PRISM Views: Why Defending Snowden Goes Beyond Party Lines

A recent piece by Louis Nayman — “In Defense of PRISM” for In These Times — has brought about a wide array of criticism from the left who see the labor organizer’s argument as falling too closely in line with the Obama administration's. Surveillance, privacy and whistle blowers are hot topics that transcend party lines. It may be one of the few things the far right and left agree on, although they view it from a different lens. Among the many debatable quotes from the Nayman piece is this piece of fiction:

As people who believe in government, we cannot simply assume that officials are abusing their lawfully granted responsibility and authority to defend our people from violence and harm.

This argument can, of course, be debunked by anyone with even a moderate understanding of history.  The government has a track record of lying, why should we assume they just stopped?  

One of the most poignant responses to Mr. Nayman’s piece came from Marcy Wheeler, who published "In These Times We Can’t Blindly Trust the Government to Respect Freedom of Association" on the blog Empty Wheel. In debunking Mr. Nayman’s arguments, Wheeler makes many good ones of her own.

Among the best are her response to Nayman’s argument that, "We should do all we can to assure proper oversight any time a surveillance program of any size and scope is launched.” To which Wheeler responds:

[A] big part of the problem with these programs is that the government has either not implemented or refused such oversight. Some holes in the oversight of the program are:

  • NSA has not said whether queries of the metadata dragnet database are electronically recorded; both SWIFT and a similar phone metadata program queries have been either sometimes or always oral, making them impossible to audit
  • The FISC does not itself audit this metadata access and — given Dianne Feinstein’s uncertainty about what queries consist of — it appears neither do the Intelligence Committees; Adam Schiff recommended this practice but Keith Alexander was resistant
  • The government opposed mandated Inspector General reviews of the Section 215 use in the last PATRIOT Act renewal; while DOJ’s Inspector General is, on his predecessor's own initiative, reviewing its use, he’s only now reviewing the program as it existed four years ago
  • DOJ and CIA’s Inspectors General have limited ability to review what FBI and CIA do with the unminimized data they get form NSA’s Section 702 collection (though DOJ’s IG does have the authority to review what the NSA does)
  • The government refuses to count (and doesn’t appear to document) what happens with the U.S. person information “incidentally” collected under Section 702 that is subsequently searched or read

As I read Nayman’s piece, I ultimately felt the same sentiments that Wheeler wrote. In defending the Obama Administration blindly and looking to place blame on the far right I found Nayman’s arguments myopic. He didn’t see that this topic was bigger than just another cog in the news cycle; he didn’t feel the gravity of the situation. There is a permanence in accepting that these measures are acceptable. There is a sense that in defending these actions you are defending the erosion of personal liberties. Nayman portrays this best when he writes:

So, let’s be very careful about doing the Tea Party’s dirty work by running to the defense of every leaker with the inclination and means to poke a stick in the government’s eye.

It seems as if he is lost for a moment and cannot see the irony of his statements. As Wheeler notes:

This displays another misunderstanding about who on the right really opposes these programs. While Rand Paul has — as he did earlier with the drone program — offered clown show legislation to play off worries about these programs, Justin Amash is the TeaParty figure most legitimately active in countering these programs (and he has been disempowered by his own party). Amash is joined in his efforts by progressive stalwarts like Barbara Lee and Zoe Lofgren, along with a fascinating mix of others, including paleocons. In the Senate, Mike Lee has been the most effective quiet champion of efforts to bring more oversight to the program, but he has been joined by Lisa Murkowksi and Dean Heller. And often not, Rand Paul.

Meanwhile, Nayman is joined in his position attacking Edward Snowden by TeaParty Caucus Chair Michele Bachmann.

Starting a national conversation on the erosion of personal liberty and how we as a nation plan on moving forward is perhaps the most important thing that Edward Snowden accomplished. It is naive to believe that this is the worst, that it will just stop here. Just as many Republicans did in the Bush years, Nayman is simply agreeing with the administration because he is a Democrat. However, this issue is not partisan, this issue is very dire and will have a long lasting effect on our nation. For Mr. Naymann to trumpet the notion that biggest issue is Edward Snowden's exposure of the government's espionage of its citizens — and not that the government is spying on its citizens — is as ridiculous as the argument itself.

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Chaz Bolte
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