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Q&A with Laura Poitras on Edward Snowden and Citizen Four

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Astra Taylor has a good interview of Laura Poitras in The Nation, pointed out by Kevin Drum. It begins:

When Laura Poitras helped Edward Snowden turn thousands of classified documents into headline news, word spread that he would be the focus of the third installment of her trilogy of documentaries about post-9/11 America. Citizenfour captures Snowden and a small group of intrepid journalists, including Poitras behind the camera, as the NSA scandal breaks. The heroism and resolve required to act under the government’s gaze drive the film. Poitras herself was a surveillance target well before Snowden, detained in US airports some forty times between 2006 and 2012. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

—Astra Taylor

Astra Taylor: When Snowden first contacted you last year, you took an amazing leap of faith. Why did you trust that these messages weren’t entrapment?

Laura Poitras: My gut told me it was legitimate, but I was very cautious in our correspondence. At some point I actually asked him, “How do I know that you’re legitimate, that you’re not trying to entrap me, that you’re not crazy?” And his response was, well, you’ll know when you ask officials for comment on these documents—their response will show that I’m legitimate. You’ll know it’s not entrapment because I’m never going to ask anything of you. I’m just going to tell you things.

But other journalists were afraid to work with Snowden.

There’s a strong culture of fear among journalists right now, because the government is cracking down on both journalists and sources. We see this, for example, with [New York Times reporter] James Risen being subpoenaed and pressured to give up confidential sources. We involved [Washington Post journalist] Bart Gellman when Snowden wanted to release one document early, and Gellman used the Snowden archive to break the PRISM story about mass electronic surveillance. He was going to come with me to Hong Kong to meet Snowden, and the Post became very nervous and pulled out. They told me not to go. I felt like I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t go, so I went.

Why did Snowden meet you in Hong Kong and agree to be filmed? . . .

Continue reading.

I think it’s important to recognize the fear among journalists, another sign of the direction the US is going (along with the increasing bold civil asset forfeiture, the militarization of the police, the way some police departments (NYPD) defy the authority supposedly controlling them, etc.). For example, later in the article,

The NSA is supposed to be focused on foreign threats. Does the fact that they’re spying on everyone mean that we’re effectively the enemy?

[Whistleblower and former NSA official] William Binney talks about how dictatorships have surveilled their populations. When the government starts monitoring its own population, there’s a chilling effect; people become afraid. But there are other types of intelligence-gathering being deployed that’s not NSA. Look at Occupy—you have the NYPD, who have IMSI catchers [devices for intercepting cellphone calls]. Activists and journalists are going to be the canaries in the coal mine. They’ll feel the impact of state surveillance first.

Emphasis added. Who feels first the authoritarian wind? Activists and journalists: dissenters and those who write about them. If you can silence the latter, you can then have a free hand in mopping up the former.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 October 2014 at 12:50 pm

Doesn’t this count as yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater?

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And given that exception, shut down the site and fine the owners substantial sums.

UPDATE: This post must have been quite confusing: I used the wrong link in the original post (the link that’s still there). I’m leaving that link in place because Big Chrono’s comment is relevant to the matter at that link (which is a story about how the NYPD has set its own course and is ignoring the Mayor’s direction).

This is the link that should have been used, and the reference in the title refers to circumstances under which the First Amendment right to free speech does not apply. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., noted: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”

Written by LeisureGuy

22 October 2014 at 4:54 pm

Two more excellent articles on Snowden and Poitras

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Two quite fascinating articles in the New Yorker.

How Edward Snowden Changed Journalism, by Steve Coll

The Holder of Secrets: Laura Poitras’s closeup view of Edward Snowden, by George Packer

The second article is quite long and quite interesting. One wonders what was going through George Packer’s mind as he interviewed Poitras, given Packer’s intense enthusiasm for the invasion of Iraq.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 October 2014 at 1:13 pm

For James Risen, a Struggle That Never Ends

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A good column by the Public Editor of the NY Times, Margaret Sullivan:

Readers of this blog may know that I’m particularly interested in the situation involving James Risen, a Times investigative reporter who is at risk of going to jail to protect a confidential source from his 2006 book, “State of War.”

What’s happened to Mr. Risen is one of the two most telling journalism episodes of the past decade or so, the other being the Edward Snowden leak.  They share common themes, of course: the growth of post-9/11 government surveillance in America and the role of the National Security Agency in spying on American citizens, among others. (I interviewed Mr. Risen at his home in suburban Maryland last year about his and fellow Times reporter, Eric Lichtblau’s, extraordinary warrantless-wiretapping story that was delayed for 13 months, finally appearing in 2005; it won a Pulitzer Prize.)

There have been some developments in the Risen story — and some fascinating coverage. I’ll summarize them here and comment only to say that I admire Mr. Risen’s toughness and a great deal of his work.

1.  Thomas E. Ricks, in Monday’s Times, gives a generally favorable review to Mr. Risen’s new book, “Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War.” . . .

Continue reading.

The second resource she mentions is definitely worth a click:

2.  CBS’s “Sixty Minutes” ran a comprehensive story on Mr. Risen’s legal situation over the weekend. It included an interview with Michael Hayden, the former N.S.A. director in which he said he thought the government was overdoing its pursuit of Mr. Risen. “Frankly,” he told the interviewer, Lesley Stahl, “I don’t understand the necessity to pursue Jim.” The transcript, which includes comments from former executive editors Bill Keller and Jill Abramson, is worth reading.

UPDATE: See also this Salon interview with James Risen.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2014 at 9:17 am

The NY Times has a special definition for “democracy” in other countries

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The NY Times considers other countries to be a “democracy” if they follow US instructions. Countries that don’t fall in line are not “democracies” (in this meaning) and the US considers it legitimate to undermine or actively overthrow those democratically elected governments. Glenn Greenwald writes at The Intercept:

One of the most accidentally revealing media accounts highlighting the real meaning of “democracy” in U.S. discourse is a still-remarkable 2002 New York Times Editorial on the U.S.-backed military coup in Venezuela, which temporarily removed that country’s democratically elected (and very popular) president, Hugo Chávez. Rather than describe that coup as what it was by definition – a direct attack on democracy by a foreign power and domestic military which disliked the popularly elected president – the Times, in the most Orwellian fashion imaginable, literally celebrated the coup as a victory for democracy:

With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona.

Thankfully, said the NYT, democracy in Venezuela was no longer in danger . . . because the democratically-elected leader was forcibly removed by the military and replaced by an unelected, pro-U.S. “business leader.” The Champions of Democracy at the NYT then demanded a ruler more to their liking: “Venezuela urgently needs a leader with a strong democratic mandate to clean up the mess, encourage entrepreneurial freedom and slim down and professionalize the bureaucracy.”

More amazingly still, the Times editors told their readers that Chavez’s “removal was a purely Venezuelan affair,” even though it was quickly and predictably revealed that neocon officials in the Bush administration played a central role. Eleven years later, upon Chavez’s death, the Times editors admitted that “the Bush administration badly damaged Washington’s reputation throughout Latin America when it unwisely blessed a failed 2002 military coup attempt against Mr. Chávez” [the paper forgot to mention that it, too, blessed (and misled its readers about) that coup]. The editors then also acknowledged the rather significant facts that Chávez’s “redistributionist policies brought better living conditions to millions of poor Venezuelans” and “there is no denying his popularity among Venezuela’s impoverished majority.”

If you think The New York Times editorial page has learned any lessons from that debacle, you’d be mistaken. Today they published an editorialexpressing grave concern about the state of democracy in Latin America generally and Bolivia specifically. The proximate cause of this concern? The overwhelming election victory of Bolivian President Evo Morales (pictured above), who, as The Guardian put it, “is widely popular at home for a pragmatic economic stewardship that spread Bolivia’s natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses.”

The Times editors nonetheless see Morales’ election to a third term not as a vindication of democracy but as a threat to it, linking his election victory to the way in which “the strength of democratic values in the region has been undermined in past years by coups and electoral irregularities.” Even as they admit that “it is easy to see why many Bolivians would want to see Mr. Morales, the country’s first president with indigenous roots, remain at the helm” – because “during his tenure, the economy of the country, one of the least developed in the hemisphere, grew at a healthy rate, the level of inequality shrank and the number of people living in poverty dropped significantly” – they nonetheless chide Bolivia’s neighbors for endorsing his ongoing rule: “it is troubling that the stronger democracies in Latin America seem happy to condone it.”

The Editors depict their concern as grounded in . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2014 at 7:57 am

The Horror of a ‘Secure Golden Key’

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Chris Coyne clearly explains the problem with the Washington Post editorial board’s infantile idea:

This week, the Washington Post’s editorial board, in a widely circulated call for “compromise” on encryption, proposed that while our data should be off-limits to hackers and other bad actors, “perhaps Apple and Google could invent a kind of secure golden key” so that the good guys could get to it if necessary.

This theoretical “secure golden key” would protect privacy while allowing privileged access in cases of legal or state-security emergency. Kidnappers and terrorists are exposed, and the rest of us are safe. Sounds nice. But this proposal is nonsense, and, given the sensitivity of the issue, highly dangerous. Here’s why.

A “golden key” is just another, more pleasant, word for a backdoor—something that allows people access to your data without going through you directly. This backdoor would, by design, allow Apple and Google to view your password-protected files if they received a subpoena or some other government directive. You’d pick your own password for when you needed your data, but the companies would also get one, of their choosing. With it, they could open any of your docs: your photos, your messages, your diary, whatever.

The Post assumes that a “secure key” means hackers, foreign governments, and curious employees could never break into this system. They also assume it would be immune to bugs. They envision a magic tool that only the righteous may wield. Does this sound familiar?

Government or Apple employee in the year 2015

Practically speaking, the Washington Post has proposed the impossible. If Apple, Google and Uncle Sam hold keys to your documents, you will be at great risk.

In case you’re not a criminal

Perhaps the reason the WaPo is so confused is that FBI Director James Comey has told the media that Apple’s anti-backdoor stance only protects criminals. Unfortunately he’s not seeing beyond his own job, and WaPo didn’t look much further.

Apple’s anti-backdoor policy aims to protect everyone. The following is a list of real threats their policy would thwart. Not threats to terrorists or kidnappers, but to 300 million Americans and 7 billion humans who are moving their intimate documents into the cloud. Make no mistake, what Apple and Google are proposing protects you.

Whether you’re a regular, honest person, or a US legislator trying to understand this issue, understand this list.

Threat #1. It Protects You From Hackers

If Apple has the key to unlock your data legally, that can also be used illegally, without Apple’s cooperation. Home Depot and Target? They were recently hacked to the tune of 100 million accounts.

Despite great financial and legal incentive to keep your data safe, they could not.

But finance is mostly boring. Other digital documents are very, very personal.

Hack twitter
Consider: she deleted her pics long ago…we’ll get to data permanence in a bit.

So hackers have (1) stolen everyone’s credit cards, and (2) stolen celebrities’ personal pictures. Up next: your personal pics, videos, docs, messages, medical data, and diary. With the Washington Post’s proposal, it will all be leaked, a kind of secure golden shower.

There is some hope. If your data were locked with a strong password that only you knew, only on your device, then the best hackers could get nothing by hacking Apple’s data servers. They’d look for your pictures but find an unintelligible pile of goops instead.

To begin to protect yourself, you need the legal right to a real, working password that only you know.

Threat #2. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more and it’s quite good.

The WaPo editorial board are idiots, but we knew that already.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 October 2014 at 6:38 am

An interesting counterpoint to Reza Aslan

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UPDATE: Here is an op-ed by Reza Aslan, again defending Islam.

I recently blogged Reza Aslan’s CNN interview in which he offered a rebuttal of Bill Maher’s comments on Islam. Now Jeffrey Tayler comes to Maher’s defense in an article in Salon in which he offers a rebuttal of Aslan’s position:

Bill Maher’s recent monologue on “Real Time” excoriating self-professed liberals for going soft on Islam — hotly debated again last Friday with Ben Affleck and Sam Harris, and expounded on in this exclusive Salon interview — might well serve as a credo for atheist progressives the world over.  He began by introducing a photo, originally posted on a social media site, showing a teenager in Pennsylvania mounting a statue of Jesus Christ in such a way as to create the impression that Jesus was fellating him.  Noting that it “may not be in good taste,” Maher declared that “there’s no picture that makes my heart swell with patriotism quite like this one.”

Why?  He explained that in the United States, with separation of church and state enshrined in the Constitution, the youth, on account of his sacrilegious prank, would not do jail time or face violence because “liberal Western culture is not just different, it’s better. . . . rule of law isn’t just different than theocracy, it’s better.  If you don’t see that, then you’re either a religious fanatic or a masochist, but one thing you are certainly notis a liberal.”

(In fact, Maher proved too sanguine about the supposedly religion-free workings of the U.S. justice system.  As punishment for the irreverent post, a court ordered the teen to do community service, observe a curfew, and stay off social media for six months.  Hardly comparable to facing a fatwa for drawing a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad, but indicative nonetheless of the worrisome pro-faith bias infecting at least courts of law in our supposedly secular republic.)

Maher included Barack Obama among those unwilling to talk straight about Islam, and rebutted the president’s repeated statements that ISIS is “not Islamic” by pointing out that “vast numbers of Muslims across the world believe . . . that humans deserve to die for merely holding a different idea, or drawing a cartoon, or writing a book.”  This means, said Maher, that “not only does the Muslim world have something in common with ISIS, it has too much in common with ISIS.”

Maher’s is no offhand opinion, but a blunt statement of fact.  A wide-ranging 2013 Pew Research Center poll, conducted between 2008 and 2012 in 39 countries, offered a deeply disturbing, unequivocal overview of the faith-based intolerance prevalent across much of the Muslim world.  Among other things, majorities of Muslims – varying somewhat according to region – favor putting to death apostates and adulterers, condemn homosexuality, abortion, and euthanasia as immoral, and believe that “a wife must obey her husband.”  Large minorities condone “honor killings.”  It should be noted that for practical reasons, the Pew Center could not survey Muslims in the repressive, highly conservative Gulf States (including Saudi Arabia, the homeland of Wahhabism), so, if anything, these numbers provide an excessively moderate summary of Muslim positions on issues progressives hold dear.

There can be no doubt about the wellspring of these nevertheless profoundly illiberal results.  Texts in the Koran and the Hadith (the sayings and teachings traditionally attributed to the prophet Muhammad) back every one of the retrograde, even repulsive, positions the Pew Center catalogued.  There are also passages in these writings that appear more tolerant, but the point is, Muslims looking to back up hardline interpretations of Islam do not lack for scriptural support.

Maher did not cite polls on his show – he is, after all, a comedian – but had he done so, he would have given doubters a way to verify the veracity of his monologue.  That left room for interpretation and dispute, or at least for what passes for such on cable news channels.  To decode Maher’s pronouncements about Islam, “CNN Tonight’s” hosts Don Lemon and Alisyn Camerota called on Reza Aslan, the author of “No God But God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam” and “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.”

To start the discussion, Lemon asked Aslan what he thought of Maher’s performance.  Jumpy and defensive from the start, Aslan quickly steered the discussion away from the gist of Maher’s monologue – that Islam does have a violence problem Western liberals need to be frank about – and toward Maher’s outrage at Female Genital Mutilation.  FGM, was “not an Islamic problem, it’s an African problem . . . a Central African problem,” Aslan asserted.  “Nowhere else in the Muslim, Muslim-majority states is [FMG] an issue.”

This is flat-out wrong.  Though the barbaric practice predates Islam, FMG occurs, as far as is known, in at least twenty-nine countries (among them Egypt, Kurdistan, and Yemen) across a wide swath of Africa and the Middle East, and beyond.  Muslims even exported the savage custom to Malaysia and Indonesia, where it is a growing problem.  Those working locally to eradicate FGM have, understandably, a good deal of trouble making it an “issue,” given the lack on openness in discussing sex-related topics in the countries involved, so the situation may in fact be worse than is now recognized.  And if it wasn’t originally Islamic, it has so been for fourteen centuries.  The Prophet Muhammad, in the Hadith, condoned it, even encouraged it (calling it an “honorable quality for women”) and ordaining only that it not be performed “severely.”

Aslan’s erroneous dismissal of FGM as a “central African problem” will help none of the tens of millions of girls and women who have suffered mutilation across the Islamic world, but it will give comfort to those who hope to continue butchering their victims without scrutiny from abroad.  Neither CNN’s hosts nor Aslan mentioned Maher’s call to liberals to stop ignoring the practice, nor did they bring up his pointed words about Yale’s craven, abrupt cancelation, earlier this year, of the invitation to speak sent to one of FMG’s most prominent victims, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the brave, Somali-born anti-Islam activist and writer.  Maher blames a misguided attempt at evenhandedness by the school’s “atheist organization” for the disinvitation, but — surprise! — it was actually the Muslim Students Association that first asked for her event to be called off.

Lemon pressed Aslan to admit that mistreatment of women is nonetheless a problem in Muslim countries.  Aslan misleadingly relegated the problem to Iran and Saudi Arabia, while declaring no such ill bedevils women in Turkey (where honor killings have increased in recent years), Bangladesh, and (FMG-riddled) Malaysia and Indonesia.  Nor did he mention the salient fact about the status of women in his chosen “lands of enlightenment” — that women owe their well-being (at least in his eyes) there not to Islam, but to secularism and legal systems based on Western models curbing religious influence in jurisprudence.  In Indonesia, however, Shariah law is advancing and may undo protections women now enjoy.

Camerota, however, insisted, wanting to explore “the commonplace wrongs that are happening [to women] in some of these countries.”  She mentioned the Saudi prohibition on women driving, which gave Aslan the chance to browbeat both presenters for cherry-picking examples from one “extremist” country and using them to unjustly besmirch the entire Muslim world.  He then kept on about Saudi Arabia, as though his hosts, not he, were harping on the country, and declared that their Saudi-centered approach was not a “legitimate” way to talk about Muslim women, but amounted to “bigotry” – a charge sure to intimidate his questioners and get them to back off.

It worked, at least for a moment.  “Fair enough,” Lemon answered, though possibly less because he agreed and more because he wanted to move the interview along.  After airing a clip of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu equating ISIS and Hamas at the United Nations, he asked Aslan straight-out: “Does Islam promote violence?”

“Islam doesn’t promote violence or peace,” said Aslan.  “Islam is just a religion, and like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it . . . .  There are Buddhist marauding Buddhist monks in Myanmar slaughtering women and children.  Does Buddhism promote violence?  Of course not.  People are violent or peaceful. . . .”  He then dribbled off into generic blather about social, political and psychological reasons for violence, none of which, in his telling, had anything to do with Islam or any other faith. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2014 at 12:50 pm

Posted in Media, Religion


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