The Civil Liberties Celebration Hangover Wears Off

JusticePicAt the end of last week, I joked a little about privacy and civil liberties advocates having had the “best week ever”. It was indeed a very good week, but only relatively compared to the near constant assault on the same by the government. But the con is being put back in ICon by the Administration and its mouthpieces.

As I noted in the same post, Obama himself has already thrown cold water on the promise of his NSA Review Board report. Contrary to some, I saw quite a few positives in the report and thought it much stronger than I ever expected. Still, that certainly does not mean it was, or is, the particularly strong reform that is needed. And even the measures and discussion it did contain are worthless without sincerity and dedication to buy into them by the intelligence community and the administration. But if Obama on Friday was the harbinger of the walkback and whitewash of real reform, the foot soldiers are taking the field now to prove the point.

Sunday morning brought out former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell on CBS Face the Nation to say this:

I think that is a perception that’s somehow out there. It is not focused on any single American. It is not reading the content of your phone calls or my phone calls or anybody else’s phone calls. It is focused on this metadata for one purpose only and that is to make sure that foreign terrorists aren’t in contact with anybody in the United States.

Morrell also stated that there was “no abuse” by the NSA and that Ed Snowden was a “criminal” who has shirked his duties as a “patriot” by running. Now Mike Morrell is not just some voice out in the intelligence community, he was one of the supposedly hallowed voices that Barack Obama chose to consider “reform”.

Which ought to tell you quite a bit about what Barack Obama really thinks about true reform and your privacy interests. Not much. In fact, Morrell suggested (and Obama almost certainly agrees) that the collection dragnet should be expanded from telephony to also include email. Not exactly the kind of “reform” we had in mind.

Then, Sunday night 60 Minutes showed that fluffing the security state is not just a vice, but an ingrained habit for them. Hot on the heels of their John Miller blowjob on the NSA, last night 60 Minutes opened with a completely hagiographic puff piece on and with National Security Advisor Susan Rice. There was absolutely no news whatsoever in the segment, it was entirely a forum for Rice and her “interviewer”, Lesley Stahl, to spew unsupported allegations about Edward Snowden (He “has 1.5 million documents!”), lie about how the DOJ has interacted with the court system regarding the government surveillance programs (the only false statements have been “inadvertent”) and rehab her image from the Benghazi!! debacle. That was really it. Not exactly the hard hitting journalism you would hope for on the heels of a federal judge declaring a piece of the heart of the surveillance state unconstitutional.

Oh, yes, Susan Rice also proudly proclaimed herself “a pragmatist like Henry Kissinger which, as Tim Shorrock correctly pointed out, is not exactly reassuring from the administration of a Democratic President interested in civil liberties, privacy and the rule of law.

So, the whitewashing of surveillance dragnet reform is in full swing, let the giddiness of last week give way to the understanding that Barack Obama, and the Intelligence Community, have no intention whatsoever of “reforming”. In fact, they will use the illusion of “reform” to expand their authorities and power. Jonathan Turley noted:

Obama stacked the task force on NSA surveillance with hawks to guarantee the preservation of the program.

Not just preserve, but to give the false, nee fraudulent, patina of Obama Administration concern for the privacy and civil liberties concerns of the American citizenry when, in fact, the Administration has none. It is yet another con.

Or, as Glenn Greenwald noted:

The key to the WH panel: its stated purpose was to re-establish public confidence in NSA – NOT reform it.

There may be some moving of the pea beneath the shells, but there will be no meaningful reform from the administration of Barack Obama. The vehicle for reform, if there is to be one at all, will have to come from the Article III federal courts. for an overview of the path of Judge Leon’s decision in Klayman through the DC circuit, see this piece by NLJ’s Zoe Tillman.

Lastly, to give just a little hope after the above distressing content, I recommend a read of this excellent article by Adam Serwer at MSNBC on the cagy pump priming for surveillance reform Justice Sotomayor has done at the Supreme Court:

If Edward Snowden gave federal courts the means to declare the National Security Agency’s data-gathering unconstitutional, Sonia Sotomayor showed them how.

It was Sotomayor’s lonely concurrence in U.S. v Jones, a case involving warrantless use of a GPS tracker on a suspect’s car, that the George W. Bush-appointed Judge Richard Leon relied on when he ruled that the program was likely unconstitutional last week. It was that same concurrence the White House appointed review board on surveillance policy cited when it concluded government surveillance should be scaled back.

“It may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties,” Sotomayor wrote in 2012. “This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks.”

Give the entire article a read, Adam is spot on. If there is to be reform on the surveillance dragnet, it will almost certainly have to be the handiwork of the courts, and Justice Sotomayor planted the seed. The constant barrage of truth and facts coming from the Snowden materials, what Jay Rosen rightfully terms “The Snowden Effect” is providing the food for Sotomayor’s seed to flower. Hopefully.

16 replies
  1. bloodypitchfork says:

    quote“It may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties,”unquote

    IF and WHEN, this absurd notion that when I give/disclose my personal information to third parties I can expect no privacy, is overturned, can I SUE THE SHIT out of Google for handing it over to other third the NSA?

  2. DWBartoo says:

    ” … a Democratic President interested in civil liberties, privacy and the rule of law.”

    Gosh, I didn’t know that was the case, bmaz.

    Is someone implying that it IS the case with this particular President?

    I thought “pragmatic” was the extent of what this President, his staff and advisors, as well as appointees were, generally, “about”.

    I realize that was a tongue-in-cheek remark you made yet, apparently, too many still consider it gospel truth … along with that LOTE business.

    I consider the week “educational”, possibly even a “learning moment”.

    For a while (possibly quite a while) that may be the best we may reasonably hope for, as revelations continue to dribble out and the propaganda spews, or gushes, forth.

    Adam Serwer’s article is excellent and, your last paragraph, spot on.


  3. Anonsters says:

    At this point, I can only sincerely hope that the Snowden docs will feed stories for at least a couple more months (preferably much longer), because the only way pressure will stay on the government to make any real reform is for the drumbeat to continue. If they start to taper off, or appear less frequently, we could be in trouble.

  4. TomVet says:

    This morning on NPR’s Morning Edition Obama’s ventriloquist dummy, Jay Carney, was in for a scripted and well rehearsed interview with Steve Inskeep about 2013 being a bad year for Obama.

    They managed to blame all of the pres’ legislative failures – gun control, financial reform, immigration, etc. – on the mean Republicans in Congress. Then they went on to blame ALL the problems with the NSA on Snowden! Not Bush/Cheney. Not Alexander, Brennan, Feinstein, Rogers et al. Not any kind of government overreach or power grabs. And certainly not Obama.

    I think this is a pretty big projection on the part of the DC insiders. The Germans, Brazilians, Europeans and Israelis are all mad because they found out about the spying, not because the spying was going on! The cat is out of the bag! Revenge must be had! Heads must roll! And we know whose heads those must be. Whistleblowers!!!

    Edward Snowden is not a traitor and did not steal those documents. They are the property of the US Government, i.e. the PEOPLE of this country. He merely returned them to their proper place in a discussion of these matters. It is up to us to act further to rein in the politicos who think they own these things. Keep those calls and letters rolling in to your Congressmen until they have to do something for us for a change.

    Listen: Obama Fails to Accomplish Ambitious Agenda in 2013 (w/transcript)
    Download: MP3

  5. ess emm says:

    Smart, savvy article—albeit depressing. Thanks, bmaz.

    If der Spiegal, O Globo, WaPo, Guardian, and NYT keep publishing it will be very difficult for the liars and authoritarians to find cover.

  6. ess emm says:

    Mainstream media involved in the whitewash: CBS (60 Minutes & Bob Schieffer), NBC (David Gregory & Lawrence O’Donnell).

  7. Valley Girl says:

    Thanks for this, bmaz.

    Comment below relates to 60 Minutes Miller piece, so it’s OT. Still…

    from this link:


    “I (Miller) fully reject the criticism from you (Carr) and others,” he told me. “The N.S.A. story has been a fairly one-way dialogue. There has been no conversation and when you do hear from the N.S.A., it is in a terse, highly vetted statement.”

    “We went there, we asked every question we wanted to, listened to the answers, followed up as we wished, and our audience can decide what and who they believe. ~~~

    Don’t know how to edit for emphasis for above, wish I did… because…

    “we asked every question we wanted to”

    just hit me over the head. It says pretty much, by inference “and we didn’t ask the questions we didn’t want to….”


  8. P J Evans says:

    @Valley Girl:
    and when you do hear from the N.S.A., it is in a terse, highly vetted statement means that it’s been carefully worded to imply things happening that they have no intention of actually doing.

  9. Bay State Librul says:


    I have to disagree on a few points.

    The Republican are to BLAME for gun control and immigration failures.
    Ask BMAZ, I think Snowden did break laws.

    What is needed is amnesty or a pardon to set him free.

  10. Bay State Librul says:

    Hangover, we need rehab, intervention, and a come to Jesus conversion.
    It’s not going to happen under Obama.
    Political realities mean it could get worse under a Republican President
    in 2016.
    The American people will never, never, believe the NSA or CIA.
    By their nature, they will continue to distrust the distrusters.
    What we need is an effort to remedy the disparity between the Rich and
    Follow Francis, perhaps.
    A cyber attack in the financial markets is the worse threat.

  11. bloodypitchfork says:

    @Bay State Librul: quote”A cyber attack in the financial markets is the worse threat.”unquote

    Ha! The banking cartels already plumbed that baby.

    quoteing bmaz:” I got at least one real post to go before then though.”unquote

    Well, just in case it’s in regards to NSA/RSA collusion …what ever RSA say’s, their lips are moving..

    In an attempt to corrupt the cryptography construct of encryption systems world wide via NIST compromised standards, including even the USG’s, RSA became a rube of biblical proportions. Only digging deeper can one find the truth.
    From the Trusted Computing Group them self…

    quote”The Trusted Computing Group, in order to realize its own mission of moving the world towards a hardware root of trust for security must completely repudiate the NSA. It must formally cut the ties that bind it to the NSA with a public statement of repudiation. Current and former members of the NSA must be barred from participation at all levels including working committees, the board, and from a presence at the Trusted Computing Conference. The members of the Trusted Computing Group must seek to re-establish trust by demonstrating the absence of complicity in the NSA’s surveillance programs. The manufacturers of TPMs must demonstrate that there are no back doors in their products.

    Only after repudiating the NSA can the Trusted Computing Group begin to participate in the tenfold boom in IT security spending that has begun. New products and services can be deployed that completely prevent communications from being consumed by the NSA. Trusted Computing will immunize the Internet from a pathogen that is killing trust.”

    digging deeper…into comments here

    sooprise find the actual conversations between NSA/?

    living proof..

    quote:”kmigoe at”unquote

    whudda thunk.

  12. ess emm says:

    sadly the good feeling barely lasted a week. One of the pro-NSA arguments made in Pauley’s Memorandum & Order in Clapper v. ACLU

    The ACLU would never have learned about the section 215 order authorizing collection of telephony metadata related to its telephone numbers but for the unauthorized disclosures by Edward Snowden. Congress did not intend that targets of section 215 orders would ever learn of them. And the statutory scheme also makes clear that Congress intended to preclude suits by targets even if they discovered section 215 orders implicating them. It cannot possibly be that lawbreaking conduct by a government contractor that reveals state secrets–including the means and methods of intelligence gathering—could frustrate Congress’s intent.

    Oh my God, this one is crazy

    Section 215 orders are functionally equivalent to grand jury subpoenas.

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