Edward Snowden and NSA Flack Duke it Out (Sort of) Over Spying in TED Talks


Edward Snowden surprised a lot of people, no less the National Security Agency, by showing up at TED 2014 in Vancouver, Canada. Well, he "showed up" by video link to answer questions posed by Chris Anderson. Anderson then offered the NSA a chance to respond if it so chose—which it did, also by video link. The contrast between the two interviews is interesting, with the whistleblower discussing surveillance and Richard Ledgett, deputy director of the National Security Agency, complaining about disclosures and trying to put a positive spin on the spooks' roles.

In part, Edward Snowden says:

The best way to understand PRISM, because there's been a little bit of controversy, is to first talk about what PRISM isn't. Much of the debate in the U.S. has been about metadata. They've said it's just metadata, it's just metadata, and they're talking about a specific legal authority called Section 215 of the Patriot Act. That allows sort of a warrantless wiretapping, mass surveillance of the entire country's phone records, things like that—who you're talking to, when you're talking to them, where you traveled. These are all metadata events. PRISM is about content. It's a program through which the government could compel corporate America, it could deputize corporate America to do its dirty work for the NSA. And even though some of these companies did resist, even though some of them—I believe Yahoo was one of them — challenged them in court, they all lost, because it was never tried by an open court. They were only tried by a secret court. And something that we've seen, something about the PRISM program that's very concerning to me is, there's been a talking point in the U.S. government where they've said 15 federal judges have reviewed these programs and found them to be lawful, but what they don't tell you is those are secret judges in a secret court based on secret interpretations of law that's considered 34,000 warrant requests over 33 years, and in 33 years only rejected 11 government requests. These aren't the people that we want deciding what the role of corporate America in a free and open Internet should be.

A full transcript of his presentation offers the details of his exchange.

The National Security Agency took exception to Snowden's characterization of the surveillance agency as a bunch of privacy-violating snoops who operate behind the scenes with the blessing of secretive rubber-stamp courts. Richard Ledgett took on the task of providing the NSA's official response.

"There were some kernels of truth in there but a lot of extrapolations and half truths," he said, before calling for a "fact-based conversation."

He then went on to praise the quality of NSA personnel and the wide variety of outlets Snowden should have used, in the NSA's humble opinion, to address his concerns about domestic spying. 

In response, Chris Anderson pointed out that official channels didn't work out so well for other NSA whistleblowers.

In fact, Snowden's predecessors on the path of disclosure faced prosecution, and praised his headline-grabbing alternative means of reaching the public.

Ledgett concedes that many private businesses are in a tough situation because the U.S. government compels them to secretly reveal their users' data—but he justifies it by claiming that other governments do the same thing.

NEXT: Gene Healy on Homeland Security's Move to an Insane Asylum

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  1. /rage on

    Richard Ledgett: domestic enemy of the Constitution. Chains and scourging. Bring back gibbeting.

    /rage still on

  2. From Ledgett’s interview:

    “There’s an amazing arrogance to the idea that he knows better than the framers of the Constitution how government should work.”

    “It’s not the NSA running off and doing these things. This is a legitimate activity of the US government, as agreed to by all branches of the government. President Madison would be proud.”

    Blatant violations of the the Constitution (4th Amendment) are what the framers of the Constitution intended? What a slimy little scumsucker.

    1. See, from what I recall, all three branches of government being in perfect agreement was exactly the sort of situation that Madison, et al. were hoping to prevent

    2. James Madison vetoing a public works bill, that he asked for, because enumerated powers. This guy doesn’t know Jack Shit about James Madison, and Jack left town.

      1. Just in case anyone doesn’t want to click through to the link, let me give you the money shot, and it sure would be nice if Dianne fucking-I-study-the-constitution Feinstein could also take a lesson or two:

        Having considered the bill this day presented to me entitled “An act to set apart and pledge certain funds for internal improvements,” and which sets apart and pledges funds “for constructing roads and canals, and improving the navigation of water courses, in order to facilitate, promote, and give security to internal commerce among the several States, and to render more easy and less expensive the means and provisions for the common defense,” I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling the bill with the Constitution of the United States to return it with that objection to the House of Representatives, in which it originated.

        The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified and enumerated in the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers, or that it falls by any just interpretation with the power to make laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution those or other powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States.

        Suck it, bitches.

        1. I’ve found it is incredibly hard to explain principles to someone who doesn’t have any. They keep saying “Ya, but what about this issue or that situation”. They wouldn’t need to ask if they understood what a principle was.

          1. They keep saying “Ya, but what about this issue or that situation”

            That’s why I was somewhat impressed with Clarence Thomas giving a talk with a bunch of young Journalism students. They were asking him questions about making rulings on stuff that gosh darn, you just knew were the right thing to do.

            Thomas, frustrated, finally said to the room (paraphrased), “Look, we have this thing… this guide, and it’s called the Constitution…”

    3. It’s not a crime if the government does it.


      1. Apparently, the argument is “it’s not a crime if other governments do it.”

    4. “There’s an amazing arrogance to the idea that he knows better than the framers of the Constitution how government should work.”

      I reserve for myself as an American the right to determine how I believe my government should work. Keeping the machinations a secret was robbing me of that right.

      1. That is one of the core problems of this whole secrecy debate/controversy, logic. The Arguer (in this case the NSA) ignores or suppresses important evidence (via the secret courtroom proceedings) that would require a different conclusion (if open to the public).
        The NSA is guilty of the suppressed-evidence fallacy.

  3. “It appears that we are unable to play this video on your browser…”


    1. A friend of mine told me there’s a great TED talks were some guy claims that Capitalism breeds psychopaths. Maybe that one will play in your browser.

  4. but he justifies it by claiming that other governments do the same thing.

    You know what else other governments have done?

    1. I wish someone would have come running down the aisle with a hammer, then hurled it into his monitor.

    2. His weak appeal to an unqualified authority.

  5. http://www.slate.com/blogs/the…..go_by.html

    “So my response then continues to be what I believe today, which is: Russia’s actions are a problem. They don’t pose the number one national security threat to the United States. I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.”

    Thus proving that Obama is completely fucking innumerate.

    Basic risk management probability and consequences.

    Probability of a terrorist getting a functional nuke into the US and setting off in NY — small but not insignificant. Consequences of a nuke going off in NY. Pretty bad, but at least I won’t have to hear about the fucking Yankees for some time.

    Probability of getting in to shooting war with the #2 nuclear power in the world over territorial conflict — pretty fucking significant right now. Consequences of global thermonuclear war with Russia — The planet gets a clean slate, and we don’t have to worry about global warming any more.

    2016 can’t come soon enough.

    1. Like Jeb Bush, Chris Christie or Hillary Clinton will be so much better.

      1. Explain how any of these will be worse than the clown in the oval office right now. These three are craven, career politicians with a certain amount of intelligence. Obama is plain fucking stupid.

        1. They’d be about the same. You can only go so low.

        2. I think you are making the mistake of comparing real Obama with the campaign version of the others. Campaign Obama wasn’t nearly as bad as Real Obama, either.

          You think Christie it Hillary won’t love the surveillance/police state powers?

      2. What, still no love for Biden in 2016? Why errbody hatin’ on The Biden?

  6. I’m just impressed Ledgett managed to say that stuff with a straight face.

    One other laughable justification I’ve seen people raise is that “the NSA has been doing this kind of thing for a long time.”

    1. As if the passage of time were somehow a cure to a wrong.

  7. “Ledgett concedes that many private businesses are in a tough situation because the U.S. government compels them to secretly reveal their users’ data?but he justifies it by claiming that other governments do the same thing.”

    You mean like, Russia, Cuba, China, North Korea…?

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