• Thu
  • Oct 23, 2014
  • Updated: 5:48am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 August, 2013, 2:57am

Obama's NSA reforms vindicate Edward Snowden

The line between hero and traitor is a thin one indeed. Edward Snowden has been called both. But if there is any doubt about the value of his actions and the positive changes he has achieved, just read the news that US President Barack Obama has authorised the first public reform of surveillance programmes since the September 11 attacks.

At the press conference where Obama made the announcement, the president made a point of saying that Snowden was not "a patriot". At least he didn't call him a traitor. But seriously, if Snowden didn't leak to the world media details of several top-secret US and British government mass surveillance programmes targeting foreigners and their own citizens alike, would Obama have called for the reforms?

No one can doubt Obama's intelligence, but who was he trying to fool when he said the proposed reforms were being prepared before Snowden made his exposure? These were top secret programmes. Why would any US federal agency conduct a public review if no one knew about them?

So WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was spot on when he said Obama's announcement "validated Edward Snowden's role as a whistle-blower" and amounted to "a victory of sorts for Edward Snowden."

The president says he will work with the US Congress to reform the Patriot Act, under which the US surveillance is carried out. The National Security Agency, which conducted the programmes, will launch a transparency website to explain its policies and their rationale. However, Obama said the surveillance programmes would continue.

So maybe Assange spoke too soon. It actually may be worse. Now that everyone knows about the surveillance, the shock and moral outrage are gone. The review and reforms will add legitimacy to these clandestine programmes. But think about their evil intrusion: they are the electronic equivalent of opening everyone's mail at will.

Two US encrypted-e-mail- service companies - one used by Snowden - have voluntarily shut down rather than give the US government data about their clients. When Washington insists global surveillance is its God-given right, it's those who fight for privacy and civil liberty who have to defend their innocence.


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This article is now closed to comments

Alex Lo is probably correct in suggesting that: "No one can doubt Obama's intelligence..." It does take some exceptional ability to become President of the USA. However, what I do doubt is Obama's honesty about a range of issues, from his personal background to various matters of policy. I am sad to say that this President regularly makes exceptional use of deception and dissimulation. He also sometimes tells outright lies provided that he thereby advances his career and ambitions. Incidentally, most Americans probably disagree with me on this point. As recently as July 2, 2013, Gallup reported that Obama was trusted by 55% of Americans.This was an especially interesting statistic because it exceeded by several points, the percentage of Americans who then expressed overall approval of Barack Obama as President. Significantly, at the same time, Gallup reported that 76% of Americans still characterized Obama as "likable." We will know something new is finally happening in USA politics when Obama's scores on "honesty" and "likability" are more in line with his gradually sinking approval rate. To my mind, that correspondence would signal the day that Americans regain the healthy skepticism needed for effective citizenship in a constitutional democracy. To the extent that there exists a significant Obama personality cult, it is probably a threat to the safety of a republic with a constitution providing for substantial "checks and balances."
In his last State of the Union Address President Eisenhower warned the American people not to allow the Military Industrial Complex to gain too much power. Well, it eventually happened under the buffoon Ronald Reagan who let the security services into the Oval Office. George W. Bush allowed his father's neo-conservative henchmen, Cheney, Rove, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld etc to run the show and after 9/11 (many of us wonder who allowed that to happen - like the film The Long Kiss Goodnight) they had the political momentus to pass the Patriot Act while the Democrats did not dare say a peep for fear of being called un-American and committing electoral suicide.
Ordinary US citizens are not to blame; they are mostly honest, hard working, hospitable decent folk. The political system has been hijacked by a monster. America needs a second Revolution to take back the Republic.
“would Obama have called for the reforms”?
Not at this juncture perhaps but probably during his tenure
“Why would any US federal agency conduct a public review
if no one knew about them”?
(1) it’s against the law
(2) policymakers and operators knew about them
(3) it is widely believed that illegal surveillance is widespread
H Crumpton’s memoir recounted that in the early years,
CIA drones and CENTCOM enjoyed free extrajudicial killings
but as they became too successful,
then the law caught up with them
The purpose – profligation control and hypocritical exculpation
Law and order is for ordinary folks and uninspired lawyers
Leaders create new orders for law to catch up for new order preservation
Law and IT are both so technical and intricate that they need no loophole
Together they afford open mining by professionals under the auspices of law
John Adams
I agree with you Mr Lo. I also agree with Julian Assange.
It's ironic that it's called the Patriot Act and then when someone as brave as Snowden exposes the evils done behind our backs in the name of this so-called "Patriot" Act he is called a traitor.
But then again : this is the USA where hypocrisy comes second only to capitalism.


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