I know President Obama’s long news conference on Friday is old news — especially by blog standards — but I really do feel a need to comment on a part of it I found totally disingenuous and petty. No one should be especially surprised that the President doesn’t consider Edward Snowden a patriot. Chances are that if you release highly classified intelligence to newspapers (and by proxy, foreign governments), the President of the United States isn’t going to think very highly of you. But what was surprising, and petty, and probably (definitely) untrue, is when POTUS said this:
Back in May…I called for a review of our surveillance programs….My preference — and I think the American people’s preference — would have been for a lawful, orderly examination of these laws, a thoughtful fact-based debate that would then lead us to a better place. Because I never made claims that all the surveillance technologies that have developed since the time some of these laws had been put in place somehow didn’t require potentially some additional reforms. That’s exactly what I called for.
….There’s no doubt that Mr. Snowden’s leaks triggered a much more rapid and passionate response than would have been the case if I had simply appointed this review board to go through, and I had sat down with Congress and we had worked this thing through. It would have been less exciting. It would not have generated as much press. I actually think we would have gotten to the same place, and we would have done so without putting at risk our national security and some very vital ways that we are able to get intelligence that we need to secure the country.
Now, this issue has sparked a lot of heated debate from both sides. For myself, I’ve always thought that intelligence organizations need to operate under some sort of secrecy and insulation, but with appropriate, open oversight. That’s how the agencies were devised to operate, and that’s how they should operate. So, I can buy a small part of the last part of the president’s remarks when he says that we could have gotten to the same place without putting in jeopardy national security. Theoretically, we could have had this debate another way.
Except, we couldn’t have. Because despite Obama’s argument that it would have indeed been better for the White House to lead this “thoughtful, fact-based debate”, they didn’t. In fact, they stood in the way of that debate. The only way this debate was going to be had, is if someone forced the issue — much in the same way Obama was forced to give a long, passionate speech about drones because he was getting public pressure regarding their use. Even moderate reforms to anything having to do with national security aren’t done unless President’s are forced into it. That’s been true for-freaking-ever.
But that also doesn’t negate the truth that it probably was damaging to intelligence operations and national security for Ed Snowden’s leaks — given the snail like way the Guardian chose to release them — to be made totally public. And if total information awarness if your particular cup of tea, remember that the initial reports on PRISM suggested — wrongly — that the program was way huger than it actually was.
Still, how can the president arrive at any other conclusion than attributing just credit to Snowden and Greenwald for what was obviously a real service? Yes, it could have been done better. But left to choose whether or not you’d want the debate to be had via the way we’re currently having it, or blindly trusting Obama when he says that he was going to initiate the debate anyway, I don’t know one thinking person who would side with the latter.
(Photo: via wikicommons)