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Michael Ratner: Twitter Storm Between WikiLeaks and Glenn Greenwald

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WikiLeaks promises to name the fifth country where MYSTIC mega data collection program is applied.


SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange threatens to release Snowden info that Glenn Greenwald says could endanger lives.

Here to discuss this is our regular contributor, Michael Ratner. Michael Ratner is the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and the U.S. attorney for Julian Assange. He’s also a board member of The Real News Network.

Thank you for joining us, Michael.


PERIES: That’s great. We’re happy to have you back.

So what’s going on with this breaking story?

RATNER: Well, a few days ago, The Intercept, which is the online magazine of Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and others, let out some information about the latest revelations in NSA spying in the Snowden stories. It concerns, really, a broad program called MYSTIC that operates to take in the metadata from at least five countries. And they named four of those countries. They named the Bahamas, Mexico, the Philippines, Kenya. And they didn’t name a fifth country.

Now, in fact, of those five countries, in one of those countries—in fact, two of those countries—they don’t just take in the metadata, which is, you know, the day of the call, the length of the call, but they take in all of the audio—in other words, every word that’s said on the cell phone, and in this case millions of cell phones.

So in the case of the Bahamas, which is one of the countries revealed, the NSA takes in every cell phone call in and out of the country and in the country. That includes perhaps some 5 million Americans who visit the Bahamas. It includes people like Oprah Winfrey, who have a house there, etc.

So the five countries, one of them, everything is taken in.

The fifth country also apparently has everything taken in except that first Intercept and Glenn Greenwald and Laura refused, refused to name that fifth country.

A number of questions even before you get there. What are they doing taking in all the metadata and all the voicemail from the Bahamas? Since when is the Bahamas a threat to terrorism? Yeah, there may be some drugs there, but why are they taking in every call? In fact, of course, the way they got into the Bahamas, they being the NSA, was by going to the—by using the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and claiming to be doing drug information, but using a backdoor to then take in every call.

So the NSA is illegally getting into these countries, taking in all of the audio or all the metadata.

But the controversy came—and I was away when it began—and the aspect that caused controversy is that four of the five countries were named, but the fifth country was not named. And what The Intercept said: it is not naming that country, in response to specific, credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence. So that’s the reason given to The Intercept, and they apparently went with that reason.

Now, look it, the people running The Intercept are people I know. They’re good people. They’re trustworthy people. At the same time, the government often gives reasons that it doesn’t want material out. And, in fact, if it was up to the government, nothing would come out. In fact, in this case, The Washington Post published a similar story to The Intercept and published none of the countries. So you can’t necessarily accept what the government is saying. On the other hand, I haven’t seen what they said, and you have to understand that people who are writing The Intercept are allies and people who I believe have good faith in what they do.

But at the same time, here you have an entire country, apparently, with all of its audio being surveilled, and that people in that country don’t know that is occurring. Yeah, they may suspect it like I suspect my phone calls, but they don’t know it’s occurring. And the question is: shouldn’t they know that that’s occurring?

Well, what happened as a result of this, the failure to mention one of the countries, my client, or WikiLeaks, started sort of what people sometimes call a Twitter storm. I won’t read them all, but you get the flavor. One of them says, it is not the place of First Look (that’s the company that owns The Intercept) to decide how a people will choose to act against the mass breaches by the United States. So WikiLeaks objecting to the withholding of the name. WikiLeaks goes on: if a nation wants to engage in a revolt on the basis of the U.S. government recording all their phones is not that they’re right. In other words, if they—shouldn’t they get the information where they can make decisions about their lives? Greenwald comes back—no, I think WikiLeaks still continuing: when has true published information harmed innocents? You are painting future publications into a corner with this Pentagon line. In other words, WikiLeaks saying, we think the information ought to be out there.

That’s not to say that WikiLeaks didn’t when necessary redact the names of people who it felt would be harmed. They did, in fact, redactions. But in this case they’re talking about a program, a program of surveillance that WikiLeaks is saying ought to be out there.

What Greenwald comes back saying: quote, but there was a very convincing probability in the fifth country for how innocent people died, which we all accepted.

PERIES: What type of danger might there be to the citizens of the fifth country?

RATNER: Well, this is a good question. We don’t know, because apparently it was a small company in that fifth country that was going to be in danger. Now, it seems to me from a distance, first of all, Snowden’s stuff has been out there for a year. The surveillance stuff has been out there for a year. If there’s companies out there surveilling people [incompr.] countries, they ought to have taken precautions already or shut down. And the reason I can say something about it being a small country: what WikiLeaks comes back and says: an entire people are being victimized; a small abusive company does not eclipse a nation; at most, people or the company can be warned pre-publication.

Now, without knowing more, without—. Oh, one more statement that Greenwald said: it’s based on a particular physical vulnerabilities of the small company involved. So it does seem to me, sitting here at some distance—and while I believe in the good faith of both sides in this debate, but if there’s a small company engaged in massive surveillance that’s warned, that even WikiLeaks said that you can warn them, they ought to be warned. They can shut down, they can leave the country. And then it ought to get out a fifth country that is being massively surveilled. Again, I haven’t seen the material.

Now, the interesting part is how you opened, Sharmini, that WikiLeaks said that within 72 hours or about 72 hours they would reveal the name of that country that was broadly surveilled. So I’m sitting here, probably with millions of others, waiting for the name of that country to come out.

PERIES: Michael, it appears you’re really in the middle of all of this and this is the crux of the debate that’s being aired here, and we look forward to hearing from you again and keeping us abreast of what’s going on—important debate.

RATNER: Thank you for having me on The Real News.

PERIES: Thank you.

Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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