My Take on Snowden’s Revelations

data scanningEarlier this month, I was interviewed by KNBC’s Scott McGrew regarding Snowden’s revelations about NSA spying. The clip is eight and a half minutes long, and here are some of the main points I made:

A lot of what are now seen as NSA’s abuses were authorized by the Patriot Act, which was passed and renewed by large margins by our elected representatives. When it was first passed in October 2001,  only one senator, Russ Feingold, voted against it. How did we reward him? By kicking him out of the Senate  in the 2010 election . If there’s someone to blame, perhaps we should look in the mirror.

Right after 9/11 I was shaken enough to say that I wanted my government to be more intrusive in my life, and I got what I asked for. In hindsight, I over-reacted. But, given that we now have the Patriot Act, we need much better oversight. For example, it’s dangerous that all FISA court judges are appointed by just one person: Chief Justice John Roberts.

As a nation, we want absolute privacy against government intrusion, absolute security against  terrorists, and the right to use our military anytime and anywhere we think it is appropriate. We need to recognize that there’s a tradeoff, and we can’t have all three, at least at the level we’ve been demanding them.

Our civil liberties have become collateral damage to our many wars. If we want want less domestic surveillance and improved personal security against terrorism, we’re going to have to be less intrusive in the world. We’re going to have to kill fewer people, who then might want to come and kill us.

If we become less militarily adventuresome, it would reduce the threat posed by nuclear weapons in  two ways. First, terrorists would be less interested in doing us harm, including via nuclear terrorism. Second, our toppling governments as often as we have feeds dangerous paranoia in Russia and China, which increases the risk of a nuclear confrontation. A prominent Russian international relations expert made a reasonable case that his nation should be fearful of us. Here’s how the Washington Post covered his remarks:

I’m skeptical that anyone outside of the Kremlin could diagnose its view of American foreign policy with real certainty, but Fyodor Lukyanov is probably about as close as an outside observer can get. …

According to Lukyanov’s latest article in Al-Monitor, an assessment of the lessons that he believes Russia drew from the Iraq war that began 10 years ago, President Vladimir Putin and his government are convinced that U.S. foreign policy is basically running on madness at this point. … “Everything that’s happened since — including flirting with Islamists during the Arab Spring, U.S. policies in Libya and its current policies in Syria — serve as evidence of strategic insanity that has taken over the last remaining superpower.” …

Moscow is certain that if continued crushing of secular authoritarian regimes is allowed because America and the West support “democracy,” it will lead to such destabilization that will overwhelm all, including Russia. [emphasis added]


Martin Hellman is a professor at Stanford University, best known for the invention of public key cryptography — the technology that protects your credit card. But, for almost 30 years, his primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic.

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One Response to “My Take on Snowden’s Revelations”

  1. albert November 26, 2013 at 4:28 PM #

    A few points regarding your post:

    1. Much of the Patriot Act is unconstitutional, and wholly unnecessary. A Constitutional Ammendment would be required (2/3 majority in both House and Senate) to make the NSA policies legal. Not much chance of that happening, even in this climate of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD), much of which is stoked by the government itself.

    2. FISA is not a court, but a rubber stamp process designed to legitimize illegal behavior.

    3. “absolute” anything is impossible, and there can never be enough protections against government intrusion. The absolute failure of ‘security’ agencies to stop 911 is indicative of this. Apparently, the NSA expects computers to make everything better. Not gonna happen. They are being overwhelmed by data now.

    That said, it’s true that ‘we’ are to quick to use military solutions. Iraq was totally unnecessary and fanned the flames of hatred anound the world. This is especially true for Muslims. Their religion is especially harsh regarding ‘the infidel’.

    As an individual, I feel no guilt at all for the insane actions of a government I can’t control or influence, nor would I ever apologize for it.

    You are right to be worried. ‘New’ information about Russia during the Cold War was quite unsettling. BTW, both Russia and the U.S. continue to update their nuclear arsenals.

    We live in a fascist plutocracy*, and I fear that someday, change will come from the outside, not from within.


    * with no regard for individuals, citizens or not.

    “Now a feller, I know is a miser man tryin’ to
    Save all the money he can,
    But when undertaker lets him down,
    Where’s he gonna spend that money, under the ground?
    And that’s all, that’s all,
    You’d better change your way of livin’
    ‘for the good Lord say, that’s all…..

    — “That’s All”, – - – Merle Travis

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