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Wonkbook: Meet Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker

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Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 11. That's the number of surveillance applications the court overseeing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has rejected since 1979 -- out of 33,900 received.  

Wonkbook's Quotation of the Day: “It’s unclear to me that we’ve developed any intelligence through the metadata program that’s led to the disruption of plots that we couldn’t obtain through other programs,” Udall said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: Here's how Obamacare's markets are shaping up.

National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden is pictured during an interview with the Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong June 9, 2013. (REUTERS/Ewen MacAskill/The Guardian)
National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden is seen in this June 9 photo. (REUTERS/Ewen MacAskill/The Guardian)

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) Meet Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker; 2) crunch time for immigration reform; 3) IRS transcripts coming; 4) it's getting hotter in the housing market; and 5) checking in on Obamacare.

1) Top story: Meet Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker

Meet Edward Snowden. "He had worked for the CIA and as a contractor for the NSA, he wrote, and had lived a “comfortable and privileged life.” But he was also deeply uncomfortable with the knowledge that had already been afforded to him in his brief career — knowledge about the U.S. surveillance that officials said they were carrying out to keep America safe." Barton Gellman and Jerry Markon in The Washington Post.

...Has the U.S. become the type of nation from which you seek asylum? "Rather than face charges in the United States, Snowden has fled to Hong Kong. He plans to seek asylum in a nation with a strong civil liberties record, such as Iceland. Americans are familiar with stories of dissidents fleeing repressive regimes such as those in China or Iran and seeking asylum in the United States. Snowden is in the opposite position. He’s an American leaving the land of his birth because he fears persecution" Timothy B. Lee in The Washington Post.

...What is Booz Allen Hamilton, Snowden's employer, anyway? "Edward J. Snowden’s employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, has become one of the largest and most profitable corporations in the United States almost exclusively by serving a single client: the government of the United States...Over the last decade, much of the company’s growth has come from selling expertise, technology and manpower to the National Security Agency and other federal intelligence agencies. Booz Allen earned $1.3 billion, 23 percent of the company’s total revenue, from intelligence work during its most recent fiscal year." Binyamin Appelbaum and Eric Lipton in The New York Times.

Clapper: Leaks are 'gut-wrenching.' "Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in an interview that aired Saturday night that the leaks regarding the Obama administration’s surveillance programs are “literally gut-wrenching” and that the administration has requested a criminal investigation into who leaked the information...“I think we all feel profoundly offended by that,” Clapper said. “This is someone who, for whatever reason, has chosen to violate a sacred trust for this country. And so I hope we’re able to track down whoever’s doing this, because it is extremely damaging to, and it affects the safety and security of this country.”" Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

...The program doesn't indiscriminately mine data, officials say. "In a statement issued Saturday, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. described PRISM as “an internal government computer system used to facilitate the government’s statutorily authorized collection of foreign intelligence information from electronic communication service providers under court supervision.” “PRISM is not an undisclosed collection or data mining program,” the statement said." Robert O’Harrow Jr., Ellen Nakashima and Barton Gellman in The Washington Post.

Debate: Is government surveillance a threat to our democracyThe New York Times.

Technology emboldened the NSA. "Key advances in computing and software in recent years opened the door for the National Security Agency to analyze far larger volumes of phone, Internet and financial data to search for terrorist attacks, paving the way for the programs now generating controversy...The NSA's advances have come in the form of programs developed on the West Coast—a central one was known by the quirky name Hadoop—that enable intelligence agencies to cheaply amplify computing power, U.S. and industry officials said." Siobhan Gorman, Adam Entous, and Andrew Dowell in The Wall Street Journal.

...But is a democratic surveillance state possible? "This name comes from a 2008 paper, “The Constitution in the National Surveillance State,” by Yale law professor Jack Balkin. He provocatively argues that “[t]he question is not whether we will have a surveillance state in the years to come, but what sort of state we will have.”" Mike Konczal in The Washington Post.

Feinstein: NSA programs thwarted plots in New York, Mumbai. "During an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” Feinstein suggested there are other examples of the programs being successful, but noted two cases that have now been declassified. She pointed to a 2008 plot to blow up a hotel in Mumbai and a 2009 plot to bomb the New York City subway program." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

Udall: No proof that phone record collection stops terrorism. "Udall, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, conceded that a separate program that monitors the Internet activity of foreigners — code-named PRISM — has paid dividends. But he said the collection of phone record metadata has not demonstrated that it’s effective. “It’s unclear to me that we’ve developed any intelligence through the metadata program that’s led to the disruption of plots that we couldn’t obtain through other programs,” Udall said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”" Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

NSA revives the liberal-libertarian alliance. "Fears of Big Brother have the likes of liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders and libertarian Sen. Rand Paul sounding the alarm over the National Security Administration sweeping up millions of phone records and mining the activity of Internet users. The same coalition – call them “liberal-tarians” — has come together on other issues over the years, from opposition to the Iraq war to gay marriage and medical marijuana, helping to nudge evolving public attitudes, which eventually drove policy changes." Darren Samuelsohn in Politico.

Was Congress kept in the dark on Section 215? "Amid the ongoing controversy over the administration’s surveillance programs, many are asking to what extent Congress was kept in the loop. Now there’s a partial answer: National security officials briefed lawmakers 13 times between 2009 and 2013 about Section 215 of the Patriot Act, according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of some of the meetings." Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

Secret court's oversight gets scrutiny. "[C]ritics say neither the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court nor Congress has done much to place checks on the data-gathering efforts, which were largely unknown to the public until the leak of information on NSA programs that collect telephone subscriber data from major carriers and monitor foreign email and Internet traffic. From 1979 through 2012, the court overseeing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has rejected only 11 of the more than 33,900 surveillance applications by the government, according to annual Justice Department reports to Congress." Evan Perez in The Wall Street Journal.

Nominee for FBI post to face NSA questions. "James Comey, President Barack Obama's planned nominee to lead the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is intimately familiar with debates over government surveillance. That could complicate his confirmation hearings, as lawmakers and interest groups try to extract information and assurances about how the programs work." Devlin Barrett in The Wall Street Journal.

Music recommendations interlude: Tears for Fears, "Mad World," 1983.

Top op-eds

SHILLER: Fixing Social Security. "The purpose of Social Security is to help families. It reinforces the intergenerational sharing that families already — though imperfectly — provide. It helps retirees by stabilizing their income, and it helps their grown children, who are relieved of any excessive burden of supporting them. This purpose strongly suggests that the Social Security benefits should be indexed to some measure of the available, aggregate economic pie. That means a formula that looks completely different from the ones being discussed today." Robert J. Shiller in The New York Times.

VIGUERIE: A conservative case for prison reform. "Conservatives should recognize that the entire criminal justice system is another government spending program fraught with the issues that plague all government programs. Criminal justice should be subject to the same level of skepticism and scrutiny that we apply to any other government program. " Richard A. Viguerie in The New York Times.

KRUGMAN: The big shrug. "[W]hile insiders no longer seem determined to worry about the wrong things, that’s not enough; they also need to start worrying about the right things — namely, the plight of the jobless and the immense continuing waste from a depressed economy. And that’s not happening. Instead, policy makers both here and in Europe seem gripped by a combination of complacency and fatalism, a sense that nothing need be done and nothing can be done. Call it the big shrug." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

JOHNSON: Next debt-ceiling histrionics could do real harm. "The real worry, however, is that fiscal policy has the potential to derail the economy -- if the political debate becomes focused on whether to increase the federal debt ceiling later this year...The real danger is that the political process will produce another scary, needless confrontation over the debt ceiling that will significantly slow the recovery. The debt ceiling should be taken completely off the table." Simon Johnson in Bloomberg.

DIONNE: Libertarianism's Achilles heel. "Libertarians have the virtue, in principle at least, of a very clear creed: They believe in the smallest government possible, longing for what the late philosopher Robert Nozick, in his classic book “Anarchy, State, and Utopia,” called “the night-watchman state.” Anything government does beyond protecting people from violence or theft and enforcing contracts is seen as illegitimate." E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

DOUTHAT: Your smartphone is watching you. "The motto “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” — or, alternatively, “abandon all privacy, ye who enter here” — might as well be stamped on every smartphone and emblazoned on every social media log-in page. As the security expert Bruce Schneier wrote recently, it isn’t that the Internet has been penetrated by the surveillance state; it’s that the Internet, in effect, is a surveillance state." Ross Douthat in The New York Times.

Adorable animals interlude: Kittens attack a soda-can box.

2) Immigration reform heads for debate

Immigration reform nears debate in Senate. "After seven months of steadily building momentum, the push for a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system enters its most crucial phase this week in the Senate...The final vote in the Senate, which is set to come by the time senators leave for their Fourth of July break, could shape the future of the Republican Party and help determine the political strength of the conservative movement heading into next year’s midterm elections." Michael D. Shear and Ashley Parker in The New York Times.

...And it should be intense. "As the full Senate engages in intensive deliberations over a landmark immigration bill this week, proponents are scrambling to maintain crucial bipartisan support in the face of Republican demands to strengthen border security...Democrats, along with some Republican allies, fear that many of the proposals are too onerous and are aimed primarily at delaying — or ultimately preventing — illegal immigrants from gaining a green card or citizenship." David Nakamura and Rosalind S. Helderman in The Washington Post.

Interview: Dylan Matthews talks with Mario Diaz-BalartThe Washington Post.

Reform hinges on border-security additions. "Confidence among Democrats that the 1,000-page bill will pass the upper chamber was shaken last week when Rubio said he would not vote for it without changes to border security language — even though he negotiated the original draft...Pro-immigrant activists were alarmed when they heard that Rubio was meeting with Cornyn about border security but their concerns were quelled when Rubio signaled he would have his own package." Alexander Bolton in The Hill.

@robertcostaNRO: If Ryan wasn't personally involved w/ House immigration talks, I doubt the whiff of behind-scenes momentum in House GOP wld be there

...Is Cornyn's amendment a 'poison pill'? "A proposed Republican amendment to the Senate Gang of Eight’s immigration bill is a “poison pill” and the legislation is unlikely to go through any “big changes,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Sunday. The amendment to the bill from Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) would require significantly higher thresholds of border control before the bill’s “trigger” kicks in allowing undocumented immigrants to move toward citizenship." Burgess Everett in Politico.

Explainer: Three possible roads for immigration reform. Russell Berman in The Hill.

Sen. Ayotte will support immigration bill. "“I have looked at this carefully,” Ayotte said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “This is a thoughtful bipartisan solution to a tough problem. And so that’s why I’m going to support it.” Ayotte’s support is significant because it means the bill — as long as it gets the support of all or most of the 54 members of the Democratic caucus in the Senate — is approaching the 60 votes it would need to override a filibuster." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

Thoughtful photography interlude: Man through his personal objects.

3) IRS transcripts coming

Cummings vows release of IRS transcripts. "The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on Sunday threatened to release full transcripts of testimony from Internal Revenue Service employees related to the agency’s targeting scandal by week’s end if Chairman Darrell Issa does not." Daniel Strauss in The Hill.

Did the IRS case start in Ohio? "Rep. Elijah Cummings (D., Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the investigation shows that local IRS workers initiated the inappropriate targeting in an effort to deal with an emerging issue confronting the tax agency, not out of political motivation." John D. McKinnon in The Wall Street Journal.

Fun facts interlude: There is an ATM that uses Latin in Vatican City.

4) It's getting hotter in the housing market 

Cash is fueling quick home sales. "Bidding wars sound almost quaint. These days, the only way for would-be buyers to secure a home, it often seems, is to offer all cash and be ready to do so within hours, not days...But with the number of homes for sale at historically low levels and large investors purchasing thousands of properties, buyers are facing a radically changed market and prices are quickly rising." Jennifer Medina and Katherina Q. Seelye in The New York Times.

Why the World Bank shouldn't neuter its 'Doing Business' report. "The report is under fire from some of the countries who think they are unfairly maligned in its pages, most prominently China, which is ranked No. 91 in the 2013 report due to the particular difficulty it presents would-be entrepreneurs in the areas of “starting a business,” “dealing with construction permits,” “getting electricity” and “protecting investors.”" Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

How the British see us interlude: Alex Jones' absolutely hysterical and disastrous BBC interview.

5) Checking in on health insurance exchange markets

Here's how Obamacare's markets are shaping up. "One big challenge with the individual market, right now, is that most states have one or two health plans that are incredibly dominant. Sometimes, there could be dozens of other plans that have barely any market share, covering a few hundred or even just a few dozen people." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Hundreds in government had advance word of Medicare action at heart of trading-spike probe. "Hundreds of federal employees were given advance word of a Medicare decision worth billions of dollars to private insurers in the weeks before the official announcement, a period when trading in the shares of those firms spiked. The surge of trading in Humana’s and other private health insurers’ stock before the April 1 announcement already has prompted the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether Wall Street investors had advance access to inside information about the then-confidential Medicare funding plan." Tom Hamburger and Dina ElBoghdady in The Washington Post.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

Air polluters like to send their emissions across state linesDanny Hayes.

Here are the questions about gun violence the CDC would study — if it couldBrad Plumer.

Has the US become the type of nation from which you have to seek asylumTimothy B. Lee.

Why the World Bank shouldn’t neuter its ‘Doing Business’ reportNeil Irwin.

Here are the questions about gun violence the CDC would study — if it couldBrad Plumer.

Diaz-Balart on immigration reform: ‘There’s pushback on everything’. Dylan Matthews.

Chart: Here’s how Obamacare’s markets are shaping upSarah Kliff.

Is a democratic surveillance state possibleMike Konczal.

Et Cetera

It's always the same lineup on the Sunday showsJennifer Steinhauer in The New York Times.

Congress heads to showdown over food-stamp spendingCorey Boles in The Wall Street Journal.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.



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