As politicians and security officials rush to shift the blame—with the mainstream media following suit —for Friday's Paris attacks onto NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, a chorus of voices is warning that, in addition to being "unbelievably irrational," these claims are also very, very dangerous for civil liberties.
The dust hardly settled in Paris before former CIA director James Woosley said that Snowden had "blood on his hands."
And Monday, current CIA director John Brennan told a Center for Strategic & International Studies forum that the power of spy agencies to detect such a threat were undermined by new surveillance restrictions in the wake of recent leaks. In nearly the same breath, Brennan also called for increased security to help thwart other attacks currently "in the pipeline."
Brennan said that the attackers had "gone to school" to learn complex encryption to evade potential dragnets, presumably referring to those exposed through Snowden's disclosures. He also said that "a number of unauthorized disclosures" led to "a lot of handwringing over the government’s" expansive surveillance powers.
Privacy advocates were quick to debunk those claims.
"Think about how many large-scale terrorist attacks have been successfully perpetrated well before anyone ever heard the name Edward Snowden," journalist Glenn Greenwald, who reported on many of Snowden's disclosures and has close ties to the whistleblower, told HuffPost Live on Monday, repeating a number of key points he made in the wake of the attack.
Greenwald reasoned that those shifting the blame to Snowden are the same people who "receive billions and billions of dollars every year in American taxpayer money and have been vested with enormous radical authorities ... and they have only one mission, and their mission is to find terror plots."
And the New Republic's Alex Shepard likened the scapegoating of Snowden to the so-called "Ferguson effect," which he described as "the deplorable and totally unproven theory that scrutinizing policing methods—specifically police brutality—causes police to withdraw from their communities, which empowers criminals and leads to an increase in violent crime." Shepard continues, "Like the 'Ferguson effect' there’s no evidence that the 'Snowden effect' is real, but that may be beside the point."
In a column titled "Don't Blame Snowden for Paris Attacks," James Bamford, author of The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA From 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America, called out Brennan's blatant attempt to "reduce hard-won freedoms."
"[T]he intelligence blunders began long before Snowden leaked sensitive NSA documents," Bamford wrote, "and trashing constitutionally protected freedoms for a false sense of security is not the answer."
In Europe, rights groups have been cautioning against similar knee-jerk reactions following an announcement by UK Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday that he would "prioritize" the expansion of surveillance powers and speed up a vote on the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill.
Guardian reporter Trevor Timm on Tuesday also highlighted how security officials are "seizing on the tragedy to gain more power." He writes:
The fact that officials are so eager to push for extraordinary new powers in the wake of this attack is not surprising. It was just a couple of months ago that the Washington Post published leaked emails from the general counsel for the director of national intelligence, Bob Litt, in which he said that although the legislative environment is very hostile today “it could turn in the event of a terrorist attack or criminal event where strong encryption can be shown to have hindered law enforcement” and that there’s value in “keeping our options open for such a situation”.
"Now we are faced with that situation," Timm adds. "We are all appalled by the shocking events in Paris, but let’s not use them as an excuse to change our way of life and strip so many law-abiding citizens of their rights."