Friday, June 28, 2013

"Good" illegal leaks and "bad" ones

The Edward Snowden leaks and the Obama Administration's continuation of its draconian campaign against whistleblowers by seeking to hang espionage charges on him has once again raised the question of what a mockery it makes of the rule of law on classified material to take such drastic action against "bad" leakers like Snowden while Administration officials cheerfully and illegally leak classified information that allows the Administration to enjoy favorable coverage for its cloak-and-dagger exploits in the War On Terror and the Secret Superpower Al Qaeda.

Trevor Timm addresses that contradiction in Who is Leaking More: Edward Snowden or the Government Officials Condemning Him? Freedom of the Press Foundation 06/28/2013:

Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone extensively detailed this week's NSA media counteroffensive against Snowden, as officials have tried to explain—anonymously and without real proof—that Snowden's leaks have hurt national security. On Wednesday, intelligence officials described to ABC News, Washington Post, Reuters, and AP about the how terrorists are allegedly “changing their tactics” now that they've been tipped off the US is monitoring the Internet.

Essentially, the government leaked a bunch of classified information in an attempt to prove leaking classified information is dangerous.

In addition, unnamed government sources alleged in the New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN that both China and Russia drained Snowden’s computers, without any evidence they had done so. As Calderone noted, "it's possible that officials may be proven correct, and that the leaked NSA documents did fall into the hands of foreign governments. But…there's no evidence he has willingly or unwillingly provided all the documents obtained to the Chinese and Russians."

But it hasn'’t just been the last few days; the government has been consistently leaking information about Snowden since the very start of the investigation into him. Last Friday, the Washington Post reported the paper had obtained the sealed criminal complaint against Edward Snowden, charging him with two counts under the Espionage Act and one count of stealing government property. As the Post reported, it was not until after the complaint was leaked that the Justice Department decided to officially unseal it.
This double-standard on anti-leak enforcement has serious consequences for responsible national security reporting, of which we have too little as it is. As David Sirota puts it, "That kind of information monopoly is great for the president, and it is perfectly acceptable to the courtiers and glorified television actors in the Washington press corps who masquerade as real journalists. But it is quite the opposite for a world that desperately needs more independent reporting and assumption-challenging journalism, not less." (Obama’s war on journalism Salon 06/27/2013)

So when I first saw news reports this morning about retired Marine Gen. James Cartright being the target of a leak investigation over published stories about the Stuxnet virus, I first wondered if this might be an unusual instance of consistency in enforcement. (Johannes Korge, Stuxnet-Ermittlungen: Obamas Lieblingsgeneral unter Spionageverdacht Spiegel Online 28.06.2013; Michael Isikoff, Ex-Pentagon general target of leak investigation, sources say NBC News 06/27/2013)

Marcy Wheeler let me know I was at least right to wonder, in her story What big secret did a 4-star General reveal? Salon 06/28/2013. But as she points out, there's something odd about the story. The existence of Stuxnet was made publicly known via its discovery by computer security experts after it escaped into the larger computer environment outside Iran. It was not the story that the investigation of Cartwright apparently concerns that revealed the virus' existence.

Ex-US general under investigation for leaks Aljazeera English 06/27/2013:

Juan Cole explains that piece of recent history in Top Ten Ways the Beltway Press will treat Gen. Cartwright differently from Snowden Informed Comment 06/28/2013:

Another cautionary tale about NSA warrantless surveillance and Stuxnet is that the program shows how the US government is ... and entirely willing to take risks that harm ordinary Americans. In 2010 the US government programmers made an error in Stuxnet that allowed it to escape from Iran’s Natanz computers out onto the internet, where it became a pest, infecting ordinary business and home computers around the world, including inside the US. By August, 2010, the worm had infected 100,000 computers in 115 countries in the world. Obama decided not to shut Stuxnet down even after it had caused all this damage. The ordinary consumers and businesses affected ought to sue the US government.

If we can’t trust them not to infect us with worms, why in the world should we trust them with all of our personal information?
In that quote, I used the ellipsis to skip over his judgment that the NSA spying "shows how the US government is now a criminal enterprise" because it distracts from the immediate point. I tend to be cautious about such broad hyperbolic characterizations. Though in this case, it may be literally correct.

Marcy points to the possible and plausible explanation that the investigation targeting him has to do with his having revealed politically embarrassing criticism of Israel:

We may never know, particularly if Cartwright is never charged (he remains only a target). But in addition to a lengthy historical description of how the attack worked (the idea for which the story attributed to Cartwright), the story provides direct quotes from the meeting in the White House Situation Room at which Obama decided to continue the attack even after StuxNet was discovered. Two of those quotes are particularly inflammatory for the way they blame Israel for StuxNet’s escape. The story (which had already identified Cartwright as one of the briefers in question, along with retiring CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell) read:

“We think there was a modification done by the Israelis,” one of the briefers told the president, “and we don’t know if we were part of that activity.”

Mr. Obama, according to officials in the room, asked a series of questions, fearful that the code could do damage outside the plant. The answers came back in hedged terms. Mr. Biden fumed. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” he said. “They went too far.”
Was it the diplomatically dangerous accusation from Biden —“It’s got to be the Israelis”— that DOJ now suspects Cartwright of sharing with Sanger, in addition to technical details that likely come from Sanger’s broad range of sources? (Sanger notes, as have others, that it remains unconfirmed who bears responsibility for the code that led StuxNet to escape.)
The government is imposing way, way too much secrecy and being highly manipulative and unfair in its prosecution of leakers.

Oh, and those soldiers who all our politicians and Republican loudmouths everywhere claim to Support and Honor? US army blocks access to Guardian website to preserve 'network hygiene' by Spencer Ackerman and Dan Roberts 06/28/2013.

I suppose we mere citizens should be grateful they didn't restrict access for everybody in the country.

The Top Ten list in Cole's post on how the establishment press will treat Gen. Cartwright consists of the following:

1. No one will obsess about the exercise habits of Gen. Cartwright’s wife.

2. Gen. Cartwright will not be characterized as "a 63-year-old hacker."

3. Gen. Cartwright will not be described as "nerdy" or "flaky."

4. David Gregory will not ask that David Sanger be prosecuted for espionage because he aided and abetted Cartwright's leaking.

5. We won't get stories every day about where in McLean, Virginia, Gen. Cartwright is living.

6. Gen. Cartwright won't be accused of being a spy for Iran.

7. No lurid stories will be rehearsed on the Sunday afternoon shows about Cartwright’s allegedly overly familiar relationship with a young female aide in 2009, with heavy innuendo as to what the episode said about his reckless character.

8. No FBI informants will be placed inside the elite Alfalfa Club in DC that Cartwright was known to attend.

9. Cartwright's loyalty to the United States won’t be impugned by anchors or congressmen.

10. Dirt won't be dug up on David Sanger's private life in an attempt to discredit his reporting on Cartwright's Stuxnet.
I'm not so sure about items 2 and 10. Any predictions or speculation that depend on David Gregory acting like a responsible adult and/or journalist are always on shaky ground!

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