Edward Snowden

Jesselyn Radack

I joke that I use drug dealer tactics. It’s a terrible way to work as an attorney, but you have to.

Jesselyn Radack, the national security and human rights director for the Government Accountability Project, commenting on the lengths to which she must go to protect her most famous client’s secrecy.

Radack represents Edward Snowden, and in her dealings with him she has abandoned WiFi — it’s too insecure — and used burner phones and two laptops (one of which is encrypted). She accepts only cash payments and will discuss his case only in person.

As Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

It’s a familiar enough idea. You see it in both Macbeth and the genesis story of just about every Marvel supervillan. It’s true, I think, not just of people but also of institutions. Like governments.

Just about every time I go to federal court for a sentencing hearing — where it seems the AUSA is fighting for each additional month in prison like it will take a point off his mortgage — I think about this quote from Nietzsche:

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Edward Snowden returned to the news this week when NBC aired an hour-long interview with him, the first on American TV. Anchor Brian Williams met with Snowden in a Moscow hotel. The 30-year-old former computer systems administrator described his motives for releasing an unprecedented payload of classified information about NSA surveillance.

Snowden is vexing. As a person, he seems a mix of likeable and unlikeable traits. He appears earnest, convinced of the rectitude of his choices even if, as he told NBC, “Sometimes, to do the right thing you have to break the law.” Yet he bristles at Obama Administration characterizations of him as a low-level employee, a high-school dropout. (For example, the president told reporters last year, “No, I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.”) Even if Snowden is right to resist the connotations of those labels, listening to him defend himself in the interview can be painful. He insists he was “trained as a spy” who lived under an assumed identity and was a powerful operator. He sounds like a young man with a bruised ego. The last thing one wants to have to worry about in a situation of this great national and international importance, though, is one young man’s ego.

Snowden’s case is more important and more vexing. NSA’s surveillance programs are deeply troubling….

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Glenn Greenwald

I have lawyers who are extremely well-connected at the Justice Department who usually can, with one phone call, get [Attorney General Eric] Holder on the phone. And they actually have gotten the people they wanted to get on the phone. And those people have been very unusually unforthcoming about what their thinking is or what’s happening, even to the extent of not being willing to tell them whether there’s already an indictment filed under seal or whether there’s a grand jury investigation…. [T]hey clearly want me to linger in this state of uncertainty.

– Lawyer turned journalist Glenn Greenwald, famous for his reporting on NSA surveillance, discussing with GQ the legal limbo he finds himself in.

(What Greenwald thinks about Hillary Clinton — hint: he’s not a fan — after the jump.)

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Edward Snowden

* When asked whether she thought Edward Snowden was “a whistleblower or a traitor,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg politely declined to answer — justices of the Supreme Court don’t just give previews of their opinions. [CNN]

* Ed Siskel recently left his role as deputy counsel in the Office of White House Counsel. It’s anyone’s guess which Biglaw firm added Gene Siskel’s nephew to its practice. Hopefully it’ll get a thumbs-up. [Politics Now / Los Angeles Times]

* It’s a “tale of two law schools”: the kind that place their students in jobs and the kind that let them languish in unemployment or underemployment. More on this tomorrow. [National Law Journal]

* Two NYU Law students’ emails were subpoenaed after they denounced the business activities of one of the law school’s trustees. Now, we’re not going to say that the school picked a side, but… [DNAinfo]

* Congrats, you can “Like” General Mills all you want without fear of arbitration. The company was so overwhelmed by negative consumer response that it withdrew its new legal terms. [New York Times]

* Missouri lawyer is hauled into a disciplinary hearing about his practice of showing a picture of a naked woman to a female client. He says it wasn’t about sex and he was just showing her the kinds of pictures that come up in a divorce proceeding. That sounds like a fine explanation. I mean, every divorce involves autographed photos of strippers. He also commingled funds. That’s less easy to explain. [Inside the Ozarks]

* Hey look! They brought back Debtors’ Prison. The prison-industrial complex has gotta get paid somehow. [Bergen Dispatch]

* Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are now looking into David Samson, the chair of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and a Christie appointee. If government agencies aren’t for petty revenge and plunder, then what are they for? [Talking Points Memo]

* Insurance company cronies threaten that insurance company may have to get out of the business because of all the lawyers winning cases making the insurance company actually pay their contractual obligations. Don’t they understand the purpose of litigation is just to collect premiums? [Legal Newsline Legal Journal]

* How ACLU attorney Ben Wizner became Snowden’s lawyer. [Forbes]

* “One of the reasons I could never imagine being a lawyer is because you have to account for your time in 15-minute increments.” Thankfully she was corrected and told that lawyers are actually more irritatingly measured in 6-minute increments. [Dear Prudence / Slate]

* With all the talk of patent law reform coming from the President, this is an excellent time to look back at eight dumb patents. [Mashable]

This is pretty archaic.

* Being a mass murderer wouldn’t be any fun if you couldn’t play video games. Also, let’s Upworthy this: Elie tells a story about himself dancing naked… you won’t believe what happens next. [ATL Redline]

* Ted Wells of Paul Weiss finally got off his duff and issued his report on the harassment situation in the Miami Dolphins locker room. [Deadspin]

* ♫Rubber Duckie, you’re the one, you make state legislative sessions drafting complicated statutes allowing gambling on racing you so much fun!♫ [Lowering the Bar]

* From the “dick moves” file, this guy put up a Craigslist ad pimping out his neighbor without her knowledge or consent. From the f**king idiot files, this guy had no idea how easy it would be for the authorities to track him down. [IT-Lex]

* Is the aggressive lateral partner recruitment strategy bringing results? [Adam Smith, Esq.]

* There’s pretty much nothing OK with the new gay segregation law in Kansas. [Lawyers, Guns & Money]

* The Virginia decision legalizing gay marriage made one slight misstatement. “Our Constitution declares that ‘all men’ are created equal.” Really? Does it now? [Josh Blackman's Blog; WSJ Law Blog]

* Intelligence Squared held a debate last night between Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and the ACLU’s Ben Wizner against former prosecutor (not Weekend at Bernie’s star) Andrew McCarthy and former CIA Director R. James Woolsey on the question: Snowden Was Justified. The video is embedded after the jump…. [Intelligence Squared]

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It’s time for the State of the Union again, which means it’s time to gather around the TV and thoughtfully discuss the future of the country play a sophomoric game based on the events that we expect to unfold over the course of the evening.

Remember to follow your Above the Law editors covering the speech via Twitter. See @ATLblog@DavidLat@ElieNYC@StaciZaretsky, and @JosephPatrice.

Now, on to the game….

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In too many ways, 2013 was a year that vindicated the long-standing paranoia of many Americans, particularly the more conservative. A bewildering number of stories littered the news that seemed to confirm exactly the sort of gross government overreach that previously sounded like a delusion of someone whose eyes were scanning the skies for black helicopters. In spring 2013, for example, we learned that the IRS had been targeting the 501(c)(3) applications of conservative and libertarian organizations, apparently based solely on their political and philosophical affiliations. Nothing in 2013, though, fanned the flames of political paranoia quite like revelations of the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programs.

In Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, decided in February, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed Amnesty International’s constitutional challenge to a portion of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. In its 5-4 opinion, the Court found that Amnesty lacked Article III standing, in part because the plaintiffs could not show that they had necessarily been targeted for surveillance. When Edward Snowden later disclosed details of the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program, civil libertarians experienced something of a Pyrrhic victory. Standing would not be a problem in many future lawsuits because the revelation of PRISM established that millions of Americans had been subject to some NSA spying. The only question was whether that surveillance amounted to a violation of the law.

As we leave 2013 and 2014 dawns, some new developments have emerged . . . .

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