weaken case for
President Obama addressed the spying scandal at a press conference on Friday.
TIME magazine may have anointed Pope Francis person of the year, but there is someone else who in 2013 has had a far more profound influence on global affairs affecting many millions more people.
Through his disclosures, Edward Snowden has not only gotten the attention of President Obama, but other world leaders and countless millions who use electronic communications.
The latest developments, coming right after the US president addressed the spying scandal at a press conference on Friday may be the most significant yet.
They dramatically weaken the case, made by many, that massive surveillance is needed to defend against terrorism.
While this may have a grain of truth, how then can apologists justify spying on allies such as Germany and Israel, and even charities and NGOs?
THE PRESIDENT was peppered with questions related to the spying disclosures at his Dec. 20 press conference.
According to a report in The New York Times titled Highlights From Obama’s News Conference the president used the occasion to both defend the surveillance and acknowledge legitimate concerns.
The report in The New York Times about President Obama’s press conference.
“For the first time, Mr. Obama said that overhauling the N.S.A. was partly about evaluating its programs, but also partly about responding to America’s fears about what the agency might be doing — even if those fears were, he said, not fully founded.
“Of the N.S.A.’s programs, Mr. Obama said, “We need this intelligence; we can’t unilaterally disarm.” He talked of finding a middle ground, evaluating programs and changing them to allay public fears.”
The public would not be worried – nor would the president be on the defensive – if it were not for the Snowden disclosures, which just keep on coming.
According to The New York Times, Mr. Obama said the disclosures were “damaging” to American intelligence efforts, and said there should have been another way to air the issue of the proper limits on the N.S.A. (He never said how the public would have known about the programs that his panel of advisers now say should be reconfigured.)
“As important and necessary as this debate has been,” he said, the disclosures have “done unnecessary damage” to American intelligence operations and diplomacy.
But was it the disclosures or the programs themselves that caused the damage? This is a crucial question, and reasonable people may disagree.
While some secret spying may be justified in the fight against American enemies, how then to explain the raft of new programs revealed to be targeting thousands more who certainly could not be grouped as enemies of America?
Details were published just a few hours after the president’s news conference in The Guardian in the UK (and The New York Times in the US) in the Dec. 20 story GCHQ and NSA targeted charities, Germans, Israeli PM and EU chief
James Ball and Nick Hopkins reported:
The latest revelations based on top secret documents reported Dec. 20 in The Guardian in the UK.
“British and American intelligence agencies had a comprehensive list of surveillance targets that included the EU’s competition commissioner, German government buildings in Berlin and overseas, and the heads of institutions that provide humanitarian and financial help to Africa, top-secret documents reveal.”
Not a single known US enemy on the list.
“The papers show GCHQ, in collaboration with America’s National Security Agency (NSA), was targeting organisations such as the United Nations development programme, the UN’s children’s charity Unicef and Médecins du Monde, a French organisation that provides doctors and medical volunteers to conflict zones. The head of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) also appears in the documents, along with text messages he sent to colleagues.”
There is much more detail in the latest disclosures about more than a thousand targets of surveillance, none of whom could be classified as threats to the US or the UK.
According to The Guardian, “The latest disclosures will add to Washington’s embarrassment after the heavy criticism of the NSA when it emerged that it had been tapping the mobile phone of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.”
Indeed the monitoring of Merkel’s phone was one of the major stories of the fall, prompting a response from the president himself.
Added to the latest documents listing largely benign targets, the “terrorism defense” is crumbling rapidly.
The surveillance has been indiscriminate. It’s targeted friends and enemies alike. Businesses, non-profits and charities are now on the list.
You may admire or revile Edward Snowden, but as the revelations keep tumbling out, there can be no denying he has had a huge impact on global affairs.
He has attained what he said he wanted: a major public discussion at the highest levels about a hugely important issue.
He deserves to be heralded as the most influential person of 2013.
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