it was Snowden, not them, that initiated the discussion. It simply wasn't going to happen without his leak forcing the issue. So, to me, criticizing his methodology is admitting that he'd prefer everyone be kept in the dark, which is a strange preference for a political reporter.