Tag Archives: NSA

NSA Invokes “National Defense” and the Espionage Act to Stonewall MIT Student’s FOIA Request on Nelson Mandela

NSA Invokes “National Defense” and the Espionage Act to Stonewall MIT Student’s FOIA Request on Nelson Mandela

[WASHINGTON, DC] Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) PhD candidate Ryan Shapiro filed a lawsuit this morning against the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Defense Intelligence Agency over the spy agencies’ failure to comply with his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for records on anti-apartheid activist and South African President, Nelson Mandela. Shapiro’s requests seek, among other records, documents pertaining to the U.S intelligence community’s role in Mandela’s 1962 arrest and Mandela’s placement on the U.S. terror watch list until 2008. Shapiro is already suing the Central Intelligence Agency over this same failure. Shapiro wants to know why the NSA, FBI, DIA, and CIA viewed Mandela as a threat to American security, and what actions the Agency took to thwart Mandela’s efforts to secure racial justice and democracy in South Africa.

Notably, in addition to invoking the Espionage Act (Title 18 U.S. Code 798), the NSA’s denial of Shapiro’s FOIA request (see embedded document) invokes “national defense” to support the agency’s refusal to even acknowledge the existence of records about Mandela. Asserts the NSA, “the fact of the existence or non-existence of the materials you request is a currently and properly classified matter [….] to be kept secret in the interest of national defense[.]”

A .PDF of Shapiro’s Lawsuit Filed This Morning is Available HERE

Shapiro, a FOIA specialist, is an historian of the political functioning of national security and the policing of dissent. His pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security. Shapiro is represented by FOIA specialist attorney Jeffrey Light.

Two Key Features of Shapiro’s Lawsuit & Broader Pro-Transparency Effort:

1) Despite longstanding public knowledge of definite (if undefined) U.S. intelligence assistance to apartheid South Africa in general, and likely involvement in Mandela’s 1962 arrest in particular, much of the U.S. and world press has paid distressingly little attention to these issues. Even in the wake of Mandela’s death, these issues, including the fact that Mandela remained on the U.S. terror watch list until 2008, have for the most part remained ignored or discounted. In addition to beginning to fill these massive holes in public knowledge of U.S. intelligence operations, Shapiro’s FOIA efforts will bring much-needed attention to these vital topics, as well as to the U.S. intelligence community’s continued outrageous aversion to transparency.

2) The Freedom of Information Act is broken. The Department of Justice and the CIA continue to prevent the FOIA release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA torture program, despite the Senate Committee’s call for the report’s release. And as the Associated Press reported last week, despite entering office promising to be “the most transparent administration in history,” the Obama administration cites “national security” to censor and deny FOIA releases “more than ever.” The failures of the NSA, FBI, DIA, and CIA to comply with Shapiro’s FOIA requests for records on Nelson Mandela are further glaring examples of this anti-transparency trend. For this reason, Shapiro is not only turning to the courts to force agency compliance with his FOIA requests, he is also turning to the American people to address the ongoing crisis of secrecy more broadly. To this end, Shapiro is urging all persons with access to unreleased records pertaining to illegal, unconstitutional, or immoral government activities to return those records to their rightful owners, the American people. As Shapiro is quoted below, “See something, leak something.”

According to Shapiro:
Regarding the Mandela lawsuit »

“Though the U.S. intelligence community is long believed to have been involved in Mandela’s arrest, little specific public information exists regarding this involvement. Similarly, though the U.S. intelligence community is long known to have routinely provided information to the South African regime regarding the anti-apartheid movement, little specific public information exists about these activities either. Further, despite now being universally hailed as a hero and freedom fighter against gross injustice, Mandela was designated a terrorist by the United States government and remained on the U.S. terror watch list until 2008.

In bringing suit against the NSA, FBI, DIA, and CIA to compel compliance with my Freedom of Information Act requests, I seek access to records that will begin answering the following questions:

What was the extent and purpose of the U.S. intelligence community’s surveillance of Nelson Mandela prior to his arrest? What role did the U.S. intelligence community play in Mandela’s arrest and prosecution? What role did the U.S. intelligence community play in the broader effort to surveil and subvert the South African anti-apartheid movement? To what extent, and for what objectives, did the U.S. intelligence community surveil Mandela following his release from prison? To what extent, if any, did the U.S. intelligence community continue providing information regarding Mandela to the apartheid regime following Mandela’s release from prison? What information did the U.S. intelligence community provide American policymakers regarding Mandela and the South African anti-apartheid movement? To what extent, and to what ends, did the U.S. intelligence community surveil the anti-apartheid movement in the United States? How did the United States government come to designate Nelson Mandela a terrorist threat to this country? How did this designation remain unchanged until 2008? And what was the role of the U.S. intelligence community in this designation and the maintenance thereof?”

Regarding the crisis of secrecy more broadly »

“Democracy cannot meaningfully exist without an informed citizenry, and such a citizenry is impossible without broad public access to information about the operations of government. Secrecy is a cancer on the body of democracy. The Bush administration initiated a disastrous welter of anti-transparency initiatives, yet the Obama administration has been, if anything, worse. Despite entering office promising unprecedented openness, the Obama administration has provided just the opposite, including bringing more Espionage Act prosecutions of whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined, and invoking “national security” to deny FOIA requests “more than ever.” FOIA is broken, and this sad reality is just one component among many of the ongoing crisis of secrecy we now face.

The records of government are the property of the people. Yet, unknown billions of pages are needlessly hidden from the American people behind closed doors and “classified” markings. Undefined “national security” concerns ostensibly legitimize this secrecy. Yet, as wrote Judge Murray Gurfein in his ruling against the Nixon administration’s infamous attempt to prevent the New York Times from publishing the leaked “Pentagon Papers,” “The security of the Nation is not at the ramparts alone. Security also lies in the value of our free institutions.”

Building upon the Pentagon Papers ruling, we as a nation need to foster a broader understanding of “national security.” In the interest of preserving the national security borne not of secrecy and state surveillance, but rather of the free exchange of ideas made possible by “our free institutions,” I call upon all persons with access to unreleased records pertaining to illegal, unconstitutional, or immoral government activities to return those records to their rightful owners, the American people.

It’s not surprising those in power wish to keep their actions secret. What’s surprising is how readily we tolerate it. We are all familiar with the security-oriented signage instructing us to “See something, Say something.” In the interest of promoting a fuller conception of national security, I add, “See something, Leak something.” The viability of our democracy may depend upon it.”

To arrange an interview with Ryan Shapiro please email or text Andy Stepanian at andy@sparrowmedia.net or 631.291.3010. A high resolution copy of the photo of Ryan Shapiro above is available royalty-free × photo credit Stephanie Crumley.  You can follow Ryan Shapiro on twitter at @_rshapiro

Former Church Committee Chief Counsel Fredrick A.O. Schwarz, Jr. Calls for a Committee to Investigate Mass Surveillance

Former Church Committee Chief Counsel Fredrick A.O. Schwarz, Jr. Calls for a Committee to Investigate Mass Surveillance

Today, The Nation Institute announced that Frederick A.O. “Fritz” Schwarz, Jr., Chief Counsel of the Brennan Center and former Chief Counsel of the Church Committee, will receive the Ridenhour Courage Prize. The Nation magazine will also publish his editorial, “Why We Need a New Church Committee to Fix Our Broken Intelligence System,” calling for a modern-day Church Committee to investigate the legality of mass surveillance activities carried out by federal agencies.

In reflecting upon its decision to award Fritz Schwarz the Ridenhour Courage Prize, the awards committee said, “Spanning more than four decades, Fritz Schwarz’s remarkable career exemplifies the true spirit of the prize. In the mid-1970s as the Chief Counsel of the Church Committee, Fritz engaged in the most wide-ranging, effective and famous investigation of the intelligence community that our nation has ever seen. Those hearings were instrumental in placing checks upon the power of the intelligence community. In light of the challenges from today’s surveillance state, and in recognition of his life-long commitment to strengthening democracy and rule of law, we can think of no one more deserving of the 2014 Ridenhour Courage Award than Fritz Schwarz.”

Read Mr. Schwarz’s piece in full HERE.

Formally known as the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, the Church Committee was formed in 1975 in the wake of the Watergate scandal to investigate illegal intelligence gathering by federal agencies including the CIA, the FBI and the NSA. Chaired by Frank Church (D-ID), Schwarz acted as its chief counsel. The committee revealed shocking activities such as the CIA hiring the Mafia to help in its attempts to assassinate Cuba’s Fidel Castro, the FBI wiretapping certain members of congress, and, for 30 years, that the NSA received copies of most telegrams leaving the United States. Furthermore, in an eerily analogue premonition of what Snowden would later reveal, these federal agencies also intercepted, opened, and photographed mail without warrant or notification, deceiving the United States Postal Service and the American public.

As a result of the Church Committee, two institutions were created as checks and balances to the enormous powers of our secret government: Intelligence Committees in both houses of Congress, and passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which established the FISA court to oversee requests for surveillance warrants against suspected foreign agents inside the United States. Through time, both have become less reliable checks and have not served their original functions, particularly in regard to the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, which have gone unchecked.

Schwarz went on to serve as New York City Corporation Counsel (1982-86) under Mayor Edward I. Koch. Then in 1989, he chaired the Commission that extensively revised New York City’s Charter. And from 2003-’08 he chaired the New York City Campaign Finance Board. He is currently Chief Counsel to the Brennan Center.

Upon hearing that he had been awarded the prize Schwarz said, “I am honored to receive the Ridenhour Courage Prize and hope that my experience with government surveillance will serve as an example of how Congress and the American people can continue to stand up against mass surveillance.”

In his piece in The Nation today, Mr. Schwarz writes:

“Now it is time for a new committee to examine our secret government closely again, particularly for its actions in the post-9/11 period.

The need is underscored by what has become a full-blown crisis, with Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein accusing the CIA of spying on the committee, possibly violating the Constitution’s separation-of-powers principles, the Fourth Amendment and other laws.”

Mr. Schwarz will be awarded the 2014 Ridenhour Courage Prize on Wednesday, April 30th, from 12pm to 2pm at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. This event is open to press.

About The Ridenhour Prizes

The Ridenhour Prizes recognize and encourage those who persevere in acts of truth-telling that protect the public interest, promote social justice, or illuminate a more just vision of society. The Prizes are named after investigative journalist Ron Ridenhour, to commemorate his lifetime of fearless truth-telling and to inspire others to do the same.

In 1969, Vietnam veteran Ron Ridenhour wrote a letter to Congress and the Pentagon describing the horrific events at My Lai — the infamous massacre of the Vietnam War. Although the upper echelons of the military establishment resisted his revelations, his dogged persistence eventually brought the scandal to the attention of the American public and the world at large.

Ridenhour later became a respected investigative journalist, winning the George Polk Award for Investigative Journalism in 1987 for a yearlong investigation of a New Orleans tax scandal. He died suddenly in 1998 at the age of 52. At the time of his death, he was working on an article for the London Review of Books, had co-produced a story on state militias for NBC’s Dateline, and had just delivered a series of lectures commemorating the 30th anniversary of My Lai.

The Ridenhour Prizes were established by The Nation Institute and the Fertel Foundation in partnership with The Fund for Constitutional Government, Government Accountability Project, and Project on Government Oversight. For more information, visit www.ridenhour.org.

About The Nation Institute

A nonprofit media center, The Nation Institute is dedicated to strengthening the independent press and advancing social justice and civil rights. Our dynamic range of programs includes a bestselling book-publishing imprint, Nation Books; our award-winning Investigative Fund, which supports groundbreaking journalism; the widely read and syndicated website TomDispatch; the Victor S. Navasky Internship Program at The Nation magazine; and Journalism Fellowships that fund over 25 high-profile reporters. Work produced by The Nation Institute has sparked Congressional hearings, new legislation, FBI investigations and the resignation of government officials, has a regular impact on the most urgent social and political issues of our day. For more information, visit www.nationinstitute.org.

About the Fertel Foundation

Energized by a passion for weaving ideas and people together, the Fertel Foundation, based in New York and New Orleans, has a special interest in initiatives from which new communities and new insights may emerge and those that challenge entrenched communities of power. The New Orleans-based foundation, established in 1999, also helps rebuild a better New Orleans — and create national models — in a post-Katrina world. For more information, visit www.fertel.com

Mr. Schwarz will have limited availability for interviews. To speak to him or a spokesperson from The Nation Institute, or to RSVP to attend the 11th Annual Ridenhour Prizes Ceremony and Luncheon in DC, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.716.1953 or christina@fitzgibbonmedia.com

The Criminalization of Journalism: Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir Pens Open Letter in Defense of Jailed Journalist, Barrett Brown

The Criminalization of Journalism: Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir Pens Open Letter in Defense of Jailed Journalist, Barrett Brown

[DALLAS, TX]  The curious case of Barrett Brown —a freelance journalist and satirist, turned political prisoner— has captivated thousands in the lead-up to what many are calling a “show trial” slated to take place in Dallas, TX, later this year.  In an open letter published this morning (and attached below),  Icelandic MP, Birgitta Jonsdottir claims the charges against Brown are part of a larger “unjust war on whistleblowers, journalists, and information activists.”  Brown, who has been incarcerated since September 12, 2012, is facing three separate indictments carrying a sum of 17 federal charges, each related to his work with Project PM (a crowdsourced journalism initiative aimed at shedding light on private contractors in the intelligence industry.)  Brown’s charges, should he be sentenced to them consecutively, have him facing 105 years in Federal prison.

At the core of these charges is an argument that Brown’s alleged conduct of linking to, and editorialized upon, documents leaked by others to an unrelated 3rd party is tantamount to the leaking itself and henceforth constitutes a criminal violation of fraud and abuse. This controversial contention has triggered a groundswell of support from press freedom foundations and activists that see Brown’s case as a canary in the coal mine of permissible internet speech.  From occupying recent monologs in the popular Netfilx political series, House of Cards, to charming readers of his popular column in D Magazine, it feels like everyone is talking about Barrett Brown (and rightfully so).  Whether or not this attention will translate into a successful challenge to the charges against him remains to be seen, but what is undisputed is that in the weeks, months, and possibly years ahead, Barrett Brown needs our solidarity.  You can learn more about how to support Brown HERE as well as donate to his defense fund HERE.

Birgitta Jonsdottir is a member of the Icelandic Parliament and an outspoken advocate for at-risk whistleblowers and journalists.  The following is MP Jonsdottir’s open letter regarding the prosecution and protracted abuse of Barrett Brown since his incarceration.  We encourage others to copy, excerpt and share this content freely and widely…

The Criminalization of Journalism

by Birgitta Jonsdottir

If Barrett Brown is found guilty we will all be forced to rethink how we use the Internet and share information, knowledge, blog, report, tweet, use facebook and google.

His case has been like a long drawn out fiction since he was arrested in Dallas at gunpoint by a heavily armed raid on his apartment on the 12 of September 2012. He has been kept in prison ever since, charged with 17 counts that include threatening a federal agent, concealing evidence and disseminating stolen information. He faces a maximum sentence of 100 years in custody and has been placed under gag order by specific request of the government.

When I first heard of the bizarre case of Barrett Brown, a journalist for among others Vanity Fair, The Guardian, and Huffington Post, I was shocked to notice that his ordeal was not headline news. His central work at the time was around investigations and research that was focused on the cyber-industrial complex. Barrett was investigating the private intelligence industry with Project PM using leaked e-mails from HBGary and Stratfor. That earned him the attention of the Justice Department. Project PM is a crowd-sourced research project, and a very valuable resource for data on the privatized segment of the invisible Empire.

Barrett was a prominent activist for transparency, he worked as an embedded reporter with Anonymous. At the time of his arrest Barrett Brown was onto something that the governmental Watchmen wanted to be keep below the surface no matter what.

Barrett is obviously being punished for looking into the surveillance state and being vocal about it. The judicial overreach is to the extent that, as stated, he was even imposed a gag order by a federal court in Dallas, and not only him but also his legal team. This gag order prevents them from talking to the media about his unprecedented prosecution for alleged offenses relating to his work exposing online surveillance. Imposed at the request of the US government, the court order, prohibits the defendant and his defense team, as well as prosecutors, from making any statement to all media outlet members.

Indictments for linking set a very dangerous precedent not just for journalists who want to link to hacks/leaks in their reporting, but the Internet as we know it and modern media development where citizen research plays an important role in sifting through raw data. The right to link is at stake, a function that is the backbone of Internet culture of sharing knowledge and information. But there is more, much more.

Reporter’s privilege to protect their sources is at stake, and if it has ever been important to be vigilant in that regard, then that time is now. With new revelations about mass surveillance capacities of the NSA and its sister clandestine institute in the UK by the courageous whistleblower Edward Snowden the world has been forced to face that ongoing violation of our privacy as the norm. It also means that journalists can´t protect their sources, doctors can´t ensure patients confidentiality nor can lawyers guarantee confidentiality towards their clients.

Barrett was digging deep into uncomfortable information about how the US Government has outsourced most of it’s spying to private companies. Big Corporate Brother is watching our every thought, our every emotion and our every action. Every breath we take is being analyzed and scrutinized by algorithms of increased sophistication and there is an intent of an all encompassing surveillance in the name of false security. Knowing this, that probing into my private life is happening does not make me feel any security at all, it is quite the contrary.

Reporter’s privilege and free speech is something most of us hold sacred. The very laptops that Barrett is charged with obstruction for concealing contained journalistic sources and work product, including a book-in-progress. The First Amendment is understood as protecting reporters from revealing confidential information or sources, but there are clear signs that the constitutional values in the USA are being eroded by DoJ investigations into national security leaks. The FBI raid which led to these charges was based on false information, and actually there was no crime to investigate. It was nothing more than an attempt to stifle Barrett’s reporting on the private/public partnership concerning surveillance and inhibit his research.

Despite Aaron Swartz’s suicide, the government is still waging an unjust war on whistleblowers, journalists, and information activists. People are being prosecuted (and also highly over-prosecuted) for political acts or merely because the government doesn’t agree with them. Just why is Barrett being charged when numerous other people, including established reporters, shared the same link?

Evidence is mounting towards the bleak reality that Barrett is being persecuted because of his work exposing the activities of private security and intelligence companies that do the government’s dirty work and spy on the public. If citizens are not allowed to research the growing surveillance state, what will happen in the future to privacy, transparency and not to mention our civil liberties? We cannot allow his case to be ignored, it demands a reflection of brutal honesty on where our democratic rights are heading, the very foundation of democracy is at stake when the most important and valued constitutional rights are being violated in a systematic wave of governmental abuse, not only in the US but around the world. The secret service is out of control and it is revealed more and more each week that this surveillance state is working toward questionable ends.  Nobody wants to live in the United World of Stasi, and this undeniable fact is exactly why we have to show the political prisoners of the information evolution profoundly more support. ‡

birgitta jonsdottir
Birgitta Jonsdottir is the chairman of the International Modern Media Institution, a former WikiLeaks volunteer (2009-2010) an activist and currently a member of the Icelandic parliament for the Pirate Party whom she helped co-create. Her Icelandic Modern Media Initiative parliamentary proposal was unanimously accepted in the parliament in 2010, its aim and vision to make Iceland to be a save haven for freedom of information and expression. She is currently working on a similar proposal in relation to online privacy, inspired by the information provided by Snowden. Birgitta was a victim of the US governmental invasion into her privacy in early 2011 when DoJ demanded to have access to her twitter metadata. She lost the court battle despite having access to the best lawyers in this field in the USA from the EFF and ACLU. On February 3, 2014 Birgitta used her role as MP to nominate Chelsea Elizabeth Manning and Edward Snowden as candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize. Birgitta has limited a media availability, interview requests can be made via Andy Stepanian at andy@sparrowmedia.net

MIT PhD Candidate Sues CIA for the Records Surrounding the 1962 Arrest of Nelson Mandela
President Obama & the first family solemnly reflect during a visit to Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island | Photo, Pete Souza  

MIT PhD Candidate Sues CIA for the Records Surrounding the 1962 Arrest of Nelson Mandela

[WASHINGTON, DC]  Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) PhD candidate Ryan Shapiro filed a lawsuit this morning against the Central Intelligence Agency over the spy agency’s failure to comply with his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records on recently deceased anti-apartheid activist and South African President, Nelson Mandela. Shapiro wants to know why the CIA viewed Mandela as a threat to American security, and what actions the Agency took to thwart Mandela’s efforts to secure racial justice and democracy in South Africa.

Shapiro, a FOIA specialist, is an historian of the policing of dissent and the political functioning of national security. His pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security. Shapiro also has FOIA requests for records on Mandela in motion with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency. Shapiro is represented by FOIA specialist attorney Jeffrey Light.

Two Key Issues Regarding Today’s Filing Against the CIA:

1) The CIA is widely and credibly believed to have been involved in Mandela’s 1962 arrest that led to his decades-long incarceration. Yet, the Agency has never admitted its role in this affair, and little specific public information exists on the matter. Shapiro’s FOIA efforts will begin to fill this massive hole in public knowledge of U.S. intelligence operations.

2) Despite longstanding public knowledge of U.S. intelligence assistance to apartheid South Africa in general, and in Mandela’s arrest in particular, much of the U.S. and world press has paid distressingly little attention to these issues. Even in the wake of Mandela’s death, these issues, including the fact that Mandela remained on the U.S. terror watch list until 2008, have for the most part remained ignored or discounted. Shapiro’s efforts will bring much-needed attention to these vital topics, as well as to the U.S. intelligence community’s continued outrageous aversion to transparency.

According to Shapiro:

“Though the U.S. intelligence community is long believed to have been involved in Mandela’s arrest, little specific public information exists regarding this involvement. Similarly, though the U.S. intelligence community is long understood to have routinely provided information to the South African regime regarding the anti-apartheid movement, little specific public information exists about these activities either. Further, despite now being universally hailed as a hero and freedom fighter against gross injustice, Mandela was designated a terrorist by the United States government and remained on the U.S. terror watch list until 2008.

In bringing suit against the CIA to compel compliance with my Freedom of Information Act request, I seek access to records that will begin answering the following questions:

What was the extent and purpose of the U.S. intelligence community’s surveillance of Nelson Mandela prior to his arrest? What role did the U.S. intelligence community play in Mandela’s arrest and prosecution? What role did the U.S. intelligence community play in the broader effort to surveil and subvert the South African anti-apartheid movement? To what extent, and for what objectives, did the U.S. intelligence community surveil Mandela following his release from prison? To what extent, if any, did the U.S. intelligence community continue providing information regarding Mandela to the apartheid regime following Mandela’s release from prison? What information did the U.S. intelligence community provide American policymakers regarding Mandela and the South African anti-apartheid movement? To what extent, and to what ends, did the U.S. intelligence community surveil the anti-apartheid movement in the United States? How did the United States government come to designate Nelson Mandela a terrorist threat to this country? How did this designation remain unchanged until 2008? And what was the role of the U.S. intelligence community in this designation and the maintenance thereof?”

FOIA LawsuitYou can read the full text of today’s court filing against the CIA HERE.

To arrange an interview with Ryan Shapiro please email or text Andy Stepanian at andy@sparrowmedia.net or 631.291.3010. You can follow Shapiro on twitter at @_rshapiro

New Yorkers Declare “I Stand With Edward Snowden”: Dozens Rally & Draw Positive Media Attention for NSA Whistleblower

New Yorkers Declare “I Stand With Edward Snowden”: Dozens Rally & Draw Positive Media Attention for NSA Whistleblower

[NEW YORK, NY]  At 12:00pm EST activists, journalists and concerned New Yorkers assembled at New York’s Union Square for a rally in solidarity with National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower, Edward Snowden. Snowden, a contractor at Booz Allen Hamilton and the source behind The Guardian‘s near-weeklong stretch of blockbuster scoops highlighting PRISM and similar pervasive surveillance programs under the authority of the NSA, has become a household name overnight. Similarly, this revelation has created a groundswell of concern for Snowden’s welfare, who is currently seeking refuge in Hong Kong and may in the near future require political asylum from a criminal investigation opened yesterday, 6/9/2013, by the US Department of Justice (DOJ). The call to “Stand With Edward Snowden”, which was issued online shortly after journalists Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald published Snowden’s video testimonial, is the first of what is expected to be many events spanning multiple cities, in support of the NSA whistleblower.

“You have to make a determination about what is important to you…” said Snowden in his prerecorded interview published yesterday, “if living un-freely, but comfortably is something that you are willing to accept —and I think that many of us are, its the human nature …you can get up every day, you can go to work, you can collect your large paycheck for relatively little work against the public interest and go to sleep at night after watching your shows— but if you realize that’s the world that you helped create, and it’s gonna get worse with the next generation, and the next generation who extend the capabilities of this sort of architecture of oppression, you realize that you might be willing to accept any risk, and it does not matter what the outcome is so long as the public gets to make their own decisions about how that is applied.”

Organizers of today’s rally hope the assembly (which drew a few dozen despite torrential rain) will do more than lionize Snowden, they hope to use the event to continue the conversation Snowden started regarding the preservation of 4th Ammendment protections of personal privacy in an age of new media. “As young people in the digital era, it is imperitive that we have an understanding of what happens to the data we create and post, with or without our consent,” said rally organizer Yoni Miller. Moreover, the activists want to make sure that these grievances are not co-opted by partisan narratives, “It’s good these revelations are happening under President Obama,” said NYC activist Astra Taylor, “so we can see that this is structural, instead of blaming a Republican villain & praying for Democratic rescue.”

Taylor’s concerns are mirrored in-part by Snowden, who indicated to The Guardian that he was hopeful these surveillance systems would have been “reined in” when President Obama was elected, but was later heartbroken when he saw them expand further under the Obama administration. “The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change.” said Snowden, “People will see, in the media, all of these disclosures, they know the lengths that the government is going to grant themselves, unilaterally, to create greater control over American society, and global society, but they wont be willing to take the risks nessicarily to stand up and fight to change things, to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests.”

“Edward Snowden chose to willfully free dark side national security information as a brave and courageous act of selfless civil disobedience,” said former NSA executive director, Thomas Drake. Snowden’s actions and the resulting threat of prosecution he faces are familiar to Drake, who in 2010 was arrested under the U.S. Espionage Act for publicly challenging a similar data-vacuuming project called Trailblaizer. While the Trailblazer project was eventually cancelled due to budget bloat and missed goals, it was later linked to a warrantless wiretapping program under the Bush Administration code named “Stellar Wind”. This program continues today under the code names RAGTIME and RAGTIME-P, the later acronym applies specifically to domestic data collection, the “P” suffix stands for “Patriot” a reference to the USA Patriot Act. Under RAGTIME-P the NSA appears to be using an interpretation of §215 of the Patriot Act to grant themselves the legal authority to conduct domestic intelligence gathering. On June 6, 2013 Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), author of the USA Patriot Act, expressed deep concern over this interpretation of §215 in a press release and letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Chris Hedges, who served for decades as a foreign corespondent for The New York Times, has witnessed several foreign democratic governments ebb towards a creeping surveillance state.  In recent years, Hedges has warned that similar transitions could happen here in the United States if left unchecked.  When asked about Snowden he remarked,  “Edward Snowden, like Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, has joined the ranks of the hunted and the persecuted because he named and documented the crimes of the state. His defiance of the control and monitoring of our lives by the security and surveillance makes him an American hero.”

The organizers of today’s rally underscore that Snowden’s leak was selective and not reckless in nature. The activists also have expressed concern over the possibility of future attempts to demonize the whistleblower, and encouraged others to act preemptively to assure that does not happen. Lee Camp, a celebrated comedian and organizer with Occupy Wall Street echoed these sentiments, “Let’s get ahead of this story and let the world know Edward Snowden is a hero before the media and government get to work maligning him.”

Today’s rally is just one example of individuals taking proactive action in support of Snowden. Others, like Icelandic Parlementarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, are going one step further by beginning the legal process of obtaining political asylum for Snowden should he chose to seek it. “I stand with Edward Snowden because what he did is of tremendous importance to everybody on this planet, especially those in the USA.” said Jonsdottir, “I will do everything in my power to find ways to shelter him from the wrath of governments who want to carry on with their culture of secrecy even when it becomes obvious it is impossible and unjustifiable to invade the privacy of their civilian populace. I challenge other lawmakers of conscious to do the same.”

It is unforeseen what will become of Edward Snowden. His $200k/year job at Booz Allen Hamilton became available just days after first contacting journalists, and in leaving his home in Hawaii he has left both financial security and his loved ones behind. Today’s rally provided New Yorkers an opportunity to continue the conversation surrounding domestic spying on US citizens to which Snowden provided a catalyst for, and gave those attending an opportunity to thank him for this courageous and selfless act.

“There are more important things than money. If I were motivated by money, I could have sold these documents to any number of countries and gotten very rich.” — Edward Snowden

» Full disclosure: While The Sparrow Project did not accept any compensation for this release, and does not represent Edward Snowden in any capacity, The Sparrow Project has provided media relations services to MP Birgitta Jonsdottir in the past, and upon request will continue to field future requests for MP Jonsdottir, including those pertaining to political asylum for Edward Snowden as they relate to MP Jonsdottir.