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Rich writes: "What Snowden has done instead is far more prosaic: He has revealed a post-9/11 security regimen that few sentient Americans seem to find surprising and that many seem to want."

New York Magazine columnist Frank Rich. (photo: NY Magazine)
New York Magazine columnist Frank Rich. (photo: NY Magazine)

Edward Snowden Won't Undo the Patriot Act

By Frank Rich, New York Magazine

15 June 13


Every week, New York Magazine writer-at-large Frank Rich talks with contributor Eric Benson about the biggest stories in politics and culture. This week: Edward Snowden ignites a debate, Chuck Schumer makes his LBJ play, and the Tony Awards defy the prognosticators.

ate last week, we found out that the source of the major NSA leak was a 29-year-old, Ron Paul–supporting defense contractor named Edward Snowden. Both John Boehner and Dianne Feinstein have labeled Snowden a traitor. The Times editorial board has come to his defense. What do you make of him?

Isn't it something of a commentary on the might of the American surveillance state that a 29-year-old high-school dropout could elude an international law-enforcement dragnet for as long as Snowden has? As Seth Lipsky wrote in the New York Post this morning, it's a plot out of Catch Me If You Can. That said, it's preposterous to label this 29-year-old IT guy a traitor at this point. As far as we can tell now, he hasn't handed over state secrets to an enemy. The revelation that the government is using data mining in itself does not seem to have damaged our security; surely terrorists aren't total idiots and have figured this out too. Nor is Snowden a hero. His leak is unlikely to rescue America from the Orwellian excesses of the Patriot Act that have haunted us for more than a decade. What Snowden has done instead is far more prosaic: He has revealed a post-9/11 security regimen that few sentient Americans seem to find surprising and that many seem to want. Snowden's flair for self-dramatization, and that of his fans in the news media and politics, should not be confused with the somewhat more mundane reality of this whole incident. His main civic contribution thus far is - in the words of President Obama and countless others - to open up a debate about the state of privacy in America. I fear that debate will not survive August.

The tech industry is currently both wildly popular and widely trusted. Do you think that a scandal that involves such giants as Google, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft will do serious damage to their clout and their bottom lines?

In a word, no. Americans love these companies - well, maybe not Microsoft - and spend much of their day handing over money and personal information to them.

The Senate voted on Tuesday to begin debate on bipartisan immigration reform. President Obama has staked a lot of political capital on this bill. Would its passage shift the narrative of his second term in a significant way?

Remember when there was all that hoopla and optimism about Senate Republicans voting to allow debate on gun-control legislation? It turned out to be a nonevent since the GOP had no intention of letting any supposed threats to the Second Amendment become law. So yesterday's vote to advance debate on the immigration bill in the Senate may also prove much ado about very little. Even if the bill does get through that chamber, I have yet to see any persuasive evidence that a meaningful bill will get past the radical right GOP base in the House. We'll see. What we do know is that politicians of both parties have a big stake in immigration reform. As you indicate, a solid law would be a boon to Obama: It would be a major achievement, defying the expected second-term doldrums, and would join Obamacare as a potential historical marker for his presidency. It's also in the career interest of Senate Majority Leader–in-Waiting Chuck Schumer, the manager of this bill, to pull off an LBJ-like triumph. And it is in the interest of the Republican Party as a whole (and its putative presidential candidate Marco Rubio) to sign on to a law that has a shot at inducing Hispanic voters to give it a second look after a decade of Republican politicians smearing Latinos en masse as freeloaders, "wetbacks," and thugs. As everyone knows, without Hispanic voters the GOP will be in the political wilderness for years to come. So the bottom line is this: Here is a rare example where it's to both parties' political advantage (not to mention the nation's advantage) to get something done. If they fail on this one, it's probably safe to assume that no governance will happen in Washington until another election or two shakes up the current political alignment.

The Tony Awards were handed out on Sunday, with many of the winners defying predictions. Were all the surprises and the general dispersion of awards good signs for the health of Broadway?

I confess to watching the Tonys - old habits die hard for a former theater critic. Though Broadway has had a down season in terms of attendance, maybe (maybe) it's a good sign that the Tony show itself had an uptick in ratings - a rare occurrence. As for the awards themselves, betting types should note that of all of the frontline drama critics and reporters who made predictions, only Patrick Healy of the Times and our own Jesse Green foresaw that Kinky Boots would beat Matilda for best musical. Another wrong prediction - by seemingly everyone - had it that Tom Hanks would win Best Actor for Lucky Guy. Against that conventional wisdom it was rather remarkable that Tracy Letts won for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - doubly so given that (a) that revival closed months ago, and (b) Letts's performance actually deserved the recognition; for all the good actors I've seen play George, he was in a class by himself. (And so was the production surrounding him, also justly recognized by the Tonys.) By the way, for those who missed the Tony broadcast, it had the usual surfeit of close-ups of Les Moonves (whose network, CBS, airs it), among other laughs. The most notable innovation was the deployment of Mike Tyson as a running gag. Surely it's only a matter of time before he's cast as the emcee in the next Roundabout revival of Cabaret. your social media marketing partner


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+91 # fredboy 2013-06-15 15:14
Amazing how the Congress, President, and American people allowed them to give this "act" a name completely opposite of its intent and impact. It is the most unpatriotic legislation passed during my 65 year lifetime.
+33 # bcwik 2013-06-15 16:05
After 71 years, I can agree with you completely. But then they were good at that back in those days. If something was called the Wilderness Preservation Act, you can be sure it was designed to do the exact opposite.
+4 # GrannyBgood 2013-06-17 04:50
That's just classic Republican Oppo-Speak..str aight out of Orwell.
+57 # sanantone 2013-06-15 15:25
Sorry, Mr. Rich, but this sentient American (lawyer, NYT and Nation subscriber, longtime reader of your columns) is surprised at the scope of what has been revealed and disappointed in your apparent trivializing of it. Further, it is my fervent prayer that this talking-point of describing Mr. Snowden by his academic history, as if he were a knuckle-draggin g illiterate rather than the intelligent, articulate young man seen in his interviews, will stop.
+10 # Quickmatch 2013-06-15 17:32
Your credentials seem to place you in the group of not-ignorant Americans, yet you were surprised, therefore ignorant of the scope. There were stories out o fthe Utah Data Center in 2011, Room 641A was the subject of a Frontline story back in 2007. Perhaps your subscriptions to the NYT and Nation and your LLD degree qualify you as an intelligent and thoughtful, educated American above and beyond the mean, but that overlooks the interest to which you place your intelligence, which was apparently not in the cyber tech area. As a late comer to this data collection scene you and most like you would be surprised; the earlier you were introduced, the less the surprise. The 1999 Qwest commercial with the punch line "Every movie ever made in every language at any time" seemed extrordinary; fourteen years klater it's a quaint yawn. Collecting 712 billion minutes of voice, 6 billion text messages and sorting 112 billion emails a day is the inevitable advance since 1999--and it's not reading or listening to that collection, but super computing an analysis to determin which, if any should be. Ho Hum, yes!
+32 # engelbach 2013-06-15 20:22
It may be a yawn to you and Rich.

It's not a yawn to many of us who have suspected the government of widespread domestic surveillance but had no firm evidence of it or knowledge of its actual scope.

Rich is wrong. Snowden's act was brave beyond comparison with the armchair dissenters who risk nothing, while Snowen has risked his life.
+5 # tigerlille 2013-06-16 00:09
Ok, you figured it out before others, you have had no illusions for some what? It really is hard to credit the scope of the thing, even when you are well aware of the situation... which many were not. That's ok, and it is why Snowden sacrificed his life and went public.
+20 # drshafer 2013-06-15 19:14
Quoting sanantone:
Sorry, Mr. Rich, ... Further, it is my fervent prayer that this talking-point of describing Mr. Snowden by his academic history, as if he were a knuckle-dragging illiterate rather than the intelligent, articulate young man seen in his interviews, will stop.

Many exceptionally gifted teenagers drop out of school because they are not sufficiently challenged and creatively inspired. Consider David Karp (Tumblr), Bill Gates, Steve Jobs,and Mark Zuckerberg.
+8 # drshafer 2013-06-15 19:19
OOOPS! I clicked send before I completed my comment by distingushing between high school (David Karp) and collehe (Gates, Jobs, and Zuckerberg) :-(
+11 # tigerlille 2013-06-16 00:06
Agreed. No one mentions that he has a GED and has taken several college level classes of his own choosing (University of Liverpool sounds like a CIA cover), rather than pursuing a traditional career. And he has studied on his own. He had the security clearance and jobs that he has held because he is gifted with computer technology. People always seem to resent other people who have succeeded through unconventional means. The intelligence community is full of people like him, I suspect. It's called being gifted and thinking independently.
+35 # Candide 2013-06-15 15:31
In spite of the many slackers and anti-public philosophies in mainstream media, many of us have had it with the disgusting hostility to our constitutional rights and to our desire for a clean environment.

I recently learned that the founder of Facebook is for the tar sands pipeline. That postpones my joining in with such a "service" for several more years at least.

With any luck, and with the help of imaginative advocacy, a resistance movement will spread to reject the Stasi style intrusions and the inane politics of fear.
+7 # anarchteacher 2013-06-15 15:43

Operation Mockingbird (or its 2013 equivalent) is alive and well.

The New York Times' Frank Rich joins the hundreds of lemming-like regime hacks attacking Edward Snowden and defending the NSA. The National Security State pleads it no longer pays these scurrilous scribes or have them on retainer as agitprop flacks as it did for decades in the past.

Yeah, just like how the Fed never buys statist economists to burble on about its munificence and virtues.
+28 # angelfish 2013-06-15 15:43
What is that Ben Franklin quote? "He that gives up a little freedom for safety, will have neither safety OR freedom", or words to that effect. Big Brother has been watching us ALL since the advent of the "Cold War". Sadly, the spies with the most money STILL win. Eventually, it will ALL come down to Economics. Money TALKS and RULES while the rest of us toil in the our own private gulags. I stand with Patrick Henry on this. "Give me Liberty or give me Death". As far as calling it the "Patriot Act" Washington is MADE of useless, False titles such as this one and "Citizen's United". WHAT citizens? United Where? BULL-PUCKEY! ALL of it! Sheer BUll-Puckey!
+3 # tigerlille 2013-06-16 00:12
Climate change may be the great equalizer. Even the 1% have to breathe and eat, and bequeath a future to their children.
+26 # ChristopherCurrie 2013-06-15 16:02
The American public may not be so tolerant of the NSA's "record everything" program when they find out the degree to which it has been abused. Such abuses would, of course, be "classified" to protect the guilty.
+20 # CTPatriot 2013-06-15 16:18
And Frank Rich, much like Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, reveals himself to be nothing more than a subservient "house liberal" whose job is to help the establishment from the left the same way turds like David Brooks help it from the right.

Nothing to see here people. Everyone just loves them some warrantless search and seizure!! Who cares about a trivial thing like the constitution?! It's A-OK because most Americans (according to Rich) don't mind the invasion of their privacy. And most of those Americans don't mind the invasion of their privacy because pundits like Frank Rich have been telling them it's no big deal. That and "be afraid"!! The boogeyman is out to get you unless you give up all your liberties!!
+27 # L H 2013-06-15 16:39
Since the book, "Nineteen Eighty-Four" was published in 1949, about "a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public mind control, dictated by a political system under the control of a privileged Inner Party elite that persecutes all individualism and independent thinking"(Wikip edia), don't you think this outcome has been on the planning board, in the works since 1949, and before? I do.

Follow the money. Who profits from all the wars including the world wars? Who owns the banks, the Fed? In fact, was the Civil War really about making a Centralized Banking system dominant, getting rid of state bank sovereignty? It all points to centralized control.

Do we really want to "approve" and ignore this, to surrender democracy to central control??? Listen to Daniel Ellsberg interviewed by Ellsberg: 'We're In The Abyss'. Time to WAKE UP!
+18 # L H 2013-06-15 16:52
Quoting Brad of Who are we targeting in the "terrorism state"? Terrorism or democracy? Seems clear that democracy is being targeted... that includes individual sovereignty. Remember there are more of us, but we have to know what's going on, be knowledgeable!
+4 # anntares 2013-06-15 17:19
Yes, since 9/11, I've assumed defense strategies had to change and tech programs were scanning emails and phones for key words on the assumption that saving innocent lives trumps free speech and search warrants. I just hope we can set up protections in case any extremists- left, right, or psychotic - get into the White House or takes over Congress. I think of the vast rooms and endless rows of Nazi information folders in the movie "THe Sorrow and the Pity."
+14 # engelbach 2013-06-15 20:25
Extremists have already taken over the government.

The United States is a plutocracy, with its political system completely under the control of the rich.
+11 # jwb110 2013-06-15 17:48
This isn't just about the citizens of this country. It is about the surveillance of other countries without their knowledge or
over-site. It can get pretty hard to convince "allies" to come to your aid and defense when you have been treating them as though they were the "enemy". Just because democracy is, for many in the US, a freedom that isn't worth trading their Prada for, doesn't make it mean the same thing worldwide.
+4 # Dion Giles 2013-06-15 20:05
The world has yet to hear from the whistleblower to end all whistleblowers - the insider who tells about what really happened to the Twin Towers and who was behind it, though the world already knows who benefited and in general terms who got rid of key forensic evidence and who blocked the called-for thorough and open inquiry and who later ordered the patsy silenced. It wasn't until 12 years after the German Reichstag was burnt down that Goering let it be known who really lit it.
+10 # paul.baer 2013-06-15 20:23
Dear Frank: You are now officially part of the problem.
+1 # RMDC 2013-06-16 07:21
"The tech industry is currently both wildly popular and widely trusted. Do you think that a scandal that involves such giants as Google, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft will do serious damage to their clout and their bottom lines?

In a word, no. Americans love these companies - well, maybe not Microsoft - and spend much of their day handing over money and personal information to them."

What planet do these assholes live on. Everyone hates Google, apple, microsoft, facebook and the rest. They use them because they have to. But no one trusts these companies any more than they can throw them.
+2 # dascher 2013-06-16 07:52
Sentient Americans knew that this COULD be done but most of us found it hard to believe that it WOULD be done because it was so obviously WRONG and it should have been obviously WRONG to the hundreds or thousands of people who were involved in implementing this desecration of the 4th amendment.

A yawn hardly the appropriate reaction to hearing that we now 'officially' live in a "National Security State". I have to wonder if somebody makes up these 'interviews'- the real Frank Bruni would never be so blase about this stuff. Oh... that would be a violation of "journalistic ethics" which the NY Times would never allow. It would also be "wrong" (as Dick Nixon used to say)
+3 # Followthemoney1 2013-06-16 10:28
Frank Rich's comments about Edward Snowden's actions are extremely disappointing. Snowden's made public material, at great risk and loss to himself, which has already changed public attitudes and discourse . What we "sentient" people believed (condescending language) is irrelevant to what is now publicly on the record for everyone to see. What does Snowden's academic record have to do with anything, other than giving Frank Rich another opportunity to be condescending. There's a lot more to be said about this very sad statement by Frank Rich, whose NY Sunday articles I used to anticipate eagerly. We have a vast crowd of political commentators already dong this sort of crap.

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