Edward Snowden, meet Jeff Bezos

Aug.
11

What we do know about Snowden is something we don’t know about the new owner of the Washington Post: whether he can go up against the most powerful and secretive forces on the planet… and win.

In exchanges with Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman prior to his name becoming public, Edward Snowden said something that got overlooked.

Whistleblowers before him, he said, had been destroyed by the experience. Snowden wanted “to embolden others to step forward,” he wrote, by showing that “they can win.”

It’s not enough to defy the government and reveal what it wants to keep secret. When you go up against the most powerful and secretive forces on the planet, you have to try to win. It sounded kooky at first, or completely outrageous, but after President Obama’s August 9th press conference it was difficult to deny that Snowden had won— not a complete but still a significant victory.

Congress had woken up to its oversight responsibilities and was finally debating the limits of the surveillance state. Lawmakers in both parties were advertising their doubts. Other parliaments around the world were asking questions they had not asked before. The President had been forced to respond with an announcement of some (tepid) reforms and a press conference intended to restore public confidence after the Snowden effect flipped the polls around. (Link.) When Obama tried to argue that he had been ahead of the game on transparency and the protection of whistleblowers and would have wound up in the same place without Snowden’s actions, it was hard to imagine anyone in the know buying it. As The Economist said:

Mr Obama laments that the debate over these issues did not follow “an orderly and lawful process”, but the administration often blocked such a course. For nearly five years it appeared comfortable with the secret judicial system that catered to executive demands. It prized the power to spy on Americans, and kept information from Congress. Mr Snowden exposed all of this. His actions may not have been orderly or lawful, but they were crucial to producing the reforms announced by Mr Obama.

On Meet the Press Sunday, the talkers talked about it. First question from David Gregory: “Has Edward Snowden won?” Watch:

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On Meet the Press they also talked about the sale of the Washington Post to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. But they did not try to connect the two stories, even though one of the living connections — Barton Gellman, who writes for the Post and was contacted by Snowden — was on the program.

…Bart Gellman, the kind of work you do requires not only sources deep inside the intelligence community, but editors and owners who are willing to defy the government and publish over its strongest objections. If you had been able to talk to Jeff Bezos before he bought the Washington Post, what would you have told him to expect about this part of the job– publishing the secrets his reporters dig up? 

David Gregory didn’t ask Gellman that, but he could have. For one of the biggest unknowns in the story of Bezos taking over the Post has nothing to do with adapting to the internet or finding a new business model for newspapers. It’s whether Bezos has the inner strength to go up against the most powerful and secretive forces on the planet. When his free press moment comes — and it will come — will Jeff Bezos answer the bell?

It came for the New York Times and the Washington Post in 1971 with publication of the Pentagon Papers, a case that went to the Supreme Court and could have been lost, with enormous consequences for press freedom in the United States. Katharine_GrahamIt came for the Post again during Watergate, with Nixon threatening the company and Attorney General John Mitchell making his famous declaration. (“Katie Graham’s gonna get her tit caught in a wringer.”) It came for the Times again when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau uncovered warrantless wiretapping by the Bush Administration before the election in 2004, although in a fateful decision the Times didn’t publish the story until 2005.

When you read retrospective accounts of those decisions, what stands out is the nerve of the publishers as the government brings its might down and an almost unimaginable pressure builds. (And don’t think it hasn’t been felt in The Guardian’s offices lately.)

Through his company, Amazon, Jeff Bezos is already enmeshed in the surveillance state. One sign of that: Amazon’s $600 million deal to build cloud computing infrastructure for the CIA. Another was reported by the Post in its profile over the weekend:

As chief of Amazon, Bezos has also confronted some First Amendment issues, maybe most prominently in its handling of a situation involving WikiLeaks.

In November 2010, WikiLeaks began using Amazon’s Web hosting service to leak thousands of pages of State Department cables. But the company abruptly terminated the contract within 24 hours of receiving a call from a staff member for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

In a statement at the time, Amazon said WikiLeaks was expelled from its site because it violated the terms of its agreement with the company, not because of “a government inquiry.”

That’s not answering the bell for freedom of information. That’s doing what the surveillance state requires, and relying on a legalism to justify it. This is exactly the kind of behavior Edward Snowden was reacting against when he made his decision to go AWOL and reveal key documents to The Guardian and the Washington Post.

“The public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong,” he said in the interview that introduced him to the world. It’s true, as his many critics contend, that Snowden made that call — the public must decide this, and therefore has to know about it first — on his own, without legal authority, simply because he thought it right. The only way he could win was to later be found correct in his assessment: that if the public knew, the surveillance state would be unable to defend the lengths to which it had gone.

If Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post for, say, twenty years, he will probably have to make a call like that. On his own. Without legal authority. bezospicsmallerSimply because he thinks it right. “Not the state but the public gets to decide this.” It may also be an icy gamble with the business, as Katharine Graham’s decisions were when she had to make them. No firewall between the Post and Amazon will necessarily be respected when the most powerful hidden hands in the world are motioning for you to back down.

We don’t know what Bezos will do. Neither does he. If, as is often said about him, he thinks long term, then he will answer that bell, and come out swinging. But that is not the test. The test is to know your strength, cooly survey the situation, and find a way to win.

After Matter: Notes, Reactions & Links

“I think if the American public knew what our government was doing, they wouldn’t be allowed to do it anymore.” These are the poignant words of Ladar Levison, founder of Lavabit, the secure email service that he voluntarily shut down when faced with some sort of demand from the U.S. government to reveal user information— which he cannot talk about for fear of being thrown in jail. But we know that Lavabit was used by Snowden to communicate with the outside world when he was stuck in the Moscow airport.

If the public knew what the government was doing, it wouldn’t be allowed to do it anymore. That is a perfect description of a Fourth Estate situation, where the only way democracy can work is if the press uncovers the truth and publishes it, bringing public opinion into play and changing the equation for people in power. If the press cannot come through and perform the way it should, the public will remain in the dark, and an illegitimate state action will persist. “My hope is that, you know, the media can uncover what’s going on, without my assistance,” Levison said. He’s like a whistleblower who will go to jail if he uses his whistle. All he can do is give truncated interviews. But it’s clear that Snowden’s determination “to embolden others to step forward” is working. Ladar Levison is proof.

All PressThink posts about Edward Snowden, journalism and the surveillance state

Politics: some / Politics: none. Two ways to excel in political journalism. Neither dominates. (June 13, 2013) “Edward Snowden’s decision to leak to Greenwald, and Glenn’s domination of newsland for several days, tells us that politics: none is not the only way of excelling in journalism. It now has to share the stage with politics: some.”

* No, Candy Crowley. That is not good enough. (June 16, 2013) “You have to know your stuff. You have to mute your instinct to reduce everything to the next election. This is serious business. We need interviewers who are dead serious about holding people accountable.”

David Gregory tries to read Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian out of the journalism club  (June 24, 2013.) “His premise packs a punch. For the criminalization of journalism is most likely to happen when normal relationships with sources get called ‘aiding and abetting’ by the state.”

* The Snowden effect: definition and examples. (July 5, 2013) “There’s what Snowden himself revealed by releasing secrets and talking to the press. But beyond this, there is what he set in motion by taking that action.”

* The Toobin principle. (August 6, 2013) “Repeal the concept of an informed public, repress your decision to take such a drastic step. But it’s not just Jeffrey Toobin. Congress did it too.”

* Edward Snowden, meet Jeff Bezos. (August 11, 2013) “What we do know about Snowden is something we don’t know about the new owner of the Washington Post: whether he can go up against the most powerful and secretive forces on the planet… and win.”

* When you’re in a Fourth Estate situation. (August 15, 2013) “As things stand today, the Fourth Estate is a state of mind. Some in the press have it, some don’t. Some who have it are part of the institutional press. Some, like Ladar Levison and Edward Snowden, are not.”

* Conspiracy to commit journalism. (August 20, 2013) “If sunlight coalitions are to succeed, they won’t succeed by outwitting surveillance. Not better technology, but greater legitimacy is their edge.”

* To make journalism harder, slower, less secure. (August 26, 2013) “That’s what the surveillance state is trying to do. It has the means, the will and the latitude to go after journalism the way it went after terrorism. Only a more activist press, working together, stands a chance of resisting this.”

* The NSA’s next move: silencing university professors? (The Guardian, September 10, 2013) “A Johns Hopkins computer science professor blogs on the NSA and is asked to take it down.”

* The BBC’s 16 questions to Glenn Greenwald. “Hey, that was a tough interview! No, not really.” (PressThink, Oct. 4, 2013)

* Why Pierre Omidyar decided to join forces with Glenn Greenwald for a new venture in news. “Word leaked out that Glenn Greenwald would be leaving the Guardian to help create some new thing backed by Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay. I just got off the phone with Omidyar. So I can report more details about what the new thing is and how it came to be.” (PressThink, Oct. 16)

* The limits of investigative reporting. “How two media accounts of the intrusive security state led to different political outcomes.” (American Review, Oct. 25, 2013.)

Photo credit: mattopenzeo, Creative Commons.

31 Comments

  1. rapier says:

    Almost by definition Bezos will do the wrong thing in most cases where the issue puts individuals against some central or centralizing power. He’s a corporate man. That’s all you need to know.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      Damn. I wasted 1,110 words when it was all so simple! Next time.

    • proximity1 says:

      ;^)

      You could both have valid points. I agree with RAPIER’s views; at the same time, I don’t think your effort was wasted just because he summarized aspects of it.

      I’m used to writing something and seeing it reduced to trivial superficialities by someone who manifestly didn’t grasp the point(s) I was making. But I don’t think RAPIER’s post is a rejection of your reasoning. “All we need to know” is, of course, exaggerated for effect.

  2. Jeff Bezos is not just “enmeshed in the surveillance state” to the extent that he’s caved in re: Wikileaks.

    Bear in mind that Amazon.com leans heavily on personal metadata to guess what kinds of products his customers might like to buy next. And Amazon, like Facebook, includes numerous subtle inducements to share personal information, engineering away our sense of privacy.

    There would be no PRISM if there hadn’t been internet oligopolists like Jeff Bezos to accumulate our private data in the first place.

    I’m very skeptical that he’s going to jeopardize the lucrative business of metadata mining just because 1% of his wealth is tied up in the Washington Post. It’s far more likely that the Post is going to wind up as yet another means for online surveillance — for Amazon to infer your political preferences based on your news reading habits, then sell you the kinds of bumper stickers or slacks that your like-minded brethren like to buy.

    • joe says:

      Yup — what we’re seeing here is precisely what happened in the early 20th century with armaments.

      Too much money involved in extending these programs. Even folks who thought they were against certain policy (Ford -> Bezos) suddenly discover that they’re morals were “insufficiently sophisticated”.

      The only thing that brought the armaments under even limited growth control was the explicit threat of complete human extinction.

    • Nathanael says:

      I don’t analyze this the same way. I believe y’all are making the “unified conspiracy theory” error.

      Just because there’s lots of money and power in datamining doesn’t mean you want *the other guy* to be able to do it.

  3. There would be no PRISM if there hadn’t been internet oligopolists like Jeff Bezos to accumulate our private data in the first place.

    My guess is PRISM, or equivalents, existed first.

    • anon says:

      Something of an aside, but had to laugh at the ad for the MTP clip from the NBC site: ‘see how Boeing is helping to shape the future in ways you’d expect, and some you may not’.

      Given they purchased Narus, the company providing the semantic analysis devices to the NSA for their room 641A setup, as disclosed by Mark Klein and the EFF, it was hard not to take it as a reference to Boeing’s largely unheralded involvement in the cyber end of the military industrial complex.

      Admittedly, Boeing didn’t own Narus back in 2006 – they bought it around the time it was revealed that they were (also) providing the deep-packet inspection tech that Mubarak and his ilk in the region were relying upon to surveil and silence dissidents.

      Not that anything like that could ever happen in the US – not with all those self-proclaimed good-guys out there watching (over) us and the help of good corporate citizens like Boeing – the future barely looks at all like a boot stomping a human face forever.

    • anon says:

      err.. oops – above post was not intended as a reply.

      The point I’d originally intended to make in reply to the OP was that this issue has direct precedents in the age of telegraphy.

      As early as 1874 the problem of governments seeking access to records of communications retained by private companies was recognized, with commentary drawing the analogy to the outrage which would accompany a universal policy of opening and making copies of all letters sent through the post: “There is no good reason why the correspondence which is sent by wire should be any less sacred than the correspondence which is sent by rail; but the law on the subject is in a very unsatisfactory state, and nothing but the fear of public odium protects the telegraph office now from legal inquisitions.”

      in 1877: “Whatever authority may be given for these inquisitions by the letter of the statutes, public opinion in every free country never fails to denounce them as an invasion of individual rights and an indelible disgrace to the government or party by which they are practiced. Americans and other Anglo-Saxons will tolerate them a little as they will tolerate indiscriminate espionage at the post-office, or the random search of private houses by the police to discover whether any violation of law is going on within their walls…

      As yet the people are in a measure protected by the wise policy of the companies, which opposes to the political investigators almost every possible obstacle short of absolute disobedience to the law. This opposition will undoubtedly be made still more effective by the immediate destruction of messages, unless Congress enact a liberal general law which will free the companies from their present embarrassment and give the private affairs of the customers of the companies all reasonable protection. This we trust Congress will lose no time in doing. To say nothing of the inconvenience of destroying the originals of messages, it is not creditable to a free country like the United States that its citizens should be compelled to put their private papers in the fire, lest their rulers should insist upon reading them.”

      http://cryptome.org/2013/07/telegram-spying-1874-77.htm

      A century or so later, the Church Committee revelations about project SHAMROCK showed that RCA Global, ITT World Communications and Western Union were all participants in a program to provide copies of all international telegram traffic to the NSA: “Every day, a courier went up to New York on the train and returned to Fort Meade with large reels of magnetic tape, which were copies of the international telegrams sent from New York the preceding day using the facilities of three telegraph companies.”

      Committee staffer L. Britt Snyder later wrote about a discussion with a former NSA Deputy Director: “I noted that I would have expected the companies themselves to be concerned, and Tordella remarked that, “the companies are what worry me about this.” He said that whatever they did, they did out of patriotic reasons. They had presumed NSA wanted the tapes to look for foreign intelligence. That was NSA’s mission. If the telegrams of American citizens were looked at, the companies had no knowledge of it.

      I countered with the observation that, by making the tapes available to the government, the companies had to know they were providing the wherewithal for the government to use them however it wanted. They had to bear some responsibility.

      This comment caused Tordella’s temper to flare for the first time during our interview. The companies were not responsible, he reiterated, they were just doing what the government asked them to do because they were assured it was important to national security. If their role were exposed by the Committee, it would subject them to embarrassment, if not lawsuits, and it would discourage other companies from cooperating with US intelligence for years to come.”

      https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/winter99-00/art4.html

  4. proximity1 says:

    The inherent logic of technology now dominating every aspect of the lives of individuals and of society as a whole is a thoroughly anti-democratic one. (See, e.g. Postman, 1992; Technopoly)

    So, Bezos, as chairman, president and C.E.O. (according to the pages of Wikipedia) of Amazon.com–if that’s the case– and, now, or soon, the new owner of The Washington Post, is in a situtation which makes his presumed objectives in one of these two operations at odds with those of the other.

    On the question of standing up to the U.S. government, it seems to me that he has already had ample opportunity to do that. What does the available record indicate of his intentions or his ability to frankly and directly oppose the government? –for reasons that have to do with upholding democratic principles, that is.

    I agree that neither we know nor he (Bezos) knows what he shall do “when the time comes” but we know already something of what he did or didn’t do the last times that “the time came.” In sum, all indications that I’ve seen so far are that he presented little or no effective resistance. Unlike the Lavabit organization, Bezos didn’t refuse to cooperate at the cost of closing part or all of his operation.

    So, for all the above, I’m inclined to agree with the opinions already posted above by “rapier”, Christian MilNeil & Joe.

    RE: Mr. Gellman’s article, “Code name ‘Verax’: Snowden, in exchanges with Post reporter, made clear he knew risks,” the more I read of the directly-quoted views of Edward Snowden, the more impressed I am with his keen analysis of issues and his general intelligence. He is a very exceptionally smart guy; he has contributed very importantly to the potential betterment–if that is still possible–of the U.S. society but I think it is far, far too early to speak of the question of whether and how much he may be said to have lastingly gained in the objectives he set for his initiative.

    I do think that, in general, if Snowden’s basic ambitions prove to be a lost cause then so, in the loss, shall be anything that we rightly consider a free, open civilized society in the U.S. Those are the stakes and, in recognizing that they simply could not be higher, E. Snowden again demonstrates rare insight.

    In a related vein, I would add that, in general, this whole episode is one of the clearest demonstrations we could possibly have of a general moral failure on the part of the intelligentsia as a class, world-wide–a class which has proved itself to be, as Churchill said, “weighed in the balance and found wanting”. That is putting it mildly. Here, before an existential challenge such as is rarely seen outside of World War, the world’s intelligentsia have been slow, dim-witted and largely mute and morally A.W.O.L. Think of the thousands of influential people in business, academics, in science, in arts and in humanities–people who hold positions of influence, of trust and authority. Where are these people? Where is there imprint in the course of this affair? Where are the university presidents, the leading writers and philosophers, the poets and musicians, the people who generally bear the banners in moral causes? With few exceptions in each cited field, they are simply nowhere to be seen or heard. The professional press itself is not even moderately united and solid in its positions.

    That is one of the main lessons I have taken from the whole affair.

    • Nathanael says:

      Don’t underestimate the potential shift in Bezos’s views after the NSA *destroyed Amazon’s Cloud Services market* for no good reason.

      Analyze this from pure power politics. Suppose Bezos was willing to go along with the NSA as long as they weren’t harming his interests. Well, now they *are* harming his interests, quite directly, and they’re doing so for no sane reason, making them dangerous lunatics, from his point of view. He has a strong motivation to break the NSA, break them utterly and destroy them. And he has the resources that he may be able to do it, if he’s subtle and clever about it.

      And for one I wish him well; I’d prefer a relatively competent feudal overlord such as Bezos over the deranged lunatics in the NSA — the lunatics in the NSA seem to think that spying on everyone at once is *useful*, which it isn’t.

      • proximity1 says:

        RE: …”Well, now they *are* harming his interests, quite directly, and they’re doing so for no sane reason, making them dangerous lunatics” ….

        I don’t yet see the picture here. The electric intell people are ruining Amazon’s sweet situation? How?, I don’t see yet–from Amazon’s point of view, that is. Both rely on similar technology, both apparently have a vested interest in cooperating to develop and further the use and the efficacy of that technology and to defend it from criticism and attacks.

        I haven’t yet seen where their interests diverge irreconcilably.

        If (as though they haven’t yet) the government runs amok, the Amazon people are going to rein them in? When, how and why does this happen?

      • proximity1 says:

        Okat. I see your reasoning: N.S.A. spoils the consumers’ faith in Cloud-technology’s security, trustworthiness, ergo, business lost and the immense potential income with it.

        To me, that means we should expect mainly that Amazon, Google, the U.S. government, are going to join in an immense “regain the consumers’ confidence” effort, by hook and by crook, of course. Using such sophisticated means as “New! and Improved!” “Hey Kids! Just look!”, etc. and everything else the imagination can devise. They’re like energy companies; the long-term objectives are never renounced. Every set-back is taken in stride and the efforts are reorganized and brought anew.

        After Iran-gate and the scandals that produced the FISA system–which no one had the slightest reason to believe effective in correcting the ills, things went right back in little time to the same nefarious habits and assumptions–in fact, the programs were being given rehabilitation and resuccitation from the day after the new regulatory rules went into effect. ( e.g. J. Bamford, Body of Secrets; passim, T. Weiner, Legacy of Ashes )

  5. proximity1 says:

    “It’s true, as his many critics contend, that Snowden made that call — the public must decide this, and therefore has to know about it first — on his own, without legal authority, simply because he thought it right.”

    Though he was in a very special set of circumstances as a contract-employee with high-level security clearance, that, apart, his decision to “make that call”, to interpret and act on his awareness of actual criminal activity going on, put him in what is at least arguably a situation analogous to anyone who happens to directly witness activity which is immediately recognizable as illegal.

    You’re walking down the street and you see two or three people trying to break into a parked car –and they appear to have someone “on look-out” helping them; or you witness one person physically assautling another. What do you do? Walk on? Say nothing?

    In the N.S.A., that–”walk on, say nothing” is precisely what 99.9999% of the people in Snowden’s position do and have always done.

    That reminds me: if Snowden had actually wanted to inflict the maximum harm to his country, the United States, and be certain of that harm’s coming to have full and catastrophic effect, all he’d have had to do would have been to carry on, close up his affairs at the end of each day, go home, take advantage of the life he was leading, do nothing, say nothing, put out of sight and out of mind all the glaring evidence he saw every day at work and go on doing his job and collecting his pay.

    That course would eventually have led straight to incalculable society-wide harm to the real foundational health and safety of the American tattered, torn and degraded to a cipher, “democratic way of life”.

    Simple. Genuine, lasting harm he could have easily done by doing nothing–what most in his position actually do everyday.

  6. Myerson says:

    ~

    Just a little relevant refresher on what we ‘do know’ about Bezos {Wikipedia excerpt}:

    ” Early life and career

    Bezos was born Jeffrey Preston Jorgensen in Albuquerque, New Mexico to Jacklyn (née Gise) and Ted Jorgensen.[6] His maternal ancestors were settlers who lived in Texas, and over the generations acquired a 25,000 acre (101 km2 or 39 miles2) ranch near Cotulla. Bezos’ maternal grandfather was a regional director of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in Albuquerque. He retired early to the ranch, where Bezos spent many summers as a youth, working with him.[7] At an early age, he displayed mechanical aptitude – as a toddler, he tried dismantling his crib.[8]

    Bezos’ mother was a teenager at the time. Her marriage to his father lasted a little more than a year. When Jeff was four, she remarried, to Miguel Bezos, a Cuban who immigrated to the United States alone when he was fifteen years old, worked his way through the University of Albuquerque, married, and legally adopted his stepson Jeff. After the marriage, the family moved to Houston, Texas, and Miguel became an engineer for Exxon. The young Bezos attended River Oaks Elementary School in Houston from fourth to sixth grade. As a child, he spent summers at his grandfather’s ranch in southern Texas, “laying pipe, vaccinating cattle and fixing windmills.”[9]

    Bezos often showed intense scientific interests. He rigged an electric alarm to keep his younger siblings out of his room.[10] The family moved to Miami, Florida, where he attended Miami Palmetto Senior High School. While in high school, he attended the Student Science Training Program at the University of Florida, receiving a Silver Knight Award in 1982.[11] He was high school valedictorian.[12]

    He attended Princeton University, intending to study physics, but soon returned to his love of computers and graduated summa cum laude, with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering in electrical engineering and computer science. While at Princeton, he was elected to the honor societies Phi Beta Kappa and Tau Beta Pi. He also served as the President of the Princeton chapter of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.[13]

    According to Nick Hanauer (an early investor in Amazon) and “others who know [him]“, Bezos is described as a libertarian.[9] In July 2012, Bezos and his wife personally donated $2.5 million to pass a same-sex marriage referendum in Washington.[14] According to Newsmeat.com, a web site that documents political donations made by “the powerful, rich, and famous” since 1977 (and donations higher than $200), Bezos has donated $16,000 to United States Democrats, $2,000 to United States Republicans, and $55,000 to special interests as of September 6, 2012.[15] ”

    ||||

    • proximity1 says:

      And that’s “all very nice” boiler-plate stuff. It tells us that by numerous conventional standards, Mr. Bezos is a very intelligent fellow–and particularly in certain areas of computer programming and electrical engineering. It also tells us that he gives money to certain political causes he supports; and we can surmize that he’s adept at building a business –or several–and making them big successes.

      None of that speaks to his moral qualities which are very much the matter under consideration when it comes to such matters as acquiescing to or resisting official and unofficial pressure to cooperate with government its habits, legal or illegal, in matters of state surveillance.

      He can be all these things indicated in the Wiki bio. and still be anywhere on the map when it comes to his tendencies to cooperate or resist the government’s calls, appeals, demands or threats.

      We’ve seen what the government is prepared to do to coerce people to yield to its demands. Your sketch of Mr. Bezos, such as it is, gives us really no useful help in predicting what he shall do in the days ahead, and, again, from his company’s past behavior concerning state surveillance, the indications are that he apparently cannot or doesn’t want to put up much or any effective resistance so far–if in that I’m mistaken, I am very happy to be corrected (see below).

      Clear and compelling evidence to the contrary would be interesting in this respect. Your posted bio offers none of that.

  7. Ken Smith says:

    Snowden’s remark about winning implies that we now know a modest amount about how small voices can sometimes stand a chance in the big fights. If he’s right, it’s time to start writing the user’s manual. But it’s not a manual for a person–it’s for webs of individuals and groups that find common ground in protecting and reshaping their democracy.

  8. Alex Goren says:

    Bezos: the odds are he will be prudent and protect his businesses but only time will tell.

    Assange: his uncensored release of classified information put at risk the life of many operatives – irresponsible. Anyhow, he is accused of rape in Sweden; whether or not he is guilty, such a champion of “truth” should go back and face his accusers. Also, it was quite despicable of Assange to let Bradley Manning face the music alone.

    Snowden: At fist I thought he had done a good thing. After he spilled the beans to the Chinese (and now to the Russians) I am convinced that he is a narcissist and a traitor. Too bad he didn’t blow the whistle and face the consequences which, I think, would have been minimal. He would have been a hero.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      “After he spilled the beans to the Chinese (and now to the Russians)…”

      You don’t know that. You are simply asserting it as fact without knowing it. Why would you do that?

      http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/07/18/what_if_snowdens_laptops_hold_no_secrets

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2013/07/30/edward-snowden-and-his-allegedly-drained-laptops/

      I am not claiming to know whether the Chinese and Russians have all his secrets, but you are. How did you come by this knowledge?

    • proximity1 says:

      “Snowden: At fist I thought he had done a good thing. After he spilled the beans to the Chinese (and now to the Russians) I am convinced that he is a narcissist and a traitor. Too bad he didn’t blow the whistle and face the consequences which, I think, would have been minimal. He would have been a hero.”

      “Alex Goren” –is that your real name? Do you live up to such standards yourself in your own daily life, Mr. Goren? Have you taken the course, where that has been the analagous situation in however a more modest way, that you advocate for Edward Snowden? You’re front-and-center, ready to defy authority and present yourself for the consequences? Is that it? Please, give me an example of how you’ve done that. It would be inspiring.

      Otherwise, I’m inclined to reply, “You and Bob Schieffer!” And Lord knows who else!

      I’ll be relieved when some fresh and more interesting canned talking-points are sent around to the Hasbara working the internet. This is now quite stale and no more valid than the first few times people regurgitated it.

      “Too bad he didn’t blow the whistle and face the consequences which, I think, would have been minimal.”

      Why “too bad”? Are Stalin’s victims–who went before show-trails (duly denounced by the U.S. authorities of the day, by the way)–are they heroic figures for you? They “faced the consequences”–not that they had any choice about facing them, but, they faced them. I haven’t ssen or heard you previously cite your admiration for them. Why is that? Does a poster of Ferdinando Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti hang anywhere on your walls at home or at work? They stood trial and “faced the consequences”. Are they your heroes? You haven’t mentioned them, either, as far as I’ve seen.

      How about Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Adams (John and Samuel), Benjamin Franklin, and their co-conspirators, who defied their own sovereign, George III. You’ve also denounced them as unheroic all your life, haven’t you? They didn’t do what you say Snowden ought to do: they didn’t turn themselves over to the authorities they were openly defying; and yet, they were formally “wanted” men, sought by the King’s bailiffs in the British Colonies of North America. None of them turned himself into for examination in the British law courts; none took ship and went to the Court to argue the case for Independence. Instead, they all fomented open and armed, violent revolt. And they were outlaws as a consequence. But they didn’t go do the “right thing” as you claim it is for Edward Snowden to do in this instance.

      Do you denounce the American Founding Fathers as shirkers of their moral responsibility to personally surrender themselves for trial before the authorities that they challenged? You do? You don’t? If not, why not? Isn’t that indulging in a flagrant double-standard on your part?

      If Snowden is a disgrace for not “facing the consequences,” then by what far-flung rationale are you comfortable, if you are, in accepting America’s founding revolutionaries as men of honor or at least as not dishonored by their behavior?

      Please enlighten us, if you can on these matters. Thank you.

    • Nathanael says:

      “Bezos: the odds are he will be prudent and protect his businesses but only time will tell.

      Haven’t you added it up yet?

      For Bezos, at this point, being “prudent” and “protecting his businesses” means a *full court press against the government*. Not merely protecting whistleblowers as they happen to arise, but actively hiring investigative reporters and protecting them from day one — and using the editorial page of the WaPo to politically crush anyone who tries to propagandize for the NSA etc.

      The NSA hurt Amazon in the pocketbook. Bezos’s self-interest points to crushing the NSA like bugs. And he may be one of the few people with the resources to do it.

  9. Jesse Emspak says:

    Alex Goren — there isn’t any evidence that he gave sensitive intelligence to any other government, except insofar as they read the Guardian and the NYT.

    And the consequences may not have been minimal. There was nothing to stop the Administration from “disappearing” Snowden, or simply killing him outright. If you don’t think that would happen, note that the President is now (under the last Defense Authorization bill) allowed to simply declare anyone he likes an enemy and send a drone strike. That includes US citizens.

    I am not confident that Snowden would be allowed a public trial in the US, since too often the courts have said that whatever the government wants to keep secret it can, logic be damned.

    One reason that the suits against the NSA were dismissed was because the government was allowed to keep secret the names of those being spied upon, which basically removed any standing they had to sue. So the NSA can listen to your phone calls but you have no way of holding them accountable for it. That’s the fundamental problem: we have a huge intelligence apparatus that can do literally anything it wants. When such organizations have no oversight and no meaningful restraint it does not usually end well for any democratic society, because the very logic of an NSA’s existence is premised on the idea that democracy is wrong, that the public should not be involved in decision making.

  10. A couple of really quick points. First, a whistleblower by definition is doing something illegal to draw attention to something either criminal or dangerous. They usually violate a confidentiality agreement to disclose the information. They may win their case, but usually they have broken the law. Thus an organisation will pursue them for the breach cf the insider.

    Second, Amazon has terms and conditions within its services. These are legally binding on it and the user. If the user violates them, then their subscription can be revoked. To be sure there were politics involved, ie someone made the call, but the underlying principle remains valid. Amazon had a legal right to suspend the account. (Did Wikileaks sue for their money or seek to be reinstated? (Thought not))

    Third, Snowden did not win. The issue is not about wining or losing. In the long run he has lost because what he wanted to change has not happened. We will continue to have a surveillance state. We will have FICA, FISA. If we did not have a surveillance state, is that a “win?” Great, we now have no way to monitor the internet and the internal communications, hooray! Oh, we needed those because….

    Lastly, I strongly suggest that anyone consider Mr. Snowden to be brillant consider his words when he explained why he did what he did. He wanted to rescue us from a world in which we were “living unfreely but comfortably”. He decides that we are living unfreely? Hmm. When do we become free? When there is no surveillance state? The United States is founded on Lockean Liberalism which states that the goal is comfortable self-preservation. Who elected him to decide the fate of Americans, who elected him to decide if we needed saving? He has decided we were unfree and has “liberated” us.

    Has he?

    • proximity1 says:

      RE: ” The United States is founded on Lockean Liberalism which states that the goal is comfortable self-preservation.”

      Where does it say that? Where does, for example, the Constitution codify any such stuff?

      RE: “The issue is not about winning or losing. In the long run he has lost because what he wanted to change has not happened.”

      Wow. Indeed, it hasn’t. And he’s had all of what, June, July and some of August to re-make the uncivilized world into something better.

      Meanwhile, Mr. Obama, who enjoys the powers of the chief executive officer of the United States as their president, can’t even manage to shut down the illegal prison camp “Camp X-Ray” down Guantanamo way–an act he presumably could accomplish by executive order.

      RE: “Lastly, I strongly suggest that anyone consider Mr. Snowden to be brilliant consider his words when he explained why he did what he did.”

      And I’ve done so.

      “He decides that we are living unfreely?”

      Not alone, of course he doesn’t. But, from his insider position, Snowden understood that he was aware of vital information about the character of our degree of actual relative freedom and, moreover, aware that in general, we, the ordinary public weren’t aware of it, and so, not able to act knowledgably by that information. So he took steps to see to its divulgation so that we could act in an informed manner, yes.

      “When do we become free?”

      A weighty question, that. But, certainly, unless you’re suggesting that our freedom is inversely proportional to the knowledge we possess about our real social and political circumstances, I’d argue that the more relevant information we posses, wherever “freedom” is found, we’re closer to it than when we possess less of that relevant information. And you? Disagree?

      RE “When there is no surveillance state?”

      Certainly when there is no such surveillance state as the totalitarian one now well under construction and largely already built—yes, without a doubt, when that is erased, our proximity to freedom is significantly closer.

      RE: “Who elected him to decide the fate of Americans, who elected him to decide if we needed saving?”

      Who elected Martin Luther King, Jr? Who elected Rosa Parks? Or Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade Who’d elected Thomas Paine, when he wrote The Crisis and Common Sense? Who elected Katherine Graham to run the Washington Post? Or Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, for that matter? Who elected Jane Addams? Lincoln Steffens? I.F. Stone? Upton Sinclair? George Orwell? Rachel Carson? Randall Forsberg?

      RE: “Has hé?”

      He’s opened something more in the way by which those who have eyes to see can recognize and, if they choose, try to do something to improve the current predicament of their freedom. That is necessarily a social work-in-progress for there is, contrary to popular American mythology, no such thing as a free society of isolated individuals. Free societies imply something held in common, “held in common, an idea which is, in itself, not much in vogue since Ronald Reagan’s time, to take one benchmark on the sorry trail of social history.

      Whether you can and shall use the opportunity Snowden’s acts of civic courage afford all of us is, interestingly enough, a matter that rests in your own hands. As for “freeing you” against your will or wishes, —that’s neither in his brief nor in the outline of the things he claimed to seek to do.

      I think you have a load of straw-men in your commentary.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      This poster (Lawrence Serewicz) has been banned from PressThink for an act of disinformation (95%).

      http://pressthink.org/2013/08/the-toobin-principle/#comment-67628

      and for being such a godawful troll (5%).

  11. President Obama seeks to make an example of whistle-blowers so that whistle-blowing will cease. Edward Snowden seeks to provide an example for whistle-blowers so that whistle-blowing may flourish. May Edward Snowden win and President Obama lose.

    I reject utterly the entire bogus concept of “secret law,” an Orwellian oxymoron, and any government that attempts to impose such a totalitarian regime upon me does not derive its unjust powers from my consent, for I consent to nothing that my government claims I may not know.

    The government may have its secrets or the nation may have its laws. But if we allow government secrecy to destroy our laws, then we have become nothing more than a nation of men, dependent for our lives and livelihoods upon the whims of an angel whom we have elected to protect and guide us. And since we suppose that this angel will always look with dispassionate equanimity upon his or her unlimited powers and reject the more odious of them because of his or her exemplary moral virtues, then what need have we of laws to restrain that which needs no restraining?

    With all due respect to James Madison, an elected angel now governs men — in both the United States and the World it claims to dominate — so “neither external nor internal controls on government [are] necessary.” As the angelic President Obama himself has assured us, he provides the most rigorous restraints upon himself — in secret — and has devised “a process which he does” — in secret — that now defines what the constitution means by “due process.”

    The government may have its secrets or the nation may have its laws, but only one of these implacable alternatives may live, and it may only do so if the other dies. So Edward Snowden must win and government secrecy must die.

  12. Nathanael says:

    The NSA has been purusing an “old ladies collecting newspapers because they might be useful someday” strategy, as Bruce Schneier pointed out. Insanity.

    This has destroyed the market for Amazon Cloud Services, as has been documented elsewhere. Destroyed a large part of Amazon’s business for no good reason.

    Putting the pieces together, I am wondering whether Bezos decided that he needed to fight the government, and decided this *before* buying the Washington Post. The WaPo would be a very useful tool for fighting the lunatics in the NSA, if it had powerful enough backing — and I think Bezos is powerful enough.

  13. gregorylent says:

    surprised it’s even a question how bezos will be

  14. […] clear: Snowden’s determination “to embolden others to step forward,” which I wrote about in my last post, is starting to work. Ladar Levison is […]

  15. Thomas says:

    The timing of the Bezos purchase of the Washington Post is probably what poses the biggest concerns, and it perhaps, indirectly, the most revealing.

    The Washington Post has been a bulwark for Democracy for decades, along with the NY Times.

    As a longtime NYT reader, though, I am quite disappointed with the clear evidence that the NYT is influenced heavily by the Feds, and is frequently prevented from printing much that they would otherwise print.

    At a time when the NSA, and other American intelligence agencies by extension, is threatened more than ever before (with the truth about their illegal activities), we get the blockbuster news that a billionaire with big contracts with the NSA is going to buy the Post.

    Surely this is more than just a coincidence.