The ‘Anti-Manning’ Positions of Hillary Clinton on National Security and Surveillance
Marcy Wheeler, national security and civil liberties reporter at EmptyWheel.net, says Clinton supported secure communications for dissidents – except when it came to leaks from her own State Department to WikiLeaks
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
During the fourth DNC debate on Sunday, an interesting exchange took place between candidate Hillary Clinton, and moderator or questioner Andrea Mitchell. In the dialog, Clinton made reference to a closed-door meeting that took place between President Obama and members of Silicon Valley. Clinton attempted to emphasize her point of compromise and cooperation between the federal government and the tech industry in trying to solve these issues. Hillary has also spoken at length on the issue of encryption and surveillance, advocating for more government involvement. Let’s figure out what her position is on all of these issues.
For that I’m being joined by Marcy Wheeler. Marcy is an investigative reporter covering national security and civil liberties at EmptyWheel.net, and many other significant outlets. She is also the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a short primer on the pre-war intelligence and the CIA leak. Marcy, so good to have you with us today.
MARCY WHEELER: Thanks for having me.
PERIES: So, broadly speaking, how would you assess Hillary’s record on issues of national security, and in particular from the perspective that you cover these issues?
WHEELER: It’s varied. And by that I mean she has basically three different positions. One is what her State Department did while she was secretary of state. And at that point her department very laudably supported tools for dissidents. They even had kind of a toolkit for dissidents, that was meant to allow them to set up communications networks that bypassed those of oppressive governments. Tools to keep themselves safe.
So this was a remarkable effort, and she said a lot of wonderful things when she was secretary of state about the importance of protecting the safety of communications. At the same time as she was supporting that effort, she was pretty opposed, to put it mildly, to an American dissident, Chelsea Manning, using similar tools. In this case, encryption and some other, some other tools, to leak information from her own State Department to WikiLeaks. And she’s always been very aggressively anti-Manning. Which I guess is not surprising, but it shows that encryption and protected communications are great, so long as you’re not the one being harmed by them, or perceptibly harmed by them.
Since then, since she started running for president, her views, I think, are probably closer to what her views actually are. And you mentioned the debate on Sunday. In December, she was asked a question about encryption and she basically gave what people–people like to claim, oh, I support secure communications. I support Americans having encryption. But basically she said we need a Manhattan project to find some way to have encryption, but let us eat our cookies, too.
PERIES: What is the Manhattan project?
WHEELER: Well, the Manhattan project, of course, is the development of the nuclear bomb. And she’s saying we need some similarly technologically-driven effort to reinvent the role, the laws of mathematics, basically. Because you can’t have encryption that at the same time permits the federal government to access communications and surveil them.
And that’s what she wants, that’s what Jim Comey would like. Some communications providers claim to do that. There was a recent discovery that Juniper Networks, which is a virtual private network that a lot of American businesses and big parts of the federal government use, that that has a back door, and the back door probably got placed there or added to or opened more widely after the NSA encouraged Juniper Networks to put a back door there. So that’s kind of the classic example of how if you build a back door into your purportedly secure communications, somebody else can exploit that back door, and then the entire point of using encryption to keep your communications safe, but also to protect yourself and the rest of the internet from hackers, once you build those back doors then that kind of security tends to dissipate.
PERIES: Now, Hillary has also invoked the word terrorism when she’s speaking about encryption. Does this give us some insight into what she thinks about this very complex issue?
WHEELER: Right. I mean, the argument that executive branch people–and she’s speaking like she’s still part of the executive branch, make is you need to have a back door to encryption to figure out the terrorists, how they’re plotting. Her comments–Hillary’s comments on Sunday were about something entirely different, which was how terrorists, how ISIS recruits using social media. And there are two schools of thought on how to respond to that. One is, which the FBI seems to embrace, is you work with social media to take–to take down violent content, clearly terrorist content, but you leave the rest up, A) because it may be hateful speech but it is legal speech, but B) from the FBI’s standpoint, that makes it really easy for them to watch who is being recruited by ISIS. By terrorists.
And they–you know, if you look at the indictments of people in the United States, they use it all the time. They use people’s activities all the time on Twitter as part of the evidence to indict somebody and put them in jail or prison eventually. The Obama administration, Hillary with them, is kind of pushing a new approach, which doesn’t make any sense, but they’re doing it. And they’re going to social media companies and saying in addition to taking down terrorist content, we also want you to use your algorithms, things like on Facebook they’ll pick and choose which news you get to see, we want–they’re basically saying to Facebook, we want you to use those same algorithms that selectively rise certain kinds of content in people’s timeline to rise–you know, raise the content of people who might be countervoices to ISIS and to diminish potential ISIS voices. So in other words, to kind of not entirely hide ISIS, but to silence it using these algorithms that some, but not all, social media companies use anyway.
And that gets you into, you know, the administration and other national security people will say, well, they already do this kind of thing for potential suicide–people who want to prevent suicide, they do it for kiddy porn. But that’s somewhat different than policing this hateful but largely legal speech. And so it raises additional questions. The notion that we would respond to the San Bernardino attack by doing anything about social media is kind of nonsensical, because there is, short of accessing Malik–the wife’s Facebook content, going back years, we would not have been able to see that she was radicalized. And the time when she made comments on Facebook that supported jihad was a time when we already had access to that, that the FBI could have easily gone to Facebook and said, we want to know what the communications of this non-U.S. person who still lives in Pakistan are. They didn’t do that.
So that’s sort of the problem with this whole notion, is it’s not so much access. It’s, it’s figuring out which patterns of communication at a metadata level, which is always accessible to the government, trying to make sense of those patterns to figure out what you need to look more of. And the government just isn’t going to solve that anytime. And Facebook isn’t going to be able to solve that anytime. And so it’s sort of–you know, a hopeless venture, but it makes it easy for somebody like Hillary or, frankly, President Obama to appear as if they’re doing something new against ISIS when really doing the same thing diligently is sort of keeping us relatively safe, maybe not entirely.
PERIES: All right, Marcy. I thank you so much for joining us and giving us your analysis there.
WHEELER: Thanks so much.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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