Snowden praised for fighting government surveillance... by group that LOVES corporate surveillance
The Students For Liberty describes itself as "a rapidly growing network of pro-liberty students from all over the world." Their big award was given to Snowden for "initiating a global conversation on the balance of power between governments and peoples that has led to and continues to bring about meaningful reforms to intrusive, abusive, and unjust government surveillance programs."
If your award is concerned about how the government is using technology to surveil citizens then Edward Snowden is an uncontroversial winner. Not only did Snowden expose government surveillance but, as a former intelligence contractor, he exposed how much government surveillance is handled by private companies.
In accepting his award, Snowden told the audience: “As they take the private records of all our lives, and they aggregate a dossier, how can that be said to be constitutional?"
All of which makes it slightly shocking to discover the identity of another recent winner of Students For Liberty's big award: Peter Thiel, the founder of one of the NSA’s biggest contractors, Palantir Technologies. If a government is trying to dig through private records and aggregate a dossier, Palantir is the company they call.
Snowden’s nemesis, former NSA chief Keith Alexander, praised Palantir’s usefulness to the spy agency, for providing “a way of visualizing what’s going on in the networks.” Alexander was talking about networks of terrorists, but he was testifying because just one year before Students For Liberty awarded Thiel, Palantir was caught helping the US Chamber of Commerce visualize networks of its critics and of WikiLeaks’ circle of supporters — including Snowden’s closest journalism confidante, Glenn Greenwald. (Indeed Greenwald has characterized Pando’s criticism of him as a CIA plot hatched by Thiel, whose Founders Fund previously invested around $300k in Pando.)
Students For Liberty honored Thiel just three years ago, so it’s not like a seasoned spy would have to research hard to find out with whom he now shares an "Alumnus of the Year Award." In fact, the Palantir co-founder was the very first winner of the SFL "Alumnus of the Year" award back in 2012. A quick Google of the award brings up scores of links to Thiel addressing the Students For Liberty.
In addition to praising Snowden at last week's ceremony, Students For Liberty also awarded their “Event of the Year” to anti-Marxist libertarian students at Honduras’ National University for bravely collaborating with the university administration to successfully destroy a leftwing student protest campaign. Leftists and journalists in Honduras have been terrorized ever since a 2009 US-backed coup overthrew president Manuel Zelaya.
Despite that, as Edward Snowden told the Marriott conference hall packed full of libertarian Tracy Flicks and budding Joe McCarthys, these Students For Liberty types are his kind of crowd:
“I think many of the people in this room take a more pro-liberty pro-rights perspective than others in the U.S. political agreement."Snowden also revealed himself as a budding Jeff Jarvis of government whistleblowers, parroting old cyberutopian platitudes:
"If the government will not be stewards of our rights, we can encode our rights into our system.”It’s talk like that that gets Snowden invited to roomba around TED Talks stages.
So what exactly is "Students For Liberty"? According to its website, "Students For Liberty has grown into the largest libertarian student organization in the world, with over 800 student leaders supporting over 1,350 student groups representing over 100,000 students on all inhabited continents."
Like most of the libertarian nomenklatura, this group gets most of its money from the Koch brothers. Google, another corporation which has worked closely with the US government, recently joined the list of big corporate sponsors. SFL’s Board of Advisors includes such heroes of freedom as “His Serene Highness Prince von Liechtenstein” — whose royal family rules over an exclusive offshore banking tax haven favored by global billionaires who think Switzerland is too transparent.
The group was formed in 2008 by Alexander McCobin, while he was working in the marketing department of the Cato Institute (neé “The Charles Koch Foundation”). The idea to form SFL came a year earlier in 2007, while McCobin was in the Charles G. Koch Summer Fellow Program at the Institute For Humane Studies, where Charles G. Koch serves as chairman of the board. (My editor Paul Carr is probably getting blisters jamming his forefinger on the “Koch Alarm” sound effect he plays on PandoLIVE whenever I mention the Kochs. But hey, don’t blame me for these two-legged DC caricatures, I just reports the facts.)
In 2009, McCobin and his fiancée were sued by former colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania for allegedly misappropriating funds from a nonprofit to help high school students learn debating skills. McCobin was also the founder of Penn Libertarians.
When McCobin’s group gave their award to Peter Thiel, their "west coast director" described Thiel on stage as a “personal role model of mine.”
Indeed, Thiel’s presence was everywhere at the Students For Liberty schmoozer this year, even if the man himself was absent. After Snowden’s skyped appearance, libertarian celebrity Ron Paul took the stage with longtime Cato Institute board director and FoxNews truther Andrew Napolitano. Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign for president — supported by Snowden and Greenwald — was almost entirely funded by Peter Thiel.
The following night, Students For Liberty featured Ron Paul’s stubby heir, Sen. Rand Paul — whose run for president in 2016 is being funded by Thiel’s co-founder at Palantir, Joe Lonsdale, who serves on Rand Paul’s finance team and co-hosted Silicon Valley fundraisers.
In 2011, Palantir sponsored the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer Awards, whose illustrious list of winners includes Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, the Tor Project, and EFF co-founder Mitch Kapor as well as EFF Fellow Cory Doctorow.
It seems as if Palantir and Peter Thiel are just about everywhere there’s an award for those bravely fighting the type of government surveillance ably assisted by... Palantir and Peter Thiel.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]