Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden continues to amaze me and to rise in my admiration (see his interview by the New York Times). “Snowden-says-he-took-no-secret-files-to-Russia” 

He most certainly violated his pledge and the law, but the thoughtfulness and care with which he has revealed very selective documents contrasts very sharply with the damaging data dump of Chelsea Manning (AKA Bradley). Manning, who never convincingly explained what he thought he was doing or why, impeded the flow of candid information and discussion within the U.S. government (e.g. in cables between our embassy’s and the State Department). This will make future diplomacy more difficult.

Snowden, on the other hand, who revealed information gathering programs and their assessments rather than the content of information collected, has thankfully forced more open discussion of what tools the government has and how they should be used. He has risked his own future in the heroic service of the higher interests of his (and my) country.  Richard Cohn expresses these views very well in a recent Washington Post oped: “Snowden is no Traitor/2013/10/21/”

Our government has been caught lying repeatedly in connection with its spying activity. https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2013/08/20/abuse-of-power/  In many respects this is an expected part of the game with regard to enemies we wish to protect ourselves from. But the law sets important limits and safeguards on the government when it comes to spying on its own at home or friends abroad (e.g. the President of Mexico, 70 million French phone records per month, etc). Records revealed by Snowden document that these are being violated as well.

Last week I attended a fascinating discussion at the Brookings Institute between Matt Apuzzo, Investigative Reporter for The Associated Press and author with Adam Goldman of Enemies Within: Inside NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and Bin Ladin’s Final Plot Against America (Touchstone, 2013), and Bruce Riedel, Director, The Intelligence Project, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence. Apuzzo and Goldman’s book is a spy thriller account of the only specific case revealed by the government of the 50 potential attacks they claim their programs helped prevent. The government thwarted the September 2009 al Qaeda terrorist plot – led by Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan-American – to attack the New York City subway system. Without taking a position on whether NSA and related domestic spying activities helped with this case, Mr. Apuzzo reported that the link to the would be terrorist came as the result of an email he sent to a known British terrorist. This was enough to enabled the government to monitor Mr. Zazi’s communications on the basis of older and established intelligence authorities without resort to the more intrusive programs reveals by Snowden. So the government lied to us again.

The natural tendency of government is to grow and to expand their authority. Whenever our government seemed to go too far, American’s have pushed back. Edward Snowden has alerted us to the need to push back again and I am very grateful to him for that.

Author: Warren Coats

I specialize in advising central banks on monetary policy and the development of the capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy.  I joined the International Monetary Fund in 1975 from which I retired in 2003 as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department. While at the IMF I led or participated in missions to the central banks of over twenty countries (including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Serbia, Turkey, West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Zimbabwe) and was seconded as a visiting economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (1979-80), and to the World Bank's World Development Report team in 1989.  After retirement from the IMF I was a member of the Board of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority from 2003-10 and of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review from 2010-2017.  Prior to joining the IMF I was Assistant Prof of Economics at UVa from 1970-75.  I am currently a fellow of Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise.  In March 2019 Central Banking Journal awarded me for my “Outstanding Contribution for Capacity Building.”  My recent books are One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina; My Travels in the Former Soviet Union; My Travels to Afghanistan; My Travels to Jerusalem; and My Travels to Baghdad. I have a BA in Economics from the UC Berkeley and a PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago. My dissertation committee was chaired by Milton Friedman and included Robert J. Gordon.

4 thoughts on “Edward Snowden”

  1. Dear Warren, You do not stop from amazing me (and that is good!). You have changed your view 180 degrees on this issue (and that is admirable). One small correction: Snowden has indeed released both content of information collected as well as assessment. His releases have forced an iopen discussion amopng educated citizens of the World. Whether the US Gov spies other countries or not (in the scheme of things) is not that important. Good writing.

  2. Will our countymen be sidetracked by the Obama DemPublicanCFR orchestrated charade of NSA Review Commissions and bipartisan congressional reform hoaxes? What is the effectiveness of an NSA dragnet domestic spy system the every conceivable enemy must be fully alerted to by now? Why is this NSA warrantless domestic spy system’s going to be shoved down. the throats of the American People, when Realistically, the only remaining effective target is the American People. Anti-terrorism is given as the justification for the secret spy courts, yet the secret spy courts were established in 1978, when Osama bin Laden was our ally fighting the Russians in Afghanistan. Who’s agenda is this? …… …It is time for much more than a review or reformation of the domestic spy program… it is time for a dispassionate review of the entire “homeland security operation” …it’s time to come up with a coherent intelligent definition of the word terrorist .. It’s time for sober reflexion upon our role as THE world super power lest we become to intoxicated by it. ..

  3. Sergio, if you read this, what content of information has Snowden released?
    I completely agree with the author of this post that,although I endorse some of the leaks about human rights violations, I think whistleblowers should leak documents more discriminately. The public does not have the right to know EVERYTHING.
    Some things are even in their interest if they stay a secret.

    I believe the leaking of the diplomatic cables by Bradley Manning can be a danger to diplomacy and thereby a danger to peace.

    If you’re interested:
    I elaborate on this in my blogpost called “bradley manning promotes war”

  4. One should not subsidize ones antagonizers. Perhaps one collective response would be to get out of the US debt markets and unplug from the web. Maybe the Amish are onto something…

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