• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).

Title

Strange Bedfellows

Trump and Snowden.

 

March 19, 2017
 
 

President Trump and Edward Snowden have much in common these days. Taking his cues from the illuminati of Breitbart and Fox News, President Trump has not only announced that President Obama tapped his Trump Tower phone but that the British got involved in it. In so doing, he is giving the world a lesson in U.S. style government surveillance. The last person to do so at this level of attention was Edward Snowden. And both are shocked, shocked that the United States would do such a thing. 

When President Trump first tweeted his discontent, from the language that he used, that he referred to what us lawyers, see, I am lawyer, call a traditional Title III criminal court. For that, President Obama would have had to get his Department of Justice attorneys to go to a judge with evidence of probable cause of criminal activity.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation would implement it, probably, since it is on commercial telecom network, using a centrally located switch in one of its Manhattan centers. Remember CALEA, the Communications Assistance Law Enforcement Act? That law would be the reason that telecoms can automatically implement a wiretap from a remote location.  It is not like the old days, and movie depictions, of swarthy agents cutting into a wire closet in Trump Towers with alligator clips.

When everyone and their uncle denounced the suggestion that President Obama, the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, together with the telecoms, executed such a series of acts, the conversation shifted. Fox got the U.K. involved. Prime Minister Theresa May hissed. Apologies were issued, then they were not. Spicer read from Fox News as if it were the Golden Tablets brought down by Moses, or was it Joseph Smith? And in an official meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Trump did not miss a beat. Slyly, he joked, why are you asking me? Go ask … Alice?

Here is where in my mind’s drama, Edward Snowden steps in. I can just see him pacing around the stage that is made to appear like his Moscow apartment. “That’s what I said!” And indeed, he did. What Edward Snowden exposed more than anything else was that the National Security Administration conducted mass global telecommunications surveillance.  Here comes that police chief from Casablanca again! “Shocked, shocked!” Director Karl Marx jumps on the set with a line from the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce!”  Groucho thought when he heard the call the angels beckoned him, and so he shows up yelling “comedy, not farce, it’s comedy!” Soon the stage is filled with actors from all walks of life. There’s Michael Hayden saying, “we kill people based on metadata.” President Bush, “shame me once, I won’t get fooled again!” And President Clinton, “I did not have sex with that woman!”

Behold, friends, this is the world the United States wrought. President Trump is onto something about surveillance. His buddies at Fox are not crazy to suggest that the Britain’s Government Communication Headquarters works hand in glove with the United States. By the way, if President Trump's detractors have not yet learned that this man has an uncanny ability to sniff out a weakness and play it for all it is worth, then there is no teaching them anything after November 8. Because here comes Laura Poitras with her Edward Snowden documentary, CitizenFour, which has everything you need to know about the NSA (except the legal backdrop in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts), GCHQ, and U.S. global communications surveillance. 

When my younger son asked me what I was writing my blog about this week, I asked him whether he had ever heard of the phrase “Politics makes strange bedfellows.” A business major with minor in political science, he had not.  I tried to explain it him, and learned in the process that the phrase comes from none other than the great Bard’s Tempest, an adaptation of “misery makes strange bedfellows.”  It all fits. The politics, the misery, the drama. In Washington sits a president who cozied up to Putin to help him win that esteemed office.  And in Moscow sits ... A hero? A traitor? An expat who, on the lam for exposing what any thinking person could have guessed, found succor in the arms of the same man. Who knew? This story is a romance. 

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