Ruth Marcus on Edward Snowden: point by point

Published online 1 January 2014.

Here I’ve diagrammed Ruth Marcus’ essay in the WaPo, “Edward Snowden, the insufferable whistleblower,” and replied to its main ideas.  Each reply includes a question that opens up the essay’s logic.  The Marcus essay attempts to appear “fair” while avoiding real issues of importance to a democratic polty: What should proper NSA data collection be? What should proper NSA oversight be?  Should there even be an NSA? What should count as legitimate “anti-terrorism” policies?…

Not for Snowden any anxiety about the implications for national security of his theft of government secrets, any regrets about his violations of a duty of secrecy.

I have yet to see any convincing demonstration that “national security” was harmed by anything Snowden revealed.  Does such a demonstration exist?  Rather, Snowden revealed a “national security” environment in which all sorts of extracurricular government activities are being kept secret from the public.

Does a man whose life is conducted so much online really believe that Putin’s spies are not cyber-peering over his shoulder?

So if Putin presides over out-of-control state secret keeping, should the United States government do so as well?

So perhaps it is not a surprise that the biggest whistleblower of all time has an unpleasant personality to match.

If Snowden is bad, is PRISM good?

On behavior, if Snowden is such a believer in the Constitution, why didn’t he stick around to test the system the Constitution created and deal with the consequences of his actions?

If our Federal government is unaccountable to the “system the Constitution created,” then why should it follow the rules in dealing with Edward Snowden, whom its political class considers to be a traitor?

On the other, even more unknowable side of the ledger is the lasting damage to U.S. security from having its capabilities exposed for the United States’ enemies to see.

If the national security harm due to Snowden’s revealing an out-of-control NSA is “unknowable,” does this justify what the NSA is doing?  What about the national security harm precipitated by the out-of-control NSA itself?  Is it possible that “national security” would actually be improved by our knowledge of what the NSA is doing?  US foreign policy has no trouble creating its own terrorists.  How does an out-of-control NSA legitimately substitute for a US foreign policy that would be focused in a serious sense upon actual terrorism?

He launched an important, overdue debate and reassessment of collection practices.

This is Marcus’ qualifying assertion, and it is swiftly followed by another assertion:

Yet the existing oversight, while flawed, is not as feckless as Snowden portrays it, and the degree of intrusion on Americans’ privacy, while troubling, is not nearly as menacing as he sees it.

We already know plenty of things about the US government and its out-of-control secret keeping, through information not revealed by Edward Snowden, that should cause us to question the judgment of secret-keeping agencies in using the secrets they possess.  To choose one example: the FBI, as an official policy, considers anarchism to be a form of terrorism, whereas in reality anarchism is a philosophy.  Should we trust the Federal government to weed out individuals whose philosophies it regards as unsavory?

the content of the calls remains off-limits

Apparently the NSA can observe every keystroke you make on your computer.  If the content of the keystrokes were not to be “off-limits,” do you think they’d tell everyone?


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