Thursday, October 1, 2015

Assignment 2 

By Miao Yang

Though I think the U.S. government has a need to keep some information secret, Snowden’s case could not perfectly fit into the category of violating that need in my perspective. I perhaps won’t categorize Snowden’s act as either heroic or traitorous. To me, he is very American, even as he himself said so: “I'm an American and I'm a citizen, just like everyone else.” The word “American” goes further than its literal meaning. It is the respect for individual rights. Snowden’s solid faith in the protection of citizens’ rights to privacy results in his courageous decision; he is not confronting with the government, but to work together that make both open government and private life come true.

It is alleged that Snowden has stolen 1.7 millions documents but only a few hundred of them have been shared with the public. I think Snowden understands the bottom line between public interest and national security. Some classified documents related to national security should not be disclosed, which Snowden also has considered when he made such decision, as he mentioned at the very beginning of his talk: “[I aims] to have a dialogue and debate about how we can inform the public about matters of vital importance without putting our national security at risk.” Snowden’s selective revelations of certain documents manifest that he is truly concerned with American public’s rights being violated rather than put national security in risk.

Furthermore, Snowden emphasized several points which I think are critical to our understanding of the relationship between individual rights and national interests, quoted: “Public interest is not always the same as national interest” and “We don’t have to give up our liberty to have security”. He questions the credibility of the notion that American society could only guarantee its security at the expense of personal privacy, as he later pointed out “Two independent White House panels who reviewed all of the classified evidence said these programs have never stopped a single terrorist attack that was imminent in the United States.” The NSA’s Deputy Director Richard Ledgett’s emphasis on defeating terrorism as the priority task is not a persuasive justification for the violation of citizens’ rights.

In essence, Snowden’s case also raises the debate about procedural legitimacy and substantive legitimacy. NSA people could argue that though they realize it might not be good to invade personal privacy, they are obliged to do so in cases where the national interest is at stake.  Is that as long as the goal is for national security, whatever means to achieve that goal is not worth concerning? I highly doubt that an illegitimate procedure could guarantee social justice perhaps in few cases it did, but it still cannot be a proper way to solve problems).

Consequently, by agreeing that the government has a need to keep some information secret, I refer to military secrets or more likely strategic plans that closely relates to national security. In Snowden’s case, spying on the public as a way to defeat terrorism might be inappropriate, especially when so little evidence is available to suggest such an has effectively prevented terrorism.

Edward Snowden v. United States National Security Agency

By Craig Moorhead

NEW YORK, Sept. 14 – It has been two years since the notorious Edward Snowden fled to Russia to avoid espionage chargers for his role in the mass disclosure of classified information garnered by virtue of his role as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA). Even years after his departure, the public debate over civil liberties rages on leaving some asking the question: does the government have a need to keep some information secret? My answer to this question is absolutely, yes.

Just a few days after the anniversary of 9/11 we should all be reminded that the political climate which inspired those devastating attacks still exists today, and in fact terrorism and related violence has continued to rise over the past few years with high profile attacks occurring in France, Canada, and elsewhere. When it comes to national security, the government has an obligation to do what is necessary to ensure the safety of those citizens they are charged to protect. When the details of how these shadowy protectors do their work becomes public domain, their ability to do their jobs is adversely affected. This is especially true in the case of the NSA. As a signals intelligence service, the NSA's activities are primarily capabilities-based; and when the details of those capabilities are disclosed to the media without restraint, the ability of the NSA to acquire the information needed to disrupt a terrorist plot is hampered significantly. Such public disclosures as the one carried out by Snowden are tantamount to showing our hand to our terrorist adversaries. This has effectively hamstrung national security efforts because when the enemy knows your capabilities, they can work around those techniques and keep their operations off of your radar. Because of Snowden, the NSA and consequently Americans, have effectively been blinded to a variety of potential threats.

Julian Hattem, who writes for the Washington DC tabloid The Hill, reported on this very issue just days ago, showing the fallout from the Snowden story is still going strong. The article titled "Spy chief: Snowden killed 'important' spy program in Afghanistan" discussed comments made by U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper in regards to the damage Snowden has done to the nation's intelligence capacity.

Specifically, Clapper makes reference to a cell phone tapping program that had been active in Afghanistan which was scuttled by Snowden's revelations. Clapper describes the program as being "the single most important source of force protection warning for our people in Afghanistan". One need only look at the dismal situation in Afghanistan, with the Taliban resurgent and ISIS establishing itself in the country earlier this year, to understand the true cost of this type of activism on the part of Edward Snowden.

With all that said, I don't think anyone would dispute the importance of civil liberties in American society. The Founding Fathers wrote the first amendment for a reason and greater government transparency to its people should be seen as a good thing. However, I take personal issue with the manner in which Mr. Snowden chose to utilize these rights, most notably in the recklessness with which he acted. The nature of the mass information he revealed to the public was of such volume that there was no way for him to have known all the details of what he was putting out into the air for the world to see. He held no regard for the lives he may potentially destroy with his actions, and he didn't even have the courage to stick around to face the consequences.

Some may praise the nobility of his actions for revealing perceived government misbehaviour but the reality, to quote DNI James Clapper, is that Snowden "exposed so many other things that had nothing to do with so-called domestic surveillance or civil liberties and privacy in this country". 

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Pope in America – Can one swallow make a (Catholic) summer?

By J.F. Mezo

Photo by Blink Ofanaye: 

NEW YORK, Sept. 18 – The kids are back in school, the leaves are turning red, and Pope Francis is getting ready for his American visit starting on September 22. Although the Pope will only spend 5 days in the US before flying back to Rome, he is ready to shake things up and prove, yet again, that the Catholic Church made its smartest move in a long while when making him Pope.

After a long period of drifting further and further away from the secular world, Pope Francis has made repeated efforts to reconnect the Church to the bloodstream of the 21st century. By now we all know that Pope Francis is not afraid to do things differently – just remember the shock of the Vatican after he proclaimed that he will not be moving into the papal palace. But his newest decision might carry unusual significance.

On September 24, the Pope is going to speak to the Congress for the first time in history.  This coming together of the political and the religious might prove oddly relevant not merely because the motto “In God We Trust” is written in block capitals on the central wall behind the Speaker’s rostrum in the House Chamber. Recently, a number of significant political figures, such as Hilary Clinton, openly expressed their admiration for Pope Francis, opening the door between the Church and the State – and the Pope is not afraid to step over the threshold.

However, this step might prove a turning point in the history of Catholicism, as it will no doubt have a great influence on whether the Church will be able to secure its last Western stronghold in the face of growing secularism. Just in the four years between 2010 and 2014, the share of Christians within the US population dropped from 78.4% to 70.6% according to Pew Research’s survey, as more and more people abandoned their faith and joined the group of those who are not affiliated with any religious denominations. Under Pope Benedict XVI’s years as the head of the Catholic Church, a special sense of disillusionment swept over those groups within the Christian community who were seeking a modern approach to and reinterpretation of many Catholic teachings that might have made sense at the time of their creation but whose revision was, even then, long overdue.

Among those were the Catholic Church’s strict views on abortion, the use of contraception and gay rights – issues Pope Benedict failed to appropriately address. This has not only earned him a reputation of being a rigorous, conservative man but also made him largely unpopular. Even the launch of the official papal Twitter account (@Pontifex) backfired on him as he failed to understand that joining social media was not the kind of modern approach to faith that Catholics have long been asking for. 

However, Pope Francis knew better. Although he stands by many Catholic teachings that are regarded by many as past their due date, he doesn’t seem to be afraid to push the boundaries. "This jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one," Pope Francis stated in a letter to Archbishop Rino Fisichella in September 2015, right before making the unprecedented gesture of offering forgiveness for the “sin of abortion”.

This was not his first meddling in secular affairs this year. Pope Francis surprised many when he joined the debate on climate change in May or when called for global wealth-redistribution in July. The Pope seems to make a genuine effort to bridge the divide between the Catholic Church and the secular world, that deepened significantly under the reign of Pope Benedict and his predecessors. Many see in him what they failed to see in Pope Benedict; a progressive thinker and a moderate reformer, who can lead by example and show the world what it means to be a good Christian in this day and age.

As several public figures who are not themselves Catholic (the list includes non-religious Jim Carrey and atheist Bill Maher) spoke up in his favour, many have been hoping that Pope Francis and his modern approach will be able to win back at least some of those who left the Church because of its former unwillingness to adapt. And indeed, when he speaks to the Congress on September 24, America will be listening. Thanks to Pope Francis’ wide appeal, the USA’s Hispanic community, Christians, scholars, atheists, unaffiliated people and those simply interested in all things Congress will all tune in on Thursday. For what feels like the first time in a long while, people are generally interested in what the Church has to say – and not only about the psalms. In a country that has always been proud of its Christian values, people have long been ready for a genuine discussion between the Church and the State.  And thanks to Pope Francis, that now seems to be within reach.

Oh boy, have we come a long way since the news that generated the most interest about the Pope was when a Twitter user asked Pope Benedict if it hurt when Darth Vader threw him down the reactor shaft.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Did Everything Just Get Worse?

By Adrienn Keszei

I was fourteen years old, sitting in the tv room of our high school dorm in Hungary, watching a television show with my roommates, when someone rushed into the room and changed the channel to see the news. Her sister, she said with trepidation, lived in New York and worked in the financial district. None of what she was saying made any sense—until we saw what was on the screen.
Exactly fourteen years after the attacks of September 11, 2001,  I found myself in Manhattan looking at the Tribute of Light from Brooklyn Bridge Park, and contemplating what – if anything - we have achieved in almost one and a half decade. How much closer did we get to a world where such things simply could not happen? Unfortunately, not much at all.

Dawn at the Pentagon Memorial prior to a ceremony to commemorate the 14th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon.

Washington - Pentagon Memorial 
(Source: )

9/11 was an extraordinary catalyst that started the long War on Terror. A lot has happened since 2001. The U.S. waged war on Islamist terrorist organizations and regimes supporting them, launched a war on Iraq based on erroneous intelligence, then the suffered international embarrassment when the inhumane treatment of detainees was unveiled and Saddam Hussein turned out to have no weapons of mass destruction after all. Of course, Osama bin Laden was killed, and in the midst of all this, following a US withdrawal from Iraq, the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) was “born’ into the political vacuum—a new enemy gaining more territory, power and followers every day. In many ways, the situation got worse than it was before, with the U.S. having to deal with a more dangerous and much more brutal organization than al-Qaeda ever was, while the government cannot seem to figure out an effective strategy to eliminate this new enemy. Furthermore, as a result of the war in Syria, which has been indirectly enabled by the U.S. intervention in Iraq, tens of thousands of people are migrating to Europe from the Middle East, seeking a better future. Among them, hidden safely in all the chaos, could be people sent by ISIS or other terrorist organizations, posing as migrants. Threats and security risks were ignored once before and with devastating consequences. Now, weary as the American public may be of the topic, the U.S. government must find a way to eliminate threats in the Middle East and minimize the risk of terrorist activity in Europe.
Many abroad now think that waging an extremely aggressive war on the countries associated with terrorist organizations was a mistake. They also believe that the U.S. overemphasized 9/11 while civil wars, famine, or constantly deteriorating hygiene and health conditions across the globe are contributing to much larger death tolls every day. Others argue that the leadership’s hostility toward all of Islam contributed to the ever-growing popularity of new jihadist groups. These are strong opinions, which seem quite insensitive at first, but a more detached perspective might just be what America needs in order to find a better strategy to eliminate the source instead of fighting a futile war against people on the ground.
It is hard to understand how the US government, with all the resources at its command, cannot figure out a better strategy to stop Islamist militant groups. After 9/11, most of the attention was focused on al-Qaeda, and as much as people wished for retribution, weakening al-Qaeda and killing bin Laden did not make the world much safer, nor did it heal the wounds caused by 9/11. Soon after al-Qaeda was weak enough to consider it less of a threat, a rival Islamist group appeared, known as the Islamic State. Their growing power and brutality forced thousands of people to leave their home countries.
These people are seeking a safe, better future—and it is the responsibility of the destination countries to assist them in any way possible to realize this wish. But migrants are arriving in large numbers, which means it will be difficult to effectively integrate them into society for a while as they will probably create their own isolated societies. This environment is unfortunately perfect for recruiting people to follow jihadist groups. Granted, the absolute majority of migrants are innocent people who deserve a better life. Nevertheless, it would be awfully naive to think that terrorist groups—that have been systematically recruiting people from all over the world for years now—would not take advantage of the chaos and the huge, uncontrolled mass migration. Some suspicious individuals have already been identified in several European countries, but chances are that due to the overwhelming crowds of migrants and refugees, most threats will remain undetected.

MSST stands guard near the Brooklyn Bridge

New York - U.S. Coast Guards Maritime Safety and Security Teams 

To prevent such an outcome, the U.S. should offer help to Europe to ensure that migrants are registered legally and effectively; not only to ensure global security, but also to create a safer future for America. The Bush administration ignored several clear warnings before 9/11. Who is to say that the present administration will not make a mistake again, ignoring the minor threats in Europe, which may only become greater in time. So, as I was sitting on a bench, looking at the blue lights relentlessly pointing towards the sky, I was contemplating the past fourteen years, and realized that we must very quickly learn how to prevent threats in time; otherwise, we will find ourselves fighting futile wars for decades, only creating more enemies and more tragedies in the process.

The Lesser Evil?

By Adrienn Keszei

At first sight, probably most people think of the Snowden/NSA controversy as a case of classic whistleblowing—and these people are not entirely wrong—but after careful consideration of the motives of both parties involved, the picture may not be so black and white anymore.  Edward Snowden has been recognized as a hero by many, and truth be told, his courage to reveal classified NSA information about activities many regard as unconstitutional is indeed impressive considering the consequences he may have to suffer. However, no matter how straightforward this case might seem, it would be unfair and undemocratic to only consider Snowden’s perspective while ignoring the NSA’s explanation.

(Source: )

Snowden leaked a large amount of information revealing top secret NSA projects that involved mass surveillance (with the cooperation of telecommunications companies), such as systematic data collection from the internet as well as people’s phone calls. This is clearly a violation of Americans’ rights, especially since allegedly the NSA did not only use the metadata, but the content of the phone calls as well. This invasion of privacy is frightening for citizens, who are becoming increasingly outraged as time goes by and more information is revealed about NSA surveillance programs.  At the same time, the NSA is attempting to do damage control, emphasizing, for instance, that the data collection was aimed at foreign targets only. But this begs the question of who is considered as foreign and how accurately can the NSA identify foreignness based on metadata. Can we be sure that only foreign suspects were targeted? Not really. What is also worrying is that once secret intelligence agencies start spying on people, no one knows where they will draw the line. Americans may live in a democracy, but systematic mass surveillance is hauntingly similar to Foucault’s panopticon, where people are objects of information and under constant observation or control. Based on the above, most people would agree that Snowden was absolutely right to leak information about the agency’s operations.
This is the point, however, where we have to consider the NSA’ point of view as well, and explore how the information leak is affecting their work. The NSA claims that Snowden put many people’s lives at stake. By publishing details of top secret operations, Snowden did not only help the American people realize how their privacy was violated, but he also enabled terrorist organizations to acquire information on how the NSA is tracking foreign targets. As these organizations are now abandoning their previous methods to communicate in order to avoid surveillance, field agents are now in much more danger, because intelligence services can no longer protect and/or inform them accurately.
Clearly, Snowden’s decision to publish the NSA files endangered long-term projects to battle terrorism, and it provided useful information for the enemy about the NSA’s surveillance system. Consequently, new programs and strategies will have to be established, which will be costly and time-consuming.  It would be ignorant to forget that the NSA was spying on people with a‘mission’—to eliminate terrorism.  Only a few days passed since the 14th anniversary of 9/11, and people may wonder how much mass surveillance is actually contributing to the efforts to prevent similar attacks from happening in the future. Is it worth it? Could the illegally obtained information really help the government to stop terrorism? One thing is for sure, it is not so easy to decide what the right thing to do is in such situations.  As in most cases in life, one has to choose the lesser evil, and probably that is what inspired Snowden’s decision.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Secrets – how to interpret the modern Pharmakon?

By J.F. Mezo

Photo by photosbyflick: 

            We all know the case – the former Dell employee’s remarkable story of moral responsibility as a citizen and the journey to the East that took him closer to the rigorous control and prying eyes of the state he said he was fleeing in the first place. Of course that is not to say that his outrage over NSA’s dubious dealings – eventually ruled illegal by the Appeals court – involving phone surveillance data collected by the agency was without foundation. It is just a friendly reminder that every coin has two sides; those of us who were in a hurry to proclaim Edward Snowden a hero might have to think again.
            Even if one assumes that he was motivated by the purest motives – and, to be honest, it isn’t that hard once you watch his stunt on TED Talks where he appears to be oddly personable even though he is speaking out of a telly propped up on a stand (the whole composition bears a weird resemblance to WALL-E) –, one has to admit that his actions were reckless at best. The vast number of NSA documents he leaked clearly indicates that there was no way he could have been aware of the content of each and every one of those, which is why the leak could have come with much more serious consequences than exposing PRISM. As Richard Ledgett, Deputy Director of the NSA claims during his TED Talks appearance, by leaking the documents, Snowden not only jeopardized ongoing government programs but also risked to put the lives of many of his fellow citizens in danger. However, I believe that the NSA could have driven its point home much more efficiently if only Ledgett took the time to appear on the show in person instead of opting for being projected onto a huge screen above the stage in a fashion that would put Orwell’s Big Brother to shame.
            Here, I have to refer back to Plato’s Pharmakon. The truth can cure the strong and kill the weak, so in Plato’s ideal state where the political leaders were the most capable and mentally prepared members of the community, they had the right to either keep secrets or even blatantly lie to the general population if they thought it would benefit the nation on the long run. I believe that principle should still be applicable today, as we live in the age of heightened interstate rivalry where one might have to sacrifice transparency on the altar of raison d’état.
            With that said, I also have to acknowledge that ethics and the rights of individual members of society have changed much since Plato’s time. Now more than ever, states should strive not to violate their citizens’ rights, and, as NSA’s listening in on American citizens’ everyday conversations was ruled illegal, the practice should most certainly be condemned. To sum up, in my personal opinion, the government should have the right to keep secrets as long as they concern the nation’s international status and are connected to national interest; however, it is a right that should be lost the moment that the government uses it to violate the rights of its citizens.

Monday, September 14, 2015

'It's Alive! It's Alive" BardPolitik Lives!

Welcome bloggers to the Fall 2015 edition of the Bard Politik Daily blog. Here we'll post our work, exchange ideas and comments (within the bounds of propriety) and generally ensure that the hard effort you put into Writing on International Affairs this year is rewarded by posterity.

More to come!

Professor M