A Key Similarity Between Snowden Leak and PanamaPapers: Scandal is What’s Been Legalized

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A Key Similarity Between Snowden Leak and PanamaPapers: Scandal is What’s Been Legalized

The crux of what the Panama Papers reveal – how the global elite put their assets off-shore in order to avoid incurring tax liability – has been legalized. (Image: Screenshot/sueddeutsche.de)

From the start of the reporting based on Edward Snowden’s leaked document archive, government defenders insisted that no illegal behavior was revealed. That was always false: multiple courts have now found the domestic metadata spying program in violation of the Constitution and relevant statutes and have issued similar rulings for other mass surveillance programs; numerous articles on NSA and GCHQ documented the targeting of people and groups for blatantly political or legally impermissible purposes; and the leak revealed that President Obama’s top national security official (still), James Clapper, blatantly lied when testifying before Congress about the NSA’s activities: a felony.

But illegality was never the crux of the scandal triggered by those NSA revelations. Instead, what was most shocking was what had been legalized: the secret construction of the largest system of suspicionless spying in human history. What was scandalous was not that most of this spying was against the law, but rather that the law – at least as applied and interpreted by the Justice Department and secret, one-sided FISA “courts” – now permitted the U.S. Government and its partners to engage in mass surveillance of entire populations, including their own. As the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer put it after The Washington Post‘s publication of documents showing NSA analysts engaged in illegal spying: “The ‘non-compliance’ angle is important, but don’t get carried away. The deeper scandal is what’s legal, not what’s not.”

Yesterday, dozens of newspapers around the world reported on what they are calling the Panama Papers: a gargantuan leak of documents from a Panama-based law firm that specializes in creating off-shore shell companies. The documents reveal billions of dollars being funneled to off-shore tax havens by leading governmental and corporate officials in numerous countries (the U.S. was oddly missing from the initial reporting though journalists vow that will change shortly).

Some of these documents undoubtedly reveal criminality: either monies that were illegally obtained (and are being hidden for that reason) or assets being concealed in order to criminally evade tax debts. But the crux of this activity – placing assets off-shore in order to avoid incurring tax liability – has been legalized. That’s because western democracies along with overt tyrannies are typically controlled by societies’ wealthiest, and laws are enacted to serve their interests.

Read the full article at The Intercept.

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, constitutional lawyer, commentator, author of three New York Times best-selling books on politics and law, and a staff writer and editor at First Look media. His fifth and latest book is, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world. Prior to his collaboration with Pierre Omidyar, Glenn’s column was featured at Guardian US and Salon.  His previous books include: With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the PowerfulGreat American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism, a George Polk Award, and was on The Guardian team that won the Pulitzer Prize for public interest journalism in 2014.

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