Spot The Bully – Journalism or Government?

SPS Polis 2014 journalism conference

The POLIS 2014 Journalism Conference, held on the campus of the London School of Economics, played host to a number of luminaries from the British media establishment and debated some important issues. But among the various items on the agenda – including riveting discussions on the methods and ethics of investigative journalism, an interview with Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and a forum on the use of social media in the newsroom – was a slightly incongruous, strangely titled session.

In the second session of the day, the panel – comprised of chair Anne McElvoy (BBC and The Economist), Annette Dittert (German broadcaster ARD), Michael Crick (Channel 4 News) and Ed Lucas (The Economist) debated the following topic:

Journalism after Snowden: Watchdog or thug?

In the wake of the Snowden story and the Leveson Inquiry into the press, we ask whether British journalism is to supine or too aggressive? Was the publication of state secrets justified?

SPS_Polis2014_01

Semi-Partisan Sam, attending the POLIS Journalism Conference for the first time, took the opportunity to ask the following question of the panel:

QUESTION – Given the facts: that Reporters Without Borders downgraded the UK from 29th to 33rd in the World Press Freedoms rankings for 2014;  that the British government now assumes the right to stop and detain partners and relatives of journalists at Heathrow airport under grossly misapplied anti-terror laws; that the Prime Minister last year saw fit to dispatch his Cabinet Secretary to the offices of a major national newspaper in order to threaten it with closure unless they desisted with the publication of materials embarrassing to the government; and that the government forced that same newspaper to destroy their privately owned computers and hard drives under the watchful presence of intelligence and GCHQ officers – why are we sitting here having an introspective debate about whether or not journalists are behaving like thugs when the real thug is clearly the bullying, heavy-handed British government?

The question was extremely well received among the attendees in the hall, prompting a significant round of applause from delegates. Sadly, this did not translate into a a full or robust answer from the panel, who at times had been happier to wander off-topic and waste time debating side issues such as America’s merits as a country and the proper role of the intelligence services.

The panel’s complete answer – such as it was – to the question can be seen in the video below (Semi-Partisan Sam is “the gentleman” referred to by Anne McElvoy):

The Economist’s Ed Lucas, an enthusiastic apologist for anything and everything that the government decides to do in the name of ‘security’, was obviously unsympathetic to the idea that the British government has displayed thuggish behaviour. But since even Lucas was unable to justify what the government has been caught doing without public knowledge or consent, he instead diverted attention by building up and then destroying a straw-man argument of his own creation – namely that those who speak out against government persecution of journalists who expose overreach by the security services are somehow naive pacifists who want to abolish the military and the intelligence services entirely.

Lucas said: “If you want to have a country which has no intelligence and security services, where there are no state secrets or no penalty for stealing state secrets, then fine – I guess that may be the world that the Green Party would like. I suspect it’s a minority point of view.”

This is a patently false and absurd proposition. No serious critic of the British or American governments as pertaining to their secretly allowing their security services to infringe on citizen privacy is suggestion that GCHQ, MI6, the CIA or NSA be disbanded, and Lucas insults our intelligence to cast this aspersion. The issue is not whether we have security and intelligence services, but the lengths to which we as a society are prepared to let them act in our interest.

The other fatuous argument sometimes made by apologists – and indeed by Ed Lucas himself during this same session – goes along the lines of: “Why are people so surprised that we have spies, and that they are involved in acts of spying?” Again, this is a deliberate and misleading attempt to change the terms of the debate. Citizens fully understand the need for foreign and domestic intelligence, but they also have the right to expect that the technology and bureaucracy of surveillance will not be turned inwards upon themselves. While no one expects (or demands) a list of current surveillance targets to be posted and regularly updated on the  internet, the public should have input as to the criteria for targeting through the democratic process.

It is a rather sad statement on the current status of British journalism that the only panellist to seriously engage with the question and agree that it is government – not the press – who have been acting the bully, was Annette Dittert from German broadcaster ARD.

Even the panel chair, Anne McElvoy, felt the need to reframe the question and make the unsubstantiated claim that Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, had been carrying “shedloads of secrets with him” when he was detained at Heathrow airport, and that rather than being an outrage, this was just one of the “more difficult areas” where the public “might begin to have some doubts” and feel that the government has a case to answer.

In her response, Dittert correctly identified the apathy of the British people as being partly responsible for the lack of public outcry at the Edward Snowden revelations, saying that Britain has an “almost romantic relationship with the security services” – our experiences of the fictional James Bond being somewhat different to the German experience of the Stasi.

Responding to the question, Dittert said: “I thought it was really concerning – the Prime Minister threatening in the House of Commons a newspaper and journalists … in case they go on publishing is something that shouldn’t happen in a democracy.”

Dittert then went on to describe the way that The Guardian newspaper was treated as being “entirely wrong”.

It is profoundly worrying that even at a prestigious journalism conference such as POLIS 2014, so few of the attendees (and only one of the panellists – a German television correspondent) felt able to push back against the notion that it is the journalistic profession that has become the bully and the thug rather than the British government, whose track record on secrecy, paranoia and intimidation speaks for itself.

And while the POLIS 2014 conference was excellent, the fact that the whole day passed with virtually no observance or mention of the harrassment and intimidation of the British press by the goverment will only reinforce the belief that the establishment media with their well-connected sources and comfortable positions within the Westminster bubble are, at times, quite incapable of holding to account the government that they simultaneously both depend on and fear.

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Rolling Back Surveillance – What’s The Catch?

 

Supporters of ending the practice of bulk data collection by the NSA and enacting safeguards on requesting permission to monitor the communications of private citizens have found a very unexpected ally in Democratic congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, the NSA’s hometown representative and one of the agency’s key supporters.

The Guardian reports:

This week, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, who represents the Maryland district home to the NSA’s Fort Meade headquarters, came out in favor of a remedy for the controversial surveillance.

Ruppersberger, in interviews with the Washington Post, National Journal and Politico, said he was working to craft a proposal that would require court orders for government requests for Americans’ phone records – perhaps on an individual basis – from the telephone companies, without requiring the companies to expand retention of their customer records beyond current practice.

This has rightly aroused suspicion from some civil libertarians – partly because Ruppersberger admits that elements of his proposal still remain to be “worked out” (read: emasculated before coming up for a vote) and partly because Ruppersberger’s track record on standing up to his district’s largest employer is predictably weak.

Others, however, seem to take his proposal in good faith:

On the other hand, sources said, Ruppersberger’s evolving position represents what one called a “huge step forward” toward an outright end to bulk domestic metadata collection. Ruppersberger’s credibility with the NSA might also be an asset for such an effort.

I’m sceptical. Though any politician turning away from embracing the unchallenged omniscience of the intelligence services is a good thing, we should avoid ascribing too many noble motivations to those who do so. This can be difficult, given the serious way in which such lawmakers are suddenly discussing the issue. Here, Ruppersberger could pass for a concerned member of the ACLU were it not for his voting record and numerous other public statements to the contrary:

“I believe that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act must be reformed. We must improve the American public’s confidence in, and perception of, our national security programs, by increasing transparency, strengthening oversight, and safeguarding civil liberties,” Ruppersberger said.

“I also believe that any proposal to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act must preserve critical intelligence tools that protect our country and its allies.  I am concerned with any approach that would eliminate this important intelligence tool and make the country more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, without providing a workable alternative.”

Ruppersberger’s decision and newfound concern about civil liberties could well be no more than what Glenn Greenwald has called the ‘Angela Merkel’ effect – a term used to describe a phenomenon where a public civil liberty infringement is tolerated quite happily by a public official until they realise that they too have become victims (in Merkel’s case, she was largely silent on the fact that the NSA had been intercepting the communications of German citizens but incandescent with rage that her own private communications might also have been monitored).

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California also falls into this category – long an NSA apologist and advocate for massive secret public surveillance, but suddenly up in arms when the work of her own committee was monitored by the CIA. While it would be nice to believe that a dyed-in-the-wool surveillance hawk such as Feinstein has undergone some kind of road-to-Damascus style conversion to the cause of privacy rights, sadly the greater likelihood is that hypocrisy and political calculation played the larger part in her Senate floor outburst.

Not everyone is convinced
Not everyone is convinced

The likelihood is that the most hawkish, reflexively pro-surveillance lawmakers realise that the political sands have shifted beneath their feet, and have deemed it wise to be seen giving a little ground now to avoid complete defeat in the future.

In Ruppersberger’s case, that defeat would be epitomised by the passing of the rival USA Freedom Act, sponsored by Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, which goes further in setting stricter standards for collecting communications data on individuals, standards that would need to pass a certain burden of evidence in order to gain a court order:

With the details still undetermined in Ruppersberger’s proposal, it is difficult to know how far the new effort would go in requiring court-ordered individual suspicion to access phone records, as well as requiring a specific “relevance” connection to an ongoing terrorism investigation, as required in the Patriot Act and the proposed USA Freedom Act – without which, privacy advocates argue, would leave the door open to dubious searches of government records.

While the gradual conversion – or defensive rearguard action – of politicians like Dutch Ruppersberger and Dianne Feinstein can be cautiously welcomed, the public should never forget that that if these people had their way, we would not be having a national conversation about government surveillance and civil liberties at all.

National security fanatics from both parties have lined up to condemn Edward Snowden for whistleblowing and making the public aware of what the government had been doing, going so far as to call him a traitor and make up all manner of ludicrous unproven assertions to cast doubt on his moral integrity.

If the Ruppersbergers and Feinsteins had their way, the American political debate would continue to bounce back and forth between Obamacare, Benghazi and 2016 speculation because we simply would not know about bulk data collection, the PRISM program, back door access into the servers of our most commonly used internet applications or any of the other “protective measures” that the government felt the need to take without glancing at the Constitution or mentioning what they were doing to the people.

So by all means, let us welcome those genuine converts to the cause of civil liberties. But let’s hold off on the ticker-tape parade in their honour just a little while, until their motives become clearer with time.

UPDATE – 15/03/2014: Whatever the limitations of the debate on surveillance may be in the United States, let us be grateful at least that a debate is taking place at all. In the United Kingdom, by contrast, there has been no apology or sign of contrition from David Cameron, no real admission that the British government had overstepped the mark, and certainly no real political movement underway to start properly overseeing the British security services.

Spare A Thought For Those Who Spy On Us

Today saw a rare moment of insight into the workings of Britain’s intelligence services and the mindset of those who lead them. It was but a fleeting glimpse, though – provided by a former employee, summoned to give evidence to the Home Affairs Committee in Parliament.

Unrepentant.
Unrepentant.

The Guardian provides a concise summary of former GCHQ chief Sir David Omand’s testimony, but the real showstopper is this question, posed by Conservative MP Michael Ellis, and the response he receives from Sir David:

Q: Have the unauthorised leaks have a negative effect on morale?

Omand says that his impression, from the outside, is that it has been a bitter blow.

There have been concerns about reputation.

And they have been accused of breaking the law. They have been accused of using the US as a backdoor, to circumvent UK law. Omand says he does not think that is true.

There has been an impact on families too, he says.

And he suggests there has been an impact on recruitment. Would parents encourage their children to join an organisation accused of acting like this.

In other words, as far as David Omand is concerned, the problem is not that the all-powerful British security agencies have been collecting bulk data on the personal communications of British citizens without reasonable suspicion of criminal intent. No, the real outrage is the fact that in protesting the draconian steps taken in the name of our safety (but without our knowledge or consent), having found out about them, we have hurt the feelings of the people who have actually been doing the spying. Never mind the right to privacy – the fragile egos of our intelligence analysts are apparently at stake.

Also of interest is Omand’s opinion on whistleblowing in general, as revealed in his response to a question from Labour MP Paul Flynn:

Q: Don’t we need whistleblowers?

Omand says he supports the free press. In a well-regulated society, you don’t need whistleblowers.

So there we have it. If society is well regulated – meaning, as far as I can tell, if the elites are free to do whatever they think needs to be done under a secret gentlemen’s agreement, and the public are willing to be docile and credulous and to relinquish any expectations of oversight or checks on power – then there would be no need for whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden.

And in a sense, Sir David Omand is right. A “well-regulated” society such as this would not need whistleblowers, because it would have sacrificed so much of its integrity and worth that there would be nothing left for an honourable whistleblower to defend.

This Parliamentary performance by the former head of GCHQ provides a very revealing insight into the self-entitled mind of our political and national security elites. In their worldview, not only are they perfectly entitled to treat the average citizen with suspicion and intercept their personal communications at will, but they should also be allowed to do so with total impunity, and without ever being made to feel the slightest bit bad about their actions, either through having their clandestine work revealed by a whistleblower, or by reading a negative newspaper editorials on the subject in the aftermath.

Omand is essentially telling us that our first thought as members of the public, when confronted with proof of massive government surveillance by whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden, should not be for ourselves, the people whom the security services supposedly exist to protect and serve, but rather for the sensitive feelings of the GCHQ operatives and their political masters.

If that strikes you as being slightly ludicrous, that’s good, because it should.

A fearsome building, apparently filled with very sensitive souls.
A fearsome building, apparently filled with very sensitive souls.

 

The impact of the Snowden revelations on morale within GCHQ should not be our overriding concern at this time. The organisation has been flagrantly violating the privacy of fellow British citizens – who should not be their target – unknown and unopposed, and a certain dose of guilt and shame for having done so is probably quite appropriate.

Of course, ultimate responsibility for the actions of the intelligence services rests with the government and the elected politicians who sanctioned the draconian use of surveillance practices without ever seeking the consent of the people. It is true that people working for GCHQ and the intelligence services are given orders and must carry those orders out as part of the job, and I also appreciate the power of organisational or institutional loyalty, and the corrosive effects of groupthink, both of which may play a part in allowing intelligence agency operatives to justify some of the actions that they take. But this does not absolve them of all responsibility.

Yes, the buck stops with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, but good men and women at all levels within the hierarchy who knew of what was taking place should have stood up and said something. The sad fact is that were it not for a disgruntled and outraged American citizen blowing the whistle and releasing incriminating documents to the media, the British public would still be blissfully unaware of what has been taking place.

So where is this well-regulated society of which Omand speaks? In Britain, it clearly does not exist, as The Guardian’s summary of another of his responses makes clear:

Omand says a whistleblower has to have exhausted his other options. Edward Snowden could have gone to his employers, or to Congress. Imagine if he had walked into Congress, flanked by the editor of the Guardian, saying you have been lied to. He could have achieved his objectives, without having had to take more than 50,000 documents.

Is it not striking that when pressed to come up with an alternative to releasing sensitive intelligence documents to the media, the only alternative scenario to whistleblowing offered by Omand occurs in the context of the US government, and not the British?

Firstly, it is somewhat ludicrous to suggest that Edward Snowden could have followed this course of action. There were those in Congress, after all, who were aware of the NSA’s activities but who felt bound not to talk about them. And with unrepentant national security fanatics such as Peter King and Mike Rogers in the House, Snowden would likely have been disappeared before he had finished uttering his first sentence.

And secondly, how does Omand picture the same scenario playing out in the United Kingdom? Clearly not well, as he doesn’t expand upon the scenario during his testimony. So the concerned GCHQ analyst walks into Parliament flanked by Alan Rusbridger of the Guardian, and tells MPs that they had been lied to. What happens next? How, in any way, would that analyst’s objectives of raising awareness of the malpractice be accomplished? It wouldn’t.

Whistleblowing actions of the type carried out by Edward Snowden are sadly necessary, because it is simply not enough to flag misbehaviour by the national security complex to elected representatives in Parliament or Congress. In the US Congress there are a sufficient number of cheerleaders for Bush-era, PATRIOT Act-style security that the whistleblower could almost certainly expect immediate reprisal and persecution, and in the case of the British Parliament, there sadly exists a lazy general consensus that the security services should be left in peace to do whatever they think is reasonable to keep us safe.

In neither country, Britain or America, is there a plausible scenario where a concerned citizen could approach elected politicians with evidence of wrongdoing by the state and expect that their personal privacy and liberty to be respected and guaranteed in the aftermath. We know this because time and again, we see the majority of public officials (with a significant but outnumbered minority of brave dissenters) closing ranks to defend the intelligence agencies and the status quo. Therefore, the only way to bring a halt to these practices is by releasing information into the public sphere – which, it should be acknowledged, has been done in a very measured and sensitive way by Snowden, and is certainly no indiscriminate data dump – to increase public awareness and concern.

It would have been foolish to expect the former head of GCHQ to offer anything other than a full-throated defence of the work that he and his agency were so deeply involved in for so long. And so, in that sense, we learned nothing new from Sir David’s testimony to the Home Affairs committee today. There will be no immediate change of policy and no deathbed confessions of wrongdoing from anyone in power just yet.

And yet there was progress today. As well as the softball questions lobbed by sympathetic MPs with a similarly authoritarian outlook, Sir David Omand also had to face some tough and awkward questions. Even in centralised, deferential Britain, there are some MPs willing to do their job and represent the interests of their constituents.

Take this small ray of hope and combine it with Ed Miliband’s curious new-found interest in ensuring that the intelligence agencies receive more thorough public scrutiny and oversight, and you have the makings of what now passes for a good week for civil liberties and citizen privacy in 21st century Britain.

The Day We Fight Back

thedaywefightback

 

Sometimes help comes from the most unlikely places. That was certainly the case today when Ed Miliband used his speech at the Hugo Young memorial lecture to call for major changes to the oversight of Britain’s intelligence and security agencies.

The Guardian reports:

A major overhaul of the oversight of Britain’s intelligence agencies, which could lead to an opposition politician chairing parliament’s intelligence and security committee and reform of the intelligence commissioners, needs to be introduced, Ed Miliband has said.

The Labour leader praised Barack Obama for starting an “important debate” in the US – after the White House appointed a panel in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks – and called for a similar debate in Britain.

In some of his most extensive comments on the NSA leaks, Miliband told a Guardian audience that reforming the oversight of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 was “definitely” part of his campaign to challenge “unaccountable power”.

Though the details remain sketchy, it appears that Miliband envisions quite a far-reaching review, looking not just at the methods used by the security services but also the degree to which the agencies are funded, the scope of their responsibilities and the granting of a more formal role in oversight to the main opposition party:

Miliband made clear that his challenge to “unaccountable power” would include Britain’s intelligence agencies as he said that reform should focus on two areas. These are parliament’s all party intelligence and security committee, which is always chaired by a senior MP from the governing party, and the commissioners who oversee the intelligence agencies.

The Labour leader said: “I already believe, and this is what my Labour colleagues have been saying, that there are clearly changes that are going to need to be made in relation to the intelligence and security committee and the oversight it provides.

“That is everything from the resources they have at their disposal, who chairs the committee and whether it should be somebody from the government party or the opposition party, their power to compel witnesses – a range of issues.

While this may warm the heart of many a weary libertarian, it must be noted that Miliband has barely scratched the surface in terms of confronting the growth of the British national security apparatus – after all, even miracles have their limits.

Miliband praises US President Barack Obama for starting what he calls an “important debate” but neglects to mention that Obama would have quite happily allowed the NSA to continue to violate the privacy of US and world citizens in secrecy and in perpetuity, and that he is actively seeking to extradite the person who really started the debate – Edward Snowden – back to America to face charges of treason. Thus restated in the proper context, Obama’s carefully cultivated philosopher-king image begins to lose some of its sheen, as does Miliband’s boyish admiration of him.

It should also be noted that Miliband sees the answer to concerns about privacy and civil liberties very much in terms of incremental changes to the existing framework, and certainly not in creating cast-iron rules about powers that the government should rightly have and those which should be reserved by the people.  In particular, he sees the fact of ministerial oversight and sign-off of interception requests by the security agencies as a good thing and a solid check on power, rather than the rubber stamp that it really is:

On the ministerial oversight of interception, he said: “It is worth saying also that there is in this country … ministerial sign off when intercept and so on takes place. That is a very, very important safeguard. I do believe the intelligence services do important work. But I absolutely endorse the idea that there are important issues of liberty and liberty is an important part of Labour’s agenda.”

Perhaps Miliband (or indeed David Cameron or Theresa May) would care to set out a scenario – any scenario at all – where the British intelligence services might approach the government to get sign-off for a communication intercept on a surveillance target and actually be rebuffed by a skeptical minister. It simply would never happen.

Elected politicians, weighing the likely fallout of two different courses of action, are almost always going to follow the path that chips away at civil liberties by approving the intercept request rather than defending privacy and denying the request on grounds of insufficient evidence, and later being implicated in a security failure. Decisions on the authorisation of communications intercepts should rest with the judiciary, not the executive.

It is certainly true that public opinion in Britain has not swelled with outrage at the revelations of NSA and GCHQ collaboration in collecting and viewing private communications data with no reason for suspicion and no warrant.

And so Miliband’s contribution to the British debate on privacy and (remarkably) constraints on the power of the state – a very muted, anaemic debate compared to that now taking place in many other countries – is welcome, and very important. In America, politicians from both main parties and of all temperaments have spoken out in condemnation of secret government surveillance, raising public awareness and, in some cases, making continued support for these draconian surveillance measures an electoral liability. Meanwhile, the British political establishment has largely closed ranks in defence of the national security complex, and against the people.

berniesandersNSA

Contrast this quote from the independent Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders, with Prime Minister David Cameron’s dismissive and aloof response to concerns about the practices of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ:

“We have very good rules in this country. If a telephone call is going to be listened in to, that has to be signed off by the Home Secretary personally. There are very good safeguards in place,” Cameron told ITV’s The Agenda. “You get asked, ‘What are the rules’? I’m satisfied we have pretty strong safeguards. I thought part of the reaction to the The Guardian story was – big surprise, spies learn to spy…it’s to help keep us safe.”

Does the fact that Ed Miliband took the first tentative step in support of civil liberties and dared to suggest the state should not be all-powerful over us mean that the torch has been passed to a new generation of leaders on the issue? Of course not. Miliband seems to place his complete faith in the power of the state to accomplish a whole range of other matters relating to the personal and private lives of the British people, and it is far from certain a this early stage that he is not simply using his Hugo Young lecture to score a few cheap political points with no intention of pursuing the matter any further.

But for perhaps the first time in his senior political career, Miliband spoke out in favour of the private citizen over the government, when the issue of government surveillance has been met with nothing more than dismissal and condescension by Number 10 Downing Street and the rest of the government. And for that action, he must be given some credit.

Today, February 11th 2014, has been labelled The Day We Fight Back against mass surveillance. Numerous websites are carrying links to the organisation, which is supported by more than 360 organisations in 70 countries, and which plans to petition lawmakers in these countries to take action on the serious issue of government surveillance and constitutional overreach.

The Day We Fight Back has been well-marked in the United States, with many prominent politicians adding their voices to the chorus of protest. In the UK, on the other hand, there has been a deadly silence. The focus of the British news media and the political class remains fixed on the issues of flooding in southern England, with elected politicians falling over themselves to be seen in photo opportunities surveying the damage and taking decisive action. Taking any kind of action in support of our right to privacy and freedom from government oversight is far down the list of priorities, where it even features at all.

Former Texas Congressman Ron Paul is not right about everything, but his warning about the loss of liberty, echoing Franklin, is pertinent and timeless:

ronpaulwarning

People in Britain who truly appreciate the importance of the right to privacy and the need to place constraints of any kind on government seem to be few and far between, and consequently we must look for allies in unlikely corners.

Ed Miliband’s is certainly the very unlikeliest of corners. But perhaps the Labour leader’s taking a stand for civil liberties will shame others – those who should have been holding this issue aloft all along, and warning of the dangers of an omniscient, omnipotent government – into finally doing the same.

 

Concerned readers can visit The Day We Fight Back website and add their name to a petition here.

Edward Snowden And The Assault On Journalism

Mike Rogers - basically, Peter King, part 2.

 

The pig squeals ever louder. Embarrassed at having been caught red-handed secretly violating the US constitution’s prohibitions on unreasonable search and outraged that their power to do what they like without oversight should ever be called into question, those at the heart of the national security apparatus and their apologists in Congress are lashing out. And in their fury and blind fear of being exposed, they are no longer restricting their attacks to the arch-whistleblower, Edward Snowden himself, but are now expanding their campaign to target those journalists who dare to report and lay bare the abuses of power that Snowden revealed.

Representative Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has become the latest to join the fray, casting doubt on the motives of journalist Glenn Greenwald who worked with Snowden to bring the NSA’s clandestine public surveillance activities into the light of day. The Guardian reports:

Congressman Mike Rogers, chairman of the House intelligence committee, suggested Greenwald was a “thief” after he worked with news organizations who paid for stories based on the documents.

“For personal gain, he’s now selling his access to information, that’s how they’re terming it … A thief selling stolen material is a thief,” Politico quoted Rogers as saying after a committee hearing on Tuesday. Rogers said his source for the information was “other nations’ press services”.

If, by “selling his access to information”, Rogers means “charging a standard rate to write articles for publications based on his investigative journalism” then I suppose the accusation is spot-on. But of course, it could also be leveled just as easily at any other freelance reporter in the country, and is therefore completely meaningless.

Mike Rogers seems to think that the appropriate mode of behaviour on stumbling upon evidence of criminal activity and abuse of public trust by the government and making it public is to enter into some saintlike – almost socialist, shall we say – stance whereby any future commentary or writing about that subject is then given away for free to all and sundry. Only then, according to the Mike Rogers doctrine, would one avoid the charge of profiting from stolen material.

Rogers is apparently unfamiliar with the work of Bob Woodward, perhaps the most high-profile American investigative reporter in living memory and someone who conducted journalism that was equally damaging to people in power but which never raised public speculation that he should be charged with a crime, a point which Greenwald also notes in a recent interview with Vice Magazine:

 

Of course, Greenwald does not let Mike Roger’s slanderous accusation that he is profiting from the sale of stolen goods go unchallenged, as The Guardian, his former employer, reports:

Greenwald said that the claim was foolish, unfounded, and designed to intimidate journalists. “The main value in bandying about theories of prosecuting journalists is the hope that it will bolster the climate of fear for journalism,” he tweeted Tuesday.

But Mike Rogers was not the only one to go after Greenwald. James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence – whose principal accomplishment in office has been to sit in front of Congress and lie to them with a straight face about the extent to which the government monitored the communications of US citizens – also decided to use the terminology of crime and policework when discussing journalists who either worked directly with Snowden or dared to publish information that came from him:

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has issued a blistering condemnation of Edward Snowden, calling the surveillance disclosures published by the Guardian and other news outlets a “perfect storm” that would endanger American lives.

Testifying before a rare and unusually raucous public session of the Senate intelligence committee that saw yet another evolution in the Obama administration’s defense of bulk domestic phone records collection, Clapper called on “Snowden and his accomplices” to return the documents the former National Security Agency contractor took, in order to minimize what he called the “profound damage that his disclosures have caused and continued to cause”.

This is a strange development indeed, publicly promoting the idea that a journalist doing their job and reporting government secrets that they themselves did not steal, but which were given to them by a third party informant, is somehow committing a crime. The use of the word “accomplices” by James Clappers says everything that you need to know about his point of view on the leaks, and the contempt in which he holds the American public who are now starting to realise the extent to which their government has been acting in secret.

Even the Director of the FBI got in on the act:

FBI director James Comey said that a reporter “hawking stolen jewelry” was a crime, but it was “harder to say” journalism based off the Snowden leaks was criminal, since such a determination had “first amendment implications.”

This one is a real hoot. Director Comey makes very clear with his choice of words that he would love nothing more than to designate Glenn Greenwald’s (and others who publish information embarrassing to the national security elites) actions a crime, but that he is prevented from doing so because of “first amendment implications”. Note that he does not speak clearly and admit that to do so would be a flagrant breach of the Constitution – no, rather there would merely be “implications”, constitutional hurdles and awkward challenges to be overcome on the road to fulfilling his ultimate goal, namely criminalising free speech.

While the administration of George W. Bush long ago did away with any claim by the Republican Party to basic competence on national security issues, the GOP are by no means alone in their inadequacy – many Democrats seem only too keen to join the false prognosticators and the “mission accomplished” cheerleaders in their continuing efforts to sound tough on every issue of security while speaking absolutely no sense at all. Clapper and Comey, it must be remembered, are appointees of President Obama.

When it comes to those people – be they Republican or Democrat – whose first instinct in any scenario is to defend the government and preserve its power over that of the people – I can only take them as seriously as does this meme that has been doing the rounds:

cheneysnowden

 

An enemy of Dick Cheney’s may not automatically be a friend of mine. But it gets you a good hefty proportion of the way there.