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Cautious Thoughts on the Feeding Frenzy Over the Leaked NSA and FISA Documents


The sensational nature of the leaks by Edward Snowden and his appearance in Guardian-sponsored videos by an award winning cinematographer continue to attract our fascination and surprise as interested citizens.  But there are some shockingly unasked and unanswered questions, and much obvious imprudent behavior by stateswomen and men flying about. 

Let us take a moment and consider these.

1.  President Obama needs to be very careful.   His press secretary Jay Carney, when asked on Tuesday about the truthfulness of National Intelligence Director James Clapper’s testimony to Congress, spoke with wild injudiciousness. ‘He,’ that is, the President, ‘certainly believes that Director Clapper has been straight and direct in the answers that he’s given…’  This sort of statement is liable to lead to attribution of delusive beliefs on the part of the President…

2. There are doubtless many more not-yet known facts out there.

3. Beware of instant polls that can only reflect an uninformed public view.

4. Show Caution with Knee-Jerk Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson style Hostility to Foreigners.

1.  President Obama needs to be very careful.  His press secretary Jay Carney, when asked on Tuesday about the truthfulness of National Intelligence Director James Clapper’s testimony to Congress, spoke with wild injudiciousness. ‘He,’ that is, the President, ‘certainly believes that Director Clapper has been straight and direct in the answers that he’s given…’  This sort of statement is liable to lead to attribution of delusive beliefs on the part of the President, as the presently available record of documents and transcripts, read with any perspicacity, makes it plain that Carney’s assertion is indefensible.  Marcy Wheeler has already dissected the extreme disingenuous, indirect, and circumspect manner in which Clapper’s statements have not clarified, but veiled actual activities of the NSA, and in a manner which adds quite clearly up to what she calls ‘lies.’ The problem of course is that despite just being one little blogger out in cyberspace, Wheeler is reading and interpreting the documents and press statements with a clear-headed textual analysis, and is reacting obviously faster than the White House.  But the White House must be very careful to not make assertions that grotesquely contradict known facts.  Even when the facts were not known, as in Benghazi, this turns out to be a problem.  (The WaPo’s Kesselcrumpet has already lauded Clapper with ‘three pinocchios’, with a tiny fraction of the journalistic acumen that Wheeler applies to her analysis.) The White House should be considering its NID expendable if it doesn’t want to end up swimming in the Bay of Pigs.

2. There are doubtless many more not-yet known facts out there.  The executive branch, if it is to stay above the brewing scandal, needs to make sure its statements are commensurable with the reality it should know about but that we do not (yet).  Similarly the mainstream media.  The ‘Little Green Footballs’ lesser neo-cons and much of the mainstream press are making a big point that Google, Apple, and the other big internet facilitator tech firms are denying much of what Edward Snowden has said about the scope of the surveillance.  This difference of views is being used to discredit the ‘unmediated’ uncredentialled computer geek.  And to be sure there is something convincing about Google’s CEOs and chief legal officers coming forth with blanket denials.  But it would be terribly naive I think to assume that such figures at Google or Facebook are completely informed about the scope and nature of NSA surveillance activities.  I would be very cautious about assuming that Snowden does not know what he is talking about.  Many documents and much information, apparently, is in the Guardian’s hands and has yet to be released.  These may fill in his assertions, and demonstrate that the NSA has been less than forthright with the high-tech giants who are receiving these compulsory FISA requests laden with gag orders.   The amount of detail on individual’s lives that giant computers could formulate based simply on publically available information, or combining such with limited amounts of FISA-attained metadata from Google and Facebook could already produce disturbingly detailed profiles of virtually any US or foreign citizen. 

3. Beware of instant polls that can only reflect an uninformed public view.  It is astounding how many sources have been citing one WaPo/Pew poll showing some 63% of those polled agree that intrusions on individual privacy are ok if this helps ‘investigate possible terrorist threats.’  Besides the fact less than half of those answering told the polling agency that they were following the issue closely, these polls can only reflect the opinions of partially informed citizens.  2/3s of those at one point thought it was a good idea to let the Bush administration wage a ‘war of choice’ in Iraq, and large numbers of those also believed the WMD claims being fed to neo-conservative journalist Judith Miller while she was at the New York Times, and before she left for the Hudson Institute.

4. Show caution with knee-jerk Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson style hostility to foreigners.   The WaPo editorial ‘Debating the Shadows’ (June 9, 2013) asserts: ‘The government should be able [without showing probable cause] to intercept the communications of non-Americans outside US borders to investigate possible plots.’  This Fred-Hiatt inspired poison follows a narrative that assumes a coincidence of the ‘friend-enemy’ distinction with that of US citizen and foreigner based inevitably on toxic ethno-religious and ascriptive criteria  introducing patterns of attributing collective guilt.  During the cold war, there was a certain viability to this point of view, as the representative governments of Europe and the Asian rim were threatened viscerally by the Soviet Union, most notably in the Fulda Gap. 

But this is not the case during the ‘fourth’ long-war against (Islamic) terrorism, in neo-conservative James Woolsey’s formulation, in sharp contrast to the ‘third’ or cold war against the Soviets.  This ‘fourth’ war – following the first, second, and third (cold) wars of the 20th century – takes the form of a war of religions, with the one truly pious Christan nation of protestant-led Church goers becomes tendentially at war with another world religion composed of millions and millions of ‘identity-based’ cradle believers.  Preventing Soviet aggrandizement in Western Europe, where the cradle-believers of that giant state where tendentially opposed to their own government, is in no way comparable to the prospect of declaring war on the religious beliefs of millions and millions of cradle Muslims. 

This Scoop Jackson mentality led to the most serious and disastrous stains on the history of the US Republic, such as the internment of the Japanese, which Jackson supported and wanted to continue long after the end of World War II.  And of course the Iraq War cum waterboarding reditioning G-WOT led by his followers, and mendaciously supported by the Scoop Jackson tendencies inside the Washington Post.  In the meantime, the crucial elements of a successful US foreign policy – working with our Democratic Allies, above all those in Western Europe, and working to coax Islamic conservatism stemming from the Muslim Brotherhood in a ‘Islamic-Democratic’ direction compatible with representative government (and on the model of the post-fascist integration of Christian-Democracy into the European party systems after World War II), will become impossible due to the lack of legitimacy created in the globalized world by showing such contempt for allies (e.g. the email contents of all Polish, Italian, Brazilian, dissadent Chinese, etc. foreigners) and hostility to a world religions against which a war of religion is unwinnable insanity, but with which an integration into the model of a liberal peace with a strong but limited ‘Islamic Democratic’ bloc is an increasing and crucial development that his been pioneered by figures such as President Erdogan in Turkey and even more so by the electoral coalitions which have formed in Egypt and the rest of North Africa in the wake of the Arab Spring.   Here there is a poisonous overlap of the idea that US citizens have special privileges and protections in the US as contrasted with foreign citizens and the notion that all foreigners are thus justly subject to Orwellian levels of surveillance, not to mention drone strikes based on ‘signatures’, to which US citizens are supposedly immune.  Chancellor Merkel in Germany has already promised to give President Obama an earful on this point when they next meet, and it would be wildly naive to think she does not speak for most voting citizens of representative governments around the world outside the borders of the United States when she does.

The doctrine of global civil war, like that of the ‘friend-enemy’ distinction as the essence of ‘the political’, is central to the fascist-tending ‘decisionist’  jurisprudence of Carl Schmitt, and has migrated to the United States with the convergence of US and European conservatism following the end of the cold war, largely via the tremendous influence of Leo Strauss, who was an esoteric follower of Carl Schmitt.  Such decisionism is brilliant evident in such statements as ‘The Democrats are the enemies of normal Americans’, produced by Newt Gingrich at the height of his shut-down of the US government, or ‘I am the decider’ and ‘Your with us or against us’ division of the world into democrats and non-democrats as was done by George Bush at the UN and elsewhere as he launched the Iraq War against the protests of the French President and the German Foreign Minister and their somewhat different notions of ‘democracy.’

Neo-conservatism has been discredited, and the Washington Post, having chosen this sort of Scoop Jackson path, is liable to end up as a web-only non-newspaper, while the residents of the beltway continue to get their information from more reputable sources like the New York Times. But the seductiveness of the Carl Schmitt neo-conservative formulation of American religious patriots against foreigners as a synonym for friends against enemies will continue to rear its divinely ugly head in the Republic from inside, and not, to paraphrase Sarah Palin, from the other side of the Bering Straights.

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