In a secret court in Washington, Yahoo’s top lawyers made their case. The government had sought help in spying on certain foreign users, without a warrant, and Yahoo had refused, saying the broad requests were unconstitutional.

The judges disagreed. That left Yahoo two choices: Hand over the data or break the law.

So Yahoo became part of the National Security Agency’s secret Internet surveillance program, Prism, according to leaked N.S.A. documents, as did seven other Internet companies…

FISA requests can be as broad as seeking court approval to ask a company to turn over information about the online activities of people in a certain country. Between 2008 and 2012, only two of 8,591 applications were rejected, according to data gathered by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonprofit research center in Washington.

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Emerging from a hearing with NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander, Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), the senior Democrat on the panel, said Edward Snowden simply wasn’t in the position to access the content of the communications gathered under National Security Agency programs, as he’s claimed.

“He was lying,” Rogers said. “He clearly has over-inflated his position, he has over-inflated his access and he’s even over-inflated what the actually technology of the programs would allow one to do. It’s impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.”

“He’s done tremendous damage to the country where he was born and raised and educated,” Ruppersberger said…

“There should be no [question] in anyone’s mind that this person is a traitor to the United States of America, and he should be punished,” Rogers said.

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Unlike other leading Democrats and his former allies, Gore said he was not persuaded by the argument that the NSA surveillance had operated within the boundaries of the law.

“This in my view violates the constitution. The fourth amendment and the first amendment – and the fourth amendment language is crystal clear,” he said. “It is not acceptable to have a secret interpretation of a law that goes far beyond any reasonable reading of either the law or the constitution and then classify as top secret what the actual law is.”

Gore added: “This is not right.”

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A Communist Party-backed newspaper in China is urging that country’s leadership to obtain more information from the former CIA employee who leaked information about the U.S. surveillance programs before fleeing to Hong Kong…

“Snowden took the initiative to expose the U.S. government’s attacks on Hong Kong and the mainland’s Internet networks. This concerns China’s national interest,” the commentary said. “Maybe he has more evidence. The Chinese government should let him speak out and according to whether the information is public, use it as evidence to negotiate with the United States openly or in private.”…

“We have realized the United States’ aggressiveness in cyberspace, we have realized that nine Internet companies have assisted the U.S. government in intelligence outsourcing,” said the paper known for a nationalist stance. “We have realized their hypocrisy in saying one thing and doing another, and we have realized their ruthlessness in doing what they please with no regard for other people.”

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Jeremy Bash told Politics Confidential that Snowden had access to “very sensitive information” in his job as a government contractor and could do “tremendous damage.” He said the government’s concern goes beyond the documents that were leaked – extending to the knowledge that Snowden still stores in his head.

“If a foreign government learned everything that was in Edward Snowden’s brain, they would have a good window into the way we collect signals intelligence,” Bash said.

“He has information in his head, he’s making threats, he’s on the loose,” Bash added. “We don’t know what other documents he copied, and we don’t know who else he’s talking to.”

While Bash said that Snowden is “very dangerous,” he also describes him as “delusional.”

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Apparently we are supposed to “respect institutions” so much that we never feel entitled to information about how they operate, even when it involves our private communications. Only because of Snowden do we know that our government is storing records of our phone data that can be mined for God only knows how long. This same government opted to not prosecute its workers who destroyed CIA interrogation records that might have implicated the government in law breaking. Does this seem right?

In his 2003 book, Why Societies Need Dissent, liberal law professor Cass Sunstein pointed out that, in society, “a single dissenter or voice of sanity is likely to have a huge impact.” But the problem for dissenters is that they “have little incentive to speak out, because they would gain nothing from dissenting” and in fact might be punished.

Snowden knew this and he did it anyway. He clearly understands something that those screaming “traitor” do not: the allegiance we have as Americans is to the Constitution, not the institution of government. Snowden summed it up best when he told a South China Morning Post reporter this week, “I’m neither a traitor nor a hero. I’m an American.”

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There is a tradition of whistleblowing in the United States, even among people who work with classified information — and there are long-established ways to do it. Snowden might have approached a member of Congress, perhaps one of those with intelligence oversight. He might have written to his organization’s lawyers, to clarify the legality of his work. He might have argued his case from within. Jack Goldsmith, a legal expert then working in the Justice Department, fought against the use of torture by the Bush administration. Eventually he resigned and wrote about it. There were setbacks, but ultimately, Goldsmith was successful: The policy was reversed.

Snowden chose a different path. He stole a hoard of documents and fled to Hong Kong. Thus did he place his fate in the hands of a government that exerts total control over its nation’s Internet and spares no expense in its attempts to penetrate ours. His decision to speak from there, in public, is also noteworthy: It means his interest in publicity trumps his stated fear of arrest.

Nothing about the context, in other words, tells us that Snowden is interested in anything other than martyrdom and a perverse sort of fame. Nothing tells us that his primary interest is the welfare of his fellow Americans. Nothing about his actions, so far, seems likely to help him achieve his stated goals.

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Kevin Egan, a former prosecutor here who has represented people fighting extradition to the United States, said that Mr. Snowden’s latest disclosures would make it harder for him to fight an expected request by the United States for him to be turned over to American law enforcement. “He’s digging his own grave with a very large spade,” he said.

But a person with longstanding ties to mainland Chinese military and intelligence agencies said that Mr. Snowden’s latest disclosures showed that he and his accumulated documents could be valuable to China, particularly if Mr. Snowden chooses to cooperate with mainland authorities.

“The idea is very tempting, but how do you do that, unless he defects,” said the person, who insisted on anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivities in the case. “It all depends on his attitude.”

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What’s not clear is why Snowden thought that revealing the NSA’s surveillance methods would change very much in our government or society, except to make it much harder for the NSA, the CIA, and defense and intelligence contractors to hire anyone like him in the future…

Other than tightened security clearances, though, the startling revelations of the past several days will probably alter very little in the lives of Americans or the way the government works in a data-driven world. That’s not just because, apart from a few outraged senators—Democrats Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado and libertarian Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky—almost the entire U.S. government, from the White House to Congress to the judiciary, has come out in support of the NSA program of collecting troves of telephone data and personal Internet information, using the servers and telecommunications systems of America’s biggest companies. If the mandarins of official Washington don’t amend their conduct, it’s because Americans aren’t asking them to

Most Americans, based on the polls, seem willing to make the trade-off between what President Obama called “modest encroachments on privacy” and safety from terrorists. “There is a lot of authoritarian overreach in American society, both from the drug war and the war on terror,” David Simon, the writer and producer of the hit HBO shows The Wire and Treme, wrote in his blog this week, in a scathing blast at Snowden and the pundits who have lionized him. “But those planes really did hit those buildings. And that bomb did indeed blow up at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. And we really are in a continuing, low-intensity, high-risk conflict with a diffuse, committed, and ideologically motivated enemy. And for a moment, just imagine how much bloviating would be wafting across our political spectrum if, in the wake of an incident of domestic terrorism, an American president and his administration had failed to take full advantage of the existing telephonic data to do what is possible to find those needles in the haystacks.”

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If—again, if—what Snowden says is substantially true, the surveillance state will in time encourage an air of subtle oppression, and encourage too a sense of paranoia that may in time—not next week, but in time, as the years unfold—loosen and disrupt the ties the people of America feel to our country. “They spy on you here and will abuse the information they get from spying on you here. I don’t like ‘here.'”…

I feel that almost everyone who talks about America for a living—politicians and journalists and even historians—is missing a huge and essential story: that too many things are happening that are making a lot of Americans feel a new distance from, a frayed affiliation with, the country they have loved for half a century and more, the country they loved without every having to think about it, so natural was it. This isn’t the kind of thing that can be quantified in polls—it’s barely the kind of thing people admit to themselves. But talk to older Americans—they feel they barely know this country anymore. In governance its crucial to stay within parameters, its important not to strain ties, push too far, be extreme. And if you think this does not carry implications for down the road, for our healthy continuance as a nation, you are mistaken. Love keeps great nations going.

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Pelosi, a former head of the House Intelligence Committee, seemed to defend the PRISM program Thursday, suggesting that it might have helped national security officials gather more information prior to the 911 attacks.

“Certainly it would have improved the chances of doing that. I can’t say with certainty that it would have, but it certainly would have improved the chance,” she said. “It did give more opportunity to surveil.” But she also suggested the administration’s blanket sweep of domestic phone records was not authorized by current law.

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