ACTION ALERT: Pardon Edward Snowden
October 31, 2014
Katrina vanden Heuvel / The Washington Post & Ellen Nakashima and Ashkan Soltani / The Washington Post
It is time for President Obama to offer clemency to Edward Snowden, the courageous US citizen who revealed the Orwellian reach of the National Security Agency's sweeping surveillance of Americans. His actions may have broken the law, but his act, as the New York Times editorialized, did the nation "a great service."
Justice for Edward Snowden
Katrina vanden Heuvel / The Washington Post
(October 28, 2014) -- It is time for President Obama to offer clemency to Edward Snowden, the courageous US citizen who revealed the Orwellian reach of the National Security Agency's sweeping surveillance of Americans. His actions may have broken the law, but his act, as the New York Times editorialized, did the nation "a great service."
In an interview that The Nation magazine is publishing this week, Nation Contributing Editor Stephen Cohen and I asked Snowden his definition of patriotism. He sensibly argues patriotism is not "acting to benefit the government," but to "act on behalf of one's country. . . . You're not patriotic just because you back whoever's in power today. . . . You're patriotic when you work to improve the lives of the people of your country," including protecting their rights.
That requires hard choices. When a government is trampling the rights of the people in secrecy, patriots have a duty to speak out. Snowden notes that there is no "oath of secrecy" for people who work for the government.
Contract employees like Snowden sign a form, a civil agreement, agreeing not to release classified information, opening themselves to civil or criminal prosecution if they do. "But you are also asked to take an oath, and that's the oath of service. The oath of service is not to secrecy, but to the Constitution -- to protect it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That's the oath that I kept."
Snowden's actions revealed that the National Security Agency was collecting information, without a warrant, on millions of Americans. The revelations properly sparked outrage across the globe, and even in our somnambulant Congress. Countries and companies began seeking ways to curtail the invasion. Two federal judges have ruled that the NSA is guilty of trampling the Fourth Amendment protections of the Constitution.
As US District Judge Richard Leon, an appointee of George W. Bush, wrote, "I have little doubt that the author of our Constitution, James Madison, who cautioned us to beware ‘the abridgment of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power,' would be aghast."
Even Obama, who has asserted a sweeping view of the national security prerogatives of the executive, was forced to appoint a commission to review the program. That commission issued a powerful critique of the NSA and called for a fundamental reform of its operations.
NSA Shouldn't Keep Phone Database,
Review Board Recommends
Ellen Nakashima and Ashkan Soltani / The Washington Post
(December 18, 2013) -- A panel appointed by President Obama to review the government's surveillance activities has recommended significant new limits on the nation's intelligence apparatus that include ending the National Security Agency's collection of virtually all Americans' phone records.
It urged that phone companies or a private third party maintain the data instead, with access granted only by a court order.
The President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies also recommended in a wide-ranging report issued Wednesday that decisions to spy on foreign leaders be subjected to greater scrutiny, including weighing the diplomatic and economic fallout if operations are revealed.
Allied foreign leaders or those with whom the United States shares a cooperative relationship should be accorded "a high degree of respect and deference," it said.
The panel also urged legislation that would require the FBI to obtain judicial approval before it can use a national security letter or administrative subpoena to obtain Americans' financial, phone and other records. That would eliminate one of the tool's main attractions: that it can be employed quickly without court approval.
The review group also would impose a ban on warantless NSA searches for Americans' phone calls and e-mails held within large caches of communications collected legally because the program targeted foreigners overseas.
A report from the five-member Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies contains 40-plus recommendations on the NSA.
Taken together, the five-member panel's recommendations take aim at some of the most controversial practices of the intelligence community, in particular the 35,000-employee NSA, headquartered at Fort Meade, Md. The signals intelligence agency has been in the news constantly since June, when reports based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began appearing in The Washington Post and the Guardian.
The White House released the 300-plus-page report as part of a larger effort to restore public confidence in the intelligence community, which has been shaken by the Snowden revelations.
The panel said that the NSA's storage of phone data "creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty" and that as a general rule, "the government should not be permitted to collect and store mass, undigested, non-public personal information" about Americans to be mined for foreign intelligence purposes.
Despite the proposed constraints, panel member Michael Morell, a former deputy director of the CIA, said, "We are not in any way recommending the disarming of the intelligence community."
The panel made 46 recommendations in all, which included moving the NSA's information assurance directorate -- its computer defense arm -- outside the agency and under the Defense Department's cyber-policy office.
"The review committee has reaffirmed that national security neither requires nor permits the government to help itself to Americans' personal information at will," said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice's Liberty and National Security Program. "The recommendations would extend significant privacy protections to Americans."
Some intelligence professionals were dismayed. "If adopted in bulk, the panel's recommendations would put us back before 9/11 again," said Joel F. Brenner, a former NSA inspector general.
Former NSA and CIA director Michael V. Hayden urged senior intelligence officials to lay out the operational costs of adopting the recommendations. "The responsibility is now in the intelligence community to be ruthlessly candid with the policy leadership," Hayden said.
Read the NSA's report, "Liberty and Security in a Changing World."
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