10 dumbest reactions to the NSA scandal

These pols and pundits may not know what they're talking about, but they have strong opinions nonetheless

Published June 13, 2013 5:33PM (EDT)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.


NSA leaker Edward Snowden may be a rebel-heartthrob to the EFF crowd, but his whistleblowing is grating the ears of the politicians and pundits who built the intelligence-gathering apparatus Snowden unveiled. These folks haven’t spent the past dozen years expanding the parameters of government surveillance just to have some ingrate let us all in on it, and their responses have ranged from calling Snowden a dimwit to calling for his head. From Fox News to the Wall Street Journal, here are the most cringe-inducing reactions.

1. Jeffrey Toobin

Jeffrey Toobin’s quick and vicious takedown in the New Yorker set the tone for attacking Snowden as a naïve nincompoop. “Any marginally attentive citizen, much less N.S.A. employee or contractor, knows that the entire mission of the agency is to intercept electronic communications,” Toobin wrote. Never mind that even many legislators were in the dark as to the size and scope of the NSA’s operations—Snowden was one warrant short of a wiretap for believing we hadn’t just assumed the highly classified intrusion into our lives.

But Snowden graduated into a “grandiose narcissist” when he leaked the information to Glenn Greenwald, as opposed to writing a calmly worded memo, or perhaps going on a hunger strike from the donuts in the breakroom. “Our system offers legal options to disgruntled government employees and contractors,” Toobin wrote. “They can take advantage of federal whistle-blower laws; they can bring their complaints to Congress; they can try to protest within the institutions where they work.”

Given the Obama administration’s relentless pursuit of whistleblowers, recommending Snowden avail himself of intra-agency avenues of complaint makes Toobin, not Snowden, the naïf in this scenario.

2. Fox News Analyst Ralph Peters

For all that, Toobin represents the intellectual opposition to Snowden. The other option is to blast Snowden as a traitor—which, if you’re Fox News analyst Ralph Peters, means the gallows.

“It’s sad, Brian,” Peters told Brian Kilmeade on Monday morning. “We’ve made treason cool. Betraying your country is kind of a fashion statement. He wants to be the national security Kim Kardashian. He cites Bradley Manning as a hero.”

“We need to get very, very serious about treason,” Peters went on to say, as if it were teen sexting. “And oh, by the way, for treason, as in the case of Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden, you bring back the death penalty.”

That’s a high price to pay for being the Kardashian of anything.

3. Wall Street Journal Editorial Board

Fresh from their stint valiantly battling the New York City bike lobby, the brain trust at the Wall Street Journal composed a thank you note to the NSA. Literally: “Thank you for data-mining” was their headline; a heart-dotted "i" was probably removed somewhere along the way.

“The existence of the program was exposed years ago and such surveillance is a core part of the war on terror, if we can still use that term,” the op-ed read, simultaneously shrugging over the hitherto-unknown scope of the program while throwing an elbow at Obama.

Their op-ed was written with such starch, in fact, it’s easy to miss that the editors don’t really know what they’re talking about. “If the NSA's version of a computer science department operates like the rest of FISA, the government is cautious to ensure that its searches are narrowly tailored and specific protocols are reviewed by FISA judges,” the board wrote.

That’s one hell of an “if,” and as Edward Snowden just proved, there’s a lot we don’t know about what the government does and how it goes about doing it.

4. David Brooks

Brooks brought the Brookspeak on how Snowden was just an example of these punk Millennials:

Though thoughtful, morally engaged and deeply committed to his beliefs, he appears to be a product of one of the more unfortunate trends of the age: the atomization of society, the loosening of social bonds, the apparently growing share of young men in their 20s who are living technological existences in the fuzzy land between their childhood institutions and adult family commitments.

If you live a life unshaped by the mediating institutions of civil society, perhaps it makes sense to see the world a certain way: Life is not embedded in a series of gently gradated authoritative structures: family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world. Instead, it’s just the solitary naked individual and the gigantic and menacing state.

Brooks, as always, is on the cusp of an intriguing point; namely, that regardless of Snowden’s stated motives, he acted selfishly by prioritizing his conscience over the effect these leaks would have on others.

Alas, smart phones didn’t invent solipsism, and Brooks seems unable to conceive of the role a decade-long expansion of secret government apparatuses might have played in poisoning the trust Snowden allegedly disdains. Set against the backdrop of spying and secret torture memos and warrantless wiretaps, the social bonds Brooks so reveres start to look like the forces of conformity, and Snowden’s forfeiting of them a sacrifice, not a disavowal. It’s precisely because the ties of society are so strong that people like Snowden, who overcome them when they see wrongdoing, are exceptional. Who else is gonna do it?

5. Thomas Friedman

Unable to find a cabbie to tell him what he wanted to hear, Friedman largely outsourced his column to David Simon, creator of "The Wire," who has been critical of Snowden. Together they spotted the real scandal: Snowden substituting an abstract ideation of transparency for the palpable need to disrupt terrorist plots. “Pardon me if I blow that whistle,” Friedman said, in a rare example of a non-mixed metaphor.

But Friedman missed the same gobsmackingly obvious point his colleague Brooks did. Both men were able to scowl at Snowden’s revulsion for the national surveillance apparatus only because Snowden revealed it to them. It’s easy to say we, as a society, should be grateful for the government’s increased ability to monitor terrorist activity—when we’re aware of it. But until Snowden handed his documents to the Guardian and the Washington Post, Brooks and Friedman didn’t even know to what they were nobly submitting.

6. Dianne Feinstein

Feinstein pledged to hold as many surveillance hearings as us plebes could buy tickets to, with the one catch that nothing would be said in them because everything relevant to the programs is quadruple-classified. “That’s what makes this so hard,” she lamented to George Stephanopoulos.

7. John McCain and Lindsey Graham

McCain found himself unable to so much as describe the program he nonetheless claimed we needed or the terrorists would win. Under pressure from Candy Crawley on Sunday to detail the various layers of congressional and judicial oversight, McCain alluded to the FISA court, and just as quickly refuted himself by saying that the court had approved every one of the government’s almost-2,000 warrant requests.

“So is it a rubber stamp court?” Crawley asked.

“I don’t know,” McCain said, thus concluding his grand contribution to the discourse of privacy vs. security.

McCain’s BFF Lindsey Graham, meanwhile, would like to have a looksee into your snail mail. “If I thought censoring the mail was necessary, I would suggest it,” Graham said Tuesday, referencing the period during World War II when mail crossing the Atlantic was censored. The military allusion is no accident: Graham wants the United States on permanent war footing against Islamic extremists, real and imaginary. The wartime suspension of civil rights is not a bug to him, but a feature.

8. Richard Cohen

An unimpressed Richard Cohen followed the Toobin template to a T, mocking Snowden for “expos[ing] programs that were known to our elected officials and could have been deduced by anyone who has ever Googled anything,” before deriding him as “a cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood.”

But he went Toobin one further by dismissing the slightest expectation of privacy as completely unobtainable in modern life, anyway, so no biggie about its violation:

I long ago sacrificed a measure of privacy for convenience. One click will do it. I also made the same sort of deal for security. I assumed the government was doing at least what Google was doing.

Snowden can’t be a hero, in Cohen’s estimation, because Cohen has already ceded what Snowden risked everything for him to retain. That seems like Cohen’s problem.

9. Glenn Beck

Beck wasted no time interpolating Snowden’s revelations into his eschatological night terrors: something Obama Middle East blah blah chalkboard 1938 something approaching Eye of Moloch etc. Same applies to this as to everything Beck says: nobody asked you.

10. Barack Obama

“I welcome this debate,” said the president whose administration has done everything possible to keep the public from knowing it should be having one. “I think it’s healthy for our democracy. It’s a sign of maturity.”

Congrats, America, you’ve been bar mitzvahed into the surveillance state.

By Evan McMurry

MORE FROM Evan McMurry

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Alternet Barack Obama David Brooks Fox News Glenn Beck Jeffrey Toobin Nsa Wall Street Journal