Friday, May 30, 2014

TOR-RENTIAL RAIN: A John Rain and Edward Snowden Adventure

A journalist I'm friendly with online sent me this the other day. It was inspired by a series of guest posts I did recently with the Freedom of the Press Foundation -- and, of course, by John Rain. I thought, "An assassination/martial arts/journalism mashup? All my favorite topics in one short piece of fan fic!" It's a little short for Kindle Worlds, but I told the journalist I'd be happy to post it here on deep background. And so here we are...

John Rain had only a few seconds of air left. Former Crossfire host Michael Kinsley was sucking all the oxygen out of the room as he bloviated about Glenn Greenwald's personality defects. Rain couldn't tell if he was going brain-dead from oxygen deprivation or exposure to Kinsley's toxic fatuousness. He'd have to ponder that question from the afterlife.



John Rain was a lethal martial artist and a pretty good lover. Or maybe it was vice versa (in the ultra-high-stakes realm of political intrigue and assassination, screwing and killing co-mingle fairly often). Regardless, both skills were in desperate need of honing. Like a sword sitting idly in its scabbard, John felt his edge beginning to dull. He hadn't made sweet sweet love in days and, worse, he hadn't snapped some asshole's neck in weeks.

Violent analogies aside, Rain couldn't afford to be choosy with his next assignment (or his next romantic encounter) if he wanted to stay rust-free. Which is why he ignored his better judgment (the one the CIA spent many years and many dollars augmenting) when he accepted a mission from the world's most shadowy private intelligence organization: the Pulitzer Committee.

The reach of the Pulitzer Committee's suction cup covered tentacles are matched only by the black inky-ness of its secrecy. Metaphorically, it was pretty much an evil squid- with one of the tentacles holding a ninja star, just because. The Pulitzers make the nefarious Military Industrial Complex look like the Breakfast Industrial Complex (the slightly-less nefarious group responsible for fooling Americans into believing Coco Puffs are part of a “balanced” breakfast). If they were ever careless enough to leave fingerprints (assuming squids can leave fingerprints), said tentacleprints would be inking up pretty much every conspiracy pie: Foreign debts, homeless Vets, AIDS, Crack, Bernie Goetz (basically everything listed in Billy Joel's “We Didn't Start the Fire)- plus the Pink Panther remake.

What the hell was Steve Martin thinking? thought Rain.

Whenever a journalist with the audacity to express deeply held personal views gets a hold of national security secrets, the Pulitzer People get together and vote on their fate. There are only two choices. Option one is to lock the journalist up and throw away the key. Option two is to award the journalist's organization a gold medal. It was never a simple choice. It wasn't up to Rain to decide- he was just the muscle. The target: Brazilian Porn-Spy Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden's handpicked chronicler of the NSA leaks.

It should have been an easy job; Greenwald was a marginal martial artist at best, though a surprisingly solid tennis player, albeit with a weak serve and no net game. While his debate skills were formidable, Greenwald's words wouldn't offer much resistance to a patented John Rain karate kick to the solar plexus. Plus Glenn was typically quite gracious when receiving accolades. All in all, an honest day's skulduggery. Only Rain didn't count on the Gray Lady getting involved.



Arthur Sulzberger Jr. was literally a cauldron of hot rage. But literally literally, he was the middle-aged publisher of the New York Times). Word on the street was that The Guardian and The Washington Post were to receive Pulitzer prizes. The hell they were! Sulzberger was assured they were all headed to prison, leaving the Times the only game in town. His top henchperson Jill Abramson had promised him total domination of the news. If Sulzberger was known for one thing, it was his silly nickname, “Pinch.” But if he was known for a second thing, it was probably his extreme intolerance of incompetence. Pinch summoned Abramson before him.

What happened?! he snarled.

I'm sorry, milord! Abramson stammered. The Pulitzer People are so terribly mysterious! No one could have predicted they would decide to give them all prizes instead of draconian prison sentences.

Abramson had failed. Failure was bad, unacceptable even. Sulzberger activated the trap door beneath the very first female Editor-in-Chief of the history of the Times, sending her to a blazing pit of hot death/ unemployment. Good thing we never paid her commensurate with her male peers, he thought.

Sulzberger summoned his groveling third-in-command: Where is my minion, Baquet!?

Dean Baquet slithered into Sulzberger's throne room.

Yes, my liege?

Abramson failed to destroy Glenn Greenwald and to adequately address the challenges of transitioning a legacy print organization to the digital era. You are now Editor-in-Chief. How do you plan to make sure no one ever takes Glenn seriously?

It's already being taken care of. I've retained Michael Kinsley to write a review of his book.

How deliciously vicious! Also, make sure you implement all of my son's recommendations as outlined in this digital innovation report.

Of course. I will not fail you.

I hope you don't. You'll be needing a raise. How's 80 thousand dollars more than whatever Jill made?

Exceedingly generous, sir.

Ok, you twisted my arm. 100 thousand more.



Rain had managed to infiltrate Greenwald's lush jungle fortress in the mountains of Rio de Janeiro. It was like Jurassic Park, only instead of velociraptors it was 12 mutts of varying degrees of manginess. But getting close to Glenn wasn't going to be easy- standing between them and the blogger's husband of nearly a decade, David Miranda. Miranda was a hulking five foot ten (and a half) tall Brazilian braggadocio with muscles and attitude to spare. What he lacked in real-life combat training he more than made up for in Call of Duty skills on the Playstation 4. A direct confrontation would be a risky proposition at best. Fortunately the CIA never taught John Rain how to fight fair. Rain glided down from his perch and knocked Miranda's legs out from under him with a sweeping karate kick. Before the behemoth could mount a counterattack, Rain had already stuffed the Brazilian's pockets with Snausages. The feral dogs piled upon Miranda in an instant. That'll keep him busy for a while.

Glenn glanced up from his computer with annoyance. He was too busy arguing with some random asshole with only 17 followers on Twitter to pay much attention to Rain, let alone the other assassin in the room...



Just as Rain was losing consciousness due to Kinsley's verbal asphyxiation, a mysterious figure appeared out of the mist holding six full-disc encrypted laptops and a kitana sword.

Why is it so misty in here? John would have thought if he were inclined to point out such an odd but ultimately trivial detail.

The mystery man threw one of the laptops and struck Kinsley on the head with a glancing blow. Suddenly, everyone word out of the pompous shitheel's mouth was just random letters and numbers. The oxygen flowed back into the room and into Rain's ragged lungs.

What the fuck did you just do to him? Rain asked.

I encrypted his communications.

---BEGIN PGP MESSAGE--- hQEMA2R0hT5KocvGAQf+MWcINOqB, said Kinsley.

The mysterious figure stepped out of the mist and revealed himself to be former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Well, not exactly. Technically it was a robot with a computer monitor for a head streaming Snowden live via Google Hangout.

With Kinsley rendered as voiceless and impotent as those unwashed masses who lack the sophistication and savoir faire to read Vanity Fair, Rain was finally within striking distance of Greenwald. Like one of those cool bolos that the Ewoks used in Return of the Jedi, Rain flung the gold Pulitzer medal as hard as he could at Greenwald. Without even looking (and still fully engaged in his Twitter-spat), Glenn snatched the prize out of the air and nonchalantly tossed it to a local capuchin monkey named Fábio in exchange for an overripe banana.

Banana? Glenn offered.

No thanks, Rain replied.

I was talking to Snowden.

But he's a robot.

He's a whistleblower.

There was no upside to arguing with Glenn Greenwald. Rain moved on.

Thanks for saving my life Mr. Snowden.

You can call me Ed. I was put on this earth to kick ass and secure the fundamental right of human privacy, and I'm all out of ass. Say, would you like to learn about the benefits of the Tor browser? I've prepared a 12-minute Youtube tutorial.

I'll take a Rain check, said Rain, winking.

Rain and the Snowden-bot exchanged knowing glances and jazz music recommendations as Glenn and David riffed on their air guitars to the tune of Rage Against The Machine's “Bulls on Parade.”


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Prioritizing Personalities Over a Free Press

I'm honored again to be guest-posting with the Freedom of the Press Foundation:

One of the most fascinating aspects of Glenn Greenwald’s journalism is the way it provokes various people who think of themselves as journalists to reveal their actual priorities. I wrote about this at length last week in a response to Michael Kinsley’s non-review review of Greenwald’s new book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State, arguing that Kinsley had done the world a service by behaving in exactly the servile, establishment-revering manner Greenwald chronicles in the book.

But even more fascinating and revealing than Kinsley’s own demand — that when it comes to what the press should publish, "that decision must ultimately be made by the government,” and that journalists who don’t toe the government line might need to be “locked up" — has been the reaction of Kinsley’s peers. Here are a few I’ve come across:

If u missed great Kinsley review of Greenwald, one of biggest jerks in journo even if partly right.

Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine
Michael Kinsley deftly fillets Greenwald

Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic, Bloomberg
You should also read George Packer's piece on the subject

David Gregory, NBC
An interesting addition to the debate

John Harwood, CNBC and The New York Times
if you're talking about Kinsley's piece, it was a valuable screed

Charles Lane, The Washington Post
Intellectual mismatch of the century: Kinsley v. Greenwald

Alexander Nazaryan, Newsweek
A thoroughly refreshing takedown of the self-righteous Greenwald by Michael Kinsley

One notable (and potentially risky) feature of Twitter is how instantly people use it to express themselves. Often there’s little thought, little filtering, between the impulse behind a tweet and the expression in the tweet itself. So it’s fascinating to see how reflexively focused these people are on Greenwald’s personality, and how (at best) unconcerned they are about a fellow “journalist” calling for a blatantly unconstitutional system of prior restraint of the press and imprisonment of journalists. Their diction is remarkably telling: the most important thing to Alter is that he thinks Greenwald is a “jerk.” What Chait finds most relevant is that he thinks Kinsley “fillets Greenwald.” Lane is concerned only with who has the bigger intellect — Greenwald or Kinsley. The piece matters to Nazaryan because it’s a "takedown of the self-righteous Greenwald.”

Alter, by the way, is the person who suggested in a Newsweek column that it was “Time to Think About Torture.” According to Alter's values, it seems, advocating torture isn’t something that makes someone a jerk. Or, whatever it means to be a jerk, in Alter’s mind it’s a significantly more reprehensible thing than a call for America to start torturing people.

So here’s the situation. A fellow journalist — in the newspaper that once published the Pentagon Papers — calls for the government to assume ultimate decision-making authority over what the media is allowed to publish, describes another journalist as a “go-between” and “perpetrator” for his reporting, and wonders aloud whether journalists who do such reporting ought to be “locked up”… and not one of these journalists finds any of it even worthy of mention. What they do find worthy of mention is...

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Servility and Sourpusses

Once again, I'm honored to be guest posting at the awesome Freedom of the Press Foundation:

Glenn Greenwald spends the last third of his excellent new book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State, exposing the mentality and function of pseudo-journalists like David Gregory who are in fact better understood as courtiers to power. So it was kind of Michael Kinsley to offer himself up today as living proof of Greenwald's arguments.

In a New York Times book review, Kinsley says:

The question is who decides [what to publish]. It seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences. In a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government.

Pause for a moment to let that sink in. How can the government have ultimate decision-making power consistent with the First Amendment with regard to the publication of leaks? As Kinsley himself goes on to say, "You can't square this circle." Indeed. Unless you believe the government should be able to impose prior restraint on the publication of anything it deems secret. Unless you want to argue that the Constitution should be amended accordingly. Unless you believe the government should have been able to prevent the publication of, say, the Pentagon Papers (it certainly tried).

By the way, that "in a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are)" is worth pausing to consider. Not just for the pretentious use of pace, which I admit is amusing, but more for the childlike notion that America is a democracy and there's nothing more to be said about it. It's almost like Kinsley has never heard of gerrymandering, or doesn't understand that when voters are no longer choosing their politicians and politicians are now choosing their voters, democracy isn't what's at work. It's almost like he's never heard of former IMF Chief Economist Simon Johnson's argument that modern America is best understood as an oligarchy (pro tip for Kinsley: oligarchies and democracies are not the same thing). It's almost like he's never even heard of Noam Chomsky (more on whom below — for now, suffice to say that Chomsky is great at explaining people like Kinsley, who are simultaneously sophisticated about irrelevancies and simple-minded about fundamentals).

Anyway, never fear, "No doubt the government will usually be overprotective of its secrets, and so the process of decision-making — whatever it turns out to be — should openly tilt in favor of publication with minimal delay."

“Whatever it turns out to be”? Kinsley has already explained the “decision must ultimately be made by the government." By comparison, does it really matter what specific mechanism the government then decides on? This is a lot like conceding that the government should have the power to execute American citizens without any recognizable due process, then confining the argument merely to mechanics (Terror Tuesdays, anyone? Due Process just means there is a process that you do?). In both cases, the government’s arguments and those of its media flunkies are indistinguishable.

(Again, see Chomsky below on the propagandistic technique of narrowing the range of acceptable debate, and then permitting vigorous discussion only within that narrow range.)

And here's a bit of the current reality of what Kinsley breezily refers to as a government "usually overprotective of its secrets..."

Read the rest at Freedom of the Press, an organization deserving of your support.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Motive, Means, and Opportunity: Why NSA Secrecy Should Worry Us All

Honored to be guest posting today at Freedom of the Press Foundation:

Even if you haven’t studied criminal law, you’ll immediately understand the concept of motive, means, and opportunity.  Motive is you wanted to kill the victim.  Means is you were holding a loaded gun. Opportunity is the victim was standing right in front of you. Without all three, you can’t have a motive-based crime.
When it comes to domestic dissent, the government always has a motive. It’s just human nature to see ourselves as noble and good and our detractors as malignant.  And indeed, the historical evidence for the proposition that governments tend to view dissenters as the enemy is overwhelming: see CointelproProject Minaret; and Project Shamrock for just a few recent historical examples, or the Obama administration’s unprecedented campaign against whistleblowers for something more contemporary. Glenn Greenwald has more in an excerpt from his new book, No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State (#6 in the Amazon store so far, and it’s only been on sale for a few hours).
So the government will always by virtue of human nature itself have a motive to...
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