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Panama Papers source issues statement (icij.org)
376 points by p0ppe on May 6, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 138 comments



There's a lot to parse in that statement, but the call for whistleblower protections seems to be the single most important (and achievable) item. Most people are aware of Snowden and Manning, but it really surprises me that these haven't been reported more:

"Bradley Birkenfeld was awarded millions for his information concerning Swiss bank UBS—and was still given a prison sentence by the Justice Department. Antoine Deltour is presently on trial for providing journalists with information about how Luxembourg granted secret “sweetheart” tax deals to multi-national corporations, effectively stealing billions in tax revenues from its neighbour countries."

Law enforcement agencies don't have the resources or knowledge to go after much of the corruption and wrongdoing inside governments and large companies. If insiders with integrity don't have a safe way of stepping forward there will never be a way to keep wealthy/powerful/connected individuals from abusing the system.


I was unaware of - and totally flabbergasted by - the Birkenfeld case. His boss, who did not come forward at all, served 5 months probation and paid a $100 fine. Another extradited executive was not found guilty of anything. The tax evading client Birkenfeld helped (that was the basis for Birkenfeld's prosecution) paid a fine but served no jail time.

It's not that whistleblowers aren't receiving protections - it's that their prosecutions and punishments far outweigh those whose crimes are being exposed. It's absolutely mind-boggling.



I'd think it's the least achievable thing of all. Governments will happily pass laws to {increase transparency / reduce privacy} and will happily pass laws that {add new taxes / close tax loopholes}, because these things align with their pre-existing agendas. They will not, under any circumstances, make it easier to engage in whistleblowing and especially not large data dumps, because governments absolutely do not want millions of { citizens holding them to account / vigilante info-warriors } increasing their OWN transparency!

That said, whilst I agree with that part, the rest of John Doe's essay left me cold. Other than its defence of whistleblowers it reads like more or less any standard left-ish Guardian article. The cause of increasing global inequality being a handful of law firms, really? They "write the laws" themselves, really? Which laws does he have in mind? All lawyers are corrupt and unethical? The British island territories are the "cornerstone of institutional corruption worldwide" and not, say, African states where the corruption actually occurs? Billionaires own the press and serious investigative journalism is dead, except, presumably, the press and the journalists who he worked with?

I was and still am a huge supporter of Snowden because he revealed behaviour that was unquestionably bad. Literally nobody tried to defend what he showed was happening, and in fact the people doing it had lied in Congress to try and cover it up. It was a classic case where whistleblowing is justified. Additionally, Snowden had a very clear and straightforward thought process justifying his actions: what was happening was unconstitutional, and his attempts to use the formal complaint paths had failed.

John Doe comparing himself to Snowden rubs me up the wrong way, because although he claims the MF files are bursting with criminal evidence, so far all the stories I read about the Panama Papers were about things that are not illegal, and in fact apparently some of the papers show MF dropping clients when they started to suspect illegal activity, which implies MF was not quite the sinister conspiracy Doe makes it sound like. They clearly had legal compliance efforts and they clearly did things. And his justification is a long, rambling and rather incoherent screed that tries to claim the fault of every problem in the world lies with a kind of global conspiracy of evil and spineless people.

I think Doe is walking a very thin line between whistleblowing for a cause and generic vigilante-ism with his actions.


> so far all the stories I read about the Panama Papers were about things that are not illegal

So the accusation of perjury left you cold? It was linked in the piece.

https://www.publicintegrity.org/2016/04/03/19506/offshore-la...


Maybe you should read more about these panama papers before saying he is walking a thin line.


The thing is, whoever John Doe is, he or she is probably right. Maybe you should read http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/01/the-rise... and connect some dots.

Try thinking about the issue from the other side: suppose the dickheads ruining our future were actually doing all they are accused of doing (tax evasion on a massive scale, global 'conspiracies' i.e. forging strong alliances to screw everyone else over, etc), how would that look to the People? What would happen if the big media outlets were in these dickheads' pockets? What kind of coverage would the People get of such issues? What did the People get in this case, for example? No actual, in-depth analysis of the papers, that's for sure.

The world we are living in today exists in this form almost solely thanks to spinelessness and corruption at every level imaginable. What happens to a politician if he speaks openly about corruption in his own ranks? He'll be gone from the public eye in no time! Making people disappear like that is trivial: just stop reporting about them, and if they made too much of a mess to do that, just push another crisis to the frontpage. Public memory is horrifyingly short.

Your second paragraph displays the problem beautifully: how exactly is anybody supposed to have a clear view of global happenings (including lawmaking) when they happen in ways inaccessible to the common man (incomprehensible language or plain ol' closed doors)? Saying corruption actually occurs mainly in African states is just plain ridiculous. Some have valuable resources that get exploited by western or chinese corporations by way of corrupting the locals with nice gifts and whatnot. But that's pretty much it.

On the other hand, any western city with large building projects is subject to corruption. How else do you justify an advertised price of 600mil for, say, a new airport, blowing up ten-fold over the period of the airport's construction and its supposed opening (which only happened years later)? I'm thinking about Berlin Brandenburg here specifically, but no month passes without a similar case of a project starting out at a couple hundred million and progressively climbing up to billions in costs.

The recent VW scandal is another beautiful specimen of what you'd call global 'conspiracy' turning out to be ice-cold money-grabbing. VW was stupid enough to get caught by US environmental agencies and is dropping buttloads of cash to repair their image, all the while the rest of the automobile industry is quietly calling back cars to "fix problems". How come nobody covers this the way VW was scandalised?

Most shady things don't get covered because there's a total lack of material to work on or publish. Which brings us back to square one: how exactly is anybody supposed to have a clear view of global happenings (including lawmaking) when they happen in ways inaccessible to the common man (incomprehensible language or plain ol' closed doors)? I think the people in power have proven enough times already (not just nowadays, but throughout history) that they are not to be trusted. So instead of asking > They "write the laws" themselves, really? or > All lawyers are corrupt and unethical? try finding out what made that person make these claims instead of dismissing them based on your current knowledge. I'm not saying you have to agree with the claims, but you should at least make an effort to understand the issue for the sake of broadening your horizon. Knowing more about something never hurts ;)


> There's a lot to parse in that statement, but the call for whistleblower protections seems to be the single most important (and achievable) item. Most people are aware of Snowden and Manning

One big difference between Snowden and the Panama Papers (and, to a degree, Manning) is that virtually all of what Snowden revealed is illegal action on the part of the government[0], or information directly tied to that (allegedly-)illegal behavior. With the Panama Papers, some of the information leaked is indeed evidence of actual crimes, but most of it is actually not[1]. One can make the argument that some of the behavior should be, but that's a far less compelling case for whistleblower protection than the evidence of actual crimes taken place under the law as it exists today.

While I do believe that Manning deserved whistleblower protection, her case was similarly harmed (both legally and in the public's perception) by the fact that the signal-to-noise ratio in the documents she provided was very low. It's a lot harder to convince the public that you were acting as a whistleblower if large parts of the data you're leaking isn't blowing the whistle on anything, even if some of it is.

[0] The government disagrees with the claim that it is illegal, but that is the premise of the leak.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panama_Papers#Disclosures


"is that virtually all of what Snowden revealed is illegal action on the part of the government[0]"

That's nonsense. Snowden revealed both legal and illegal behavior. In the U.S., as in most countries, it's totally legal to spy on foreign countries for political or economic intelligence. Whereas, it's illegal to spy on our own citizens in the U.S.. Snowden leaked both with full details on how they did it to point opponents could counter a bunch of the legal stuff.

That's why he's both a whistleblower (illegal stuff) and a traitor (leaking legal stuff).


I would argue that's only true depending on where you stand. (and I mean that quite literally, as in Where are you from, what country do you live in?) If you're the state of Germany, they probably don't think it's legal for others to spy on them. That's certainly true in the US. And of course you'll argue that it was a US citizen reporting on US gov't affairs. But, isn't a whistleblower someone who believe they are serving the common good by uncovering illegal, immoral and unethical behavior? Can it not be argued that Snowden was helping out the countries (especially our allies) that there government and people were also being spied on? Or the fact that governments were making secret deals with each other: ("you spy on our citizens, which we can't do as it's illegal, and we will spy on your citizens, and they'll trade the information. And that way it's all legal!") (Who do they think they're fooling?)

If Snowden is a traitor, what does that make the NSA?


Now, this was the first, thoughtful reply I got in this. I'm addressing it last as it deserves a bit more thought. Let's look at the points.

" If you're the state of Germany, they probably don't think it's legal for others to spy on them."

It's true. An NSA proponent we shred on Schneier's blog made one good point: each country makes spying on everyone else legal for them but makes it illegal for anyone to spy on them. I call this The Game where they all gripe if they're getting spied on but keep doing it themselves for the benefits. Truth told, major nations have to do it just to break even or else they're going to loose contracts/territory to better equipped nations. NSA always claimed countering that sort of stuff was all they did at economic level with rest being political negotiations and self-defense against threats. I know, I know... ;) Yet, that probably-false claim is a good idea of what spying nations find acceptable in reality and don't do anything besides punishing individual spies as long as it's within the unspoken rules of the game.

"But, isn't a whistleblower someone who believe they are serving the common good by uncovering illegal, immoral and unethical behavior?"

Yes. The Panama Papers, Pentagon Papers, Snowden's leaks of unconstitutional behavior, Snowden's foreign leaks of destroying an ally's telecom (Belgium)... these kinds of things are illegal and abusive to the point they should be leaked. Key factor is they go against what country's citizens has deemed acceptable and endorsed. We're fine with them recording chancellors, business negotiations, whatever to look out for us. Disrupting innocent parties, breaking their oaths to us, selling individual companies' secrets, and so on? Not part of any deal I was made aware of between U.S. voters and intelligence community.

"Can it not be argued that Snowden was helping out the countries (especially our allies) that there government and people were also being spied on? "

Reality: over twenty nations spy on us even stealing our I.P. for their nations' benefits and trying to rig foreign contracts. Many of them are "allies." It's just the real-world in action. They want us to not spy on them? Then they need to disband their own spy agencies or imprison anyone caught spying on us.

"you spy on our citizens, which we can't do as it's illegal, and we will spy on your citizens"

Very worth whistleblowing. I've called out NSA & GHCQ on that for years as have Brits I know. They can't collect info on their own. I don't care how many intermediaries they put between point A and B. Just tells me how guilty their intent was. :)

"If Snowden is a traitor, what does that make the NSA?"

I said Snowden is a whistleblower and traitor depending on specific leaks. This polarization people do is childish and unrealistic. People, organizations, are often a mixed bag. NSA is an organization that has many honest people working to get legal intelligence or more rarely protect us from hacking. It's also got its share of scumbags and illegal activity that betrays its oath to Americans and mandate. Reward the good, punish the bad, and increase accountability where needed. Always my answer.


we'll agree to disagree. But one last thing.

"Reward the good, punish the bad, and increase accountability where needed. Always my answer."

That hasn't occurred. All we've done is gone after one person who made us aware of what has been going on. Nobody from the NSA has gone to jail over what they were doing, nobody who told them to do it has suffered any real consequences. And increasing accountability? From whom? Congress? If anything, it's arguable that the NSA (and the entire US Intelligence system, down to the local police department) have gotten worse since Snowden's revelations, not better. But at least as a US citizen, I now know (with proof) what my government has been doing to me and "for me." I don't approve of those actions.

If Snowden is a traitor, we could do with a thousand more traitors like him in the US government.


I agree. They haven't done much of anything. It's a larger problem that led me to counter any claims that a technical solution would happen. Just slow it since it's a political problem involving apathetic voters and corrupt politicians. That has to change to counter this mess.


In response to your last paragraph, what if an organization is more good than bad and the bad they do is really bad? Does it really matter if there are also good people working there? Even if you can argue that we need the good stuff the good people are doing, that doesn't make the organization redeemable. The worst part is that reasonable-sounding people will make statements like yours, which seems to provide cover for all the bad stuff... and business continues as usual.


"The worst part is that reasonable-sounding people will make statements like yours, which seems to provide cover for all the bad stuff... and business continues as usual."

The worst part is that people will read statements like mine without understanding that someone in those organizations ordered the bad stuff done. Probably a number involved in sustaining it and providing immunity for it, too. An organization with plenty of good people and neutral capabilities doesn't need to be eliminated over evil leadership if we can eliminate that leadership instead.

The NSA has already changed in a major way once under Hayden. He turned it from a totally incompetent group, in an organizational sense, into a SIGINT powerhouse tearing up all kinds of technologies. Binney and others noted they were pretty cautious to respect civil liberties for the most part. Post-9/11, they took the gloves off that since it was their orders from America to prevent another 9/11 via only methods (mass surveillance) they knew how. Everything bad followed and continues to as American people are divided over issue. NSA's own culture plays into it, too.

So, just need the country to give them a more reasonable mandate and put someone in power to switch gears to get their mission back into something sane. Plus, reduce, eliminate, or thoroughly audit mass surveillance operations.


He's not a traitor because a subset of the things he leaked were actually legal. In fact, the legal stuff may be more damning for the government, since there's even less justification for the government to avoid transparency and accountability for things are are legal.

Say the CIA spied on, oh, I don't know, Toyota. And they got some good designs for a new engine or fuel injector or something. Legal, possibly? OK.. now what happens to that information? Let's they give it to Ford, but not GM. One could rightly ask "why?" Was it because somebody at the CIA owns Ford stock? Or did somebody receive some under the table kickbacks? Other??? The public has a right to demand accountability in regards to these things as well.

And never mind the fact that the State shouldn't be engaging in industrial espionage for economic benefit in the first place. If Ford wants to hire spies, let them hire their own spies.


"He's not a traitor because a subset of the things he leaked were actually legal."

Strawman this time. You m are fun. He's a traitor because he leaked national secrets critical to ongoing operations that were legal and mandated. Further, Americans approved of NSA spying on foreign countries as they know it works both ways.

Hope you get it now. Violating classified info laws in a way that damages American ops but doesn't protect American rights. That's treason.


Where's the evidence that his info leaks actually damaged American ops? Oh, right, it comes in the form of testimony from the NSA, CIA, etc... and we all know they never lie.

Hope you get it now.


The spy agencies of foreign countries published all the details at http://are.youkidding.com. Go check it out for details.

Meanwhile, a rational perdon should assume that if (a) a major method/weakness for NSA surveillance is published then (b) defenders will start addressing that hole/weakness. Further, the proof of subversion for America, but not others doing espionage, means America took a huge financial hit as people boycotted its products.

The damage is real even if the spy agencies don't list each, classified example on their websites as you require. You can bet NSA is also adjusting tools and strategies to deal with it. Yet, they have to be feeling the pressure as encryption, air gaps, Tor, non-US software/hardware, FOSS vs their proprietary buddies, and so on across board in response to leaks. I mean, you cant simultaneously think the Snowden leaks are helping fight NSA surveillance while saying no surveillance losses resulted. That's hilarity of your position.


Right, so no evidence that Snowden's leaks hurt American ops. Sure, we can infer that the terrorists (or whoever) may have tweaked their opsec in response, but it's not like that will drive them to do anything that wasn't simply an opsec best practice all along. If the NSA was simply relying on people being sloppy (not using encryption, etc.) and that changed, well... that was inevitable over time anyway.

As for backdoors in routers, etc... again, it was always just a matter of time until that stuff got caught. And it's not like people haven't always suspected that they were doing that stuff.

And even if some small percentage of what Snowden leaked did harm US operations somehow... I'd argue that it was justified in light of the big picture, in regards to the illegal stuff. Finding out about mass surveillance of US citizens, etc., justifies any collateral damage the spook complex may have suffered, as far as I'm concerned.


"Right, so no evidence that Snowden's leaks hurt American ops."

The ops are classified so it's a bogus point anyway. You're requiring them to commit a felony to prove specific damage. Further, you've already dismissed anything coming from spy agencies as a lie. You've set that line of questioning up to be a fail no matter what they show you. The only exception I'm seeing is a 3rd party or foreign nation detects their ops, then reports on it. Kaspersky already did with Equation Group plus used Snowden leaks to show it was probably NSA.

Anyway, we don't need them to publish anything. Just answer quick question: do you believe that the Snowden leaks improved people's ability to resist NSA surveillance and increase privacy through technological responses? Does that include foreign businesses or governments? If so, then you are already admitting that it reduced NSA surveillance and impacted their operations. One follows the other logically. Either Snowden leaks had no effect on NSA spying, making him a fail outside of legal reform, or they did negatively impact NSA by disrupting their operations.

"even if some small percentage of what Snowden leaked did harm US operations somehow... I'd argue that it was justified in light of the big picture,"

He wasn't justified because he didn't have to leak it. That simple. He could've just leaked the ones that targeted Americans or showed gross abuse rather than a lot of what we already, as Americans, allowed NSA to do. Instead, he turned over everything to many foreign media.

Btw, do you remember why he did that? Did you ever read the reason? He gave two actually. One sheds a lot of light on whether he had to do this and just how heroic he really is.


Just answer quick question: do you believe that the Snowden leaks improved people's ability to resist NSA surveillance and increase privacy through technological responses?

Their ability? No, I don't. Did it promote people's inclination to resist the NSA. Certainly. But I would argue that those things would have happened over time anyway. So if Snowden caused any harm, I believe it was likely to be minor and of little consequence.

He wasn't justified because he didn't have to leak it. That simple. He could've just leaked the ones that targeted Americans or showed gross abuse rather than a lot of what we already, as Americans, allowed NSA to do.

Fair enough... But that'a assuming he had the time and means to carefully sift through it all and make those determinations. I believe his argument is that he turned the data over to credible journalists (as opposed to simply dropping it all over pastebins or uploading a torrent) exactly some somebody could go through it and determine which parts to actually publish, and which parts to withhold, so as to avoid serious harm to legitimate intelligence operations.


"But I would argue that those things would have happened over time anyway. "

Why? I spent around a decade trying to convince American and foreign parties that their systems were being hit from hardware up to software. I tried to tell them about TEMPEST issues. I pointed out that the existing software was so insecure it could be hit without visible evidence at all. Past commercial & ITSEC best practices, nobody believed it or was willing to do anything. They were also gradually moving more private data into the hands of centralized parties in spying jurisdictions using HW/SW from spying jurisdictions.

So, why do you think it was inevitable when companies and consumers have resisted real security more every year for decades with only band-aids accepted? All evidence is to the contrary. That Snowden revealed how easily people are hit with subsequent awareness is one of the positives I count.

" But that'a assuming he had the time and means to carefully sift through it all"

He said he read every document. A spot judgement would've told him which were foreign or domestic. He worked with the stuff daily. In interviews, he recites it by heart without thought. He knew, he spent the time, and said so repeatedly. So, why do two of you ask why I expect him to do what he already said he did unless you just never saw his interviews?

It's as simple as having three folders: Good Leak; Who Knows; Definitely Don't Leak. Leak first for sure with careful thought on second and nothing in third. No evidence he even tried something like that. Why is that? Let's get to that.

" I believe his argument is that he turned the data over to credible journalists"

That was one. The other was that he wasn't comfortable holding onto it in order to do that. He didn't want to take the risk to himself. As in, he was a coward and risked burning all his fellow operators in that data dump to foreign intelligence agents just to save his own ass. Many options available to him. He did the safest one for him that did all the resulting damage. That simple.

Nothing heroic. Nothing abstract. He had a bag of stuff that could save America, stuff that could damage innocent Americans, and gave it all away to save his own ass. By his own admission. When we know he could've at least tried damage reduction as media did in Wikileaks time. Not even the smallest effort before he dumped it and went on the run. He surely had the time to make that effort, too, given he already read it. No question.


Legality aside, those ongoing operation are Un-American and many reasonable people, perhaps a majority, in this democracy of ours never had chance to vote or have any say in their creation.

Then taking into account legality, many consider them a violation of the 4th amendment. And again such a policy was instituted without ever a public discussion in relation to the constitution.

Someone revealing such policy to the Democracy it was forced on can never be a traitor.


" those ongoing operation are Un-American"

Says who? A few of you keep saying that but it's un-American itself to let a tiny, anonymous minority determine what's right for whole country. What exactly is American? I think it takes a consensus or compromise from voting public to determine that.

"many reasonable people, perhaps a majority, in this democracy of ours never had chance to vote or have any say in their creation."

The intelligence services were created by elected representatives in response to a second, World War that killed tens of millions of people. They actually helped end the war sooner. Their existence and general goal, although not all specifics, were repeatedly accepted by Americans. Instrumental in helping us with Cold War. Yes, most of the voting public is fine with the existence of spy agencies going back decades. It was abusive activities that harmed innocent people here and abroad that we fought against. Not surveillance or actions that protected our interests or citizens, though. Almost no protest.

"Then taking into account legality, many consider them a violation of the 4th amendment. "

That's why they were supposed to spy on foreign countries. They don't have 4th Amendment rights any more than they have responsibilities to America under our Constitution. And, yes, there were public discussions about the existence of military and intelligence activities going back decades. Americans knew they existed and were fine with the concept.

Wait, maybe I made a mistake here assuming you're American given your comments. You may be a foreigner who never read a U.S. history book. My apologies if you were referring to your own country where people never had a choice. Americans, on other hand, chose spying repeatedly with a big chunk choosing domestic spying in restricted form. The latter were foolish but the former are matter of public record.


Keep in mind that legal vs illegal is a completely different question than right vs wrong. Whistleblower protections need to extend to cover more than just exposure of illegal activites.


Exactly. The nation as a whole determined spying for averting war, competing, and so on is morally acceptable. They've kept it legal for decades. So, one American's opinion doesn't define right and wrong for whole country esp as many disagree with him. So, he was wrong for leaking legal stuff on top of it being criminal.


> The nation as a whole determined spying for averting war, competing, and so on is morally acceptable. They've kept it legal for decades.

I'm sure you have a source for this assertion, but I don't recall ever having voted on or having any say at all in anything related to spying.

In addition to that, I don't know anyone who agrees with the idea that spying for competitive reasons is okay. I'm sure there are plenty of people that do, but I don't think I've ever met someone who's stated as much.


"I'm sure you have a source for this assertion"

Yes, did you vote in or fund politicians that were in favor of having intelligence services? If so, then you've voted for intelligence services given that will keep them going. If most of America did, then they likewise voted for intelligence services. I already know they did. :)

"I don't know anyone who agrees with the idea that spying for competitive reasons is okay. I'm sure there are plenty of people that do, but I don't think I've ever met someone who's stated as much."

Try this. Tell... "anyone" you know... to do a thought experiment. In this experiment, national schemes in economics and war have raged for thousands of years. Still happen. Many were prevented or reduced through information from intelligence services. Our competitive allies have them stealing our I.P., trying to win contracts, or trying to negotiate better positions in treaties. Our own spies have caught and reduced plenty of that. Our enemies have spies for similar and worse reasons up to and including killing a lot of us.

Now, with that backdrop, ask those people if they think we should have an intelligence service spying on those competitive "allies" and enemy nations. Mention that the alternative is to constantly be a victim of or behind those countries due to being in the dark with no spy agency. Which will they choose? I choose having a spy agency, using it for same purposes the rest do, and taking extra care to avoid it getting out of control or damaging.


> Yes, did you vote in or fund politicians that were in favor of having intelligence services? If so, then you've voted for intelligence services given that will keep them going. If most of America did, then they likewise voted for intelligence services. I already know they did. :)

As opposed to voting for who, exactly?

> Try this. Tell... "anyone" you know... to do a thought experiment. In this experiment, national schemes in economics and war have raged for thousands of years. Still happen. Many were prevented or reduced through information from intelligence services. Our competitive allies have them stealing our I.P., trying to win contracts, or trying to negotiate better positions in treaties. Our own spies have caught and reduced plenty of that. Our enemies have spies for similar and worse reasons up to and including killing a lot of us.

Of course, it's easy to make up a world where it would sort of kind of make sense. That's not the one we're talking about, though.


"As opposed to voting for who, exactly?"

Early candidates running for the pacifist party, I guess, given I can't recall reading about anyone platforming against existence of intelligence gathering agency. Anyone who could or was running for office that believed America should be only major power post-Ww2 that didn't have spies. Enough votes that direction might have resulted in the dissolution of our intelligence agencies that were forming. And probably the dissolution of or great damage to our country later given the leaders would be acting blind. But you'd have a chance.

"Of course, it's easy to make up a world where it would sort of kind of make sense. That's not the one we're talking about, though."

We are talking about that kind of world. Are you saying there's no allies spying on us with potential economic/political results? Or that there's nobody that might threaten us? Both are ludicrous but such issues are at root of my claim that we need a spy agency. So, which do you reject?


> Early candidates running for the pacifist party, I guess, given I can't recall reading about anyone platforming against existence of intelligence gathering agency. Anyone who could or was running for office that believed America should be only major power post-Ww2 that didn't have spies. Enough votes that direction might have resulted in the dissolution of our intelligence agencies that were forming. And probably the dissolution of or great damage to our country later given the leaders would be acting blind. But you'd have a chance.

So you agree that such a spy agency was, in fact, not voted in.


The forerunners were created in secret for use against enemies during the World War's under Presidents voted in. The people's voted-in Congress representatives that made them official with more authority. Then people kept voting-in even more that kept them over time with no major push to vote out intelligence agencies. Just reform their bad behaviors on occasion.

So, yes, they were voted in and maintained through the elected representatives. That's how a representational democracy works. There was also no pushback strong enough to affect an election and dissolve an intelligence agency. They'd be diminished or gone had that happened.

So, voters wanted the situation and it's here. They can make it go away but it's still here. So much for your hypothesis.


Representative "democracy" means that you can't say that the people wanted a specific policy, only that they considered some person (and their ELECTION platform, which has just about nothing to do with how they'd actually behave in office) the least awful of the given options.

As you said yourself, it was created in secret as a reactionary policy (because those always work out great!), so there was no possible oversight or popular approval.


People knew about spying. Mostly supported it. Never voted against a politician that did in significant scale. That's direct democracy reinforcing representational democracy. QED.


I think Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul wants to rein them in. I actually gave Rand Paul some money for this T-shirt:

https://store.randpaul.com/index.php/the-nsa-knows-contest-w...

Rand Paul had to drop out for lack of interest.


Apathetic democracy in action. I dropped much of my activism for the same reason. Even when in their perspective, getting Americans to act on protecting their rights is like slogging uphill through molasses.

Nice shirt, though. :)


> Snowden revealed both legal and illegal behavior.

Pretty much all whistleblowing addressing illegal behavior will reveal legal behavior connected or related to, supporting, etc., the illegal behavior. So what?


That's two of you ignoring the point of what I said to bring up nonsense technicalities. Let me being you back to the real world.

In U.S., as in many countries, there exist intelligence agencies whose job is to get secrets out of foreign countries. This is legal. There's usually also laws that protect secrecy of those and other activities. In US, such classification applies by law unless it's a criminal act they're trying to conceal. Leaking that information is a felony that, depending on info, might also damage (i.e betray) the US. Leaking criminal activity that was classified is whistleblowing. Not only form but main form for this conversation.

Snowden's whistleblowing by leaking proof of illegal surveillance and perjury by government I don't dispute. However, Snowden also leaked tons of tools and activities dedicated to legal, foreign surveillance. What NSA was legally required to do and which he personally agreed to in case of stopping foreign hackers (eg China). Worst, he leaked it to news organizations in thd countries NSA was spying on.

So, far from your abstract reply, Snowden betrayed his country by leaking legal, mandated, acceptable-to-Americans operations. He didn't have to and shouldn't have. He also heroically blew whistle on dirty stuff. So, he's both a traitor and whistleblower on leak by leak basis. That simple.


But again, that is only from your american perspective and under the assumption that he would have been treated fair if he had not leaked the "legal" stuff. Assume he had only revealed that the US spied illegaly on its own citizens, what incentive would there have been for other countries to grant him asylum? Pretty much none (even considering that even now they do not garant it to him). So this is kind of an insurance for him (together with other documents that he did not reveal but could if they tried to catch him).


"what incentive would there have been for other countries to grant him asylum?"

Depends on if Russia would still like to give him asylum for sole reason of pissing off America as they are right now. Anyway, you're changing the discussion from a heroic whistleblower to someone who will only blow the whistle if he has extra dirt specifically to get asylum. Much less honorable. Not even an option for most whistleblowers.

"So this is kind of an insurance for him (together with other documents that he did not reveal but could if they tried to catch him)."

No, it's not. He's guaranteed they'll throw everything they have at him by leaking everything. They were intercepting diplomatic planes for goodness sake. People tracking those torture flights indicated one showed up at a German airport he would've went through when they asked him to come in. They were possibly willing to black bag his ass. They don't usually do that even with likes of Manning.

No, he's in a really, really, bad situation. He has nothing further to leak as insurance per many interviews where he gave it all away so nobody could torture him for information. If he does, Russia almost certainly knows it already as a condition of his stay. He's literally choosing between being imprisoned in one police state or living in a police state that does 10x worse than what he leaked on the same topic.

His options would've been better if he leaked only domestic stuff, tried to play it stealthy, and maybe selectively leaked docs to the country he wants asylum in. Instead, he leaked it all out of conscience or whatever with global disruption & embarrassment for NSA. The rest is history.


Is attacking their allies inside their territories, breaking, entering, installing viruses and malware against the personal home computers of civilians in allied countries ... is that considered "legal" from a US point of view? Which is what they did to the completely innocent civilian sysadmins of a large Belgian telecom.

Was that US-legal to whistleblow? Was it US-legal to perform acts of cyberwarfare against allies? I mean we all know how the rest of the world feels about it.

You can try and draw a line between legal and illegal behaviour all you want. But that really means very little if that decision, what is legal and what is not, is made by a government/legal/intelligence system that gets away with anything because they are so powerful (torture, war crimes / ignoring the ICC ..). Maybe not a very respectable moral compass to orient oneself by, don't you think?

The so-called illegal parts of Snowden's revelations informed me that basically all my data that ever went over the Internet is considered completely fair game by the US, GCHQ and the other Five Eyes. Other US-illegal parts of Snowden's files told me that MY government is complicit, acting like a vassal state. As far as I understand, that last part is illegal to reveal from the POV of the US, cause it involves their secret intelligence missions and doesn't reveal illegal behaviour of the US Intelligence per se (just those of the Dutch Intelligence).

So please, could you repeat that, to my face?

Is there an actual moral reason why it's wrong to release those files? I believe not, but we could talk about that.

However, if you're going to pick right and wrong on this matter by what is legal and what isn't in the United States, then say it to my face: A non-US person is a second class person, even if they're allies.

You believe it is right for you to know whether your government is doing illegal things or overstepping boundaries in surveillance. But you also believe that I, tripzilch, as a non-US civilian do not have that very same right; to know that my government is doing the very same, a lot of it in service of the US government. Or all the surveillance done for economic espionage? Better keep a lid on it because it only screws over those second-rate, non-US people? The biggest problem with the way that we've been doing thing is, the more we let you have the less that I'll be keeping for me. Alright!


"Is attacking their allies inside their territories, breaking, entering, installing viruses and malware against the personal home computers of civilians in allied countries"

Yes as far as I know. It's also done by intelligence services in European countries especially France, Germany, and Italy. If they're doing it, so should we given the consequences of us being only ones without critical info or influence at negotiation table or in market. I'm for ending all of that crap between allies but it's unlikely to happen. If we stop, the Europeans won't as it's our I.P. they mostly steal. ;)

"Which is what they did to the completely innocent civilian sysadmins of a large Belgian telecom."

I mention elsewhere that this kind of reckless damage to allies is worth whistleblowing on. It's collecting actionable intelligence that benefits U.S. that's supposed to be their job. Also, it was GHCQ (Britain) that did that with U.S. providing the access. Blame should be partial.

" I mean we all know how the rest of the world feels about it."

Irrelevant. More relevant is (a) that many countries griping are actively involved in spying or abuse their own citizens; (b) what the hell are they going to do about it for all spying jurisdictions rather than just what U.S. is doing? U.S. is a superpower, as are spy-happy Russia and China. The other spy-happy countries are major, economic powers. Are all the countries of the world just going to boycott every product from every country with an intelligence service? Good luck if you try but I predict the hypocrites won't even try. Many are unjustly doing it to the U.S. but not other spying nations despite knowing same stuff is going on there. Mere politics.

Note: Nonetheless, I still recommend avoiding any strongly-spying jursidiction when creating a business where privacy matters. That list always getting smaller as only 3 countries weren't cooperating with NSA in Europe per one leak. Iceland, Switzerland, and forgot other one.

"So please, could you repeat that, to my face?"

All of your data that you send unencrypted over a public or semi-private line is up for grabs by anyone in between you and the recipient. That's correct. If you thought otherwise, you may be visiting us from an alternate universe where criminal hacking, war and espionage didn't exist.

"A non-US person is a second class person, even if they're allies." ""You believe it is right for you to know whether your government is doing illegal things or overstepping boundaries in surveillance.""

You are in fact a second-class person... per U.S. law... if you are a non-U.S. citizen that's not bound by U.S. law with no responsibilities to or presence in America. Just as your country, many of them actually, might treat me. Personally, I think our intelligence services shouldn't target you in any way unless they had evidence you were a threat to national security or our foreign policy. Yet, these laws were devised in period from WW2 to Cold War where all kinds of citizens in all kinds of countries, enemies and their trade partners, were worth targeting. Probably corruption on top of that. That's why they're so broad.

Quick question: Do Americans visiting the Netherlands have all the rights and protections of citizens of the Netherlands? I'm curious in how many countries this is true. Are their restrictions in your defense sector not allowing me to know things that might affect me or requiring source code to come from citizens of your country? Plus, does that country's laws allow their military or any intelligence agency to take action against foreigners that it can't take against locals? Also, what's the status of the Trusted Third Parties project I read on a while back that seemed like mandated backdoors for law enforcement? Sounds like a public version of some Snowden slides and recent FBI vs Apple case. I hope it never passed or was pretty limited.

"to know that my government is doing the very same, a lot of it in service of the US government. "

Smart you mentioned it as I was going to burn your for that. That your country is one of 9-Eyes goes back a bit and the arrangements get reported on periodically with no, real resistance. Wouldn't surprise me if their stuff was connected to STONEGHOST on top of it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Eyes

"Better keep a lid on it because it only screws over those second-rate, non-US people? "

It only keeps an eye on them, their governments, and their businesses to ensure they're not breaking rules that keep global economy going or doing anything directly threatening. That's what they're supposed to be doing. I'm fine with that as I know us pro-human rights people will get outvoted without a compromise given all the nations, including yours, doing spying.

Yet, I don't see how you're getting screwed over if a NSA system temporarily has your info or an analyst looks at it to determine if you're a terrorist or bribing foreign governments. Your life would've gone on without any effect if Snowden didn't leak. So, it's a privacy violation but not "screwing" your life over in any way. Such strawmen are great for political posturing but are as honest as Keith Alexander testifying pre-Snowden. Stick with the truth and less drama if you want to have an effect. Plus, Americans who might have backed you will just laugh when you tell them how the NSA destroyed your life because... surveillance existed but they did nothing further. They might think Europeans in general are that foolish & dismiss further claims.


Revealing legal but highly offensive/suspect behavior does not make one a traitor.


Offensive/suspect to who? Americans and most countries in the leaks condone spying so long as they're the spies. Spying is legal here. Americans imllicitly support it by how they react to media on it.

So, yes, leaking it makes you a traitor. Especially if you're a trained US spy who did it youself.


Snowdens role in exposing the rubber stamp fisa courts may be exposing something legal, but clearly broken.


Lol what you talking about? That the only leak you read?

I'm clearly talking about all the foreign, classified operations that were both legal in US and whole reason NSA exists. He had no need to leak them to protect Americans' Constitutional rights.


So you're saying that if something is "legal," even if it's unethical/unconstitutional ("Hey, John Yoo said it's okay to spy on our own people and torture people, then it must be!") that you should not report the fact that its being grossly abused in a way that it was never intended to be?

If no one knows that our constitutional rights are being violated because of secrecy, it doesn't mean that they're not being violated (ironically, this is what the government has been using as a defense now for a while when people try to sue over the NSA: You have no proof we are spying on you specifically, so you can't sue us.)

The comment above you makes an excellent point. Just because behavior is deemed legal, does not make it so.

Also, Snowden was no lawyer. Who determines which behavior was legal and which wasn't? Obviously the US government and the NSA believed that everything they were doing was on the up and up (and obviously this was not so.)

Do you think that Snowden should have hired an entire law firm to go over every single file to deem whether or not each and every document either supported illegal and legal behavior by the government? (Which is somewhat what he did by giving all the documents to reporters to vet and disclose what they thought was important)


"So you're saying that if something is "legal," even if it's unethical/unconstitutional"

That's what you're saying. Strawmaning is full-time profession in Snowden threads here. I've said consistently in my replies that the legal stuff is activities against foreign countries, within their operational mandate, and that Americans have accepted as morally right (or a necessary evil) for decades. Not unconstitutional stuff, not gross abuses, not anything like that. Just that they develop tools and capabilities to spy on foreign countries for America's interests. Aka, their job and one that's legally a state secret.

" Just because behavior is deemed legal, does not make it so."

It actually does. The whole concept of a legal system haha. However, I'm allowing for activism against abuses. It's why, as above, I'm talking about all the stuff he leaked that Americans were fine with and endorsed as legal. Even celebrated in "patriotic" films.

"Obviously the US government and the NSA believed that everything they were doing was on the up and up (and obviously this was not so.)"

Red herring important in other discussions about NSA's bullshiting legal team but not here. NSA's beliefs != the laws. Snowden, as a trained spy, knew it was legal for them to spy on foreign nations. That's what we're talking about.

"Do you think that Snowden should have hired an entire law firm"

Jesus. You're really grasping at straws and blowing up the hypotheticals. He claims to read each document at one point. No, all I expect is a simple question asked on each one: does it fall within their legal mandate or is it evidence of unconstitutional, deceptive activity against Americans in violation of the Constitution, their mandate and claims? That simple. Would've kept the leaks to just what America collectively would've had a problem with. Instead, the fool leaked all the legal stuff, too, giving right-wingers the excuse to dismiss him entirely as a traitor. Lots of lost votes for reform.

Also, leaking our foreign secrets to foreign media and trusting them to act in our interests... wtf. You don't need to be a lawyer to know that was treason.


> Red herring important in other discussions about NSA's bullshiting legal team but not here. NSA's beliefs != the laws. Snowden, as a trained spy, knew it was legal for them to spy on foreign nations. That's what we're talking about.

So because it's done against "them" it's suddenly okay? That's trite xenophobic bullshit.

Treason laws and classified information have no place in anything claiming to be a developed democracy.


Yes, we should spy on foreign countries and have an agency to protect ourselves from them. It's not abstract - China attacks us every day. I don't want Chinese hackers breaking into American companies and stealing their secrets, and trust the NSA to do their job on this.

They should work with the FBI to inform companies of foreigners causing trouble with their systems. And they should develop secure protocols and encryption for the benefit of the government and public. Any NSA-collected data should be inadmissible in any court, and they should not be backdooring encryption. They also shouldn't collect any data from purely US-internal networking. On that point, it would be great if packets with start and end points within the US were virtually guaranteed to stay within the US when being routed, but I don't know enough about internet infrastructure to tell whether that's possible.

When Trump gets elected, I bet he'll take a more direct route here and just sanction them or disconnect their internet or something, which should put a stop to it. Then we won't need to rely on the NSA for defense as much.


As opposed to American hackers hacking American companies? Nationality has nothing to do with it, other than with jingoistic profiteers and/or morons who want a vaguely defined distant target to blame.


Law enforcement deals with that. NSA is part of the military-intelligence complex. We keep the two separate.


That's outside the scope of NSA's mandate. The NSA should not be using their resources to target American hackers or companies.

We should deal with such hackers too, using agencies like the FBI. I guess the NSA could provide some technical advice, but no more than that.

No evidence on American hackers should be classified or secret, unless they target government or military(and even then, the only thing that should be supressed from the public court record is the actual classified records that they stole, or details about the vulnerability they used). However, evidence the NSA gathers on foreigners and techniques they use could be classified.

The President should not intervene with diplomats if an American hacker hacks an American company.

I think these make the two situations very different in practice.


"That's trite xenophobic bullshit."

On the contrary, it just recognizes the fact that nations with competing interests exist. Many of which spy on us for similar reasons. You'd have to be xenophile to justify doing no spying when even our allies are doing the opposite.

"Treason laws and classified information have no place in anything claiming to be a developed democracy."

The existence of them in many democracies for good reason show otherwise. Plus, we've had methods for detecting and correcting abuses for years. Requires a certain percentage of honest politicians and active citizens, though. That problem was actually created and sustained by democracy a la tyranny of the majority. They're doing it again with likes of Hillary and Trump.


> On the contrary, it just recognizes the fact that nations with competing interests exist. Many of which spy on us for similar reasons. You'd have to be xenophile to justify doing no spying when even our allies are doing the opposite.

Where does the line go for who is to be considered "other"? As someone living in Stockholm, why should I care more about companies in Gothenburg doing well than a company in Oslo? Or am I an outsider as well, since I have a mother from Copenhagen?

> The existence of them in many democracies for good reason show otherwise.

No, that just shows that they're not actual democracies either.

> Plus, we've had methods for detecting and correcting abuses for years. Requires a certain percentage of honest politicians and active citizens, though. That problem was actually created and sustained by democracy a la tyranny of the majority. They're doing it again with likes of Hillary and Trump.

Okay, this is getting far into Poe's law territory.


"Where does the line go for who is to be considered "other"? As someone living in Stockholm, why should I care more about companies in Gothenburg doing well than a company in Oslo? Or am I an outsider as well, since I have a mother from Copenhagen?"

Your wishes don't matter at all. You're not a competing nation referred to in my comment.

"No, that just shows that they're not actual democracies either"

Or that you don't know what a representational democracy is or think they all think like you. Look up KSI where you live to find something even less transparent than our NSA. (shocking really)

"Okay, this is getting far into Poe's law territory."

Nah, it's just a prerequisite for existence of a thing you're pretending to know about. Successful democracy and active citizenry go hand-in-hand. Without it, problems emerge.


> Your wishes don't matter at all. You're not a competing nation referred to in my comment.

The point was that nations and citizenship are entirely arbitrary dividers.

> Or that you don't know what a representational democracy is or think they all think like you. Look up KSI where you live to find something even less transparent than our NSA. (shocking really)

If it doesn't live up to the definition of democracy (rule by the people), then it's by definition not a democracy.

NSA, FRA, KSI, whatever, this is about principles, not specific cases. It makes sense to say NSA on forums, since they're a name people recognise, and they're the ones capable of doing the most damage.


So, your purpose in arguing is strictly ideals and principles with no real-world context or constraints. And you don't know there are multiple forms of democracy?

Sophistry or trolling is undeniable now. Goodbye.


> Treason laws

At least in the US, Treason involves waging war against the US. I don't think there's anything wrong with treason laws in a developed democracy.

(OTOH, treason laws have nothing to do with Snowden; espionage laws might, but that's a different issue.)


"OTOH, treason laws have nothing to do with Snowden; espionage laws might, but that's a different issue"

There's some overlap between the two although I don't mean it in a strict, technical sense so much as betraying his country to its enemies with criminal action. Espionage is spy activity, often moving information. His actions mostly fall into that. Treason concept often includes aiding and abeitting enemy military. A significant part of that today are the cyber commands on various sides. He certainly gave our enemies a heads up about what we were doing while giving us no such advantage on them. That can be construed as treason given what effect it would have if war broke out.

Note: Apparently didn't help North Korea any during Sony response. ;) So, effect on wartime capability is debatable. I'd say espionage charge for legal leaks at the least with a deal (maybe immunity) due to legit whistleblowing.


Upvoted.

Important read [1] - Antoine trial started few days ago!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luxembourg_Leaks


But most of all, the legal profession has failed. Democratic governance depends upon responsible individuals throughout the entire system who understand and uphold the law, not who understand and exploit it.

Sigh. One of the most puzzling questions I have to deal with in my mind. Why is there so little moral left in this world?


This question gnaws at my bones, too. Best answer so far wrt the upper middle class: logics of capitalism (competition, accumulation) combined with ethnic/cultural/ideological/socioeconomic isolation makes it hard to identify with (most) other people. With reduced empathy for those affected by exploitation, we construct a new set of mythologies to normalize the exploitation (increasing efficiency of markets). Moral objections are then dismissed as quaint, naive, and/or utopian.

It also seems like material scarcity and instability make it harder to converge on norms like morality (for good game-theoretic reasons). But why would a private individual with $10M have a position in a company that provides payday loans? Beats me.


>>But why would a private individual with $10M have a position in a company that provides payday loans? Beats me.

Payday loan firms are enormously profitable, because they prey upon people who are in dire need of cash. The private individual you mention has managed to accumulate his wealth by exploiting those people.


Can you support this claim? I don't dispute the fact that the interest rates are astronomical, but I am skeptical about how the profitability pans out once you deal with the enormous risk of the borrowing group. I imagine most of the upside lies in trying to prey upon people who are in less dire need of credit than they think, because then they can have their enormous upside without as enormous a risk. Your assertion suggests that there's money on the table if only someone will step up to take it, and I find that to be a damning implication for an argument, absent strong proof.


Why should there have been any morals in the first place? Does nature by default have morals?


Nature by default doesn't have nuclear weapons, stock exchanges, global supply chains, industrial manufacturing, central banks, etc. Humans need morals (and norms more generally) in order to ensure that the above serve us rather than hurt us. Morals are a cultural technology like language or counting, and like those they may be (at least in their strong form) uniquely human.


Morals are a intellectual shortcuts designed to help circumvent our natural proclivity for short term thinking over of long term thinking. As such, they change to some degree depending on the culture and society they arise in, to better suit the long (or medium, depending on your scale) goals of that society. Ancient Mongols were not immoral, fist differently moral than many of their contemporaries (and probably not as much as you would think), but that propelled them to the apex of human nations (based on what that meant at the time) for a while.


>>Nature by default doesn't have nuclear weapons....

While I agree with your sentiment, just would like to point this out that nature does have nuclear weapons, pretty scary ones for that matter: the stars.

Also, if we take these things to their logical conclusion, then the nuclear weapons created by human beings are, of course, created by nature - in this case, indirectly, using the humans.

This is just to point out the logical aspects of the arguments. Other than that, I do agree with you that we, the humans, need morals to sustain a better life for most human beings.


These are nuclear, but not weapons. Nature doesn't have an enemy.


>>Nature doesn't have an enemy.

How are you so sure? Have you talked with Nature by any chance? Has Nature given you this statement, say, in English? I am not trying to be sarcastic here, I am dead serious.

I for example, think that Nature likes to fight many of its creatures against each other. e.g. polio viruses against human beings

I may be wrong, but one cannot be so sure.


" Nature likes to fight many of its creatures against each other

Anthropomorphising can only go that far. Do you know any physical law that has volition?


It seems pretty common among social animals, violators get cut from the herd or monkey stomped.


You are going to have a tough time finding the answer unless you really pin down your terms. I'll skip that part and just pretend that you said "universal preference" instead of "morals". Yes, I think that there is universal preference - but to keep it simple we will just consider things of like kindness (inanimate objects, bacteria, humans, etc). For example: all things being equal, humans prefer life to death (ex afterlife). The only serious challenge to that, I've found, is the idea of the greedy gene - genetic immortality. Upon that rock you can build your church of moral precepts - but just a heads up, it will look very different from what we have now. I think that is why moral violations are so common, because they aren't consistent with reality - you face the same problem with violations of IT security guidelines that are similarly divorced from reality.


But there have been morals for a long time.

So either humankind is part of nature, and then it's safe to conclude that nature has morals (no matter how little right now, it's certainly part of humankind), or we're out of nature and there's no advantage in pointing out that nature has no morals.


Or there have been claims of morals for a long time. As in, "what serves my interests is moral".


The question is, do we want to be like the rest of the animals, survival of the fittest and all that jazz. Or do we want to hold ourselves to a higher standard?

I don't condemn people who accept the first option as the absolute truth, but I'd like to believe we can make this blue marble a better place than that somehow.


Hum, unavoidable natural law vs. what some people want.

I guess we don't have much of a choice here. The best we can do is hack natural selection trying to get some collectivism out of it. And if we want to hack natural selection, the GP question is exactly the kind of stuff we should be trying to answer in order to develop the (social) tech we'll need.


Some primates have demonstrated understanding of moral concepts such as fairness. In one experiment, two monkeys were "paid" (in bananas) for doing some type of work. The twist was that occasionally, one of the monkeys would get paid nothing despite doing the work. After a while, the monkey getting more bananas started to refuse them if the other monkey didn't get any.


>>[mgraupner] Why is there so little moral left in this world?

>>[psadri] Does nature by default have morals?

Morality is the differentiation of actions proper and improper; generally defined 'morals' is that language that contains imperatives: what humans should do (as sentences, called 'norms').

When we wonder why there seems to be a lack of behavior that follows these morals in the world, we approach the concept of morality from a descriptive sense (we observe that human behavior has changed). Increased insight in this pursuit is found when we examine how humans themselves have approached morality from a normative sense (what is actually proper and improper). When humans have considered morality they have come to understand that the morals humans proclaim—again, language that contains imperatives—either correspond to real, objective moral facts ("Moral Realism") or are merely invented delusions expressing human emotions ("Moral Nonrealism").

Prior to the Enlightenment, there was a category of accepted knowledge outside of empirically observed nature (e.g., the non-natural, supramundane, supernatural, etc). The Enlightenment itself was a shift in human thinking that rejected this category as invalid, switching our criteria of acceptable knowledge to the material, to the empirically observed.

The shift in thinking did not happen all at once. Certain beliefs remained, held over from earlier times—somewhat as dependencies—until they could be examined and dismantled individually if they lacked empiric evidence. Western society's assumption that objective Moral Facts existed in a material universe remained for some time until examined by David Hume in 1738 in his A Treatise of Human Nature. Here Hume observed the difficult reality of the relationship between facts (that which is) and values (that which we claim ought to be), concluding that we cannot assert prescriptive or normative values based on descriptive facts.

Hume's Is-Ought observation upset the world, and has resulted in our modern condition. If empirical observation is categorically never able to locate oughts, a world that accepts Empiricism alone is one forced from Moral Realism to Moral Nonrealism: morals no longer correspond to Objective Facts, but can only be understood as invented whims and emotions, which—apart from society's ability to enforce or inflict punishment for as a conditional consequence (what Kant termed 'hypothetical morality')—can be ignored without consequence.

The transition from a society whose intellectuals and leaders held Moral Realism (viz, Christendom) to one where artists, philosophers, and intelligentsia hold Moral Nonrealism (the Modern West) has been a long, painful process since 1738. The Marquis de Sade astutely summed up the painful condition of man following Hume's revolution in thought saying "If there is no God, then everything that Is, is Right" and the majority of Western thought since then has either been in reaction against this belief (i.e., revivals of Evangelical Christianity) or experiments exploring this accepted world (e.g., Surrealism, Dada, Modern Art, Existentialism, Egoism/Individualism/Anarchism, Deconstructionism, Postmodernism, etc).

From the introduction to Dostoevsky's The Grand Inquisitor by the American Heidegger-scholar and philosopher Charles Guignon:

Briefly put, the issue is this. Either God exists or He does not exist...if God does not exist, then the picture of the universe formulated by mechanistic materialism must be true. But, in this case, given the point of view of modern science (what Ivan calls "Euclidean reason"), the universe consists of nothing but meaningless material objects in causal interaction, effects follows cause according to the laws of physics, people are determined to do what they do, no one is guilty of anything, and so there are no such things as right or wrong, good or bad. Or, more precisely, the ideals of justice, goodness, benevolence, dignity, and so on turn out to be purely human inventions, the results of projecting our needs and wishes onto brute, meaningless matter, and so they are illusions lacking any basis in the order of things.

...Dostoevsky regarded [this] as the inevitable outcome of the perfectionist stance of detachment and moral superiority: the idea that, for higher people, "everything is lawful." [If] "God is dead"...then why not step outside the law and do whatever you want? From this standpoint, morality looks like a suckers game. The paradox [of] Westernized ideals, then, is that its austere discipline of detachment and self-transformation tends to undermine its own moral underpinnings. In the end this form of idealism spawns a self-serving moral nihilism.


Thank you for this truly excellent comment


I'm very glad you found it useful!


> Does nature by default have morals?

Define nature, and, particularly, what things are excluded from it.



we are monkeys clamoring for attention and power in a constant prisoner's dilemma. At scale it pays for some people to be giant dicks


I think it is a bullshit indictment.

I'm a corporate lawyer who does a lot of cross borders work. I'm ethical - the lawyers I work with are ethical. The vast majority of lawyers are ethical.

If anything, the Panama Papers should be an object lesson that one firm or group of lawyers can be responsible for a huge proportion of activity in a given sector. Do you think, for a minute, that other firms have this astoundingly high rate of forming off-shore companies? I can assure you it is not the case.

Accordingly, to extrapolate that because one law firm in a central American country is (allegedly) corrupt that the entire profession is worth throwing out is just nonsense of the highest order. It's childish and counterproductively naive. How can you possibly hope to reform a system when you paint it with such a broad brush you are utterly blind to its reality?

The strong odds are that there was chicanery (quite possibly, a lot of it) at Mossack Fonseca. However, my money is on the fact that the substantial, if not overwhelming, majority of companies set up by the firm were for legal purposes and no laws were broken. If you want to argue that these laws themselves are problematic - sure, I am right there with you. Let's talk about reforming the laws in these small tax-haven nations and meaningful internal tax reform in major western economies that will prevent off-shoring from happening in the first place. Those are productive discussions - lets have them. That the Panama Papers may have furthered these discussions is also great.

But the idea that we should be castigating attorneys for taking advantage of legal loopholes that exist in their clients favor is utterly absurd. If you fail to take advantage of those loopholes you wind up getting sued for malpractice, plain and simple.

While I am deeply interested in the further releases of Panama Papers, and I fully support tax reform, a huge strengthening of whistleblower laws, and a whole bunch of other things that puts me, as a lawyer, closer to the 'pirate' end of the spectrum than then 'legal maximalist' side of the spectrum - I have to say, when I read the words of the purported, unverified "John Doe" - he seems to me to be catastrophically naive in his critique of the legal profession and he is all too happy to assign blame with a fire-hose while appearing totally uninterested in performing a surgical analysis of the pressure points where, if achievable reforms were made, real change could result.

Fundamentally, this screed is not a mature call to action. It is a "fuck you" to the system writ large by someone who appears to be more interested in burning things down than figuring out how to fix them.

I'll stand by and watch the flames - but I do not, nor should you, expect that it will be anything more than a campground fire. In order to get real reform achieved - guess what? - you need the buy in of the lawyers too - not just incidentally, but centrally. We write and enforce the laws. Calling us all assholes is not a great way to start that conversation.


I agree that calling all lawyers unethical is a broad generalizing stroke that serves no purpose in garnering friends. I did think it might be interesting if you addressed this specific point:

> Mossack Fonseca did not work in a vacuum—despite repeated fines and documented regulatory violations, it found allies and clients at major law firms in virtually every nation. If the industry’s shattered economics were not already evidence enough, there is now no denying that lawyers can no longer be permitted to regulate one another. It simply doesn’t work. Those able to pay the most can always find a lawyer to serve their ends, whether that lawyer is at Mossack Fonseca or another firm of which we remain unaware.

And you said this.

> But the idea that we should be castigating attorneys for taking advantage of legal loopholes that exist in their clients favor is utterly absurd. If you fail to take advantage of those loopholes you wind up getting sued for malpractice, plain and simple.

I agree that castigating all attorneys is going to far, but this comes dangerously close to two fallacies; that because it's legal, it's moral (namely that you can divorce your moral responsibility because you're acting in the letter of the law) and that you were just "following orders." If the consequence of failing to take advantage of loopholes is lawsuits for malpractice then that indicates a problem in itself. As a corporate lawyer you have to put yourself as an ethical person first, a lawyer second.

> I have to say, when I read the words of the purported, unverified "John Doe" they seem to me to be catastrophically naive in its critique of the legal profession and is all too happy to assign the blame with a fire-hose while uninterested in performing a surgical analysis of the pressure points where, if achievable reforms were made, could result in actual change.

I think it would be tremendously useful if you inject some needed surgical analysis into this. Any reasonable view point from the other side should be welcome into such a debate.


> I agree that castigating all attorneys is going to far, but this comes dangerously close to two fallacies; that because it's legal, it's moral (namely that you can divorce your moral responsibility because you're acting in the letter of the law) and that you were just "following orders." If the consequence of failing to take advantage of loopholes is lawsuits for malpractice then that indicates a problem in itself. As a corporate lawyer you have to put yourself as an ethical person first, a lawyer second.

"If it's legal it's moral" is fallacious in general, but not as applied to lawyers. Their role in the system is not to assert their independent moral judgment, but to represent their client while staying within the letter of the law and protecting the integrity of the process.

You've actually got the "following orders" hypothetical backward. A soldier should not follow an illegal order. But he is not empowered to pass moral judgment and ignore a legal one. Lawyers are the same way.

I just watched the People v. OJ Simpson. Here's a man who was clearly guilty of a heinous crime. Yet, his lawyers' job was not to pass moral judgment on him, but to represent him. It was their ethical obligation to try and exonerate their client by exploiting every shred of doubt so long as they did nothing to undermine the integrity of the process (lying to the Court, etc).


> I just watched the People v. OJ Simpson. Here's a man who was clearly guilty of a heinous crime. Yet, his lawyers' job was not to pass moral judgment on him, but to represent him. It was their ethical obligation to try and exonerate their client by exploiting every shred of doubt so long as they did nothing to undermine the integrity of the process (lying to the Court, etc).

As a people, we've made the judgment on the tradeoff that we should like the criminal system to behave this way because it's better off to have a thousand guilty men go free than jail an innocent person.

I believe we have strayed a little off track if we apply a similar sentiment to something like corporate loopholes.


> As a people, we've made the judgment on the tradeoff that we should like the criminal system to behave this way because it's better off to have a thousand guilty men go free than jail an innocent person.

Blackstone's original quote was 10 guilty men, not 1000, but I digress. The whole point of the legal profession is to serve as a buffer between public opinion and individuals. If we had taken a nationwide vote on OJ, the results wouldn't be "better to have a thousand guilty men go free" but rather "life in prison."

The same rationale applies in the business law context. Cupertino's mayor wants Apple to pay the city $100m: http://fortune.com/2016/05/05/cupertino-mayor-apple-abuses. Not because it's the law, but because public sentiment opposes the growth created by Apple's presence. Should Apple's lawyers advise them to pay more money because it's the "moral" thing to do? And how do we decide which companies to target for ad hoc moral judgment?

And how exactly do we hold lawyers accountable for "moral" rather than "legal" conduct? Do we punish the lawyer who files the complaint to foreclose on a building full of retirees and disabled veterans? What if the new construction on the site will house 10x as many people and create dozens of jobs? Who decides?


Exactly. I think it was a good tradeoff even if the system's workings could use some improvements. Bad things happen and people escape punishment for them all the time. We built the law to protect innocent from this in the first place. Better that we lean toward reducing rather than increasing wrongful convictions. Especially for anything with a death penalty.


The problem is that you can't define "loophole". It's a meaningless term.

What one man perceives as a loophole, another man perceives as the correct functioning of the law as designed. Ultimately trying to second guess the law is a bad idea and lawyers, in particular, should not be in the business of saying "this is legal, but you shouldn't do it because it violates my own personal ethics". Lawyers are supposed to advise on the law, not act as wannabe politicians.


Often these "loopholes" are there by design, i.e. through lobbying. Governments should make proper laws, and adjust where necessary.


I don't know that I agree. Lawyers represent the interests of their client and sometimes apply the law to achieve it. Law is not machine code that operates a lawyer with no room for deviation; I would expect counsel to use discretion and ethics, and perhaps not use every law available to represent me in a way I do not prefer.

I don't think that's "politicking." I think that's jurisprudence. The law lets you do a lot but a lawyer has advice exceeding the law in many situations, and should advise you based upon your interests. I'm in a position to completely punish someone legally, for example, and the law is on my side; my attorney advised me of this but also illustrated some of the risks of doing so despite the legality. Another client might ride that lightning and be a dick, but she knows I'm not so she advised against doing it. That specific situation came down to just fairness and understanding me personally, not even ethics or law. Maybe I misinterpreted your comment, but it sounds like that's second guessing to you and she shouldn't have done it, in your opinion.

I would expect nothing less of counsel I retain, and I appreciate it. That's why we hire lawyers. Not law robots.


Probably everyone finds their own behaviour ethical, or they wouldn't be doing it.


Exactly, these problems are systemic. The people involved aren't going to come out and make logical points against themselves. There are some debates that open discussion and scientific reasoning don't apply to.


> I'm ethical - the lawyers I work with are ethical. The vast majority of lawyers are ethical.

Please don't confuse "ethical" with "not illegal".


I find this an interesting argument. Shouldn't it be the governments responsibility to make proper laws? If you want ethics to matter when it comes to tax law (something to do with paying a "fair share") then they should make laws that account for that.


> But the idea that we should be castigating attorneys for taking advantage of legal loopholes that exist in their clients favor is utterly absurd. If you fail to take advantage of those loopholes you wind up getting sued for malpractice, plain and simple.

This seems worrisome to me. It looks like one of those cases where the system is set up so that we end up getting exactly what no one wants. Moloch[0] in other words. I don't have a solution (no one has a solution to Moloch), but it's worrisome.

[0]: http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/07/30/meditations-on-moloch/


This sounds like the response of another industry, Wall Street, when it is called out for its corruption and incompetence. Anger and hyperbole aren't convincing, and in this case not intimindating (the real point of anger). They also undermine everything else you say.


Would you mind explaining what he meant when he said "[...] there is now no denying that lawyers can no longer be permitted to regulate one another." I don't know anything about the law so I don't understand how lawyers are regulating themselves.


> Why is there so little moral left in this world?

You can buy moral pretty much everywhere nowadays ;-)


However, it would appear that you cannot punish the lack of it anywhere....


The call for whistleblower protection is important, but it'll never happen. The powers-that-be don't want to encourage whistleblowers.

What may change their mind is if all the data were made public. Since whistleblowers have not much protections, their only protection right now is to release everything on the 'net, anonymously. Now, clearly this is not a good idea, as in many cases there will be collateral damage. But what is the alternative? Once the governments see that such collateral damage is the only alternative, they will be force to enact meaningful whistleblower protection.


This is correct. There is Government, but then there are the secret powers-that-be that pull governments' strings.

And they can't work effectively to further their own ends while in the light of public scrutiny.


I don't like this attitude. In fact, some whistleblower protection laws already exist (whistleblower protection act).

I'm sure there are forces that act on politicians other than loyalty to their constituents, but there's no reason in the American democracy we couldn't (theoretically) get to a point where we elect representatives who understand the importance of whistleblower protection and care more about their constituents than other influences.


"In fact, some whistleblower protection laws already exist.."

This is true, on paper. But the other reality is that states have passed laws (or tried to) prohibiting the sort of investigative behavior that leads to whistleblowing, and a lot of companies have in-house rules against it. No cameras and cell phones in your work area, for starters. This sort of thing makes it easy to dismiss the paper laws. I imagine that if they are violated, one must sue to get it worked out.

Yes, it is theoretically true we could get to a point where we elect folks that understand the importance of them, or at least have the wherewithal to listen to experts in the field. And care more about their constituents. Unfortunately, I think we are a long ways off, and those very people - the ones that care less about the constituents and have little grasp of the importance of such laws - have made high entry hurdles for the ones that would care.


While I respect and agree with your sentiment, ignoring reality doesn't make it go away, unfortunately.

When you have parts of the government that are essentially without oversight and that illegally spy on their oversight committees [1]... what do you expect?

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/31/cia-admits-spyi...


This statement is very interesting, it is very well written and researched, and it uses less common words. I wonder if there was some level of editing/embellishment done to it.

Might as well be a non-native speaker. It also seems to me that the author might have had some personal reasons to target MF

But to be honest, I don't think Income Inequality is one of the most defining issues of our time, through human history, inequality, not only monetary, but cultural and intellectual has usually been higher.


It’s known that the editors working on the panama leaks are mostly Germans, and that Mossack Fonseca mostly targeted German customers, too, (and had mostly German employees).

So it might very well be a case of a German whistleblower, and a German editor.


"issues involving taxation and imbalances of power have led to revolutions in ages past."

Given that all the checks and balances have failed, I don't see very few other options.


Electoral reform. Can't right the ship without being at the wheel.


And yet... why no American names in the leaks? Funny that.


American lawyer here.

American lawyers can provide the services provided by Mossack Fonseca.



It is a legitimate question but it could simply be the case that the US has laws that made it impossible for Americans to exploit the services of this particular law firm.


It's the other way around. American's can more easily get the same services on-shore, for instance, by setting up shell companies in Delaware.


That might be why they wouldn't have American clients, but they do - 400+ American clients.

What that doesn't explain is why no American clients were listed in this "leak".


There's going to be a second batch of papers released on Monday, May 9th - http://www.breitbart.com/tech/2016/04/28/second-panama-paper... - that will supposedly have more informations on Americans.


At least one American was named in the Panama Papers: Igor Olenicoff.


I wish there would be a Panama Papers leak, why do only a limited amount of people are allowed to see these things, who's deciding what to publish? (I know, they always quote privacy as a reason but just as John Doe said: Those who use the vehicle of an offshore account has most often something to hide...)


>The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists will release on May 9 a searchable database with information on more than 200,000 offshore entities that are part of the Panama Papers investigation.

...

>When the data is released, users will be able to search through the data and visualize the networks around thousands of offshore entities, including, when available, Mossack Fonseca’s internal records of the company’s true owners. The interactive database will also include information about more than 100,000 additional companies that were part of the 2013 ICIJ Offshore Leaks investigation.

>While the database opens up a world that has never been revealed on such a massive scale, the application will not be a “data dump” of the original documents – it will be a careful release of basic corporate information.

>ICIJ won’t release personal data en masse; the database will not include records of bank accounts and financial transactions, emails and other correspondence, passports and telephone numbers. The selected and limited information is being published in the public interest.

https://panamapapers.icij.org/20160426-database-coming-soon....


Thank you very much for this. I was under the false impression that these informations would be hidden forever and just be accessible for a few.


There will never be better protection for whistleblowers. That is just not in the interest of those who make the laws nowadays. What will come are new laws which will make the publishing of whistleblower material illegal. The EU for example is currently working on a law for better protection against theft of trade secrets. Which such a law in place no newspaper would risk anymore to publish something like the panama papers.


Question for John Doe. Where's the missing American names and other retracted elements. Further given his naive calls for governments to do something to fix the problem seems naive to the extreme since they were the ones who created the 'problem' or backdoors in the first place


How do you know there are missing American names? It was my understanding when this leak happened that Mossack Fonseca didn't have that many American clients, because Americans still have to pay tax if they try to hide their money in Panama. Admittedly, I have no clue what I'm talking about - but I'm quite curious how it is you know that Americans are being overtly excluded from this action?


>> "Source known only as John Doe says income inequality "one of the defining issues of our time" and calls on governments to address it."

Calling on any government to create change, not it citizens, is a mistake - especially on a topic like this.


That's a distinction without a difference considering that, in most democratic countries, the government is nothing but a segment of the overall population appointed as their legitimate representatives.

It is the government responsibility, in their mandate as representatives, to address the problems perceived as important by the citizens (as, for instance, the problem mentioned in the quote).

Now, if the government is unable or unwilling to use the power it was given "by the consent of the governed" to address such important issues then __that__ become "one of the defining issues of our time", not income inequality or any other problem derived from that.


> It is the government responsibility, in their mandate as representatives, to address the problems perceived as important by the citizens

But it is the citizens' responsibility to make clear to their representatives the problems they consider important. For a couple of examples of this principle in action, see the civil rights movement of the '60s, or the marriage equality movement of the noughts and teens. No politician would've dared approach those issues until the citizenry made its voice heard.

As a rule, on issues that we as peoples consider important, we lead our politicians, they do not lead us. This is partly because of the incentives in play in modern democracies and partly because, as you say, they are merely our representatives, not our dear leaders.


The revolution might be digitized, but if it does indeed happen, I'm afraid it will also be bloody as hell, as almost all revolutions are. I suppose some things never change.


I think their upcoming release is more interesting:

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists will release on May 9 a searchable database with information on more than 200,000 offshore entities that are part of the Panama Papers investigation.

The data [...] includes information about companies, trusts, foundations and funds incorporated in 21 tax havens, from Hong Kong to Nevada in the United States. It links to people in more than 200 countries and territories.


more and more this feels like a big smoke screen to keep sheep walking in circles. german publications are losing readers in droves. they desperately need to capitalize on a good story.

there's absolutely no real news here. but suddenly "democracy’s checks and balances have all failed".

come on.


This seems to be long enough for a statistical attack to narrow things down to ~100 people.


Rather. Possibly far fewer.


Why can't I donate bitcoin


The tone of the statement is very anonymous in nature. Cold and factual. I wonder if this is how its author normally express theirself or if they've written in this style in order to defeat authorship attribution.


I am impressed at how well it's written.




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