There has never been anything like Edward Snowden’s leak of hypersensitive NSA information, reporter Barton Gellman ’82 said in a Sept. 17 talk at the Woodrow Wilson School. Not even the Wikileaks documents were as highly classified.
Gellman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Woodrow Wilson School author-in-residence, joined former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt Daniel Kurtzer, who served as moderator, to discuss the Snowden affair in front of a full house at Dodds Auditorium. Gellman, who has played a leading role in The Washington Post’s coverage of the NSA surveillance programs, began the talk by explaining how he came into contact with Snowden, initially through a colleague who received information in encrypted messages from the former NSA employee.
On the subject of NSA operations and secrecy, Gellman said, “The NSA has, with court authority for seven years and without court authority for some years before that, collected the records of every single phone call that all of you made.” Most members of Congress did not understand what the executive branch had authorized, he said, adding that the NSA can keep its operations secret because the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court “relies entirely on the NSA to self-report.”
So were Snowden’s actions justified?
Snowden’s argument for doing what he did was to give the public a broad understanding of what the government was doing, according to Gellman. The revelations have raised the question of how to balance liberty and security — a question that, in Gellman’s view, remains unanswered. Gellman also said that he had yet to see a poll in which more Americans saw Snowden as a traitor than as someone who promoted an important debate.
Ryan Crocker *85, career ambassador with the U.S. Foreign Service, cautioned against a shift towards “neo-isolationism” at the Woodrow Wilson School’s annual colloquium May 4.
Ryan Crocker *85 (Photo: U.S. Department of State)
“I worry about the increasing mood in the administration of ‘pull back, fix our own problems, and if we’re going to do something, pivot to Asia,’” said Crocker. “If you pivot to Asia, you expose a very important part of your anatomy to the Middle East, which is probably going to bite it very hard.”
This year’s colloquium, on “Challenges to U.S. Policy in the Middle East,” drew 175 graduate alumni and their guests and featured several prominent speakers, including former Sen. George Mitchell, the U.S. special envoy for Middle East peace from 2009-11, who delivered Friday’s keynote. Crocker, who spent four decades in the Foreign Service and served as ambassador throughout the Middle East, most recently in Afghanistan, spoke during the Saturday keynote address.
Crocker said that his experience left him with two lessons: Be careful what you get into, but be just as careful of what you get out of. “Disengagement can have consequences as great and grave as getting in in the first place,” Crocker said.
The greatest challenge facing the current administration is Pakistan, he argued, with nuclear weapons, instability, and a government willing to support the Taliban “as a hedge against U.S. withdrawal.”
Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor for the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks, visited Princeton Feb. 27. (Photo: Ellis Liang ’15)
Military commissions are necessary judicial institutions, Chief Prosecutor of U.S. Military Commissions Brig. Gen. Mark Martins said in a Feb. 27 lecture at the Woodrow Wilson School.
Martins, the chief prosecutor for the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks, emphasized that in contrast to civilian courts, military commissions have a different standard of evidence and jury composition, which are essential for dealing with cases related to armed conflict. However, Martins added that new forms of conflict, such as terrorism, blur the lines between civilian and war crimes.
“The nature of the threat is that something can be regarded both as a violation of the law of war — a war crime — and a violation of the domestic law. Those are not mutually exclusive categories, and that’s where the controversy of how you’re regarding this challenge comes in,” Martins said.
Martins pointed out that one difference of military commissions is in allowing hearsay evidence, prompting Director of the Program in Law and Public Affairs Kim Lane Scheppele to ask what that implies for evidence gathered through coercion.
“The hearsay rule in Anglo-American jurisprudence is the way that we screen out torture,” Scheppele said, “so when the hearsay rule is relaxed, it’s hitting the front line in the American system or the English system, the barrier that keeps out evidence collected by torture or by coercion.”
John Milton Cooper ’61 (Photo: John Cooper k’61)
Historians of early 20th century America are often drawn to one of the era’s two towering figures: Theodore Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson 1879. For John Milton Cooper ’61, an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin, all signs seemed to point to the latter.
Cooper attended a Washington, D.C., high school named for Wilson. He then came to Princeton, where Wilson had studied, taught, and served as president. He even earned a graduate fellowship that bore Wilson’s name. But connecting those dots would be a “historiographical fallacy,” Cooper joked in a recent talk at Princeton. He chose Wilson primarily because of his scholarly interests in World War I and progressivism.
Regardless of the initial motivation, Cooper has made remarkable contributions to Wilson scholarship, including Woodrow Wilson: A Biography, which earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 2010. With the 100th anniversary of Wilson’s presidential inauguration approaching, Cooper came to the Woodrow Wilson School Feb. 21 for a public conversation with professor and presidential historian Julian Zelizer.
In two terms as president, Wilson helped to shape important events — perhaps most notably by mobilizing the United States for its entry into World War I. But Cooper said that Wilson also “stands extremely tall” in terms of the skills that he brought to the office.
His first term, for example, brought the passage of an impressive legislative agenda, made possible by Wilson’s knack for influencing Congress.
“Woodrow Wilson went to speak before Congress more than any other president before him or any other president after him,” Cooper said. “This was his way to reach a national audience. … What Wilson was doing is what presidents do now when they go on TV. [Going to Congress] was a way of making sure that he got maximum coverage.”
danah boyd (Photo: Courtesy danah boyd/danah.org)
Internet expert danah boyd studies the intersection of technology and society, particularly in the ways that young people use social media. “I’m an ethnographer,” she explained in a Feb. 18 talk at the Woodrow Wilson School.“I spend most of my time trying to understand everyday practices and how to map what is going on in our lives.”
A senior researcher at Microsoft Research, boyd (who legally changed her name to include only lowercase letters) described the four “affordances,” or functional qualities, that accompany new technology: persistence, replicability, searchability, and scalability. In other words, information generated online will stick and spread; people can be searched, and their words can be seen by millions.
“Part of the online environment is that we often don’t know what the context is, we’re negotiating it, and again it gets complicated when you think about persistence or when you think about things spreading,” boyd said.
The idea that young people do not care about online privacy is a myth, in boyd’s view. “The first thing to realize is that a lot of young people have chosen to be in a public, which is different from choosing to be public,” she said, noting that this distinction colors the way young people try to control their social situations when online.
Mitch Daniels ’71 (Photo: Ray Taylor, via Wikipedia)
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels ’71, nearing the end of his second and final term at the helm of the Hoosier state, visited the Woodrow Wilson School Oct. 25 to speak about the reforms his administration enacted in the last eight years. The event was sponsored by Innovations for Successful Societies, a University program that plans to publish a case study of Indiana’s state government in November.
Daniels, a former director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, recounted some of his favorite examples of changes in state agencies, from reducing wait times at the department of motor vehicles to providing less expensive but more nutritious meals in the state’s prisons. He credited better measurement and employee incentives, such as performance pay, for encouraging improvement.
“Government is the last monopoly, and in the absence of any competition, there is very little impulse to do things better,” Daniels said.
Daniels also said that government unions are a “huge impediment” to change. On his first day in office, he rescinded a predecessor’s executive order requiring state employees to pay union dues and ended collective bargaining for public workers. Those moves, Daniels said, streamlined the process of reform by allowing the state to pursue private contracts for certain government services.