That bipartisan verdict came yesterday afternoon after a briefing from NSA Director Keith Alexander, whose own veracity has come under fire after the revelations from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Both the Republican chair and the Democratic ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee told The Hill that Snowden was “lying” about both his access to the NSA surveillance programs and their capabilities, although neither could say just how much documentation Snowden might have in his possession:
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.
Asked how much additional information — including other Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act verdicts — Snowden has in his possession, Rogers said, “No one really knows the answer to that today. I think we will know the answer to that shortly.”
“It was clear that he attempted to go places that he was not authorized to go, which should raise questions for everyone,” Rogers added.
There are three possibilities here:
- Snowden’s lying;
- Alexander’s lying;
- Alexander’s being duped by his agency.
Let’s game each one out. If Snowden is lying, then we’re still left with the problem that no one in Congress seems to know what the NSA is doing with its massive abilities to surveil phone records and the Internet. Rogers and Ruppersberger are supposed to be the most well-informed members in the House on intelligence activities, with supervisory duties over the NSA. It took them a full week to reach this conclusion. As Glenn Reynolds asks, “Shouldn’t they have known this within an hour or two?” On another tack, if Snowden can be demonstrably shown to be lying — and some elements of his story don’t appear to add up, as many have noted — then the “whistleblower” starts looking like someone with an axe to grind for other reasons.
The issues are close to identical for the other two possibilities. If Alexander is lying or is being duped, then Congress also isn’t exercising its oversight role effectively, but also it puts pressure on Snowden to produce more evidence to support his allegations. Apparently, he took off with significant amounts of data, and even the two House Intel leaders aren’t quite sure what he has. There could be a lot more shoes to drop in this matter. However, Alexander and his team would have to know that — and that would make offering even more false testimony that much more risky, right?
Again, we’ll have to see more evidence to know which of these is true. In the meantime, Kirsten Powers offers a good perspective on jumping to conclusions either way — and reinforces that the real issue is still transparency and oversight, not Edward Snowden:
Snowden has been called a “traitor” by House Majority Leader John Boehner. Sen. Dianne Feinstein called the leaks “an act of treason.” The fury among the protectors of the status quo is so great that you have longtimeWashington Post columnist Richard Cohen smearing Snowden as a “cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood.” The New York Times’s David Brooks lamented that Snowden, who put himself in peril for the greater good, was too “individualistic.” It seems that he wasn’t sufficiently indoctrinated to blindly worship the establishment institutions that have routinely failed us. Brooks argued that “for society to function well, there have to be basic levels of trust and cooperation, a respect for institutions and deference to common procedures.”
This is backward. It’s the institutions that need to demonstrate respect for the public they allegedly serve. If Snowden or any other American is skeptical of institutional power, it is not due to any personal failing on their part. The lack of respect is a direct outgrowth of the bad behavior of the nation’s institutions, behavior that has undermined Americans’ trust in them. According to Gallup’s “confidence in institutions” poll, trust is at an historic low, with Congress clocking in at a 13 percent approval rating in 2012. Yes, this is the same Congress that has “oversight” of the government spying programs.
When one major institution (the Washington media establishment) so seamlessly partners with another (the U.S. government) in trashing a whistleblower, it’s not hard to understand why Americans might be jaded. The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobinwrote that Snowden is “a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison.” MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell complained about Snowden’s naiveté and “maturity level,” as if only a child would believe the government should be transparent about its activity. Politico’s Roger Simon called Snowden “the slacker who came in from the cold,” with “all the qualifications to become a grocery bagger.” That people feel comfortable sneering about grocery workers—a respectable job—and writing off Snowden’s years working as a security guard as sloth tells you a bit about the culture of the nation’s capital, doesn’t it?
But he didn’t finish high school! Actually, Snowden earned a general equivalency diploma (GED), but that hasn’t stopped his detractors from spitting this accusation like an epithet. On Wednesday’s Late Show With David Letterman, Tom Brokaw dismissed Snowden as “a high school dropout who is a military washout.” On Tuesday, Sen. Susan Collins, mocked the 29-year-old man as “a high school drop-out who had little maturity [and] had not successfully completed anything he had undertaken.” Yes, if only he had gone to Harvard or Yale like our last four presidents, who have done such a bang-up job running the country. By the way, according to Glenn Greenwald, Snowden actually worked as a contractor for four years at the NSA, which suggests some level of specialized skill.
It says something about the lack of a positive case for keeping the NSA spying programs secret that the main line of defense is to attack Snowden for lacking the proper credentials to speak out against the government.
Yes, although it sounds a little familiar to those of us who have endured the snide remarks of some in the elite media towards those in New Media, and some of the suggestions that Freedom Of The Press really means Freedom Of The Approved Guild. Just another point to keep in mind ….