Edward Snowden, the NSA, & Espionage Charges

Washington, DC (TFC) – Last June the White House rejected the argument that charges be dropped against Edward Snowden, in wake of the “rollback” of bulk collection by the NSA to hold and collect all public phone records, the first such since 1978. To be clear this does not mean that the NSA cannot connect and access those records. The programs used to access them have not been publically dismantled, which means collection still occurs since the information is still available and accessible.


The language from the state is clear. Its operations to ensure that all public data is tracked, monitored, and quantified is it’s highest priority. Using telecommunications companies secure data networks, servers, and information storage locations to “tap into” and connect and access not only its citizens private data, but Americas friends and allies, is conducted by the NSA’s most important and elite programs. It regards these operations as more important that the rule of law and its citizens privacy and constitutional rights.


Throughout the initial release of the Snowden documents through the media, the most important and resonating conversations began to take place. The cold realization that the state spying operations have such a profound and immense impact on the public conscience, and its invasive and detrimental destruction of personal privacy emerged to be much worse than what our governments have ever divulged to us. A frightening and dramatic dichotomy began to be seen from the shadows of the covert and clandestine world of state surveillance and intelligence operations.


XKeyscore is the NSA’s “widest reaching” program/system for developing intelligence. With no prior authorization, the ability to search email databases, online chats and browsing histories “of millions of individuals” gives an NSA analyst unfettered access our personal and private information. Its purpose is to allow the search of metadata and well as content data of an individual being targeted

“I, sitting at my desk,” said Snowden, could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email”.


The NSA PRISM program is the facilitator of in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information. Glenn Greenwald reported it as “Companies are legally obliged to comply with requests for users’ communications under US law, but the Prism program allows the intelligence services direct access to the companies’ servers. The NSA document notes the operations have “assistance of communications providers in the US”.” The companies that PRISM queries from are Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Paltalk, Youtube, Skype, AOL, and Apple.


With the US government employing Xkeyscore and PRISM alone, these programs churn out and are able to query such vast amounts of data, both metadata and content data, that the ability to provide a clear and concise profile of each and every one of us is staggering.


What we do, where we go, what we say, who we talk to, when we talk, patterns, and a picture of our everyday life is amassed through metadata analysis and specific content data.


With the “Five Eyes” agreement between the US, Canada, UK, New Zealand and Australia, the facilitation of a global spy net is initiated. All citizen data is accessible, exposed also by the NSA documents provided by Snowden. The Guardian reported the following: “In a draft 2005 directive in the name of the NSA’s director of signals intelligence, the agency prepared policies that would enable spying on 5-Eyes partners, even without permission of the other country: “[The March 1946 UKUSA agreement] has evolved to include a common understanding that both governments will not target each other’s citizens/persons. However, when it is in the best interest of each nation, each reserved the right to conduct unilateral Comint action against each other’s citizens/persons.”


Edward Snowden is facing charges under the Espionage Act. This act allows the government to prosecute those charged with ease and the ability for one to defend themselves against charges stemming from the Espionage Act is minimal or non-existent. The US government does not have to demonstrate harm resulting from the releases. It is not a defense if the dissemination that was disclosed should not have been withheld in the first place or if the government improperly classified it. It is also not a defense if the dissemination was in the public interest or that it led to reforms or renunciations by the government. Further, if the court determines that the programs that were revealed were illegal or unconstitutional, it will still not an applicable defense.


Effectively the law has made it impossible to mount any form of defense and through the law itself, regardless of his status as a whistleblower, he will be treated as a spy. They are able to press individual charges against Snowden for every single document that has been published by a journalist as a result of the leaks.


The White House declared the following:

“Mr. Snowden has been charged with very serious crimes and he should be returned to the United States where he would be granted full due process and every right available to him as a United States citizen. Facing our justice system under the Constitution.”


Obama said the following:

“No, I don’t think Mr. Snowden was a Patriot. I called for a federal review of our surveillance operations before Mr. Snowden made these leaks. 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.”


What the White House really said was, “We will charge and convict Mr. Snowden with the full force of law for exposing illegal American spy operations.”


What Obama really said was, “Mr. Snowden is not a patriot as a patriot follows the law, however unconstitutional or illegal. A patriot is someone who abides with complete conformity to the state even in the face of that very nation state committing crimes. My initiatives towards surveillance review were legal and “thoughtful and fact based” and would lead us to a ‘better place”, and Snowdens disclosures that exposed criminal wrongdoings by the US government was not “thoughtful” and the documents are not “fact based”.”


Image Source: AK Rockefeller, Flickr, Creative Commons Snowden

Image Source: AK Rockefeller, Flickr, Creative Commons

Quickly we saw reverberations from the discussion generated in the media. The US government moved quickly to minimize any sort of debate or public alarm in regards to Snowdens leaks, a character assassination narrative began and the distraction and fear mongering related to “terror plots” and public safety began to be trumpeted by its state media lapdogs, the use of unchecked government narratives and a heavily weighted discussion from their “experts” ensued. Self-censorship and appeals to authority also dominated state media outlets. Justification of the NSA programs was the states goal in convincing Americans that the operations conducted by its intelligence operatives was not only needed and necessary, but the frontline defense of the American way of life in the “War on Terror”.


The language used to deflect and minimize our spy agencies “incidental” and “suggested” spying on their citizens, allows for plausibility and doubt to be constructed in the public “debate”, a false debate. The White House and its media echo chamber emphasis Snowden return to “face charges” and have granted “due process” and ” every right available to him as a United States citizen”. However with the Espionage Act levied against him, this “fair trial” is set up and we have good reason to believe that it would be most likely carried out in secret and without public or transparent oversight.


The real debate is that they are indeed spying on us, not that it is “suggested” or “incidental”, as state media are implying. The released documents clearly and explicitly show direct and impactful surveillance operations that target everyone within their operational parameters.


All of these operations are under the justification that the fight against terror threats and attacks require a deepened and strategic surveillance state, and one that we are all caught in. We are expected to give up civil rights and to submit our privacy to the state in hopes for increased security and safety. What we are told is that our governments are not violating our rights to keep us safe, however, as shown by the Snowden documents, that is a lie.


Those who expose the states crimes will be attacked and marginalized. Whistleblowers will be prosecuted, without reprieve. Even though the surveillance programs conducted by the NSA, GCHQ, CSEC, and other Five Eyes Intelligence Operations are shown to be criminal and illegal, the charges against Snowden are still not dropped, why? Further, why is legal pressure not focused on our elected leaders for authorizing these operations?


The “rollback” of storage of information by the NSA is the only legislative reform so far resulting from Edward Snowden’s leaks.