If Snowden returned to US for trial, would any NSA leak evidence be admissable?

If a country is a true democracy, then the people need to know what the state is doing. I don’t mind a 1 year maximum for something being secret - for tactical reasons. But longer than that, I believe the state is covering its bottom end so that the voters don’t know what it is doing.

We need to know what decisions are being made, what screw-ups happened, who is buying our rulers, and what audits are being done to make sure there is accountability.

1 Like

We’re a representative democracy. We’re supposed to be able to trust our representatives to handle most things for us. Unfortunately many people have been electing representatives they’d like to have a beer with rather than representatives who are intelligent and dedicated and who actually want to govern.

We have an expectation of privacy. There’s room for discussion about exactly what is and isn’t “reasonable”, As discussed in another recent topic, what us 20th-century folks think is reasonable and what the millennials think is reasonable are somewhat different, and what the law thinks is reasonable may not match either, and what the spy agencies manage to get approved may be something else entirely. Yes, we need to discuss where those lines should be drawn. I’m not willing to bet that the answer is going to be one that we consider optimal, especially in this age when we’re still massively overreacting to the threat of the threat of the threat of terrorism.

1 Like

They didn’t wire tap, they just tracked who you talk to, when you talked to them, for how long, and where both of you were standing when you had that conversation. This is a hilarious argument.

Clearly, the NSA thought that everyone would agree it is illegal. There is no magic in tracking every single call in the US. This isn’t some awesome capability that only the technological might of the NSA can do. You could send that data to me, and I could setup a server to hold all of that data with well under a million dollars, and I could even start spitting out social graphs for you with boring software that costs under a thousand dollars.

So why make this program secret? If everyone agrees it is legal and we all understand the technology required is trivial, why hide it?

The simple answer is that it seemed pretty fucking clear to everyone that it was in fact illegal. The only secret capability that having this operation classified was the secret capacity for the NSA to piss on the constitution. Until this, perhaps some of America’s enemies might have (delusionally) thought that the NSA was bound by law and wouldn’t take illegal actions. Now everyone knows better. The fact that the NSA will do things that appear to be utterly illegal has been declassified.

We now know that the NSA is above the law. It will break into private American companies to steal internal data. We know that the NSA will track fucking anything they can get their hands on and then blatantly lie to congress about it. We know that the NSA will pay off corporations to intentionally cripple public encryption.

Truly, the only secret Snowden has revealed is that the NSA is not bound by law. When wondering what the NSA is up to, just pretend that they get to ignore the constitution and law. If they have the technological capability to do it, they have.


[quote=“Rindan, post:23, topic:17433”]
They didn’t wire tap, they just tracked who you talk to, when you talked to them, for how long, and where both of you were standing when you had that conversation. This is a hilarious argument. [/quote]
It’s not an argument. It’s a statement of fact correcting someone else’s false statement. The NSA didn’t do blanket wiretaps, nor has anyone said that blanket wiretaps would be constitutional. This, in itself, isn’t a defense of what they did do, but it is important to know exactly what they were doing if you want to understand the legal analysis of it.

[quote=“Rindan, post:23, topic:17433”]Clearly, the NSA thought that everyone would agree it is illegal. There is no magic in tracking every single call in the US. This isn’t some awesome capability that only the technological might of the NSA can do. You could send that data to me, and I could setup a server to hold all of that data with well under a million dollars, and I could even start spitting out social graphs for you with boring software that costs under a thousand dollars.

So why make this program secret? If everyone agrees it is legal and we all understand the technology required is trivial, why hide it?[/quote]

If you can do these things for the prices you claim, I imagine you must be a billionaire.

There are lots of reasons for keeping things secret even though they are technologically simple. I bet the recipe for Coke is pretty simple, as it the metallurgical process behind cymbal-making. Despite both of these things being both simple and legal, their value inheres in their being secret. Why does Google keep its algorithm secret, even though it relatively simple an legal? Lots of things involved in spycraft are simple and legal, but important to keep secret.

If it was pretty fucking clear to everyone that the program was illegal, why was the metadata collection program (if not how it was actually executed) repeatedly upheld by independent federal judges on the FISA Court?

Mark Udall said, "He ought to stand on his own two feet. He ought to make his case. Come home, make the case that somehow there was a higher purpose here.”

Christ, what an asshole.

What do any of these people arguing that Snowden should return for trial think about soviet defectors during the Cold War?

Soviet officials similarly requested their return for trial. Some of them were even tried in absentia. From the Soviet perspective they were criminals and traitors. Was there anyone in the west/USA to suggest that they should return to the Soviet Union and “stand on his own two feet”.
Hell, no! Everyone knew they wouldn’t get a fair trial and possibly tortured and killed.

Sad thing is we have to assume the same about the US. We know by now that the US:

  • uses torture to coerce information out of suspects and to ensure compliance (see Manning, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib etc.)
  • has installed secret courts with little to no public oversight and control
  • uses secret (interpretations of the) laws to make a fair trial nearly impossible (e.g. this article)
    -prominent US politicians asked for the death of Snowden.

Were the situation reversed and some Alexandrov Snovdonov request asylum in the US because he revealed human/civil right abuses seriously suggest he return to the Soviet Union/Russia to “stand on his own two feet”?


Nope… I am just someone that works with massive datasets. All calls in the US in a day is probably a few billion entries (300 million people * however many calls you think the average person makes in a day). You could slap that into few text files and my work computer could eat that and spit out useful information with software already on it. The data would probably be under a terabyte. Processing all calls in the US for weeks or months would take more than my little work computer, and you would need a proper database and servers to store it all, but it isn’t some marvelous technical challenge. You could buy the entire setup off the shelf with tech support for well under a million. This is boringly standard equipment and the dataset in question is normal business sized data, and a mere a spec of dust compared to what Google or Amazon does every minute.

Google doesn’t keep secret that they have an algorithm and that it works roughly in a particular way. Coke doesn’t keep secret that it makes soda or that it has so many calories. No one is asking the NSA to open source their spying algorithms. Knowing that the NSA collects the phone records of every American isn’t giving away anything at all other than that they are doing something that everyone thought they were not doing because everyone thought it was fucking illegal. The “secret sauce” of the domestic spying on all Americans isn’t the fact that they can do it, the technical act is trivial and can be done with off the shelf hardware and software, it is the fact that they are doing it despite everyone thinking it was illegal.

No one would be shocked to learn that the CIA has spy satellites. We know they have them because they are legally allowed to have them. The CIA doesn’t tell us where they are or who they are looking at. We are okay with this because we, as a democracy, handed them that power and are okay with the implications. No one gave the fucking NSA the power conduct massive domestic spying, which is why everyone is suddenly shocked and pissed.

Why does the secret court that doesn’t fucking have an adversarial process with two god damn sides keep upholding up this shit? Because it isn’t a real court by any fucking definition of the word. Even the fucking Soviets kangaroo courts made the pretense of having two sides before giving the accused a “fair” trial before their already arranged execution.

Do you know how many national security letters that FISA court has reject? Zero. Not a single fucking request has ever been denied. In courts all around the US on the other hand real judges reject warrants all the time. Now, maybe the NSA is super awesome and unlike every other agency that wants information they only ask when it is 100% appropriate and it perfectly meets the tight legal definition… all 100,000+ times these secret semi-warrants were needed… or maybe the FISA court makes a Soviet show trial court look impartial and skeptical of government motives by comparison.

They had one national security letter request, out of the tens of thousands they had rubber stamped, where the government withdrew it after facing skepticism from the court. Wouldn’t you kill to know what that one letter was where even the giant rubber stamps at FISA balked?

Real courts, you know, the kind with two sides, when given a chance to rule have in fact ruled the NSA mass domestic spying to be illegal. It is amazing what judges say when they don’t have the government hand rammed up their ass. We can thank Snowden for giving us at least a chance to have this illegal (as ruled recently) activity see the light of a real court.


The NSA didn’t keep the fact that it had surveillance operations authorized under the Patriot Act secret. They did keep exactly what they were doing secret, just like Google keeps its precise algorithm secret and Coke keeps its recipe secret.

Arguably we did give them the authority to do what they do, in the various amendments to the Patriot Act. When we talk about what the NSA does under sections 215 or 702, we’re talking about the statutes that give them the requisite power. It’s also not at all straightforward that the NSA is conducting massive domestic spying. There are legitimate differences of opinion as to where data collection becomes surveillance. Does it become spying at the moment they get the data from AT&T or Verizon? If so, does that mean that AT&T and Verizon are also spying onus? Or does it become spying at the moment that an analyst queries the database? Note that under the law the NSA has to have reasonable articulable suspicion that the query will return information relevant to a foreign intelligence suspect in order to query the database. Or does it become spying when an analyst actualy looks at the returned dataset and correlates the data with US-located suspects?

You’re right: ex parte proceedings where only one side is represented are far from ideal under the US system (although they do happen on occasion in the US legal system, and are more prevalent in some foreign legal systems), but it’s also true that despite the ex parte nature of the proceedings the FISC court has found that the NSA has failed to carry out the law correctly (most notoriously in failing to have RAS for their database queries), so they are clearly capable of pushing back against the NSA.

FISA Courts do not deal with National Security Letters at all. FISC deal only with foreign intelligence matters. Because NSLs are domestic, they are typically requested by the FBI, not the NSA.

Paraphrasing here but:

Georgie: Gee, Dad! I don’t see how you can be my lawyer and the prosecutor all at the same time!

Mr Tirebiter: Easy son. That way I can see that you’re persecuted to the full extent of the Law!

Georgie (in admiration): That’s my Dad!


“Nope… I am just someone that works with massive datasets.”

that you are paid by the government to collect for a private interest that then sells that data? i hope not for your sake. not attractive. good luck, i don’t envy you.

1 Like

“massive data sets” describes many collections of data besides telephone intercepts-- for instance, CERN’s LHC The techniques used for analysis may be broadly applicable across a wide range of data sources.


may. hope that’s as popular.

1 Like

Well said, Rindan. And the only reason they won’t let any evidence into open court is that an open court would inflame public outrage and sway any & all rulings out of their favor, because what they are doing is illegal & unjust.

If any US institution should be dismantled, it should be the NSA and all the other super-secret security apparati that we fund that have turned against us.

“Trust us. We’re the good guys.”


They already are overseen by people who are nominally representatives of the public, and that has fundamentally failed to keep them working in the public interest.

Undercover operations are generally used to enforce laws where there isn’t a victim to report the crime. I’m not sure that’s necessary.


Not long ago, I heard someone say that you cannot have a free country with secret laws. I would add: nor with secret evidence.

Remember when the Clinton administration was asked how many acts of genocide it takes to make a genocide? Well, how many acts of totalitarianism does it take to make a country totalitarian?

Thank you, Mr. Timm.


The NSA and other intelligence operations are not conducted to enforce laws but to prevent harm. Legally, there is a diference, as the motivation for thee actions is not to intrude upon life, liberty, or property (as incarceration does) but to prevent acts that might do so. You might disagree with this line of thought, but in practice it’s an important distinction.

1 Like

‘prevent harm’ v. innocent until proven guilty, not much of a match-up. all public servants are required to obey the law, uphold. in practice, i am not an officer of the court. i imagine it isn’t always easy. might be important enough to have a judge issue warrants… .

this mr. timm?

"Sunday, 23 September 2012

Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out. -Robert Collier
Posted by Mr. Timm at 08:05 No comments: "


Christ, is this becoming a thing now? These psuedo-complaint postings are beginning to wear. Maybe there should be two forums triggered at the posting of a story: one for discussion of the actual merits of the story and a second one about how the post itself was written.


There’s no match up at all because they’re not trying to prove anyone guilty. They’re trying to prevent something from happening, and that’s their primary goal. Law enforcement is primarily backwards looking, with investigation after a crime. Intelligence is forward looking, with the aim of preventing harms from occurring in the first place. The NSA would probably be happy preventing an attack even if they couldn’t arrest anyone and there was no need for “innocent until proven guilty.” I have absolutely no idea what the rest of your comment was about.

Don’t forget the third forum about how comments are written.

their ‘prevention’ involves their becoming guilty.