The Clock Keeps Ticking and Investigations Continue on Assange and Snowden

snowdon
Snowden at SxSW

New Orleans     Whatever happened to Julian Assange of Wiki-leaks and Edward Snowden of NSA mega-leaks?  Well, Assange has now done 1000 days in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he received political asylum, and Snowden remains in Russia where he has been given a 3-year visitor visa. Amazingly, though the investigations by the USA and the hard feelings from the administration continue unabated.

On the whole, Snowden seems in better shape than Assange.  He has become quite the video star appearing frequently via big screen internet connections everywhere from college campuses to Austin’s South-Southwest extravaganza, as well as a starring in the Oscar winning documentary, Citizenfour. He might even be able to take comfort from the 10 ½ hour mini-filibuster that Senator Rand Paul waged on the floor to prevent renewal of the Patriot Act because of the privacy breaches proven by Snowden.

Assange is quite simply a more complicated character and harder to like on almost every count.  And, then there’s that rape charge in Sweden, which right or wrong, has an undeniable “ick” favor that is hard to get by.

The endgame on Snowden will be long running and would require a plea deal under a different President and Congress along with détente with Russia.  Count on the fact that he is going to know another language pretty well before he ever puts a foot on American soil again.

Assange, amazingly, may be near a break in his case.  The stalemate seems to be breaking on the question of being interviewed by the Swedish prosecutor.  It’s hard to remember that Assange has never actually been charged with a crime in Sweden.  He’s been avoiding the domino effect that appearing in Sweden for the interview could subject him to extradition to the US on charges of espionage, which Michael Rattner, his lawyer with the US-based Center for Constitutional Rights, calls the “classic political crime.”

An exchange on this issue between Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now” and Rattner illuminates his situation pretty well:

AMY GOODMAN:“…the director of public prosecutions in Sweden, Marianne Ny, issued a statement.  She wrote, quote, “My view has always been that to perform an interview with him at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London would lower the quality of the interview, and that he would need to be present in Sweden in any case should there be a trial in the future.  Now that time is of the essence, I have viewed it therefore necessary to accept such deficiencies in the investigation and likewise take the risk that the interview does not move the case forward.”

MICHAEL RATNER :”Yeah, well, she’s not telling the truth there.  The Swedish Supreme Court just issued an order to the prosecutor saying, “Explain the investigatory delay in this case.”  The lower court said to her, “This case has not preceded according to Swedish law.” So, it’s not right.  She could have done this questioning a long time ago.  Of course, one of the big problems with this is that, meanwhile, the U.S. has continued its intensive investigation of Julian Assange. Just a few weeks ago, they admitted that they were going forward with an espionage investigation.

As always, it’s hard to keep up with these cases once they fall from the front pages to the back pages to no-news-at-all, but these fellas are more than mere footnotes to current events, so it’s worth keeping an eye on whether or not they remain isolated in foreign lands as men without countries forever as prisoners of conscience and action.

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The NSA hate this song 🙂 Dan Bull

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Enough with the Privatization of Security

Snowden at SXSW
Snowden at SXSW

Little Rock  Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker, appeared via video-conference to an applauding audience in Austin at the South by South West conference among the Technorati to argue for better protection of privacy data.  He was lobbying for improved encryption programs and reportedly Google, Yahoo and others are on the job already.  Snowden’s hope, reportedly, was either to get more protection or to make it more expensive for the government to spy.  

            Frankly, I don’t find much comfort there.  When it comes to spying, as Snowden surely knows personally, money is no object.  What we must have is more accountability, and that cannot be accomplished by private means.

            And speaking of private means and expenses, it just can’t be a good idea to subcontract the holding of all of this so-called metadata through a 3rd party vendor, pushing accountability even farther away!

            President Obama in floating this notion out, even as a potential proposal, seems to be going to the tried and true option used by all presidents for the last 60 years according to a book I read recently, Shadow Elite:  How the World’s New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government and the Free Market, by Janine Wedel.  She is a professor of public policy at George Mason University in Virginia which is not exactly known as a hotbed of flaming radicals, but Professor Wedel argues convincingly that when politicians, both presidents and Congressmen, have worried about public accountability, political fallout, and conflict avoidance, the preferred option has been to shift the burden – usually at a high price – to private enterprises as contractors, whipping boys, and enablers.  Needless to say all of this makes scrutiny and any level of democratic accountability virtually impossible, and that seems to be the handoff strategy for this metadata hot potato.

            I was heartened to read that Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School and Carrie Cordero, a former attorney with the Justice Department’s national security division also came down hard against subcontracting surveillance information to private sources in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.  They sum up their argument by saying that privatization…

“…would dilute accountability, introduce potential security risks and create new pressure to continue the program regardless of its privacy implications or the national security value.”

            The last point is worth noting because it is also one that Professor Wedel makes repeatedly as well.  Private contractors are all about business, not policy, so it is in their interest to keep the program going, and therefore the dollars flowing, right or wrong, for as long as possible.

            This is a bad idea.  The President needs to force accountability, not practice a metadata shuffle step.

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