America 2.0: The Latest

• Gallup has found in a new poll that a majority of US respondents disapprove of government surveillance programs: "More Americans disapprove (53%) than approve (37%) of the federal government agency program that as part of its efforts to investigate terrorism obtained records from U.S. telephone and Internet companies to 'compile telephone call logs and Internet communications.'"

• A new Reuters/Ipsos poll similarly finds that, while about half of US respondents haven't yet made up their minds about Edward Snowden, of the ones who have, only 23% think he is "a traitor" while 31% consider him "a patriot."

• The US people might still be making up their minds, but their representatives are sure he's no hero: "Lawmakers in both parties Wednesday said they do not view Edward Snowden as a hero, as the NSA leaker reemerged with new charges against the government and defiant vows to fight extradition." Well, it's great to see that the two parties can finally agree on something—that transparency and accountability to the people who elect them is bullshit, man!

• The fact that lawmakers are so quick to condemn Snowden is quite interesting, considering that many of them, in both parties, say it was the first time they'd even heard about scope of the programs, despite the administration's claims they'd been fully briefed.
Some members of the Congress say that getting straight answers from intelligence agencies about top-secret surveillance is like playing the game "20 Questions," where answers come only if a questioner knows exactly what to ask.

They say quality of closed briefings depends largely on who conducts the sessions and whether members go in with a working knowledge of programs and pointed questions.

Intelligence officials have scheduled several such briefings this week amid the furor over data collection by the National Security Agency after secrets were leaked to news outlets by Edward Snowden, an employee at an NSA contractor.

Although President Barack Obama insisted the Congress was "fully briefed," many lawmakers said they were unaware of two programs exposed by Snowden that involved collecting billions of telephone records and monitoring Internet data through companies such as Google Inc and Facebook Inc.

"We, here, Congress needs to be informed of what's going on, and we're not, and that's very disturbing to me," said Democratic Senator Jon Tester, a sponsor of new legislation to force more disclosure to Congress.
Let me note here that it is eminently possible the administration believes in good faith that Congress has been fully briefed, and that members of Congress legitimately feel out of the loop nonetheless. Those information gaps happen in D.C., especially around national security issues where there is tension between secrecy and disclosure.

Let me also note that members of both parties have reason to throw President Obama under the bus. Republicans, because they're Republicans. Democrats, because he is in his second term and isn't facing reelection, but they've got a midterm coming up—and if this thing blows up, they want it to be in his face, not theirs.

So, as this thing moves forward, it's wise to be aware that lots of lawmakers have lots of ulterior motives for redirecting this back to the White House and denying complicity. They will play politics, and it will be that much more difficult to establish meaningful accountability.

• Meanwhile, we're back to justifications of the surveillance program because it totes stopped so much terrorism: "The director of the National Security Agency told Congress on Wednesday that 'dozens' of terrorism threats had been halted by the agency's huge database of the logs of nearly every domestic phone call made by Americans, while a senator briefed on the program disclosed that the telephone records are destroyed after five years."

Maybe that's true and maybe it isn't, but we're just gonna have to take his word for it.

Here's the thing that's itching me at the back of my brain: If this program is so effective, why didn't it catch the Boston Marathon Bombing? The Tsarnaev brothers were not super sophisticated. Everything we've learned about them suggests that they operated more openly than most terrorists. So if this program didn't catch their plot, what are the "dozens of terrorism threats" that this program has allegedly halted? And why didn't it snag the Tsarnaevs?

I wonder if this program doesn't end up yielding results not unlike the war on drugs, in which lots of small-timers end up clogging the prisons and massive arrest numbers of personal users and local weed dealers are used to declare anti-drug policies a success, while sophisticated drug cartels continue for years and years, untouched.

Is this massive invasion of USians' privacy resulting in real terror prevention? Or are we just arresting a bunch of stupid kids and pretending they're more dangerous than they are, in order to justify the expansion of the surveillance state?

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