Glenn Greenwald & the Nunes memo

I’m not sure this is of general interest, but I would like to argue (again) with Glenn Greenwald. In this tweet, he asks an interesting and important question

The FBI, and many Democrats, insisted vehemently that release of the Nunes Memo would endanger national security. Now that we’ve all read it, is there anyone who believes that this argument was even remotely true or honest?

Yes. This has been another episode of simple answers to simple questions. Now I will bore you by explaining at length.

1) One can’t conclude that something wasn’t endangered because, it the end, it wasn’t harmed. It is reckless to drive 150 mph drunk even if some people have done so and arrived alive. I don’t recall anyone saying that releasing the memo would certainly harm national security.

2) Importantly, the expressions of alarm (including the DOJ not FBI use of “extremely reckless”) came from people who had not seen the memo, who had requested a chance to examine it and whose requests had been denied by the committee. They didn’t know what was in the memo, but they knew it had been written by people who had access to classified information, that they didn’t know what was in the memo, and that it was proposed that it be released so everyone knew as soon as they did.

The argument that this violates normal procedures which are required to protect national security is clearly conventional — almost so conventional that it goes without saying. The procedures are followed not because every deviation has catastrophic consequences. That’t the way standard procedures are.

I don’t recall all the alarmed statements by Democrats, but many were made by Senators and such who had not been allowed to see the memo.

3) Finally releasing the memo clearly harmed US National Security. I get the impression that almost everyone but I has the impression that the memo didn’t contain information which was supposed to be kept secret (according to normal rules which are enforced on people who aren’t President or the majority of a House committee by the threat of prison).

There are two data in the memo which had been secret and which were kept secret for excellent reasons
a) October 21 2016 — the date of the application for a FISA warrant to surveil Carter Page. This was not a request for a renewal. Now, but not last week, I can infer that Page was not under FISA surveilance say in September 2016. I didn’t know that before. If I had conspired with Page on the phone during September 2016, was asked about it by the FBI and had to decide whether to lie to them, this information would be very useful to me. it is discussed only as proof that the fall 2016 FISA surveillance of Page was *not* surveillance of the Trump-Pence 2016 campaign, since he had severed all formal links with the campaign in September. But it would also be useful if there were someone who really wants to know that the FBI knows about his or her communications with Carter Page before October 21 2016.

b) The warrant was renewed at least three times. This is discussed becuase one of the requests for renewal was approved by Rod Rosenstein and because the fact that four requests were approved is strong evidence that the surveillance revealed Page’s participation in foreign intelligence efforts. But the information would be very useful to me if I had conspired on the phone with Page in December 2016. I would know that they know about it, so I would risk prison were I to lie and deny the activity.

In spy vs spy intelligence and counter-intelligence hiding all sorts of information from the other side is key. Who is being wiretapped is a closely held secret for obvious reasons. My point is that there are similar reasons to hide who has been wiretapped (including Page as was known before the memo was released) and when they were wiretapped, If one is under investigation, it very important to know what the investigators know. If one is not supposed to obstruct justice, one should not make that information public in the name of transparency.

OK so what is going on ? I think that Greenwald has become a knee jerk critique of Democrats. Also he has long had a very sincere extremely negative view of the FBI. I think his reflexive opposition to state surveillance has caused him to automatically reject arguments based on the idea that FBI investigations are sometimes in some ways socially useful.

He isn’t a consistent anarchist, but he seems to automatically oppose state power. Thus he seems to actually support complete trasnparency in investigations. This would make wire taps worthless. I think Greenwald automatically opposes them.

On the other hand, he is a brilliant lawyer. He should understand why the facts revealed in the memo had been kept secret. Almost everyone agrees with him that no secrets were revealed by the memo. I’d guess most people just don’t understand the issue. But I guess that he understands it and is so opposed to serveillance of any kind that he genuinely can’t see how anyone would see any disadvantage in hampering it.