He has suddenly, rapidly, lost the support of his biggest, hardcore, supporters: young people.
A CNN/ORC poll showed a dramatic 17-point decline in Obama's approval rating amongst younger voters (18-34) in just one month. The generation gap on Edward Snowden and the NSA spying debate is considerable, and Obama is definitely viewed by younger Americans as an old, repressive, establishment figure on the question. In fact, Barack Obama is Big Brother.
More than this, a particular subculture of youth and the tech community, hackers, have been declared public enemies by Obama’s proxy spokespeople.
For example, former Defense Secretary William Cohen, a strong advocate of the intelligence community, but also earlier in his career a figure who pushed for increased Congressional oversight of intelligence operations of the US government, was asked by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell (who pointed out NSA chief General Alexander had been recruiting hackers for NSA):
“Do we have a fundamental problem here, in that these [hackers] are the talented people that we need to go up against the computer whizzes in China or elsewhere? And at the same time, they may not have the values of the traditionally recruited CIA employees.”And Cohen replied:
“If they don’t have [NSA] values, you can’t hire them. You shouldn’t hire them. They have to have not only talent, but also integrity.”
Will Hunting (Matt Damon) explains to
the NSA why their values suck. (1997)
Of course, Mitchell's question was not whether hackers tend to have sufficient integrity, but whether they might have values that made them less likely to obey the rules in organizations like the NSA. In fact, if anything, the main problem with Edward Snowden seems to have been a surplus of integrity and conscience. He apparently had so much of it, that overseeing as a systems admin the widespread buttfucking of the American people by stealing and archiving their communications data, just got to be too much for him to handle.
Now, why didn't Snowden have the integrity to just quit?
Because, that brand of integrity, which no doubt William Cohen would have favored, does nothing to help the American people confront the dilemma of their being owned by their government.
To get a better idea of just exactly what kind of integrity William Cohen wants to see in NSA employees, let us look at another of his comments, where he explains why, in his view, Edward Snowden cannot possibly be a hero:
"[T]he notion that one contractor can take the law into his own hands, and simply take [secret] information and disclose it to the world, and become a hero to some, is absurd to me. Heroes don’t break the law. They comply with the law."This Borg Collective Patriotism, which is fundamentally anti-American—what the hell does Cohen think the 1776 revolution was if not breaking the law?—is a constant chant of the fascists.
So insane is their hysteria that, rather than consider the possibility that hacker values, especially of someone like Edward Snowden, who after all spied for the USA for a whole decade of his young life, might be the better, higher, set of values than what the tired old oligarchs are pushing, that Cohen is willing to go with second-raters, less gifted spies, who will be more unquestioningly obedient:
"[W]e’ll make do with the young people who do have the values, the young people who join our military, and our intelligence services, who are committed to the security of this country."If you're feeling Edward Snowden did the right thing, then just understand your nation's leaders consider you suspect, and not wholly committed, or rightly committed, "to the security of [their] country." Yeah, it's not really your country. If it were, you would have a voice in defining what integrity and security looked like.
Lastly, it is good to recall that a long time ago, when William Cohen was younger, and in the United States Senate, dealing with a blatant failure of that allegedly magical constraint of Executive excess—Congressional oversight—he wrote a really insightful prediction about the way in which secret parts of the government, run by the Executive branch, could easily be abused.
The particular issue Cohen is alluding to in his statement, is something called the Iran-Contra scandal, where it was shown that the Reagan administration, confronted with Congressional outlawing of Reagan's pro-Contra policy in Nicaragua, which involved Congress cutting off funds for the right-wing rebels, secretly devised a way to break the law and keep funding the Contras.
This devious scheme involved at one stage selling weapons to Iran—yep!—in exchange for Iran assisting the release of a number of Western hostages held in Lebanon. In other words, Reagan was trading arms for hostages—something he promised never to do. The Iranian cash then was funneled to the Contra rebels, completely (and again, ILLEGALLY) ignoring the will of the Congress.
This is the example of Executive overreach and lawbreaking that Cohen is alluding to here, but the context is one of establishing effective Congressional oversight of intelligence.
Cohen addressed the Senate Select Committee On Intelligence on Friday, November 13, 1987:
As we saw repeatedly in the Iran-Contra affair, an administration can ignore its own policies and procedures regarding the approval of covert actions. There is legally nothing to stop this or subsequent administrations from ignoring the new restrictions or issuing classified exceptions or waivers to them. [NOTE: This is what Bush and Obama have done with the NSA and the FISA courts] And, moreover, by citing 'rare circumstances', [the current term is 'exigent circumstances'] the administration retains the option of keeping Congress out of the process altogether. While I accept its assurances to the contrary, its recognition that no covert action can succeed for long without the support of both branches, the temptation may become strong, depending upon the circumstances, to break faith with Congress in the interests of what may be perceived as "a greater good."Yep, the alleged "greater good" is always attractive to presidents who find the whole checks and balances thing really boring. The key phrase in Cohen's clear, remarkable, explanation for just how fucked up the government really is—and has been for a long time—is "I accept [the Executive branch's] assurances to the contrary".
On what factual basis?! Cohen had by this point seen one administration after another abuse its covert powers, and ignore anything Congress had to say about it.
But, as Cohen told Andrea Mitchell, and this echoes what Barack Obama and other fascists have been saying to: you have to have confidence—AGAINST ALL EVIDENCE—that the plainly ineffective system of checks and balances will actually check and balance the vast secret regime of spies, saboteurs, and assassins at the disposal of the Executive branch:
"[W]e have to have a measure of confidence in our elected officials that proper oversight is being exerted. If it’s not, they ought to be held accountable."Well, accountability would be nice, but as Cohen rightly pointed out a quarter century ago, relying on the standard oversight mechanisms of government to hold people accountable simply DOES NOT WORK.
And that is just one reason why we NEED all the brilliant, principled, young American hackers we can get. Best would be that the NSA should be shut down. But that is unlikely. Second best, is that the NSA is handed over to people who will impose some conscience from within, if nothing else from the constant threat the best and the brightest will reveal abuses directly to the American people.
That is not an oversight solution that should be criminalized, but instead it should be valorized—with a national service medal awarded to the best protectors of the American people's right to know.