Snowden’s Leaks Doom NSA’s Snooping

After long claiming to welcome a robust debate on NSA surveillance, President Obama found the debate more robust and more substantive than he expected, especially after the leaks by Edward Snowden, as Danny Schechter explains.

By Danny Schechter

Edward Snowden has become the year’s most visible and mysterious newsmaker. The former NSA whistleblower is in and out of the media, visible but invisible, living precariously in Russia, cast off by his country, and desperately seeking asylum and sanctuary in others. A growing number of nations have turned him down, most recently Germany and Brazil.

Luckily for him, a dedicated media team led by a clever and contentious lawyer/columnist Glenn Greenwald has been disseminating his findings, leaking them to newspapers the world over, even while he and his Brazilian boyfriend David Miranda tangle with authorities who are determined to plug the leaks but admit they don’t know what Snowden stole, or how to stop him except with threats that are growing more extreme.

President Barack Obama talks about the National Security Agency's surveillance policies at a press conference on Dec. 20, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

President Barack Obama talks about the National Security Agency’s surveillance policies at a press conference on Dec. 20, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

In his most recent interview with Aljazeera, Greenwald said the U.S. government is continuing to justify its growing surveillance in the name of fighting terrorism.  The U.S., he said, “uses terrorism as an excuse to do almost everything.”

Officially, the Obamatons are unchanged. The Associated Press reported: “The White House Monday renewed its demand for Edward Snowden to return home to face trial, after a top spy official floated the idea of an amnesty deal to plug his damaging intelligence leaks.”

Former State Department official John Bolton, as hawkish as they come, said he wants to see Snowden hanging from a tree.

Don’t minimize the seriousness or dismiss these threats as bluster. There are no shortages of covert mercenaries and assassins who may already be hunting him if they believe there is a bounty on his head. All it may take is a “wink and a nod.”

Snowden also has many backers.  The tech billionaire Pierre Omidyar said he will finance a new media company headed by Greenwald to the tune of $250 million. That hasn’t happened yet, but, reportedly, he has put up $50 million, a sign that Snowden and Company have serious support and some deep pockets to work with.

Now it seems that the government is getting ready to back off its sanctimonious and hard-headed defense of the NSA. Reforms are being promised even as the idea of massive spying, or in current parlance, “data mining” has been defended and expanded. Some cynics among us fear that Obama’s strident defense of the agency may be because of what they have on him!

Nevertheless, the disclosures of NSA outrages have embarrassed the Obama Administration, pissed off allies and adversaries alike, inflamed media coverage and stimulated an effort to “reform” the project. This is all happening quickly. There seems to be a trifecta of pressure, on the legal front, pressure from the hi-tech industry, and defections within the government itself.

First, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, appointed by President George W. Bush no less, issued an opinion excoriating the constitutionality of the NSA practices. He tore into the rationale for the program with both sarcasm and legal advocacy.

Leon wrote, “I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval. Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.”

Next, leading technology companies that had been outed for working with the government began to experience pushback from their own users.  Customers who had been pressed to sign bogus privacy agreements began calling and writing the companies to express displeasure.

I know I did, denouncing my AT&T telephone provider who reportedly was being reimbursed by the government for services rendered to the surveillance program. When I challenged them, I was told it was a matter of “national Security,” and they could say no more.

Like millions of others, I signed dense terms of service documents that I long ago gave up trying to read and instead just click “agree” even though I knew it was a scam. So much for informed consent.

But now, many customers are outraged that these companies were giving their private information to the spooks. As a result, many of the tech companies are pressing the government to “reform” these practices.

The Guardian reports the companies were openly dissenting at a recent meeting with President Obama. “We appreciated the opportunity to share directly with the president our principles on government surveillance and we urge him to move aggressively on reform,” they said in a statement after leaving the White House.

Obama had his own reasons to listen. As his approval ratings on the issue fell, he has begun looking for face-saving “reforms”! Suddenly, reform proposals were there, wrapped up in a 300-page document blessed by a group of no less than five intelligence “experts” and lawyers.

Reported the New York Times: “A panel of presidential advisers who reviewed the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices urged President Obama on Wednesday to end the government’s systematic collection of logs of all Americans’ phone calls, and to keep those in “private hands, “for queries and data mining” only by court order.” Boom, Boom, Boom!

Score one for Edward Snowden whose face already adorns busses in Washington D.C in a campaign accompanied by the slogan “Thank You, Edward Snowden.”  In the eyes of his boosters, he is a hero, not an information terrorist.

The major media outlets that largely denounced Snowden began to realize that their readers want more of his NSA scoops. (Greenwald has said that there are many disclosures to come).

While some media outlets are still aligned with the “intelligence community,” more and more stories about NSA outrages appear in print. The most recent on NSA overreach in Europe was reported by the Guardian, Der Spiegel, and once again, the New York Times, which had earlier turned its back on Wikileaks.

More is needed to insure that changes will occur. Higher profile challenges to the surveillance system are coming, along with more parodies and ridicule that in the end may turn the spy guys into a joke without any credibility.

Maybe it’s time to unleash actors like Will Ferrell playing Ron Burgundy and his Anchorman 2 movie “news team,” now in theaters nationwide, to get on the NSA’s case with some Dr Stangelove-like  satires ridiculing the house of paranoia headed by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the Strangelovian General Buck Turgidson of our times.

“Go, News Team, Go!”

News Dissector Danny Schechter edits and blogs at His latest book is Madiba AtoZ: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela (Http://

7 comments for “Snowden’s Leaks Doom NSA’s Snooping

  1. Joe Tedesky
    December 23, 2013 at 02:27

    Look over here. No, look over here.

    Since this Snowden story came out I have been puzzled about some things. Let me put it this way; if I had been interrogating Snowden for the last few months, this interrogation would have been over a long time ago! I would tell Snowden to start telling me something new, or get out of here. This whole story is nothing but a loop!

    Who’s his daddy? If Snowden were a true traitor we wouldn’t know of him. Snowden could be rich beyond his wildest dreams if he had found someone to buy his knowledge. Maybe Snowden really is working for us, the American public. If this were all it was, Snowden would be the citizen’s real life hero to come save us. This is 2013, could this be happening? I’m still not sure of Ellsberg or Dean, yet. So, should I be looking over here.

    Here, I find Snowden could be an ‘LOH’ guy. On my creative side, I see Snowden as a back channel pawn. Like ‘LOH’ guy, Snowden served in Japan. There’s nothing there, but he seems to be great at starting things while never able to ever finish any one of those start ups. His pay goes down sometimes. By the way, why wasn’t Snowden wasted way before showing up in China? The same overbearing agency we are exposing as ‘all knowing’ didn’t see Snowden coming? Really! How did Snowden pass through it all? What is his gain? Books, speaking engagements, women, what???

    How many ‘Whistle-Blowers’ can you name? Why, do we know about Snowden? Is this just Greenwald at work? Is there a fight between Greenwald and Brennan?

    Here’s a cool thought; could ‘the man we have been waiting for’ have found the way to get over on the system? Are we getting out of GTMO? How’s that Syrian chemical thing going? Will Rouhani be at the ‘State of the Union’ address? I’ll tell ya, there’s something going on here.

    So far Snowden has been boring. I like Greenwald, but WTF? Barry, Kerry, & Chuck + Putin makes 5, don’t forget Angela ….hell throw in David, and France. Who would this 7 be getting over on? They maybe on the people’s side, who knows? They all may wish different outcomes. This could be us doing our selfs”…Sorry, I didn’t mean that!

    To you life is a merry holiday!

  2. joseph valentino
    December 22, 2013 at 12:19

    most denizens of the US are more interested and in tune with the tribulations of some backwoods duckhunter and self-proclaimed ‘patriarch’ than they are about snowdon and his revelations…nothing will be done…some ineffectual empty ‘reforms’ will be announced, then the NSA will continue doing what it’s been doing, with requisite blessings from the oval office

  3. Paul G.
    December 22, 2013 at 07:06

    There of course has been a debate about whether Obamascam is or is not worse than Bush. I’d like to add another dimension to that debate: worse than Putin. Note that the Russian President has just amnestied 20,000 prisoners including Pussy Riot , the Greeenpeacers and that oligarch who had run afoul of him, Khodorkovsky. Would Obamascam pardon Snowden, in spite of admitting the that the NSA needed both the debate about its methods and to be reformed- no no no.

    One thing we can depend on Obama for, is to display a spectacular lack of leader ship if not outright intellectual and moral cowardice. So I dare say Putin is less worse than Obama-not saying much- besides he’s hiding Snowden. To be more specific: Putin is corrupt, Obama is a fraud; Putin is ruthless, Obama lives in a moral vacuum; Putin is extremely intelligent, Obama is a mediocrity only fit to be the puppet of Wall Street and the MIC that he is.

  4. F. G. Sanford
    December 22, 2013 at 00:15

    “…what they have on him?” Truth withheld makes speculation fair game. Just what is it that seems so familiar about the present administration? I want desperately for it to succeed. I winced the first time I heard the all too incisive rebuke: “Bush’s third term”. But that isn’t it.

    There are the palliative promises that remain undelivered. There is the elusive commitment to structural reform. There is lip service to social justice, to equality, to economic relief, and to a brighter future. But none of this embraces a disavowal of the policies that brought on the misery. There are only empty allusions recalling a fable that played out many years ago: “I have a plan”.

    Distortions became distractions which became deceptions which led to obstruction. Insiders turned on their own while incriminating themselves to avenge their own betrayal. The reporters were not who they seemed. The witnesses knew more than they told. The convictions left the perpetrators untouched. Justice was never served. That “Bay of Pigs” thing wouldn’t go away. It could have been laid wide open. Those same Cubans were now “plumbers”, and leaks needed to be “plugged”. But who would have dreamed up such a stunt when victory was a near certainty?

    Torture memos had nothing to do with those well connected Cubans. Perhaps neither did the destruction of the “torture tapes”. Mr. “Big Boy Pants” wasn’t in Dallas, but as we learn, his ideological predecessors were.

    I remember a young American who “defected” to the Soviet Union, supposedly carrying information about a precious secret: the U-2 spy plane. He openly bragged that he would tell all he knew. In 1962, he decided to come home. Our State Department paid for the trip. He was never charged with espionage. In the surreal world of mythic fantasy, do the ghosts of fallen warriors return to redress colossal injustice? Do they humiliate the traitors who colluded to disgrace them? Is there poetic justice?

    There were no “patriots” clamoring for a rope and a tall tree when Lee Oswald came home, even at the height of the “Cold War”. Why should their ideological descendants be so suddenly filled with patriotic pride? Do they “protest too much”? Perhaps thats an irony only Richard Nixon could appreciate. If he could speak to his current successor, he’d say, “They had something on me, but I should have called their bluff. If the gods had sent me Snowden, I’d have beaten those bastards.”

    Is Snowden the Deus Ex Machina that could save our Democracy? Maybe. But releasing some Bay of Pigs, JFK and 9/11 records would certainly thicken the plot. There’s nothing more damning than demonstrating a pattern of chronic misbehavior. This is the best chance we’ll ever have.

  5. Patriot1
    December 21, 2013 at 18:59

    Snowden is a traitor!The sniveling little worm should have contacted several news agencies in the US and revealed his secrets to them. There is a confidentiality clause between the press and their sources that is protected by law. Had he taken this position, he would have been fairly safe from prosecution. Instead, he runs off to a foreign country, spills his guts, then has the audacity to seek refuge with one of our long time frenemies. In light of the most recent revelations, I probably would have been able to find it in me to think of him as a hero had he stayed here, took his chances and trusted in the American people to rise up and defend him; you know, take it like a MAN. Instead his flight of fright makes every American look like weak, cowards. If he had any American blood in him at all he would know we love an underdog and will rally to defend what we believe is right. Instead he broke the trust of his employer, the US government, and all US citizens. Yes, I’m sure he was afraid of what the outcome would be had he stayed and his identity discovered. However, that is what a real hero is, someone who, despite whatever the outcome may be, despite what ever personal consequences may come, stands face to face with their fear and does what they believe is right… come what may. Instead, Snowden is the equivalent of some snotty nosed little kid who tattles tales then goes running behind his mommy for protection. Certainly not hero material, at least not in my eyes. Snowden, I hope you are enjoying the frigid Russian winters and the alienation you deserve… coward.

    • Dr. Frans B. Roos, Ph.D.
      December 21, 2013 at 23:24

      This writer must be a reader of Murdock “news” papers and watches 24/7 Murdock TV. Talk about dumb down people, unfortunately the anonymous (using “Patriot” instead of a surname) writer has a lot of company not only in the US, but also worldwide, consequently, there is no hope for improvement in the destiny of the human race.


    • rosemerry
      December 22, 2013 at 15:50

      A real man, a dead man, like so many sent to “protect” the poor defenceless USA in countries which were no threat to it; or like so many incarcerated all over the “homeland” for petty crimes or no crimes. What have you admitted to so you can be arrested too??

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