Comforting the NSA and Afflicting Its Dissenters

In a New Republic article on NSA surveillance, Yishai Schwartz defends the U.S. government against the critiques of whistleblower Edward Snowden and his supporters. This defense warrants close scrutiny, because several of the arguments offered echo misinformation spread by national security state officials.

The article begins by analyzing scenes in the Laura Poitras documentary Citizenfour where Snowden is holed up in a Hong Kong hotel, anxious that authorities might burst through the door and arrest him at any moment. “The implication is that Snowden has been targeted and persecuted by the government because he is a dissenter,” Schwartz writes. “This is false. Snowden is a dissenter, but he is also a law-breaker. And the latter is the reason he has been targeted… the government seeks to punish Snowden in order to make an example, but it is an example to future law-breakers (and in particular, those who expose classified information), not to deter future dissenters. Snowden happens to fit into both categories, but most dissenters do not, and they have nothing to fear.”

Tell that to NSA whistleblower William Binney. In 2007, a dozen FBI agents stormed into his house with weapons drawn. “One of them ran upstairs and entered the bathroom where Mr. Binney was toweling off after a shower, pointing a gun at him,” the New York Times reported. “Agents carried away a computer, disks and personal and business records… Mr. Binney spent more than $7,000 on legal fees. But far more devastating, he said, was the N.S.A.’s decision to strip his security clearance… costing him an annual income of $300,000.”

Or consider Thomas Drake, who was careful to avoid revealing classified information in correspondence with a reporter about NSA waste, fraud, and abuse. Jane Mayer documents the trumped up charges used to persecute him and destroy his career.

Alternatively, ponder Jesselyn Radack’s story.

Is Schwartz unaware of these people? Surely he is at least familiar with Poitras, whose film he is reviewing. She committed no crimes when making documentaries about Iraq and Gitmo, yet wound up on a secret government watch-list, subjecting her to harassment, interrogations, and equipment..

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