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Philip Bobbitt on the Snowden Affair

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Monday, June 24, 2013 at 5:23 AM

Philip Bobbitt (Columbia Law School, and the author of, among many other things, Terror and Consent) writes in:

Three thoughts on the Snowden matter.

First, Snowden’s strongest point: how can the government claim it closely monitors access to the information it collects when a person like him can steal a trove like this?  The answer, I suspect, is that Snowden is not quite the person he claims to be.  He is not an analyst and he could not, as he claims, task anyone to provide him with the content of anyone else’s messages (I believe he mentioned the president, among others, against whom he could collect on a whim).  He was a systems administrator charged with maintaining security, a kind of high-tech night watchman.  Janitors were a fruitful source of collection for us in the Cold War and I imagine this is an example in the wars that are emerging.

Second, it’s too soon to say how damaging this will prove to be, because the real damage isn’t state to state, but rather in the alienation democratic publics–including those of our allies–will feel towards their governments and ours.  I am in London and the big story here is the collaboration of GCHQ with NSA.  In one sense this is hardly news; in another, there is a understandable astonishment at the sheer capabilities that have been exposed.

Third, on the state to state level, the U.S. campaign to get China to stop its cyber penetrations is, for the time being anyway, finished.