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The Smears Against Edward Snowden Have Begun (nabeelqu.com)
518 points by nqureshi 1561 days ago | hide | past | web | 281 comments | favorite



This is happening in all the news media now. I listen to NPR every day and it's almost insufferable to listen to when they talk about the NSA leak. Very little of the debate is about the actual NSA monitoring program itself, most of of the time they talk about why this leak happened and why Edward Snowden is a "strange" guy. It's completely unbelievable.


This reaction is actually scarier to me than the initial surveillance. NPR and NYT are usually sources of very solid journalism, the fact that they would drop the real story for some gossip about Snowden implies that someone is able to successfully exert pressure on these organizations.

The surveillance alone leaves the possibility that one agency has started to go to far, but this more systematic reaction indicates that the trouble is deeper and more wide-spread.


"There is no such thing, at this date of the world's history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone. The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press? We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes."

John Swinton, 1880 [1]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Swinton_(journalist)


I did a double take when I saw the date of that quote. I couldn't believe it wasn't from a contemporary author.


For what it's worth, I think the principle of journalists being unbiased dates from the latter half of the 19th century. I may be wrong, but my understanding was that the press was explicitly and formally partisan up until that time. Here's the only support I can find for that after a few minutes searching ...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Objectivity_%28journalism%29#Hi...


A cynical view would be that a public devotion to Objectivity is the perfect vessel for concealing an ideological agenda. (Look how proudly Fox News wears its "Fair & Balanced" slogan.)

But I think there have always been a select few responsible journalists of conscience, who have had to weather different obstacles in trying to be heard amongst the throng of schills and entertainers. The golden age of journalism from the 40s to 70s is (a) probably not as golden as remembered, and (b) probably the anomaly rather than the norm.

All I can say is, thank the gods for the web. While it can also be used for evil, at least it makes it hard to shut people up.


My guess is that the idea of objectivity started around the 1890's, when people like Pulitzer and Hearst realized they could sell cheap newspapers funded by advertising and do without the support of the local political machines. But I don't have any support for that idea.


Or NPR, The NYT etc. aren't as good a sources of news as you think, and you just haven't noticed until they covered a story in your domain that you are passionate about. I used to listen to NPR everyday. In my opinion they are one of the better sources of news in America, but they are far far far from unbiased. They are very good at making it look like they are showing all sides, but they are in fact presenting things in away that supports their ideological bent.


I clicked the up-arrow next to your comment as hard as I could without breaking my mouse.

I feel this way about every single newsworthy event that I've observed either first-hand or through--as you put it--a passionate interest. News coverage is routinely wrong out of laziness or willfully misrepresenting of the truth. And I'm not talking about political or even vaguely controversial events. A report on a fire I had observed as a child was wrought with errors in our local paper's coverage. Before the Tesla Model S became the media sensation it is now, I would read coverage and marvel at how many articles wrongly reported its price, specs, range.

I think people are sometimes deluded into feeling a news service is reputable, diligent, unbiased, and incorruptible by way of its tone and the way it carries itself. But the veil is off once you have observed something directly and then read their coverage of the same event.


I once was in a building that had a natural gas leak and subsequent explosion. I then watched the local news coverage about it on several channels. Every one got the facts wrong, the story wrong, about everything wrong.

It made me far less credulous of news stories.


I couldn't agree more. This was my aha moment: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/06/world/europe/06bulgaria.ht...

I happened to be born in Bulgaria and keep current with events. This is what struck me:

1) Times' perspective: "prominent radio journalist". For anybody living in the country, the victim was a convicted conman who used his game show to defraud participant and advertisers. His other claim to fame: admittedly close connections with the mob. The "exposing the underworld" book they refer to was in the spirit of "one night, me and my buddies...". At best, the victim could have been described as a radio game show host.

2) At the end of the article, they referred to a US embassy report stating that there's been 125 contract killings in 2008 alone.

I sent an email challenging the "facts" and asked for a pointer to the embassy report. They corrected the number by an order of magnitude and ignored the rest.


I'm Bulgarian too. Born in Sofia. Btw have you been keeping up with what's been happening there with government corruption? Billions missing. The insane electric bills. Bribing the gypsies to throw human feces into the anti-government protestor crowd. It's on the news stations. My parents have DJTacho.com which streams to the US. The children of the communists that once ruled basically raped and pillaged BG for anything left. And spent 100 million on surveillance/spying equipment.


Chris, I'm not really invested in any of that, and this is hardly the right thread...


Absolutely. As a young liberal in the 1990s, I listened to NPR fervently until I worked in the post-war Balkans and came to realize that most of their reporting there was total bunk. At present, they have a strong pro-government bias (particularly when that government is Democrat) and seem much more interested in weaving a beautiful narrative than in reporting the facts. I stopped listened to them several years ago -- and switched from liberal to libertarian (or at the least a civil liberties-driven liberal).

NY Times is more hit or miss. There's less of pro-government bias, but more of a liberal slant. But certainly they can not be depended upon to report the news in an unbiased fashion.

All things considered, journalism in the US is in a sad state.


Yes of course, but NPR's ideological bent in the past was seen to be not of the "government stooge" variety.


I would argue that they try very hard to appear "objective" and sometimes drop the ball in order to achieve this.

Whenever they mention gun control or cannabis legalization (too very liberal subjects) there is never any questioning of the craziness of the opponents of such efforts, just that it is happening.

That said, they are still far from perfect but preferable to most other sources.


The fact that you imply that there is craziness of the opponents without any justification makes me think that you may be unable to see any bias they have because it's in the same direction as yours.

You may be thinking of specific examples with crazy behavior, so this may be justified reasoning, but from the detail you've given it's hard to know.


Cannabis being illegal is fucking insane, m'kay? Plenty of proof of it being "safe enough", and plenty of evidence that it's illegality is used as a tool of oppression. The Drug War is a complete failure that has cost society dearly.

As for guns (I'm not anti-gun), the fact that the NRA and it's cronies refuse to consider the discussion any regulation of weapons in today's society is crazy (pro-gun arguments get quoted verbatim, including the selective citation of part of the Second Amendment (you know, the part that mentions a "well-regulated militia").

That is crazy.


You seem to have selectively omitted "shall not be infringed." from the rest of your statement.

What part of that is hard to understand. If you don't like the amendment then get rid of it. If you can't do that stop trying to work around it. The constitution is not there to be worked around and every time someone does "work around it" it becomes that much more of a worthless document.

There is away to change the document. Use it or live with it. It is there for a reason.


> You seem to have selectively omitted "shall not be infringed." from the rest of your statement.

You missed the point: gun advocates only quote part of the amendment. Yes, the full text should be cited (I was being lazy).

Second point you missed: I'm not advocating for "gun control" or necessarily "anti-gun", just that in talking about "gun control" the omission of key details is dishonest.

Third point: you are high if you think that the Second Amendment is ever going to get modified.

> There is away to change the document. Use it or live with it. It is there for a reason.

Oh, really, that's how you change the Constitution? Maybe you need to review the process?


First off, it really doesn't look good for you to claim your opponent should be required to do the thing you admit you were too lazy to do. That's a tad dishonest on your part.

Your attempt at insults doesn't help your case either.

I also fail to see what was incorrect about his statement about amending the Constitution. There is indeed a way to change the document, the amendment process. I think you need to clarify what you mean by your statement for it to make sense.

By the way, I don't think you understand what well-regulated means in the context of when it was written.


Agreed, insults ruin the conversation. As do pedantic dismissals that can trigger such insults.

You are implying that I was dishonest for not quoting the entire amendment. That's bullshit. My original point was that "liberal" media will quote right-wing spokespeople and not question their statements but just report them as "fact".

I think I understand the general notion of what was intended, but then again, our own Supreme Court can't agree so you'll have to cut me some slack on that.

By the way, I'm now actually kind of in favor of gun control just to mess with all the stupid gun nuts. Sorry, just petty that way.


And continuing with the insults helps, how exactly?

Seems your issue is with the "liberal" media and not the people they are quoting. But I disagree, it is dishonest for you to claim your right to not quote the entire statement of the amendment due to laziness but require the opposing viewpoint to quote in full to prevent being labeled dishonest. In fact, I'm not even sure what your statement about the media and quoting the entire amendment have to do with each other.

I'm not sure how the Supreme Court is involved in a statement of how it is written in the Constitution of what the amendment process is. Have there been cases before the Supreme Court involving changing the amendment process? I'm not aware of any so I'm curious.

If you are in favor of creating laws to mess with a group of people you don't like, then that's just a sad fact. Because you are legitimizing the very idea of writing laws to punish people you don't like. If that's the case, then one day some group that doesn't like you will do the same and you'll have no credibility to complain about it.


You're calling me dishonest for quickly mentioning a critical omission of a subject (the "well-regulated militia" bit) without quoting the full amendment?

That is an insult in itself. <insert my muttered response to you here>

I wasn't even taking a stand on the issue of "gun rights", simply that it's more than what its proponents make it out to be.

The bit about messing with people is because any time I deal with pro-gun people they are almost invariably sanctimonious assholes who are unwilling to talk about the issue as a whole. People like that don't want dialog, so insults will have to do.

No, the less laws the better. Let's just make sure they're good ones.


Well, thinking back to my elementary school civics classes, Isn't it a 2/3 majority vote?


There's more: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/article...

But then there's the politics involved. In today's political climate there is no possibility.


Hi. I'm a member of the US Militia. You probably are too, if you're a male citizen between the ages of 18 and 45. See the Militia Act of 1792. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militia_Act_of_1792 (Edit: this was reiterated by the Militia Act of 1903)


They drop the ball more than they catch it.


I agree completely. NPR is as good as it gets on US radio or TV (the competition is very weak) but has a decidedly pro-establishment and pro-government bias. This will make them particularly conflicted on the spying issue.

This should not be surprising. NPR is based in DC - a company town where the company is the US government. Many of their employees are relatives or friends of government officials or are even former government employees (for example [1]). Most of these relationships are not well known or reported. All of this is in addition to the normal reporter conflicts of having to report on your ongoing sources. Just imagine how uncomfortable it would be to report a negative story about your husband, brother, friend, former colleague or regular source who happens to be a senator.

On top of that NPR is funded by corporations, people and foundations with strong ties to government (Comcast, Soros, Catto Foundation) as well as receiving direct government funding [2]. You don't bite the hand that feed you.

Lastly NPR like most US news organizations has a moderate liberal bias [3,4]. So with a Democratic administration currently in office NPR will be particularly sympathetic to the administration's viewpoint.

All these factors will make it very difficult for NPR to cover this story fairly. This will show up in both visible actions, such as attacking the Guardian reporter [5, AP too [6]]. But even more so in what does not make it on the air. I'm sure many NPR editors would like to leave this uncomfortable business behind as soon as possible. At least we can continue count on NPR to be an excellent source of the government's views.

[1] Michelle Norris is married to a senior advisor to Obama campaign[a]. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/post/nprs-...

[2] Partial list of NPR sponsors (couldn't find anything after 2008). http://www.npr.org/about/aboutnpr/annualreports/NPRSponsorsD...

[3] Juan Williams termination report. http://www.npr.org/about/press/2011/010611.ReviewOfJuanWilli...

[4] NPR fundraising exec sting. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/03/09/134358398/in-...

[5] NPR examines Guardian reporter who broke PRISM story. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/06/11/190670954/he-...

[6] AP examines Guardian reporters bias [b]. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1905713...

a-More on Michelle Norris's husband, Broderick Johnson (also former AT&T lobbyist). http://www.opensecrets.org/revolving/rev_summary.php?id=1855...

b-Another unreported relationship: Mika Brzezinski (co-host of Morning Joe) is the daughter of former Nation Security Advisor and current Ambassador to Sweden Zbigniew Brzezinski.


Michelle Norris took a leave of absence from All Things Considered during the campaign - I listened to the show in which she announced this and the reason for it. I very rarely watch Morning Joe, but the show doesn't hide the fact that Mika Brzezinski is the daughter of a former NSA.

Not a fan of Mika Brzezinski but you're being unfair in calling these unreported relationships. How would you suggest they go about reporting these relationships?


1) I think most people were surprised by her sudden leave of absence. Did you know before her announcement how cozy her husband was with the administration she covered every day for 3 years plus the 2008 campaign?

2) I don't watch MSNBC - you do. I was referring to the AP article linked as [6] above where Mika attacks the Guardian reporter. That is why [b] was next to that link. Mika's father was not mentioned there. I just recognized the last name and checked - bingo! Did you look before calling me "unfair"? Guess not - sigh!


I was referring to the AP article linked as [6] above where Mika attacks the Guardian reporter.

That's ridiculous! She isn't even quoted in that article. Here's the paragraph you're referring to:

On "Morning Joe," he snapped that co-host Mika Brzezinski was using "Obama talking points" when she challenged him with a question.

Do you really expect a reference to her father's former post anytime she's mentioned in an article?

Did you know before her announcement how cozy her husband was with the administration she covered every day for 3 years plus the 2008 campaign?

Michele Norris announced her leave of absence soon after her husband accepted a position with the Obama campaign in 2011 [1][2]. Admittedly the journalist/politician-lobbyist relationship thing is troubling and she didn't take a leave of absence in 2008 when he was an unpaid adviser, although she did in 2004 when her husband worked with the Kerry campaign [3].

And no, I don't watch MSNBC, or any of the other toy news networks. But three years ago, when I still had a TV and paid more attention to politics, I would occasionally watch that show while I got ready for the day. Mika is a lightweight, you can hardly call her a journalist. But even she shouldn't have to have her father's name tattooed to her forehead for the rest of her life.

1. http://www.opensecrets.org/revolving/rev_summary.php?id=1855...

2. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/post/nprs-...

3. http://blog.zap2it.com/pop2it/2011/10/michele-norris-npr-hos...


>drop the real story for some gossip

You're creating a false dichotomy. NPR and NYT have consistently reported on overreaches from the government, including past bad behavior from the NSA and on PRISM (see links below). The leak itself and the details surrounding it are significant, both from a human-interest perspective and from a historical perspective - meaning, it will be in history books. I would be disappointed if news sources weren't covering it.

But my point here is they have been covering PRISM, not just Snowden.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/16/politics/16program.html?pa...

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/07/us/nsa-verizon-calls.html


You're absolutely right, and I've been intentionally avoiding a lot of mainstream news sources on this so my overall picture is mostly what I've been reading about what people are reporting.

I also don't mean to come across as overly paranoid, I don't think men in suits with dark glasses popped into NYT offices with a pre-written story in hand.

However this is the place in the news cycle where we've gotten over the initial shock, and start wanting to focus our energy on something. This would ideally be the part of the processes where we collectively ask "Now what do we do to make sure the NSA stops this?" But instead the question is "Hey, what can we find if we look through Snowden's laundry".

And the thing that I find really interesting is that Snowden's laundry is very boring. Painting Assange as extremely arrogant and only using Wikileaks to feed is own egomania, while also being a potential rapists feeling from justice is an interesting story. Snowden having no HS degree and doesn't get along with his neighbors? Not so much.


They may not have had "men in suits" with a pre-written story - but Woolsey [Ex CIA Head] was on NPR yesterday. I KNEW that he was going to provide a slant for people to be swayed by - so I took notes:

The first thing he said was that Snowden was, by this release, attempting to make the decision for us about having this information public and this was "extraordinarily terrible" that he would "make the decision for us"

Then he said that this action "makes it easier for terrorists to avoid being monitored" because Snowden was explaining exactly how the monitored communications actually get monitored and thus terrorists will be able to avoid it.

Then he went on to repeatedly state how "full of himself" and arrogant Snowden is. He said that he is so full of himself that he thinks he is better than both congress and the president. He said "he is so full of himself that he barely even knows what actual good conscious is!"

He said that "collection is NOT eavesdropping" and the scope of this collection is due to the new world we live in. He said that for normal people it shouldnt matter - if you talk to some friend every day but then out of the blue you call a terrorist, then a red flag is raised.

I had to drop the convo at this point as I had a Dr. appt..

The guy was an utter joke - the level of palpable disdain and contempt for Snowden was almost unbearable.

Many knew that the smear campaign was going to start - it was even posted about a couple days ago on /r/conspiracy.

In this video - Woolsey even says "we are not focused on terrorists" -- He is a tool.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/video/thefold/fmr-cia-dir-wool...


I heard the whole thing and it did not get better. It was rather uncomfortable in how the interviewer just basically let him go with whatever statement or rant he wanted to make. Little to no follow-ups, no interjections or disagreements that I recall, nor any real thoughtful questions.

It was as if both were reading lines from a cue card.

EDIT: Also, just remembering, at least once he was allowed to not answer a direct question by rambling on with rhetoric that had little to do with the question. Plus, he tried to pass off the idea that Snowden only saw a small section of the big picture so that he had no idea what the total represented, meaning he couldn't possibly know if it were bad or not, but at the same time it was totally devastating to the country's security that he leaked what he did know.


Absolutely nailed it with this comment, wish I could upvote this more than once. How is it still the case that nobody is doing anything about this? Is there anything we can do about it?

I mean, did anyone read the David Brooks article that was linked to? It was absolutely ridiculously stupid, and David Brooks is a very intelligent guy and experienced reporter -- there's got to be something going on there.

How could we all be so short-sighted as to focus on literally anything about Snowden, when anything about his personal life (which, as you mentioned, there is very little of any consequence) is dwarfed in importance by the fact that there's a gigantic network of lies around the government spying on us that still nobody has officially fessed up to?


I too was shocked.. David Brooks took some weird slant on the guy not reflecting well before taking action, and betraying his family yadda yadda.

Basically a character assassination, rather than looking at the issue.

I think its pretty obvious the material was filtered pretty well..theres basically no hard facts there, bare minimum to support the claim. Which I think is responsible whistle-blowing.


David Brooks is among the most disgustingly boot-licking, power-worshiping authoritarians I've ever read in print, so his reaction here was not surprising at all. As always, here he is whining that people won't just shut up and trust the existing institutions and power structures without stopping to question whether they have earned that trust.

Another typical example: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/12/opinion/brooks-the-followe...


> I don't think men in suits with dark glasses popped into NYT offices with a pre-written story in hand.

Funny thing is that they probably did. They get there every day, with pre-written stories from several different sources. You can hire them for some $10k a month if you want. (I'm just not sure that they use suits.)


True. I remember when Newswipe had a story on how news are made. It's not a pretty story. From their tales, most reporters don't report, but pay PR firms to pretty much write the article for them.

The articles are probably indistinguishable from real reports for most audiences, so reporters lap it up like milk. I mean why write, when you can pay someone else to write them for you?


As far as I know, and according to noam Chomsky, the NYT is good journalism defined the "American" way, for it always paints the US as "the great, always correct" freedom fighters.

Where was the NYT coverage when: The US vetoed UN ban on nuclear weapon development? Where was it when it vetoed UN ban on weapons from outer space? Where was it when the US intentionally shot down a commercial Iranian airliner?

yes, exactly, it was non existent.

a good read with a lot more information and a lot of sources also is Noam Chomsky's book: Understanding Power: The Indispensible Chomsky, truly a great read!


I would have to disagree with that one. In my experience the New York Times' definition of "the great, always correct American way" is based solely on whether they like the people in power at the time. The NYT is always quick on the disagreement if it's about a group of people they don't like. If the same actions are performed by the agreeable group then all's well.


The CIA has been recruiting journalists since the 1950s.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Mockingbird


I agree that NPR is more reputable than most US news organizations (and I have pledged money in the past), but there was at least one incident (in the late 1990s) of Army PSYOP soldiers "interning" at NPR and CNN.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_Operations_%28Un...


drop the real story for some gossip about Snowden implies that someone is able to successfully exert pressure on these organizations.

Oh what did they drop? The leak happened they reported it. They reported the government's response. They reported Google and FB's response. There is now a massive manhunt for Snowden, they are covering that too. The only thing I am aware of that I haven't heard on NPR is the EFF and Co lawsuit. Since the EFF announcement was just today it maybe a day or two until they pick it up. What obvious and valid source of info have they not covered?


The leak is not the story. The story is the substance behind the leak, you know, the spying program. There's so much there that hasn't been explored and properly reported on yet.


You notice the corruption of mass media when they cover a subject you are closely familiar with, but the general population can be easily misled on (say, political situation in an obscure corner of the world). They don't try too hard to be careful and maintain plausible deniability in these cases, and go for outright lies and extremely biased pieces. I've seen this happen too many times across a variety of news outlets, which makes me very skeptical of everything else I hear on the news. This recent scandal is not helping their image either.


When you see an institution reacting in ways that you think are completely backwards, you shouldn't immediately assume that (a) they secretly think like you (b) they are being pressured to say otherwise.

Institutions filter out people who don't agree with their mindset at the interview stage. Or later on, if they have a noticeably different attitude, it becomes an impediment to career success.

The higher up you go, the more journalists feel themselves to be part of the governmental system, and the more they come from the same background as the people they are interviewing.

Ironically, this is why whistleblowers are so rare in the first place.


When the guy announces his identity, do you really expect that his life won't be part of the story?

Leaking should be its own reward.


Or it's an indication that they (and most mainstream media sources) are not in fact sources of solid journalism.


why do you assume that someone is exerting pressure? NPR and NYT are very much "establishment" media outlets that have deep dependence on the government unilaterally from their side.

But the more important point is: the snowden revelations are dangerous to their status quo (if only marginally so). It takes incredible willpower and self-discipline to fight the natural reaction to do anything but think about whatever is threatening to upend the reality that you are comfortable with. This is often true even if the new reality stands to your benefit.

There's no need for the government to exert pressure for this to be happening.


Was happening yesterday on my local talk radio station. "Isn't it a bit odd that this guy, a high school drop out somehow got into the NSA? Is he a plant? Isn't it odd that he's taking refuge in a COMMUNIST nation? I think he's a spy. How does a high school dropout get into the nsa?... High school drop out... High school dropout... communist... china..." etc..

Not very hard to see who controls the media these days.


Are these not fair questions?

I think most people are confused at how someone could expect to have their freedom of speech protected in a country controlled by China. Territories controlled by mainland China are not usually the first places you think of when you think "need to flee the US government".

Similarly, I think most people are surprised at the ability of someone in his stated position to gain as much access as he said he has, and also at the reported size of his salary - because they are not familiar with what the salary scale is like in the world of government private contractors.

Having questions is not the same as smearing character.


Sure, they're fair questions in and of themselves. That doesn't mean they're not used as part of unreasonable or just nonsense rhetoric.

Does the person asking them want to start a real discussion about skill- and merit-based hiring practices? I'm sure much of HN is familiar with the argument there is an over-reliance on formal education as prerequisites to employment.

Armchair quarterbacking someone's leak and escape plan is the same sort of story. There is a lot more to consider in that discussion too (maybe he's got a Chinese hookup for forged travel identification), but I don't think the blowhard on the radio actually wants to have either of those discussions.

Having questions is not the same as smearing character.

And 9/11 truthers would tell you they've just asking questions. Blowhard punditry relies on couching their ramblings in "questions" so much an entire south park episode was dedicated to it: http://www.southparkstudios.com/clips/255329/preview-im-aski... This might be a bit of an odd link for HN, but we're discussing conversational tactics couched as meaningful discourse and I'm always reminded of this as a quintessential example of the difference.


My point is that there's clearly a narrative. Every news station is saying "high school dropout" and "seeking refuge in a communist nation." Those exact words. This is what they always do. Talking points are distributed via the email lists for the democratic and republican parties. The "media" takes these talking points and runs with them. If you really pay attention to the news, it's eery how quickly they all start speaking in unison. Typically, it's one sided, but in this case, both right wing and left wing media are using the same talking points!


When you want to describe someone as a high school dropout, how else do you describe them? Someone who failed to achieve a successful release from a high school?

As for "seeking refuge in a communist nation," it must only be spoken, and not quoted anywhere, because doing a search for "seeking refuge in a communist nation" turns up nothing in Bing, DDG, and Google.

Of course, every new stations was also talking about the "NSA spying" on you, but that's okay.


It isn't very relevant whether a person nearing 30 graduated from high school or got a GED. Actually it's not even that relevant for a 20 year-old. Unless the story is about college admissions or something related, what reason is there to "want to describe someone as a high school dropout"?


I vote for undocumented scholar.


The questions betray a high level of ignorance, however.

Clearly, if you have a beef with the US Govt, you have to flee to a communist-country, not because you are a communist, but because those government can better resist the gravitational power of the US government.

People tend to forget that "enemy of the US government" != "enemy of the USA".

China, for all its problems, is not Hell unders dominion of Satan. Neither is the USA heaven under dominion of God.


It's likely your computer runs an OS made by a company founded by a college drop out.

Hong Kong has been more protective of free speech tha n China. I also bet free speech that puts the NSA under a less than favorable light is heavily protected in China.


It's likely your computer runs an OS made by a company founded by a college drop out.

Despite some amazing success stories, I suspect that the public perception of someone who drops out of college (or high school) tends to lean toward assuming marginal intelligence and little aptitude for skilled labor.


I would attribute dropping out of HS/college more to laziness, apathy, or not wanting to be part of the traditional system, not anything related to intelligence. Its not because I know a lot of intelligent HS dropouts, but because I know TON of stupid people with college degrees. I mean like people working minimum wage crap jobs and not trying to change their life, despite having a bachelors degree.


Curiously, in the past few days I have seen several articles about the "hidden economy of unschooled people". I guess the fact that those publications all chose to use the word hidden in the headline echoes what you say, but now that it has been widely reported and is equally fresh in the minds of the public, it is strange to see that they still hold on to those legacy ideals.


It's not curious, it's called "pinning": Articles that are tangentially related to some popular interest topic get readership for that topic as well as the subject of the article itself.


Asking why a highschool dropout got into the NSA is a completely unfair question. It implies highschool dropouts are unfit for service.


I guarantee you that the "who is Snowden working for?" story appeals to more people than the "how do we get the NSA to stop this?" story. Pretty much everyone that grew up in Reagan's America is more concerned about Russia and China than the NSA. Indeed, that front would be unified bloc, with the 65+ crowd along with the usual hawkish conservatives, if not for the sole fact that this was revealed under Obama's watch. This fractures the usual conservative response. They're still paranoid about whether China or Russia is behind this, but at the same time they hate Obama, so...


> this was revealed under [sic] Obama's watch

Pet peeve: It was ON Obama's watch (it's a Navy term [0]).

</pedantry>

[0] http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/on_one's_watch


I guarantee you that the "who is Snowden working for?" story appeals to more people than the "how do we get the NSA to stop this?" story.

Sad but true. :-(


I like how you took such a simple concept and somehow turned it into partisan politics. Bravo.


Don't forget the first company signed up in 2007 under Bush's watch.


He could be both telling the truth and working for/with/whatever the PRC. Others have noted the timing is convenient for the PRC's maximum leader visit here, where the latter was supposed to be confronted about their "cyberattacks" on us.

ADDED: And now that, if there is some link, he presumably needs them a lot more than they now need him, he may find that his arrangement with them has ... changed.


If he thought he had an arrangement with China, he wasn't thinking clearly to begin with. A reasonable way for him to approach pretty much any government right now is that he submits to their custody and then has no idea what will happen next.


I don't think it's fair that "conspiracy theorists" will dismiss conspiracy theories when they are perceived as defending the US.


I wonder what these idiots throwing around the commie card think about the fact that Snowden donated money to Rand Paul.


I think this is just due to the form of a news article.

"The mistake was made by IBM Technical expert Julia Smith, 38, from Palm Springs, Colorado. Julia, who graduated from Stanford in 2001 was described by neighbors as serious and career focused".

Age, place of birth / residence, education, marital status, character. Journalists will mention as many of these as they can easily find out (and they have established ways of easily finding out). When they find something unusual, in these things they are checking anyway, it becomes that persons defining characteristic, a hook for the story.


Watching Snowden's video it's self evident how learned and intelligent he is.

I don't much care whether or not he finished high school. It isn't the single measure of intelligence.

Morality is the quality by which I'd rather measure him.


Doesn't smearing Snowden only justify his leaking of the information?

If a communist-spy-high-school-dropout is able to access everyone's private information, what does this say of the NSA program that allowed him to do this?


btw, Snowden didn't work for the NPR. He was a contractor.


I am also a daily NPR listener and have noticed the exact same bias. I honestly expected better from NPR and it saddens me to observe such a clear agenda to push a specific narrative.


NPR has an agenda. Easier to notice when mine is different, I guess.


I'm a news junkie and my sources run the gamut, but on most topics, NPR is by far the most impartial source of American journalism; they lean to the left to be sure, but I can't think of anything closer to the center.


I don't expect a center, but I welcome consistency. If I know the spin, I can try to unspin.


>why Edward Snowden is a "strange" guy

Well, PRISM does have his surfing history. Who isn't "strange" when put under the microscope of data analysis?


Just this morning they had a conversation on the correct way to use the term "whistleblower". Technically it's someone exposing illegal activity, but hey, we have this secret court issuing this secret order, which makes it all fine and legal, so the term does not apply to Snowden.


In secret, with the secret court and the secret order, perhaps he's not a whistleblower, but in public, where we don't know about that secret court or that secret order, he sure is a whistleblower.

Yay for having a secret legal system.


Since it's all such a big secret then perhaps the existence of the material cannot be proven, therefore he leaked nothing.


"It's completely unbelievable."

Entirely believable. Without access to the security apparatus, and without being able to make sense of what little has been revealed, what else are the news media going to chatter on about?

The question is whether it truly matters that Snowden has grand delusions and a sketchy resume. I think he's harming his professed cause by putting himself in front of the story, because all parties with an interest in not being embarassed over this -- and these are some big players -- are going to distance themselves from him. And that means somehow justifying his employment while at the same time suggesting he had to leave because he was incompetent.

I find this an interesting side story, and it will always be the problem in protecting secrets: People can't be trusted.

What to do? More machines, of course. And this is exactly where the NSA programs are heading. And this is exactly what we should be debating: If impersonal data crunching machines are doing 99.99999% of the work and ignoring virtually everything, is it an invasion of privacy? Snowden is just a reminder to the minders that they still have work to do to guard against rats, or patriots, depending on your view.

But, for now, Snowden's grandstanding is the distraction that the media can happily cover and that the average Facebook user can understand.

So there's no conspiracy here, just the usual incompetence on all sides. Only it's traitorous to open the the trillion dollar curtain and offer a glimpse at the wizards behind the US security theater.


He had to do this to control that conversation. Otherwise if he tried anonymous leaks, the first time we heard his name it would be on a news report based on gov sources going something like 'high school drop out and suspected drug user ed showdown is on the run from the FBI, after stealing classified government information vital to the fight against terrorism, and has fled to the protection of comminist china. We're unsure as yet which rogue state or terrorist organisations he plans to sell the data to. Is he the worst traitor and terrorist sympathiser the world has ever known or is he simply a confused data janitor? You decide, after the break.'

As it is the discussion from the likes of brooks or cnn hasn't risen much above that level. I agree no conspiracy though - its fairly easy for the gov to guide the conversation by controlling what info they release, but he has turned this technique against them.

So I completely understand why he wanted to get in front of that story with a cogent statement of his beliefs and background, though I hope he has saved some more pertinent information to leak in order to steer the conversation back to where it should go - onto the NSA and their abuse of the powers they have been given, including lying to their oversight committee, and the secret laws and secret courts which have facilitated that.


I fully agree. I find it ridiculous that everyone now is focusing on this man his life, his girlfriend and blah blah blah. The news that is going out about the actual program and what he caused is minuscule. I have seen far more articles and new pieces about how his credit cars are running out, how the Hong Kong government doesn't understand him, how his girlfriend didn't know anything, to that about the PRISM program. Unbelievable.


I was surprised on the drive home yesterday when they interviewed his neighbor. He didn't win the local chilli cook-off, dude just revealed multiple gigantic surveillance operations. There's got to be someone more relevant to interview, right? Is this just a path of least resistance thing, where anybody with anything worth hearing about this story refuses to speak to the news?


he was quiet and kept to himself? Never really fit in?


Just to play devil's advocate:

We don't really know much about this situation. Just what Snowden (and the press) have decided to tell us. This could be "Collateral Murder" all over again, a decidedly one sided view of the situation (after all, it's a bit far fetched to think the NSA is monitoring basically all US Internet traffic through some backdoor program that would be difficult to implement secretly). If you buy that we can't possibly know the whole story, his character and motivation is definitely worth exploring.


In what way was Collateral Murder, "a decidedly one sided view of the situation"? Were an unarmed Good Samaritan and his unarmed children not shot? Did the Good Samaritan and the unarmed injured man he was attempting to save not die as a result of the shooting?


The title alone is editorializing and arguable the editing decisions and the lack of any context (Rules of Engagement, etc) really make the piece pretty politicized.


I had three questions. Why don't you take your shot at the latter two?


ignoring the real questions. nice job. Of course it was politicized. It's a political issue. don't be stupid.


It's one sided because it was edited by someone with an obvious bone to pick with no context. Frankly, the name itself is editorialized.

What's sad is that we could be looking at a terrible incident, but that fact that it was released out of context with an obvious political motive (and name) discredits it.


Talk about "one sided". When innocent people die from gunshot then it isn't "editorializing" to call it "murder". There is no reasonable definition of murder that does not include that incident. It's pretty clear where your loyalties lie, and you aren't going to convince reasonable people to doubt Snowden's account with this namby-pamby whinging about his choice of idiom. Neither will reasonable people believe you're prepared to be "sad" about "a terrible incident" that you wish had been kept secret.


>that you wish had been kept secret.

At what point did I say that? At what point did I defend anyone involved? It was a battle. People were shooting at each other. Of course there is a reasonable definition that doesn't include this incident. Ones in which there is not a battle going on, for example. There are at least 20 minutes of footage that are not available to us.

All I'm asking is that we get rid of the idiom and see the information. I don't need the words "Collateral Murder" to be outraged by this. I'm smarter than that.

Incidentally, at no point in this discussion did I ever resort to a personal attack on you or question your motivations or loyalties. At no point did I ever say anything about you personally and I'm offended that you have decided to tell me what I think. That's a shameful way to have an argument.


Can you explain the argument of how the killing of the man in the bongo truck is not murder and a war crime?


That's a shameful way to have an argument.

Boo-fuckin-hoo. Get a grip, Nancy.


This argument is shot down by the fact that they released the unedited video at exactly the same time on the same website.


That doesn't make the edited version, or the name, any less unconscionable for an organization that wanted to find the truth. To quote Stephen Colbert, it was "emotional manipulation". If they wanted to address a point they should have put out the 39 minute version as is or release to to a news organization. Instead they decided to selectively highlight things, give it an inflammatory name and try to drum up some donations from it. That makes it suspect in my eyes and hopefully the eyes of reasonable people everywhere.

Doesn't mean that I think what happened was right or than I'm trying to defend those soldiers (we can have that argument elsewhere), but that as a reasonable person the editing and name should raise a giant red flag that makes me ask further questions.

I feel the same about this situation. The dramatic talk ("they might render me") and the fact that we're looking at this in a very narrow, uninformed context means we should question everything, including his credibility.


> they should have put out the 39 minute version as is

As the previous commenter said, they did.

Wikileaks' stated journalistic method has always been to provide editorialized/pre-digested material along with complete unedited sources.


>Wikileaks' stated journalistic method has always been to provide editorialized/pre-digested material along with complete unedited sources.

That's not a "journalistic method". I don't know that I have a name for it, but it's not journalism. I said "put out the 39 minute version as is". If I wasn't clear, that means there should have been no need for an editorialized version at all.


Journalists don't expect that most people are willing to watch several 40 minute long pieces of unedited material in the evening news. That's why you will usually see editing. It is great that Wikileaks also released the unedited material for those that are interested.


> it's a bit far fetched to think the NSA is monitoring basically all US Internet traffic

It may be far-fetched, but this was actually revealed in 2007: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Room_641A


Yes, but the slides specifically reference "Stored Comm". There's a difference between a huge wiretap (which Room 641A was) and being able to search and access basically every communication everyone has for a budget of 20 million dollars.


The 20M figure doesn't necessarily refer to a budget. It likely refers to the cost of making sure the traffic passes through their collection sites. If you re-read the slides, you'll see that it's talking about things like "the data travels along the cheapest path, not the shortest path" etc.


I feel you might be taking that statement out of context. To me it seems the slide was explaining that most communication traffic travels through the United States (as demonstrated by the graphic) and the statement you quoted is an explanation of why that is true.

Just to make clear my meaning: A communication between two neighboring countries might still pass through the USA because the price is cheaper despite the length of data travel being greater.


Reread the, what, 4 slides? That's my point. We don't have nearly enough information to make any sort of judgement here. We should be asking questions.


Yes, re-read the 4 slides. If we don't have enough information, then you shouldn't speculate that $20M refers to the total cost of the operation any more than I should speculate that it doesn't.


Fair enough.

But it still means that we're lacking so much information about this that referring to speculating on the sources credibility as a "smear campaign" is unfair to citizens who are asking legitimate questions. I don't know enough about this to even know what the numbers mean, but I'm ready to skewer people over it? We need to fill in these gaps before we start shaping public policy on the issue and examining a sources credibility is part of that process.



The Guardian (.uk), Der Spiegel (.de), Le Monde (.fr), La repubblica (.it), The Mail and Guardian (.za). Quite a few well respected news media outside the US are less dependent on the parties involved.

Or you could just read The Onion of course.


On a slightly different note, you remind me of my parents. They believe almost everything they read in the newspaper or see on the news. And yet, whenever they're directly involved in any local news, they always complain that the news coverage is completely wrong. I try to suggest to them that maybe ALL news coverage is wrong to some degree, but they don't want to hear that.

> I listen to NPR every day and it's almost insufferable to listen to when they talk about the NSA leak.

To me, NPR is insufferable to listen to 99% of the time. Just Sayin'.


Democracy Now! is often too lefty for my tastes, but they do a terrific job on stories where the MSM is likely to be biased. They're particularly good and independent gov't leak stories.


Why is it unbelievable? Let me rephrase: is it more unbelievable than the regular NPR programming? I have not noticed much change, but I may be biased against partisanship.


Smearing him only strengthens the argument that this program shouldn't have been put in place to begin with. He had access to everything.


I am so tired of people abusing the phrase ad hominem -- it is not a fallacy to bring in personal details which raise legitimate questions about the credibility of what's being said.

Snowden did have a difficult time in HS and he does not possess a formal CS/technical education. He was a sys admin, not an engineer. His claims, in that light, do seem bizarre and uninformed. I mean, ffs he seemed to insinuate in the Guardian interview that the NSA keeps a list of undercover assets and he had access to it!? These are the people who created selinux -- if I extend him some credibility, I doubt greatly that he had any real idea what it is he was looking at.

Elsewhere he talks about every machine being bugged and things like that. And the tapping he claims to have intimate knowledge of -- that kind of stuff would be happening inside of some kind of data store, maybe like Apache Accumulo which the NSA also developed. Let alone the implications of what he's saying on the security of all crypto systems everywhere -- how many uneducated sys admins do you know who can inspect a data store and actually understand what they're looking at, and also understand deeply how consumer encryption works.

And this all presumes that the NSA's systems are so poorly configured that a contractor in HI could access all this. My verdict is that all he had was some slideshow that he turned over to the Guardian, the rest is a bullshit story.


And how do most of these "personal details" actually have anything to do with his credibility? Considering that we know almost nothing about how the NSA/CIA and their ilk actually work internally, the high-school diploma bit may or may not factor into this at all.

At any rate, we know the basic details of his story are true, as BAH confirmed that he worked there, and the government has not denied that the PRISM slides and the FISA court order are real. Given what he has shown us so far seems to stand up to scrutiny, I'd say his credibility is fine. A few random people on HN speculating about what the NSA would or wouldn't do, versus now well confirmed knowledge that he did work for the CIA, and for the NSA as a BAH contractor? I'll take the latter as having more weight.

And if he didn't have some fairly serious access, how did he get the PRISM slides and the court order in the first place?

Anyway... not saying every detail of his story is true, but all things told, I don't see how carping about his high-school education is relevant here. In fact, I don't see how talking about Snowden much at all is relevant here. The story isn't Snowden, the story is PRISM, rubber-stamping by the FISA courts, tech companies possibly in collusion with the NSA to make our nominally "private" data widely available, etc.


>At any rate, we know the basic details of his story are true, as BAH confirmed that he worked there, and the government has not denied that the PRISM slides and the FISA court order are real.

They have said there are inaccuracies in the PRISM report. As have all the companies allegedly involved. It doesn't take a CS expert to look at PRISM with some skepticism. All we have is a powerpoint and a guy who claims to know stuff.


Let me repeat myself:

Anyway... not saying every detail of his story is true, but all things told, I don't see how carping about his high-school education is relevant here.

As for the PRISM slides... I haven't seen a single story stating that anybody from the NSA claims that the slides aren't legitimate. Inaccuracies in the reporting? Maybe so. But the simple fact that he produced the (real) slides, says something, no?


But the language and meaning of the slides are in question, not the authenticity. Only 4 (or is it 5 now?) slides have been shown. The language in the slides is imprecise, because they look like slides that were used for an overview of the program, to an audience that we don't know because we haven't seen the rest of the slides.

For God's sake, Facebook was spelled wrong, or rather, whoever put the slides together didn't even take the time to properly word-wrap things. So is it really beyond the realm of speculation that some of the key phrasing was off-the-cuff, in the way that PP slides often are because the presenter plans to elaborate during the actual presentation?

And if you're thinking: well, this is the NSA, surely an organization of their import would have a crack team of slide preparers who are at the top of their game in communication...well, as Edward Tufte would kindly point out, the top people in an organization can't be counted on to prepare accurate PowerPoint slides after a fucking space shuttle blows up: http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=0...

edit: made it clear that the language and assertions of the slides were in question, not the slides authenticity.


Google, Yahoo, and Facebook have directly denied that the NSA has direct access to their servers, despite what the slide deck says. The conclusion I've drawn from this is that the author of the slide deck was probably an idiot.


The author of the slide deck had successfully sold that solution to the NSA. I wouldn't hurry to call him an idiot.


In previous lives I've been on the vendor's side of way too many transactions with DoD to think that "selling something to NSA" is a high intellectual hurdle to clear.


But they are not the whole story. They cannot possibly be. They are proposing that they effectivly mirror the data of major Internet companies for a budget of 20 million dollars a year? There's obviously stuff being left out somewhere.

And we don't know those slides are legit. I could make that powerpoint in an afternoon. Hell, I make powerpoints all the time with proposals, examples, etc that I would never consider to be reference documents.


I think the assumption here is that PRISM is just the reporting front end that handles dissemination.


>I think the assumption here

That's my point. The assumption. The gaps we fill in for all the information we're missing. The fact that we have to assume means that questioning everything, from the slides authenticity to the leakers credibility is our duty as citizens.


...and the $20m budget. ;)


>And how do most of these "personal details" actually have anything to do with his credibility?

The parent's second paragraph addresses that. He may have misinterpreted or not have understood what he was looking at. As the above noted, some of his remarks already seem questionable.

>rubber-stamping by the FISA courts

Sorry to go slightly off-topic, but what is the evidence that the FISA courts are rubber stamps rather than really doing their job? I'm not being snarky, I just haven't seen any (but I have heard FISA called that a lot)


>Sorry to go slightly off-topic, but what is the evidence that the FISA courts are rubber stamps rather than really doing their job? I'm not being snarky, I just haven't seen any (but I have heard FISA called that a lot)

http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/06/fisa-court-nsa-spyin...

There have been nearly 34K requests to the FISA court. It has rejected 11.


How many should have been rejected, given proper scrutiny?


The parent's second paragraph addresses that. He may have misinterpreted or not have understood what he was looking at. As the above noted, some of his remarks already seem questionable.

How would that be any different, even if he had, say, a Ph.D. from Harvard? "Paper" credentials and knowledge/talent/wisdom hardly have a guaranteed correlation. Anybody can misinterpret or misunderstand things.

Sorry to go slightly off-topic, but what is the evidence that the FISA courts are rubber stamps rather than really doing their job? I'm not being snarky, I just haven't seen any (but I have heard FISA called that a lot)

Well, I'd take it as suggestive that they only deny .03% of the requests they receive[1].

Also, there's a fair amount of additional information on FISA/FISC here:

http://epic.org/privacy/terrorism/fisa/fisc.html

[1]: http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/06/fisa-court-nsa-spyin...


You are cleverly trying to shrink the domain of known and relevant information down to only that set of things which boost Snowden's credibility. We also know about the NSA's operations from their open source projects like selinux and Accumulo. And given that context, it absolutely damaged his credibility when he suggests that there is some list of assets that he could read.

What, like 'cat /home/dirnsa/undercover_agents.txt'?

As for the question of how did he get a slideshow? I don't know, but it's not difficult to imagine that an attachment on an email is easier to access than a wiretapping database.

His lack of education is relevant because when you have at least some understanding of the depth of complex systems, it becomes very hard to imagine that a self-taught person has enough knowledge to speak competently about multiple such systems.

EDIT: let me amend this last statement, since so many people seem to want to focus on an extreme interpretation of it. Yes, very brilliant people do sometimes have no papers or letters backing up their knowledge. I think you have to admit, if you've dealt with enough such people, that they are the exception -- the mean and floor of that population's technical capacity is lower than of the educated population, in my experience.

Now your argument has to be that Snowden was exceptional -- where is the evidence for that? His pay? Who honestly believes salary is highly correlated with ability?


His lack of education is relevant because when you have at least some understanding of the depth of complex systems, it becomes very hard to imagine that a self-taught person has enough knowledge to speak competently about multiple such systems.

No it isn't. I know plenty of self-taught people who are highly skilled and understand very complex systems. In this field more than probably any other, there's less reliance on "paper" credentials and formal education and people routinely achieve high knowledge/skill levels without all the formality.

As far as I'm concerned, his high-school education, or lack thereof, is a total red herring.


You are cleverly trying to shrink the domain of known and relevant information down to only that set of things which boost Snowden's credibility.

Not really. I'm just saying that some of the things that some people interpret as damaging his credibility, don't. At least in my opinion. His education, for example.

We also know about the NSA's operations from their open source projects like selinux and Accumulo. And given that context, it absolutely damaged his credibility when he suggests that there is some list of assets that he could read.

I'm fairly familiar with both SELinux and Accumulo, and I'm failing to see the connection. Keep in mind, an organization like the NSA is (presumably) fairly large, and probably very bureaucratic and probably had a hodge-podge of different rules, processes, procedures, etc. spread around. That the NSA can produce high-quality software products like SELinux or Accumulo, and still make a mistake in terms of how they grant security access (if there even was a mistake) seem like orthogonal issues to me.


    His lack of education is relevant because when you have at least some understanding of the depth of complex systems, it becomes very hard to imagine that a self-taught person has enough knowledge to speak competently about multiple such systems.
This is so wrong it's not even funny. If Peter Norvig can say "One of the best programmers I ever hired had only a High School degree" [1], then surely you can admit that your statement is wrong.

[1]: http://norvig.com/21-days.html


I'm sorry that you understood my statement to be of the form "no such person exists, such that..." when in fact I was expressing a conclusion about the typical (perhaps stereotyped) person with this background.


The point is that whether a typical person understands that kind of system is irrelevant. He's already highly atypical by virtue of working for the NSA and being a whistle-blower.


He was earning 200k right? You think they pay morons that type of money?

His education is completely irrelevant. His body odour (if he has it) is irrelevant. The size of his nose is irrelevant. if he was an axe murderer is irrelevant.

What is relevant is are those documents real. Since the government is not saying they are fake, clearly they are real.

That is what you should be talking about.


Having worked in the realm of government contracting, they often hire people who can get things done but don't necessarily have the appropriate depth of knowledge to make the kinds of claims that he is in fact making. He may have plenty of expertise in various areas but that doesn't make him an expert in the types of things he is leaking. Domain knowledge typically lags behind technical knowledge in this field - it's one of the hallmarks of IT that you can work in any specialized domain without knowledge of the specialty itself. It seems to me that your argument is just as baseless as an argument to the effect that he was incompetent, which the OP is not making.

While I'm behind whistleblowers in general, and I agree with the linked article that completely irrelevant information is being used to smear Snowden, I do find a number of things suspicious. We know practically nothing about this guy, and it's not so easy to tease out true facts from what's currently available.


(W.r.t. his interview with the Guardian reporter in Hong Kong,) I'd say his articulateness attests to a level of intelligence that goes WAY beyond the "people who can get things done but don't necessarily have the appropriate depth of knowledge" stereotype.

He comes across as a person who asks questions, a person with genuine curiosity. In fact, I'd say that his lack of high school diploma is actually a positive attribute in light of the fact that he was able to do his job enough to get paid $200k, i.e., the skills to perform his job came out of somewhere, didn't they? Without formal education, it shows that he picked them up himself. (On the other hand, the most robotic, unquestioning, confirming do-anything-for-social-glory types are almost always the "well-educated"; they perceive that they have a lot to lose by asking questions and have excelled at playing the hierarchical authority structure game, i.e., doing what pleases parents, teachers, professors, etc; in return for good grades and appreciation, which ultimately builds up to being the boss' pet in return for a good bonus).


The question isn't the authenticity of that document, it is the interpretation of that document. The only people who have seen the full presentation and are speaking about their interpretation are people who may not have the expertise to interpret it properly. That is where people can start to question Snowden's intellect or education.


His lack of education is relevant because when you have at least some understanding of the depth of complex systems, it becomes very hard to imagine that a self-taught person has enough knowledge to speak competently about multiple such systems.

I think you have to admit, if you've dealt with enough such people, that they are the exception -- the mean and floor of that population's technical capacity is lower than of the educated population, in my experience.

This is not my experience, and let me tell you why I think it's so.

First up - I was self-taught up to the time I went to (a humble) college, and proceeded to learn little, and instead wrote compilers and won programming competitions in my spare time; college was just a means to a piece of paper. I ended up working on the Delphi compiler at Borland before the tools division got sold; and am currently working for a financial software startup. Why did I go to a humble college? Because I had difficulties in what you might call high school, because all I was interested in was CS, and that was not a subject available to study.

Second, my experience is that all the best developers I've worked with got started in programming outside an academic context.

Thirdly, a hypothesis about selection; all the developers I've worked with who didn't have a formal CS education were very good, and one in particular was outstanding. I believe that having succeeded despite the lack of a certificate from an authority, they must have been better than the average drone. And they often had soft skills that made them yet more effective that semi-autistic logicians.

Now, I don't know where you're coming from, but the gist I'm getting from what you write is that you have a lot of ego wrapped up in credentials, for some reason. Maybe you were a grad student, maybe you still are. My industry experience is in contradiction to your own.


I know and have worked with people with little formal education that are brilliant and extremely competent.

I didn't really expect to see such a statement about the necessity of community education and the impossibility of self-education on HN. You don't need to learn in a formal group setting in order to understand complex systems.


You are right in some things but lack the proper balance. Because...

Do we know what clearance he had?

Yes, he was a sysadmin. But, at what level?

And again, the fact that he did not have an "education" but was granted a $180K job speaks for itself on his professional capabilities.

So, balance is needed. Yes, on the two plates of the scale.


Elsewhere it's been put forward that his actual salary was $122k.

You are making my point -- we know nothing, very little, and what is known has numerous large red flags. Those flags would be obvious to most HN readers in another context, but emotions are high on this one -- it presses all of this crowd's persecution triggers.


Care to provide a citation for that?

You're painting the people involved as dishonest, which may or may not be true. But to assess that, the source of alternative information to be considered. And "elsewhere" is not a good source.


For how little we know, you seem to "know" a whole lot about what is and isn't possible. Seemingly without any actual experience in large scale corporate or government systems.


In regards to his salary, isn't it possible that the 122k is his base salary? Perhaps he gets significant bonuses, stock options, etc. to the point where he and others would round up to "around 200K." It sounds like they are just doing whatever they can to put anything he says into the tiniest amount of doubt. Why would he lie about that? 122k is still a good salary for a sys admin,and I'm sure it would still impress most of the general public.


The lack of importance of a degree in the technology sector has been discussed ad nauseum on HN long before this news even surfaced. I'm not sure why his lack of one would be considered a red flag all of a sudden.


This bit about someone self-taught being incapable of understanding "at least some of the depth" of complex strikes me as elitist wishful thinking.

I don't think it serves anyone to think the worst of Snowden while at the same time thinking the best of the NSA. In both cases the reality is likely more towards the middle.


Does he have really have a lack of education? He is reportedly a high school dropout, but that says nothing at all about his education. He could be one of the most educated people out there, for all we know.


> how many uneducated sys admins do you know who can inspect a data store and actually understand what they're looking at

Sysadmin here. Most of the guys I've worked who lacked a proper CS education but were crackerjack IT folk. IT exists a bit between a trade and a profession and you'll get guys like me with a formal education and guys like Snowden without. For some guys, IT is their lives, its their only hobby and their only profession. Turns out you can learn a lot via practice.

>and also understand deeply how consumer encryption works.

You'd be a pretty lousy sysadmin for a NSA contractor if you didn't understand crypto on an fairly intimate level.

That said, yes, I'm sure there's some blustering here, but honestly, you don't need to be a master of everything to understand what is being stored, where, and how its being done. What the hell does Julian Assange know about fighting a war? Can he shoot a target from 1,000 meters? Does he know how to deploy an anti-tank weapon?

Sorry, but you really don't need to be the lead dev on PRISM to understand enough of it to make valid claims about it. Lets not be quite so elitist. Heck, 90% of startup culture is knocking the elites around with cheap disruptive tech.


  And this all presumes that the NSA's systems are so poorly configured that a contractor in HI could access all this.
I have two words for you: Bradley Manning.

It only takes a single bottleneck, a console, a server, a VNC login or what have you where a sufficient stream of classified data to pass through and someone with enough motivation to get at it. You're giving the NSA an awful lot of credit, but in the end these are people who do the same dumb things other intel folks do.

E.G. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/693011.stm


Manning was an intelligence analyst, not a sys admin. He leaked materials which were given to him. Under what scenario is it imaginable that someone like Snowden could actually access the things he's mentioned?


A scenario beyond your imagination has no less of a probability of occurring than one within it. You don't know (and neither do I) what system(s) he had access to and what type of data he acquired. You're assuming the NSA actually uses certain technologies it has at its disposal and it does so appropriately with no means of proving that assertion. You're also ignoring that the NSA isn't a single "entity". It's instead a very large bureaucracy with countless independent workers, contractors, sub-contractors, assistants, analysts and, yes, even sys-admins.

Some level of the compartmentalization within this mess has clearly failed. His background is irrelevant to that fact.

The point is, he was in a position to have this information regardless and leaked it. That's the story. Your insinuation that his background has some bearing on the information he has already leaked, the parts those within and without the intelligence community has been able to independently verify and the parts that have been confirmed by the WH is completely speculative.


What he leaked is a slideshow. The rest of what he said has been received by many here as gospel, when in fact, there are legitimate questions about his truthfulness.

So if you want to stick to primary sources, we have a PPT wit some logos thrown about in a tacky way.


What's his incentive for lying? I totally understand being a skeptical that a relatively low level contractor got access to everything, but I don't understand what would motivate someone to go public and incite the wrath of us intelligence if he didn't at least believe he was telling the truth.

If he's a Chinese mole, or in cahoots with enemies of the state, it doesn't seem like leaking some slides to the guardian and then filming a confession would be the way to go about it. Is the argument just that he's incompetent/confused, or am I missing something? Genuine question.


Didn't he also leak the verizon metadata story which was confirmed true by various senators?


"System admin" is the professional who get the hightest level of access to your computers, so he can keep them working. Most times even the people with physical access to your datacenter (AKA, the people that can get any data you have) have that same title.

Another profession with a bit smaller but much alike level of access is called "janitor".


Sysadmins generally have the highest levels of privilege on any given system. I've worked in and around sysadmins in some very large firms and when you're responsible for things like server installation, maintenance, and backups, it's very rare that you don't have access to all of the information on them.


While my experience is limited, the system administrators I have worked with typically had more rights on the servers I worked on then I did myself. I do not find it at all surprising that a system administrator at the NSA might have access to some of these systems or a clear route through which to attain such access.


>he seemed to insinuate in the Guardian interview that the NSA keeps a list of undercover assets and he had access to it!? These are the people who created selinux -- if I extend him some credibility, I doubt greatly that he had any real idea what it is he was looking at.

You realize that the CIA accidentally sent North Korea a list of all it's covert operatives real names and in a separate incident sent all their deep cover operatives the CIA's new diversity policy using letters that had the return address as CIA (citation p. 178 The Human Factor http://books.google.com/books?id=cVt9yg52bhoC&printsec=front...)? Intelligence agencies tend to be total crap at protecting that information.

The reason that for 20 years HUMINT sources lasted a week or two in the soviet union before being arrested was lots of people had access to that information and at least two of them, but probably many more, gave the Soviet Union real time updates on all active HUMINT sources. I find it completely believable that many IT workers at the NSA have access to that sort of information. The people the KGB loved to recruit employees that worked in the copyroom or the mailroom because they had the most complete access to intelligent with little to no oversight.

Additionally information exists at the edge or leaf nodes in most organistions as you increase in position, rank or grade you lose access and get siloed. Highly skilled low level workers have all your secrets, some of them are not trustworthy and work for foreign governments.


pg178

> Like most organizations, the CIA had its own stationery. Its official enveloeps had "Central Intelligence Agency" written on the return address. The Agency mistakenly used this stationery for a mailing on its new diversity policy - a mailing sent to officers, including Dave, who were working under deep cover in foreign countries. We hoped that no one had seen the return address on the envelopes. In any event, according to a friend at HQs, this incident led the Agency to destroy its entire stock of stationery.


That book documents so much eye opening failure. Google book search for the phrase "ultra-discreet surveillance".


"it is not a fallacy to bring in personal details which raise legitimate questions about the credibility of what's being said. Snowden did have a difficult time in HS and he does not possess a formal CS/technical education."

Having worked decades in the IT industry, my experience shows that formal education rarely makes a positive contribution to a person's skills or credibility. I could be biased though, I'm self taught.


I've always felt my degree gave me a good grounding over a wide area.

I've worked with people with and without degrees. Some of the best had no degree, some had PhDs, some had a standard BSc. Some of the worst were in all three categories too.

But I have found my degree useful, and not just for opening doors.


That makes sense. Hopefully my comment doesn't sound like I think people with degrees are worse. My point was that I feel it comes down to the person and not the source of their education.


Heh. I get a bit defensive at times, probably unnecessarily, but there seems to be a "formal education is a waste of time" meme about the place.

Agreed, a lazy or incompetent software/IT worker is lazy and/or incompetent regardless of past educational achievement!


Having a degree I can attest that formal education contributes very little if the student is unmotivated.


If anything this means the person didn't want to fit in the mold. I shall remind that school first and primary purpose when it has been created was to format and mold people so that they would be more uniformized and easier to control.

Self-taught people, misfits (regardless of how that sounds like), etc. tend to think for themselves, be more creative and more critical.

Obviously,someone who's willing to risk his and his family life to testify against what he believe is wrong as such a high level is predisposed to have at least some similar past.

but then again, we do derive from the point, thus, yes,smearing works.


I am so tired of people abusing the phrase ad hominem -- it is not a fallacy to bring in personal details which raise legitimate questions about the credibility of what's being said. Snowden did have a difficult time in HS and he does not possess a formal CS/technical education. He was a sys admin, not an engineer. His claims, in that light, do seem bizarre and uninformed.

You've just committed an ad hominem. As if having a piece of paper from a college would make his claims more informed.


I once took a job as a low-level sysadmin contractor at a government office. The first task I was assigned was to create my user account on the various Unix machines I would be working with. To accomplish this task, I was given the root password to a lot of machines. I had no formal IT credentials either.

I find Snowden's position quite believable.


I had the same experience.


Maintenance people (whether it's janitors or sysadmins) need more access than the average staff member. There's probably a lot that he didn't really understand in any great detail, but I can certainly imagining him being in a position where he saw a huge amount.

Sysadmins know a lot. They run the email servers. They configure hardware for a number of projects. They set up the databases. They see everything that breaks (and in software, that's everything). There's probably a lot of control over the actual data, but the basic workflow is something that would be very hard to hide from the people who are keeping the systems running.


Well, you know, the military let other individual with probably much less technical abilities to get hundreds of thousands of classified material?

Man, and that is the MILITARY, don't you know? They risk their lives and perform covert operations day in day out!

And so an argument disappears.

Do you think the NSA has made no mistakes whatsoever?


>Snowden did have a difficult time in HS and he does not possess a formal CS/technical education. He was a sys admin, not an engineer. His claims, in that light, do seem bizarre and uninformed. I mean, ffs he seemed to insinuate in the Guardian interview that the NSA keeps a list of undercover assets and he had access to it!? These are the people who created selinux -- if I extend him some credibility, I doubt greatly that he had any real idea what it is he was looking at.

I don't follow your reasoning at all.

I can name a handful of people, myself included who have or do fit this description and situation.


He also had access to the FISA court order. And Greenwald says he has been given "thousands" of documents.


... and from everything you mentioned, the fact the man has no HS/CS diploma has exactly zero relevance.

There are many great employees and talented hackers without a diploma.


The fact that he didn't have to complete high school, (he does have a GED) to get a job at Booz paying $200k/year should be speak to his intelligence. I know people with graduate degrees from Harvard that made less than that at the same company.


Yes, this is something that should be mentioned more and stated loud and clear.

I gather he was also a CIA employee, which is not granted to everyone and which -I guess- is subject to deep scrutiny by the very government...

Unless the CIA is just like in the films: a bunch of retarded authocrats.


Booz says it is a much more plausible 122K: http://pjmedia.com/tatler/2013/06/11/contractor-um-snowden-d...

ADDED: or The Guardian could have goofed, 122K in GB Pounds is 190K in US$.

A comment to the item I noted he'd only worked for Booz for 3 months.


GlassDoor says that BAH pays IT consultant bonuses up to $75k for some: http://www.glassdoor.com/Bonuses/Booz-Allen-Hamilton-Bonuses...

Plus the base salary won't include COLA allowances. Both pieces of data could be correct.


There is probably truth on both sides. Intelligence work is well funded by the government. Most government contracting companies hire at salary, but pay by the hour. So, if he was working a lot of overtime, he could have expected to bring in 200K for the coming year.


In my experience they really hate to pay overtime, instead, you must put down exactly 40 hours per week. Any less and they can't bill the government the full normal maximum, any more and they have to pay time and a half or more, which the government generally doesn't go for.


Actually, they love to pay overtime and the government doesn't care as long as they have money to spend. Their budgets are mandated by law. A government contractor can cost upwards of $200 an hour for a senior level engineer. Typically $140 an hour for level 2 and 3 engineers. Anyway, the company takes a huge cut off the top and leaves $50 to $70 an hour for the employee, their benefits, and payroll taxes. So, the more overtime they work, the more money the company gets to pocket.


122k is probably the salary. Firms like this often pay discretionary bonuses that can range from 30-60% of base rate pay, often based on company profit sharing. If Booz had a good year and it was toward the upper end of that range, 200k is not far off. For reference I knew several people at various management consulting companies a few years ago who would start off with base pay of 60-70k but had annual bonuses of 30k+.

I am not familiar with BAH's actual compensation scheme though.


> The fact that he didn't have to complete high school, (he does have a GED) to get a job at Booz paying $200k/year should be speak to his intelligence.

Alternatively, I'd read the smear this way: A guy who could not even finish high school could do this much damage to the NSA, which speaks to how broken the leadership is there. Many heads should roll.


A guy who could not even finish high school

A GED doesn't imply they couldn't finish. It demonstrates they didn't finish. Nothing more.


Fair enough, but my bigger point is:

<insert smear here> could do this much damage. Well you guys hire him and you fucked up, so I'm holding your butts accountable. Clearly you can't control the surveillance monster you created.


It speaks to his ability and/or issues with the explosion of government work done by private contractors. Both can be true.


Just to add some insight as to why the press is doing this. First of all, there is a legitimate reason to snoop into his personal and past life: checking for source integrity. Frankly, this should end with "Did he work where he said he did, is he mentally ill, does he have an axe to grind?"

The media has clearly gone beyond this, though. David Brooks' rather pompous style could be mistaken for going too far, but instead I think he was stepping just an inch or two over this line, while other sites and outlets are mentioning things like his lack of a high school diploma casually and without any real need or purpose.

At this point in the life of this story, there is little to report on that doesn't require deep knowledge and GREAT sources. Sources are the lifeblood of journalism. Right now, there's only one, and most of the media has had no access to him. It's jealousy, I expect, that leads them to denigrate him now.

The newsroom thinking is like this, and it's not entirely a conscious level thing: "We did not break this story. We do not have anything to add to this story. We are too technically inept to comment on this story. There still exists a possibility that this whistle-blower is wrong, and that's something we can investigate because we know his name and we have Google/LexisNexis... Well, shit, we gotta have something to fill the airwaves for 24 hours!"

It's not like they're being directly controlled by the NSA, here. Outside of a few folks, like Brooks, the media is just being inept and lazy, not viscous and conspiratorial.


So, to clarify, it's only called 'smearing someone' if that someone is someone we're on the same side of, right? Otherwise, its called activism or journalism or some other, vaguely more pleasant verb?

If you don't think that the fact that Snowden's claims are tempered slightly by the fact that he doesn't have a formal high school or computer science education; hell, why not?

I'm not saying that Snowden won't be dragged through the mud, but that's irrespective of what he did, besides the fact that he did anything at all. It's 2013, and 24-hour cable news channels need content: they will say and find anything and everything if it means finding or saying something new.

(Also, Brooks and Toobin are both respected journalists and academics. They've both spoken vocally against the current administration, against the PATRIOT Act, and other things.)


Why should it matter whether he has a high school diploma?

That type of attack is precisely the definition of an ad-hominem. The truth of his claims does not depend on whether he has obtained a high school diploma. It depends on whether or not his claims are true. Someone with no high school diploma can tell the truth just as well as someone with a PhD.

And it's not like his claims require an advanced education to understand. If he was claiming to have built a cold fusion reactor, that would be one thing; it would be pretty hard to believe that someone without formal education and with no prior results in the area had made such an advance. But all he's claiming is that the systems he administered had the ability to wiretap any given American at his whim. That just takes some basic technical knowledge and being in the right place at the right time.


To quote jessedhillon from another comment on this article:

Snowden did have a difficult time in HS and he does not possess a formal CS/technical education. He was a sys admin, not an engineer. His claims, in that light, do seem bizarre and uninformed. I mean, ffs he seemed to insinuate in the Guardian interview that the NSA keeps a list of undercover assets and he had access to it!? These are the people who created selinux -- if I extend him some credibility, I doubt greatly that he had any real idea what it is he was looking at. Elsewhere he talks about every machine being bugged and things like that. And the tapping he claims to have intimate knowledge of -- that kind of stuff would be happening inside of some kind of data store, maybe like Apache Accumulo which the NSA also developed. Let alone the implications of what he's saying on the security of all crypto systems everywhere -- how many uneducated sys admins do you know who can inspect a data store and actually understand what they're looking at, and also understand deeply how consumer encryption works. And this all presumes that the NSA's systems are so poorly configured that a contractor in HI could access all this. My verdict is that all he had was some slideshow that he turned over to the Guardian, the rest is a bullshit story.

Personally, I don't think what he's saying is 'a bullshit story', I just know the only definitive facts we have right now are the PRISM slides.


Amount of formal CS/technical/college education that is relevant to accessing data in a database system in which you have priveleges == 0.

"High school dropout" doesn't mean "dumb", it means "not socially compatible with school". This is not anti-correlated to comfort using computer systems.

I once worked with a sysadmin with all the stereotypical features: weak credentials, puffed-up self-important attitude of "God of knowledge", constatn bragging of his hacking skillz, poor root-cause analysis of complex software failure modes. But did hew know how to install a database and read its contents? Of course.


David Brooks is a "respected journalist" in the same sense that USA Today is a "respected newspaper"...


He is not even a journalist. He is a pundit, no better than the talking heads on Fox News, he just knows how to dress himself up as an "intellectual" to cater to the NYT/Charlie Rose audience.


He pretty much "is" the voice of the establishment.

If he's saying it, you can bet the military industrial complex shares his opinion.


I wouldn't call David Brooks' quotes smears. His whole article, perhaps, but not the quotes. The quotes are pieces of evidence in his thesis, which is that Snowden doesn't participate in a community --- Snowden has isolated himself, and that this leak is behavior consistent with someone that has isolated himself from a community. Brooks' outlook on the world tends to be built on models of culture, community, and psychology, and this article is just an application of those models to the particular topic of Snowden. Someone that writes columns tends to have some models that they've developed, and produces new columns by applying those models to current events. In that sense, he is profiting from Snowden's dilemma, and taking advantage of it --- if what Brooks says is true, then what Snowden really needs is support.


The sub-headline of the dead-tree version of the St Paul Pioneer Press yesterday bothered to point out that he didn't have a high school diploma. Sigh.

We must find SOME reason someone would report that America is spying on its own citizens. Couldn't possibly be patriotism. And there must be SOME reason that a guy who isn't formally credentialed by the appropriate authority figures could land a high-paying, important job. Couldn't possibly be talent.


Reading this thread, I see that it works very well :)

People arguing, dividing, burying themselves into the details of exact salary figures and GED scores.

Spies, they know their craft :)


Ad hominem much? This is inevitable, from what I've seen there aren't any substantial claims being made against him. Conduct in his personal life really sets him apart from Assange.


I wish he hadn't come forward. There was no real reason for him to release his name or tell his story yet. This is going to distract us all from the real issues at hand.


I imagine he did so out of fear for his life. If the government had learned who he was before he announced it publicly, he would have been disappeared before anybody heard anything. being a public figure means that whatever happens to him will also be public.


I know people like to accuse the media of having ADHD, but do you really think that people would just forget that the leak had to come from somewhere?


No, but do you imagine they would have discovered his name or have been aware if a strange accident had befallen him had he not put himself in the spotlight? To not imagine most of the character assassination occurring is related directly to the NSA seems odd, that is the kit of clandestine services worldwide. I saw an article with Booze saying he only made 122k a year, so basically appearing to try and make him appear to be an exaggerator or liar in something relatively inconsequential to the whole affair. Nice move, hopefully he has hard proof contradicting that, since otherwise people start questioning what else he exaggerated/lied about, which is precisely what they are angling for with publishing such unrelated bits of trivia.


It should be easy enough to corroborate - tax returns, W-2 and/or 1099s, paystubs, even bank statements showing cash flows if not direct deposits.


I think @notatoad meant to write "he would have been disappeared".

The implication is that being known to the media means that any retribution by the US government will be visible. Whereas, if he'd remained anonymous, he could have been assassinated or rendered without anyone knowing.


fixed, thanks.


Well, it had to come from somewhere. But if that leak happened to be getting waterboarded by our freedom-loving allies in Khazakstan rather than a face and a name, it'd be easier to, um, keep quiet.


That is kind of my point. We know his name, but we always knew there was a person behind it. Snowdon could be captured and sent to some undisclosed location (or killed or your favorite theory, after all it isn't like we expect to hear from him in the public), or an anonymous whistleblower could have been captured and sent to some undisclosed location (or killed or your favorite theory). Having a name out there doesn't change the equation much while distracting from the contents of the leak.


Indeed, Politico had ran a story about how Snowden himself essentially came to save Obama's day, or at least grant him a short reprieve.

I guarantee you by the time attention shifts to Obama again he'll have some better defense and counter-attack for the media narrative prepared (though it will remain to be seen how effective it ends up, I don't see how the extra time can be worse for him).


Glory. The man has already been canonized and deified. For some people that is irresistible.

Alternatively, if he is really smart, this would be excellent chaff to throw up in front of espionage and come up smelling like roses


I believe part of the thinking was: the leaker will be found eventually, who do you want to start the story about the leaker? If some government agency were to unveil Snowden's identity they could cast him in whatever light they chose from the very first image (who looks like a defender of freedom in a mugshot?)

Look what happened to Bradley Manning, the first public image of him was his chat confession and a huge amount of deeply personal details that really had nothing to do with the leak.


Thomas Jefferson had an interesting strategy for activating the consciousness of the nation prior to the revolutionary war. It's important to remember that divorce from england was a final step- they were british subjects trying to find justice until it finally became apparent that secession was the only solution.

We were under conviction of the necessity of arousing our people from the lethargy into which they had fallen, as to passing events; and thought that the appointment of a day of general fasting & prayer would be most likely to call up and alarm their attention. No example of such a solemnity had existed since the days of our distress in the war of '55, since which a new generation had grown up. With the help, therefore, of Rushworth, whom we rummaged over for the revolutionary precedents and forms of the Puritans of that day, preserved by him, we cooked up a resolution, somewhat modernizing their phrases, for appointing the 1st day of June, on which the portbill was to commence, for a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer, to implore Heaven to avert us from the evils of civil war, to inspire us with firmness in support of our rights, and to turn the hearts of the King and Parliament to moderation and justice

I'd love to see a day of fasting over prism. It might help people move beyond just posting their opinions on facebook/reddit/twitter/the bar.


Oceana has always been at war with Eurasia.


You are unorthodox. Eurasia has always been at war with East Asia.


I'd be surprised if the government was even behind any of the "smears". To some people, he's a hero. To some, he's a traitor. The people at either extreme have a reason to spread their viewpoint; those who don't care, or who want to wait for more information to come out, simply don't give a voice of reason for the most part. On the other hand, maybe the government can simply call up 5-10 journalists and run the "standard smear campaign".


Influence on journalists is typically not exerted overtly. Journalists know what behaviors are rewarded internally by the media organization (which is itself influenced by the government and corporations), through things like promotions and good work assignments, and externally by the government and corporations, though things like access, social connections and being in the "in" crowd by being invited to exclusive dinners and events.

Moreover journalists at these media organizations are selected and retained based largely on whether they are going to support the organization, one aspect of which is being held in a favorable opinion by government leaders.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JournoList and it's pretty clear its still running in some fashion.


Some of Brooks' conclusions should have never been printed. They defy logic.

For instance,

>He betrayed the cause of open government. Every time there >is a leak like this, the powers that be close the circle of >trust a little tighter. They limit debate a little more.

Considering the project itself was a secret, I'm not sure how exposing something that would never have been exposed otherwise could be construed as damaging to "open government", a position I doubt Mr. Brooks has ever endorsed without mind-numbing qualification.

>He betrayed the privacy of us all. If federal security >agencies can’t do vast data sweeps, they will inevitably >revert to the older, more intrusive eavesdropping methods.

Gee, and I guess if Dr. Oppenheimer hadn't built The Bomb, we'd have to have used incendiary bombing to win the war.

>He betrayed the Constitution. The founders did not create >the United States so that some solitary 29-year-old could >make unilateral decisions about what should be exposed. >Snowden self-indulgently short-circuited the democratic >structures of accountability, putting his own preferences >above everything else.

So what Mr. Brooks says here is that government regulations trump individual conscience, and that Snowden should have just followed orders. I think they hanged a few Germans and Japanese for following orders too.

But before someone scorches me for DARING TO COMPARE PRISM WITH THE HOLOCAUST, to whom did Snowden really have to turn?

The Founders (Hallowed Be Their Names), maybe?


Can you imagine the founders approving Ben Franklin's postal service had they imagined its agents would open every piece of mail? Or even kept records of senders, recipients, locations, and dates?


I suspect that the type of person who is capable of becoming a whistle-blower, is also a lot less institutionalized. I'm not surprised that he didn't finish high school, if he is an extremely critical thinker. There are a ton of things that don't make sense about our education system. It certainly doesn't make him dumb.

Whistle blowing can be considered an extremely irrational act. It is basically ruining this guys life. Most people would never accept that sacrifice on the off chance that their small action might contribute to positive change in the world, for future generations. It takes a certain type of person to do it. Someone who is so irrationally devoted to the truth that they can't help but ruin their own lives in the name of what they perceive as the truth. If he is sincere in his motivations, then I'm sure this isn't the first time that he has bucked a system.


And what if quite simply Snowden isn't the leak, he's a character created specifically for this to occur. Whether you're defending or attacking "Snowden", the reality is you're not focusing on the bigger issue at hand.


While I completely agree with most of this article, there was one thing I found utterly repellent. This line - 'People largely stopped talking about what Wikileaks revealed years ago, & now discussion of Assange is dominated by the usual cliches about him being arrogant, a rapist, etc.'

Oh yes, those usual boring cliches - arrogance and rape. Repulsive. People talk about Assange being creepy because he has been accused of rape by two female (former) supporters, not because of a series of subtle derogatory digs in the mainstream media. And arguing that these rape cases are a fabrication to bring Assange to justice for what happened over wikileaks (which I don't believe at all) isn't an argument in this instance, because the two cases are so unlike each other it seems ridiculous to make the comparison. I'm not disagreeing that Edward Snowden is being subjected to unpleasant ad hominem attacks, he is and it's outrageous, but to compare him to the treatment that Assange has received is ridiculous.


Did you read anything about the accusations? (Like why the police threw them away, for example.)

Or, at a minimum, you should take note of the fact that Assange was not formaly accused of rape yet.


They did not accuse him of rape.


Anything remotely political has been transformed by the media into this name-calling garbage. Elections turn on people's impression of the character of the candidates, much of the time fueled by irresponsible rumor-reporting by the media.

It seems that all you have to do to win the public opinion battle is to resort to schoolyard bully tactics. Maybe it won't work this time...


One note I would make:

Another whistleblower, Julian Assange, received even more brutal treatment. Here’s another hit piece on him, again run by the NYT, filled with subtly negative phrases like “dwindling number of loyalists”, “notoriety”, “erratic and imperious behavior”, “delusional grandeur” et al.

Those same accusations are leveled against Assange by people who used to work with him. For example, read James Ball's account:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/05/30/exclusive-f...

Many of these 'smears' are essentially irrefutable facts ("Snowden did not complete high school"), and while I agree that many will try to smear him, regarding any negative coverage of him as an attack against liberty is not very productive.


Ball's credibility is questionable. At a high level it seems that he was trying to advance his career and leveraged his Wikileaks access to do so. Part of that appeared to be feeding information and possibly documents to David Leigh who he later wrote a book with and helped him secure a job at the Guardian.

http://justice4assange.com/IMG/html/gibney-transcript.html#4...

As a counterpoint to the Shamir story: http://wlcentral.org/node/1412 http://wlcentral.org/node/1186


> NYT, filled with subtly negative phrases like “dwindling number of loyalists”, “notoriety”, “erratic and imperious behavior”, “delusional grandeur” et al.

Do NYT articles about Obama or Bush use these phrases? If not, why not? They certainly could.


High school diploma or no high school diploma. It doesn't matter because that was 11 years ago and the things he has done in those intervening years were sufficiently impressive that both the NSA and Booz Allen, after reviewing what he's done since high school considered him capable of doing the work they asked of him by hiring him. Not only did they hire him, but they kept him on for several years, implying that his work was satisfactory to them.

I know someone who ended up freebasing meth freshman year of college, cleaning himself up, going to another university, improving his grades, transferring to a better university, doing research that eventually got him a full-ride offer for a masters or PhD in biomedical engineering at Harvard. People can and do change and they can change so much in 10 years to have practically nothing in common with the person they were 10 years ago.


The US is about as Democratic as Iran or Russia. Let's face it, in the US, no matter who is 'officially' in power, it's still the same institutions, the same people in charge.

Dissent is censored by a creating a consensus in society, which itself is a product of indoctrination and propaganda. Examples would be the communist and Muslim scares.

The American population is not only powerless to stand up to their institutions, they have convinced themselves that the very institutions that oppress them are necessary. The 2 party system, and various security agencies are examples.

Now the 'average law-abiding citizen' is going to convince themselves that the NSA is preventing 'terrorism' and that Snowden is a 'traitor', and eventually, by demonizing the anti-surveillance elements of society, the US will become even more oppressive, with the full support of the population...


A few points:

1. I don't like that this is being said about Edward Snowden, but Occam's Razor implies it's not necessarily a conspiracy (yet). I'm sure it will be, at some point, but as a software engineer who made it without a college degree, I can personally attest that it's not unnatural for people to bring up and question a lack of education. People love to do this - before I was making any real progress in engineering, and even after I succeeded, people thought it was unusual and strange that I didn't pursue a degree. The only people exempt from this are people like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, David Karp, et al.

2. On citing use of the "fallacy" ad hominem - just stop. You're not doing it properly. Yes, the literal definition means bringing in personal qualities, but personal qualities and background can be relevant. Just as the appeal to authority is not a fallacy if you cite a legitimate expert with established research, it is OK and legitimate to question a high school dropout's ability to understand what he leaked. This should be self-evident - the person is being questioned because they don't have an obvious legitimatization of their expertise. That said, I don't agree with the fact being explored more than the leaked information itself. I'd also like to note that you don't sound any more convincing to people because you just say "ad hominem" - it makes people defensive, causes an audience to think you're pompous (sometimes) and conditions you to try and rebut an entire argument by citing a fallacy and ignoring the substance - which is a method that tends to fail utterly. For more on this, see [1].

3. Finally, it is sad they're talking about his neighbors and school life so much. They have nothing else to go on and they're grasping at straws. It sounds arrogant to say, but that's what most people do. They react to a big crisis and their fear of the unknown causes them to grasp ar any conversation points they can, legitimate or otherwise.

The community of people who recognize this (i.e. Hacker News for one) would benefit from being in a position to correct this mentality and steer the conversation towards the hard issues - the things that really matter. Dump all that shit about his high school diploma, let's start talking about the NSA.

[1]: http://plover.net/~bonds/bdksucks.html


it is OK and legitimate to question a high school dropout's ability to understand what he leaked.

This is mistaken. A CS graduate isn't necessarily any more competent than a given highschool dropout working in engineering is necessarily incompetent.


Yes, I know, we've all read Jeff Atwood's article on it.

That's not my point. I get what you're saying, but we have informed opinions. To the public, with no technical background, it is very reasonable to question someone's opinion in a domain they have no certifiable expertise or experience in.

EDIT: I can't reply @sillysaurus, "I'm submitting too fast", so here's my reply in the meantime.

I know...you're missing my point. It doesn't matter if a college degree or a high school degree gives you the experience I need. I can attest that you don't need one to have expertise in your domain.

What I am saying is that the public associates a college degree (and awards, other prestige, etc.) with credibility. To a great extent, this is true in most industries - this is why it's reasonable for non-technical people, people who don't know better, to apply this sort of safeguard to all "experts" they see. It doesn't diminish his actual standing, it's just a cursory glance that tells them if they need to find alternative routes to check his credibility.

I'm sorry if I'm not being clear, I'm not trying to say you're regurgitating anything, I was showing you that I'm well aware many CS grads can't code for shit. That's true. But it's not part of what I'm arguing. I'm talking about credibility and public perception, not actual ability or skillset.


To the public, with no technical background, it is very reasonable to question someone's opinion in a domain they have no certifiable expertise or experience in.

He worked for the NSA. If that does not count as certifiable experience, I'm not sure what does?

Additionally, if the public really believes he is incapable of the job because of his lack of formal education, why is there not more questioning going on as to why the NSA hired him in the first place? Why were they were paying him so much money (reports from $120-200K per year) for a job that he is not even able to do?


we've all read Jeff Atwood's article on it.

I haven't. Stop implying that people are merely regurgitating popular opinions on this topic. I speak from experience.

To the public, with no technical background, it is very reasonable to question someone's opinion in a domain they have no certifiable expertise or experience in.

This is mistaken because a degree in system administration isn't going to give him any depth of knowledge that would let him interpret the slides in a more informed way.


What I am saying is that the public associates a college degree (and awards, other prestige, etc.) with credibility. To a great extent, this is true in most industries - this is why it's reasonable for non-technical people, people who don't know better, to apply this sort of safeguard to all "experts" they see.

This is mistaken because a degree in system administration isn't going to give him any depth of knowledge that would let him interpret the leaked slides in a more informed way before he leaked them. Whether the public associates a degree with credibility is irrelevant if they're mistaken.

Your original assertion was it is OK and legitimate to question a high school dropout's ability to understand what he leaked.

It's not okay, nor is it legitimate, for the mere fact of holding a GED to call into question his ability to think critically.

Click "link" to reply.


Furthermore, college graduates are more likely vested in the system -- less likely to rock the boat. And college graduates learned to conform.


Can we conclude from this that it is better to leak anonymously? On one hand, anonymous leaks might be more immune to character assassination attempts. On the other, having a real live person stand behind the information adds some credibility and possibly deeper understanding of surrounding conditions.


Jefferey Toobin calls Snowden "reckless", "irresponsible", "grandiose narcissist". Jeffery would know since he is very familiar with all of these character flaws.

According to news reports after he got his long-term mistress pregnant he tried to bribe her to get an abortion. When she refused he abandoned her until a court forced him to take a DNA test and acknowledge his son. Only agreeing to contribute to his support after being threatened with having his wages garnished at CNN. You can't make this stuff up.

http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/gossip/baby-drama-c...


Indeed .. although if this is the best that they can come up with, they had better start making stuff up.


I just heard this weird moment on "The World" radio program [1]. Discussing Russia's offer of asylum to Snowden, at 25:02 the announcer says, "But last year Julian Assange was given his own show on the state TV channel, propaganda channel, Russia Today..."

RT surely is a propaganda channel, but if you listen to the clip, the announcer forgot to say "propaganda channel" at first, then hastily corrected himself. It sounded forced, and odd for them.

This, from a show co-produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation, a famous propaganda organ, and PRI, a not as famous one.

[1] http://www.theworld.org/2013/06/the-world-06-11-2013/

(edit: grammar)


Many of the comments here debate whether the news media should be reporting about his lack of degree or other facts about him.

Consider the corollary, though. Should the media be omitting parts of his life or credentials? We have a man who took a significant unilateral action and as we debate that action and the proper response to it, issues like his motivations and qualifications need to be reported, not hidden.

Given the magnitude of the revelations, Snowden himself shouldn't be the media's primary focus, but information on cell phone data grabs and PRISM for everyone except his leakees is very hard to come by.

We're at the early stages of this debate and we're just scratching the surface.


Everyone seems to think that it is a coordinated smear campaign. I think it is basic human psychology at work. People tend to group other people into "us" and "them" categories.

When there is too much cognitive dissonance in relation to what people want to think about their country or institutions, the easiest way to appease the psychological tension is to move the promulgator into the category of "them."

The smears as are attempt by people to humanize Snowden.. make him less scary, and simultaneously one of "the other."


Congratulations! We've done it!

1. Government being attacked releases information about alleged enemy of the state.

2. The forth estate does its duty and publishes the information. In order to draw in eyes, the information is sensationalized.

3. Someone totally against the piece writes an article as a counterpoint, adding plenty of backlinks and precious relevance to an article nobody wants to see gain traction.

4. Social aggregates like HN pick up the story, giving relevance to the article that gives relevance to an article we all disagree with.

Ads are viewed, money is made, and an agenda is fulfilled.


So what's the link here? Are these reporters actually agents? Are they in the pay of the security services? Are they being blackmailed by the security services? Are they doing it voluntarily, but in partnership with the intelligence services, out of an IC-cultivated sense of patriotic duty? Or is it all just coincidence and these reporters all genuinely think like this of their own volition?

I mean, obviously the answer is "all of the above," like it always is, but I'd like to hear some informed speculation.


Would the NYTimes hire someone who would stick up for Snowden?


This is not entirely on-topic, but there are a lot of comments on how journalism should be actually performed. It is advocacy journalism, but western journalists might use it as an example Anas Aremeyaw Anas: http://www.ted.com/talks/anas_aremeyaw_anas_how_i_named_sham.... Sorry, just trying to turn this topic into something positive.


Oh, he is a unfriendly neighbor and sort of undereducated. Probably he even killed a cat when he was a child! Well, in this case I have no problem with being spied on.


When quoted, he sounds fairly intelligent and thoughtful. I think the only mistake he made is not going directly to Sweden, but HK was closer, and it's not like there is a "whistle blowing for dummies" book. If you want to assess him personally, go read his words.

Ultimately he provided documentation to support his assertions. If another whistle blower steps up, we can reassess.


I see how these articles don't have comments sections. FWIF they are not having the conversation - but telling what to think.

I wonder if there is some sort of way to punish these large publishing houses in terms of destroyed credibility etc. To produce news is a right and when you have large audience you have responsiblity and when you behave like an bumhat you make it worse for everyone.

my 2c.


Terrorism's premise is that those in our culture were so self-absorbed in their private world, that they would be unable to suspend some of their privacy to achieve a collective good, i.e. safety from the terrorists. Luckily, most Americans are able to see the complexity of the issue, and have chosen safety. Not so Snowden. He is a criminal, period.


Sometimes I wish whomever downvotes/moderates submissions (not comments) would post a note about why they are doing so. This submission has a 20.86 score presently but it's in position 11 on the home page. The article seems a decent piece that links to some interesting sources. No better or worse than the average submission in my estimation.


That was the first thing I noticed. I guess we should all look a little closer at the news commentary and ask "Cui bono?"


The way he spoke in the video from Hong Kong, his articulateness, the vocabulary used, and demeanour, attests to his honesty, integrity and character. It is saddening to see so many journalist-stooges come out of the woodwork and attack him.

Shame on these "journalists". Julian Assange is a journalist, not these pathetic talking heads.


I am very glad that people like Elsberg, Assange, Manning and Snowden exist in the world. They are exactly the type of people that stand between the imperfect and unfair world we live in, and absolute tyranny. I don't give a shit what they are like over a beer or if they are overbearing narcissist assholes.


I don't care about his education, his salary, his friends, or his demeanor. What I care about are the documents he showed the Guardian and/or the Washington Post.

Anyone can shoot the messenger, but as history has shown, it just doesn't kill the message as intended.


How long till we get to the articles about the articles about the smears against Edward Snowden?


Well, that's essentially what these comments are.


I care exactly zero about who Edward Snowden is. As far as I'm concerned, he could be a dick who loves kicking puppies and taking candy from children. What I do care about is, you know, the NSA spying on my phone calls and emails.


It's very funny when they say he is not educated enough, etc and it was not a problem when he was hired and got access to top level secrets. The more he is defamed, the more


Look at the fact that we had to rely on a British newspaper to break the NSA scandal. A foreign newspaper is doing the job that our news organizations are supposed to be doing.

Pathetic!


Great article. They've begun and they'll continue. Intelligent people will see propaganda for what it is.


I've had one friend tweet about how he was a traitor and a coward. I'll let you guess who they work for...

...DARPA.

Seems legit.


But do I take someone with a link called "You should follow me on Twitter" seriously?


That's fine, irrelevant, and expected. At least free speech is still around.


If you threaten the system then you're tarred and feathered.


It takes Assange-level arrogance to believe that the only reason someone would think that Assange is arrogant is that he's been the victim of a media smear campaign.


And you have to be some kind of mindless sheep to be distracted by his character at the expense of his work.


Well, reasonable people will have to agree to disagree about whether the concept of arrogance is relevant or not to to the wikileaks project. I'd say it's far from a distraction, and in fact it's the key problem with the whole endeavor.


You're right, we shouldn't talk about the contents of those leaks when we can bicker about whether or not someone is arrogant. We'll put 2 guys on TV, one will take the 'arrogant' side, the other will take the 'non-arrogant' side, and any fair-minded listener can conclude that they're both half-right, the dude is sort of arrogant (or whichever insult), and we'll all just forget about the contents of those cables or the fact that we're being monitored.

Brave New World was indeed scarier than 1984. But hey, why not have both?


Speaking of ad hominem attacks ...


Sure, but the point is Assange should be a side dish to the Wikileak related issues (like civilian casualties, privacy, transparency), and Assange's personality a side dish to their actions and writings/ideas (which I find interesting/fun).

"We always expect tremendous criticism. It is my role to be the lightning rod ... to attract the attacks against the organization for our work, and that is a difficult role. On the other hand, I get undue credit." Julian Assange


Can you give specific examples of these arrogant character traits?




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