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First POST: "Somebody Had to Do It"

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, January 7 2014

"Somebody Had to Do It"

  • Betty Medsger's new book, The Burglary, is the fuel for Mark Mazzetti's powerful front-page story in The New York Times on a group of anti-war activists who broke into an FBI office in Pennsylvania and broke open the scandal of the agency's spying on American citizens, including the first reference to COINTELPRO, a massive secret program of infiltration and disruption of domestic political organizations. In Mazzetti's hands, the activists' self-named "Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI" offers a distant but clear echo on today's debate about Edward Snowden's act of defiance.

  • In an interview with NBC News, one of the activist-burglars, John Raines, an 80-year-old retired Temple University religion professor, said, "“We did it … because somebody had to do it. In this case, by breaking a law -- entering, removing files -- we exposed a crime that was going on. … When we are denied the information we need  to have to  act as citizens, then we have a right to do what we did.”

  • David Kushner's long feature story in Rolling Stone on Sigurdur Thordarson, an Icelandic teenager who became a close confidant of WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange, and then turned FBI informant, is a wild trip down the rabbit hole. According to records Thordarson gave Kushner, Assange had him spy on other WikiLeaks volunteers, including Birgitta Jonsdottir (who is now a Member of the Icelandic parliament), and on the Bradley Manning Support Network. Kushner's story also suggests that the FBI allowed Anonymous to release the Stratfor and Syria files in an effort to entrap Assange. That outraged Assange-defender Glenn Greenwald, who told Kushner, "To treat an American firm like Stratfor and the privacy of Syria as sacrificial lambs in a campaign to entrap Julian Assange into criminality is unbelievably radical – you can even say corrupt." (The Stratfor files revealed, among other things, a proposed covert effort to smear Greenwald.)

    Another must read: Steven Levy's new piece in Wired, "How the NSA Almost Killed the Internet," on how the Snowden leaks have blown apart Silicon Valley's once comfortable balancing act between data collection and customer privacy, and recast how the big tech giants are relating to the US government. “At first we were in an arms race with sophisticated criminals,” Eric Grosse, Google’s head of security, told Levy. “Then we found ourselves in an arms race with certain nation-state actors [with a reputation for cyberattacks]. And now we’re in an arms race with the best nation-state actors.”

  • Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation corrects a widely stated but mistaken belief that if Edward Snowden were to return to America and face trial, he could explain to a jury why he blew the whistle on the NSA. Writes Timm, "if prior Espionage Act cases against leakers are any guide…judges have ruled evidence of showing intent to inform the public, benefits of the leaks, and lack of damage to national security is inadmissible."

In other news around the web:

  • Yet another must-read: Amanda Hess in Pacific Standard, on "Why Women Aren't Welcome on the Internet." Here's a key graf:

    On the Internet, women are overpowered and devalued. We don’t always think about our online lives in those terms—after all, our days are filled with work to do, friends to keep up with, Netflix to watch. But when anonymous harassers come along—saying they would like to rape us, or cut off our heads, or scrutinize our bodies in public, or shame us for our sexual habits—they serve to remind us in ways both big and small that we can’t be at ease online. It is precisely the banality of Internet harassment, University of Miami law professor Mary Anne Franks has argued, that makes it “both so effective and so harmful, especially as a form of discrimination.”

  • The New York Times column Joe Nocera writes a paean to Jaron Lanier and his book, Who Owns the Future?

  • Michael Mandel marshals the data to show how New York City has become "a tech city to rival San Francisco, Boston and Seattle."

  • Snapchat doesn't make money yet, but it has already hired a K Street Firm, Heather Podesta + Partners, to lobby on its behalf in Washington, DC, The Hill's Kate Tummarello reports.

  • Emily Parker's new book, Now I Know Who My Comrades Are: Voices from the Internet Underground, gets a rave review from Mario Vargas Llosa.

  • Anna Nemtsova reports for Foreign Policy on how the U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul uses Twitter to have a dialogue with the Russian people.

  • The Times' Robert Mackey's reports on the jailing and intimidation of many of the Egyptian bloggers who helped lead the 2011 uprising there.

  • UK Vote Camp, a new initiative aimed at increasing participation in the 2015 general election, meets tomorrow in London.