10 Dumbest Pundit Reactions to NSA Revelations
The logo of the National Security Agency hangs at the Threat Operations Center inside the NSA in the Washington suburb of Fort Meade, Maryland, on 25 January 2006.
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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.