Hard to Deny that Snowden Did America a Favor

lks20130624+Edward+Snowden+hong+kongNew Orleans  There may be one or two skeptics left and folks who delight in endless bar arguments, but it is nigh impossible at this point not to acknowledge what has become painfully obvious:   Edward Snowden’s leaks of confidential National Security Agency (NSA) information was a national service.   You may not like his tactics, but the results of the job done are outstanding.

            The final straw for me has to be the release of the NSA’s four-year strategy plan, which is an exercise in unparalleled hubris and a case study of an outfit out of control.   Get this, they wanted yet more power, even though it is now well established that they enjoyed and abused almost unimaginable power to collect information and spy on Americans, world leaders, and everyone else out there.  They even want Congress to make changes in the law to allow them more power, which has to be the height of absurdity, when virtually everyone agrees that Congress desperately needs to rein in the NSA and force some transparency and accountability over these cowboys.   What planet are they living on?   What country are they working for?

            Any argument that they are in-check based on supervision by the secret federal intelligence court is laughable at this point.   The nature of the government requests is secret as are the court’s opinions, and of course, there is no opponent in court, just the government talking to another branch of the government with no intermediary, but the results speak for themselves.   The government has gone to the court with 1856 requests and 1855 have been approved.  They have gotten turned down once out of almost 2000 requests.   Give me a break.   Judges turn back more pleadings on spelling errors than that in normal courts!   Rubber stamps fail more often than that.   Furthermore since the court is under attack, they have declassified some decisions which have made it even more obvious how thin the grounds were on which many of these orders were standing. And, they want more power.

            Props to the ACLU for bringing the NSA into court as soon as Snowden’s leaks began dribbling out, and here’s hoping that real lawyers and real judges finally give us some justice and, perhaps more importantly, some protection from the NSA.   Edward Snowden may be stuck in Russia, but here’s one guy saying thanks for doing the time, buddy, because we couldn’t have found out about this mess without you, since Congress was both duped and part of the cover-up.


Wielding the Bank Account Weapon to Block Wikileaks and Others


Little Rock   In the current showdown between the National Security Agency and leaker Edward Snowden, numerous accounts are resuscitating interest and attention on Wikileaks and its huge intel drop of 2010.  Part of this is simply a case of Snowden being unavailable to talk, thereby opening up a huge media hole that demands to be filled and finding Julian Assange and Wikileaks happy to oblige.

            Part of the commentary invariably touches on the fact that a US-initiated shutdown of banking facilities allowing for money transfers to Wikileaks is still crippling the organization.  I keep thinking that Wikileaks has solved this problem, but if they have, the patchwork seems not to be holding, and that problem fascinates me.

            Most people do not realize that when they open an account at a bank, that the bank retains the right to terminate that account for any reason or for no reason at all without offering rhyme or reason or any process of appeal or redress.  Sure they have to provide the customer with notice, usually 30 days, and they have to give the customer their money back in a certified check, but that does not mean that it will be easy to open another account.  Banks by definition used to be seen as conservative institutions caring inordinately for their reputations and ability to command public and customer trust.  I realize that large scale banking has become something more akin to a criminal enterprise, but the cultural history still allows banks to cling to these myths from the past.   All of which boils down to the fact that as much as banks are about making the money, they do not want to be involved in any controversy whatsoever making something like Wikileaks or other politically controversial organizations more endangered by this hidden banking threat than they may realize.

            I’m not sure how many nonprofit CFO’s or controllers have intact contingency plans that would allow them access to alternate accounts or banking arrangements if their work was suddenly in the cross-hairs of controversy and conflict or as realistically the craziness of Congress and the polarization of our times.  I suspect most of them have not looked at the Wikileaks problem or similar problems faced by other groups around the world on the simplest of matters in handling their money, but these are real issues that need to be addressed.   I have seen these problems firsthand, and watched organizations scramble, sometimes on their knees, to try and convince banks to handle their business or others to stand in their stead.  It’s not pretty, and it can be fatal.

            Today’s papers may be full of Wikileaks speculation but seeing that a nonprofit election monitoring organization in Russia was suspended by the government there on specious grounds, after having blown the whistle on election irregularities a couple of years ago, note carefully that one of the key punishments was shutting down their bank accounts for the next six months, effectively strangling the organization to death.

             There are a number of watchwords that come to mind in these cases of bank account closures for whatever reasons including “be prepared,” which would be good, “caveat emptor” or “let the buyer beware,” which is what the banks will remind you when you complain, or the common organizing maxim:  “when you strike the bear, make sure you bring it down,” or…be ready for the attack, which would be something good to remember.