The grim nightmare of successfully banning booze
February 24, 2015 10:40 AM   Subscribe

Edward Snowden, Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald recently did an AMA on Citizenfour, their Oscar winning documentary about Snowden and the NSA scandal. Among the highlights is Snowden discussing the relationship between people and their governments and how enforcing the law too well actually can have severe drawbacks.
posted by Drinky Die (24 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
When I upvoted Snowden's comment it had 5187 upvotes. I'm sure I have seen an upvote total that high before but I cannot offhand recall any.

Ultimately, if people lose their willingness to recognize that there are times in our history when legality becomes distinct from morality, we aren't just ceding control of our rights to government, but our futures.
posted by bukvich at 10:54 AM on February 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


He'll never want for reddit gold again in his life.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:13 AM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


[Comment removed, I'm guessing it was just a clumsy-phrased reference but please be thoughtful about when and how to bring up trans issues as a tangent to a comment.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:57 AM on February 24, 2015


I assume there haven't been a whole lot of comments because others, like me, have been lost in reading the conversation. What a thought-provoking discussion - super interesting responses from the three, obviously measured and thoughtful even when I disagree with individual assertions. I keep trying to find the best quotes to pull to post here but I just end up wanting to copy every answer. Thanks for the post, Drinky Die.
posted by Phire at 12:06 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Relevant and linked from the Atlantic link above: The Anatomy of the Deep State
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:15 PM on February 24, 2015


How does this relate to politics? Well, I suspect that governments today are more concerned with the loss of their ability to control and regulate the behavior of their citizens than they are with their citizens' discontent.

I think Snowden's prejudices are coloring his interpretation of what the government wants to do here. The ability to control and regulate citizen behaviour is pretty secondary to most people in government, a means to the end of more money to throw around. It's about self interest for them. Money and the influence it gives them, and in turn connections and relationships they can exploit as a result. Are there real security concerns that led to the creation of things like the NSA? Absolutely. Something was going to happen in the wake of 9/11, and at the time citizens would largely assent to "something". The creation of a new department though also creates new, powerful positions for political players to aspire to, and departmentally it creates new, enormous opportunities to obtain big slices of the budget with your name on it to throw around. Now they've created inertia, they "need" this money ostensibly to keep ahead of the bad guys, like the DoD does, but the real need is to keep their budget as high as possible. If the game the powerful individuals at this level of government are playing results in increased control over the citizens, it's not the main goal but rather a happy by-product.
posted by Hoopo at 12:32 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Surely Hoopo, you aren't saying you believe the NSA was created in the wake of 9/11?
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 1:45 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Are there real security concerns that led to the creation of things like the NSA? Absolutely. Something was going to happen in the wake of 9/11, and at the time citizens would largely assent to "something".

Hoopo, I don't want to be a jerk about this, but I think you could probably stand to read more of the relevant history. 9/11 acted as an accelerant and a moment of extreme opportunity for a bunch of bad actors, but NSA's roots go back nearly a century, and all this massive state surveillance infrastructure with little oversight from the democratic process didn't just suddenly spring into being some time during the G.W. Bush administration.

You don't have to believe that government or the working people who make it up are intrinsically evil to become convinced that ubiquitous surveillance is about control. Hell, you don't even have to believe that people in government whose primary concern is control are corrupt - plenty of them are, by their own lights, acting in good faith to achieve goals they believe are desperately necessary. Unfortunately, that doesn't make their basic impulses any less authoritarian or anti-democratic.
posted by brennen at 1:48 PM on February 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


Surely Hoopo, you aren't saying you believe the NSA was created in the wake of 9/11?

I was actually, not sure why I remembered it that way but thanks for pointing that out. I guess it was just an increased mandate after September 11.
posted by Hoopo at 1:52 PM on February 24, 2015


Maybe thinking of Homeland Security?
posted by Drinky Die at 1:54 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's the one.
posted by Hoopo at 1:56 PM on February 24, 2015


Also worth it for the following exchange:

Redditor: Is winter [in Moscow] harsh? Do you ever want to go out, but wake up and find yourself suddenly snowed in?

Greenwald: Canada, Sweden and North Dakota have pretty harsh winters, too. As does Boston.

Snowden: This kills the joke.
posted by creade at 2:03 PM on February 24, 2015 [22 favorites]


Hoopo, I don't want to be a jerk about this, but I think you could probably stand to read more of the relevant history.

Brennen, I assure you I am more familiar with the relevant history than I ever wanted to be by virtue of having been in my first year of poli sci undergrad studies when the September 11 attacks happened. My entire education was more or less slanted toward the fallout as a result. I do admit to be pretty rusty on things now because I got sick of following politics when Bush was re-elected, even more so when Harper took the office of PM at home. I mixed up NSA and Homeland Security as Drinkie Die showed me

all this massive state surveillance infrastructure with little oversight from the democratic process didn't just suddenly spring into being some time during the G.W. Bush administration.

After 9/11 they were explicitly authorized to do a fuckload of a lot of things they had previously not been allowed to by law, and although there seems to be evidence they were doing some of it anyway, I really don't think anyone would argue they didn't get a lot bigger and more important since
posted by Hoopo at 2:21 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Vernor Vinge's novel, A Deepness in the Sky, discusses what he calls "ubiquitous law enforcement."

Spoiler: He thinks it's bad.
posted by Bruce H. at 2:35 PM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I know this is hateful to say but I'm kinda Snowdened out. When I saw his last leak I was like "still?" Unless he's getting new stuff his content is a year and a half old and aging. I can't find a reservoir of horror anymore; we keep beating the revelation horse like its going to have more effect at this point.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 3:42 PM on February 24, 2015




>Unless he's getting new stuff his content is a year and a half old and aging.

Yet still relevant and unreported prior... If anything, the fact that these things have been around at least that long without being disclosed before should be more troubling.
posted by MysticMCJ at 6:37 PM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


After 9/11 they were explicitly authorized to do a fuckload of a lot of things they had previously not been allowed to by law, and although there seems to be evidence they were doing some of it anyway, I really don't think anyone would argue they didn't get a lot bigger and more important since

Yeah, I mean, I don't think anyone who's been paying even a little bit of attention would deny the importance of 9/11 as a cultural and political landmark, and the catalyst for an astonishing range of pathological behavior in the realm of surveillance and civil liberties. On the other hand, here's a sorta serious question: If 9/11 had never happened, would it have been necessary to invent it?

That sounds kind of conspiracy minded, and I really don't want to drift remotely in the direction of 9/11 Trutherism. It's not that I think an incident was manufactured to suit the needs and desires of particular factions within the military industrial complex. It's more that I think the alacrity with which a lot of total fuckers and a lot of completely fucked ideas (pardon the technical language here) responded to the incident is revealing of the turn-of-the-century status quo. Big state surveillance was not a new idea then, had been conducted at growing scale for decades, and was poised to escalate to astonishing levels as much because of the emerging technical ecosystem and a generations-long chain of policy decisions as because of any single political moment. 9/11 was a triggering even, but a triggering event (or a series of them) might have been the next thing to inevitable, given the century or so just past.

Anyhow. Snowden and I probably don't agree about a lot of things, but the dude keeps being basically right and saying all of these things that are profoundly, importantly true. It doesn't exactly redound to our civilization's credit that we apparently cannot be bothered to give the faintest shadow of an actual fuck and in fact are getting kind of bored with the whole question.
posted by brennen at 6:44 PM on February 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


If 9/11 had never happened, would it have been necessary to invent it?

I won't say yes, but many of the new NSA powers were a wish-list that predated 9/11 by a few years. Gore's support was one of the reasons I couldn't manage to hold my nose and vote for him.
posted by wotsac at 7:03 PM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is the best AMA I've read. I admire Edward Snowden a lot. I did not know that key trial defense strategies are proscribed by law in espionage cases. That is another appalling thing in a list of appalling things.
posted by putzface_dickman at 7:57 PM on February 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


You don't have to believe that government or the working people who make it up are intrinsically evil to become convinced that ubiquitous surveillance is about control

I think a point people miss here is that for a lot of those involved, control is viewed as benign. Control of the activities of individual citizens is, after all, what government is all about. Controlling the conditions of their work, how they drive their cars, their ability to break the law or harm fellow human beings - regulation is the more pleasant word, and in such cases we view it as acceptable because it mostly is benign, although I guess anarchists and some libertarians might object.

The question becomes where the limits are supposed to lie, and why are they transgressed? Opportunism? Power hunger? Hoopo above seems to be trying to find an explanation for that, and I think that's important to the discussion. There is a bit of "well they're just evils eviling like evils do" that goes on in discussions of the massive transgression of civil liberties at home (and human rights abroad) that's counter-productive. We're quite capable of looking at a terrorist group like Al-Qaeda or ISIS and saying, "well, they're doing evil, but let's see if we can get to the bottom of why people join up and why they choose to do these things". We need to do the same with the people undermining the Constitution here at home. And just saying "it's about controlling people, duh!" isn't really enough.

Why does a NSA bureaucrat or a police officer decide that controlling people in more violent, unconstitutional or secretive ways is worth their time and energy? Is it the same pressure to perform which results in security theater, the need to show one's boss or the public that something is being done (even if what is being done is ultimately harmful, or useless)? Is it a genuine if disproportionate fear of the enemy, or is that merely a PR facade? Is there, as Hoopo seems to suggest above, a structural explanation involving the expansion of bureaucratic fiefs and personal power? "They hate our freedoms" isn't really any better an explanation of the NSA than it is of Al-Qaeda.

I admire Edward Snowden and enjoyed this AMA, but I feel that equally or more critical to dealing with this issue is getting inside the heads of all the people who didn't leave and become whistleblowers. What made them stay? Was it just fear of the consequences? In that case, what drives those (judges, lawyers, politicians) to maintain the fearsome and growing sanctions against whistleblowing? Also fear? Okay, fear of whom? Of what consequences? What can we do to break that particular institutional dynamic?

I hate the bullshit defeatism that seems to come along with a lot of these discussions. These are problems which were tackled back in the 1910s (the first Red Scare, the WWI-era patriot legislation) and the 1950s (McCarthyism) successfully. They are perennial, because the necessity of governmental control to some degree is perennial. I feel like it would be better for us as a society if we wised up to that instead of insisting, every time it appears, that the Orwellian apocalypse is now immanent and inevitable. This has been dealt with before, it will be again. By people who are willing to tackle it, ideally, or just by those who are forced to.

Unless he's getting new stuff his content is a year and a half old and aging.

Important news that is old an aging is what we colloquially refer to as "history." And its relevance continues as long as it continues to impact the present.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:57 PM on February 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


I was impressed with Snowdens' knowledge of American history.
Thanks for posting, this.
posted by clavdivs at 10:38 PM on February 25, 2015






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