July 2013 Archives

Wow, Greenwald is Dishonest

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As I mentioned in a recent post, Glenn Greenwald, sworn sword of Edward Snowden, was being dishonest when he said it was wrong for people to criticize Snowden for claiming "I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authority to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal email." Snowden had no such authority, and people saying he was wrong were correct. He may have had capability, but not authority.

In a new article, Greenwald cites that quote, and then writes:

US officials vehemently denied this specific claim. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden's assertion: "He's lying. It's impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do." ... But XKeyscore provides the technological capability, if not the legal authority, to target even US persons for extensive electronic surveillance without a warrant provided that some identifying information, such as their email or IP address, is known to the analyst.

There's just one problem: when Greenwald quoted Snowden, he left out the words "certainly had the authority to," which were at the heart of many of the criticisms of that statement. Greenwald's rendering is: "I, sitting at my desk," said Snowden, could "wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email".

But many of the politicians and intelligence officials explicitly said that the program was not a problem because Snowden and anyone else did not have any such authority. So Greenwald excises the part where Snowden says he had the authority, actually changing the common understanding of what Snowden said by making it a statement of capability rather than of legal authority, and then criticizes people as liars for saying Snowden was wrong, while at the same time admitting Snowden's words (if not his meaning) was wrong.

Again: I am not defending the NSA or politicians here who lie about the program. But Greenwald does his liege lord no favors by dishonestly misrepresenting his words in order to make criticisms against him look much less reasonable.

President Obama attacked the pursuit of "phony scandals" as distracting the nation. When pressed for how the IRS scandal is "phony," when it is clear that the IRS was wasting tax dollars asking illegal questions of many groups, such that Obama himself said this was a major problem that needed to be fixed, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said this weekend that the phony part was trying to claim that top political officials were influencing the IRS malfeasance. But the overwhelming majority of work by Congress on the issue is just trying to uncover the facts, facts which have been protected by Obama's own people pleading the Fifth.

Calling it a phony scandal because a tiny minority of people and effort is spent on political office motivations for the scandal is nonsense, designed to fool people who don't know better into thinking the whole thing is phony, while retaining "plausible" (in the minds of the media, anyway) deniability that he is saying what he said.

Also this weekend, and along similar lines, Lew was talking about the great progress we've made in cutting the deficit. In response to interviewer Chris Wallace's question about how the President can work with Republicans on spending money on more programs while the Republicans still think we have a deficit problem, Lew said: "Chris, I think that if you look at where we are today, you have to realize we're not where we were in 2011. We've actually worked together, it's been a messy process, but we've worked together and we've reduced the deficit considerably. In the Budget Control Act, we reduced the deficit on the discretionary spending side. This year, at the beginning of the year, we enacted some tax legislation that raised the tax rate of the very top for the highest income."

Note that the cited Budget Control Act was what implemented sequestration. His point was that the two sides have both worked to accomplish the goal of deficit reduction, and even though it wasn't the best way to do it, it got done, and they should move on and start spending money again.

Lew later in the interview said, regarding the exact same Budget Control Act: "The surprising thing is, that, you know, a couple of years after, everyone agreed this was bad policy, there are people who are now claiming credit for things that were designed to be bad policy and senseless across the board cuts. That's truly surprising."

Yeah. That just happened. Lew claimed credit for making progress on cutting the deficit with the BCA, and then said it is surprising that anyone is taking credit for the BCA.

Shifting gears slightly, Glenn Greenwald, the sworn sword of Edward Snowden, attacked the intelligence establishment again, in reference to the response to Snowden's claim that "I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authority to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal email." The establishment called it a lie, and Greenwald says, no, it is true, because, "all an analyst has to do is enter an email address or an IP address, and it ... searches that database and lets them listen to the calls or read the emails of everything that the NSA has stored ... with no need to go to a court. ... There are legal constraints for how you can spy on Americans. You can't target them without going to the FISA court, but these systems allow analysts to listen to whatever emails they want, whatever telephone calls, browsing histories, Microsoft Word documents."

So what Greenwald is saying is that, in fact, Snowden did not have the authority he claimed. He had the ability, he had the power, he had the capability, but he did not have the authority. And Greenwald, a lawyer, knows the difference between authority and capability, and even used the word properly elsewhere in the interview ("the NSA has exceeded even the legal authority that it acknowledges it has").

I am not saying the intelligence officials aren't lying. We know they have lied, and it seems that they have claimed that Snowden did not have such "capability," which by Greenwald's reporting is false. Indeed, Senator Chambliss remarkably said, "... I have been assured ... that there is no capability at NSA for anyone without a court order to listen to any telephone conversation or to monitor any e-mail." But that makes no sense, because the capability has to exist without the court order, unless you build a system where the court order literally unlocks access the specific part of the database the court order refers to, and we have no indication such a system exists at any level of government.

But even Greenwald's own claims back up the idea that Snowden did not, as he claimed, have the authority to do what he said.

In a surprising statement Friday, during unannounced remarks about the George Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin trial, President Obama said "we might want to examine" so-called "Stand Your Ground" laws only if they allowed behavior they don't actually allow, thereby dealing a terrible blow to not only much of the left wing of American politics, but also Obama's own Attorney General, calling into question how long A.G. Eric Holder had left at the top DOJ post.

Obama said, "I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws."

Of course, the answer to that question is not remotely ambiguous: stand your ground laws only allow someone to use deadly force in self-defense, not because they merely feel threatened. "Stand Your Ground" laws have nothing directly to do with whether self-defense is warranted in a given situation, only whether you have an obligation to retreat before self-defense is necessary. These laws never allow for the use of force due to merely feeling threatened. This is a clear matter of law, and the President, being one of the most brilliant attorneys the world has ever seen, surely knows this, and this was therefore no mere slip of the tongue: Obama gave his unequivocal support for "Stand Your Ground" laws.

<pudge/*> (pronounced "PudgeGlob") is thousands of posts over many years by Pudge.

"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

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