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from Jack Shafer:

Pierre Omidyar and the bottomless optimism of billionaire publishers

Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar -- reckoned to be worth $8.5 billion -- inspired tens of thousands of journalists to freshen their resumes this week when word of his plan to start his own mass media organization leaked out. With Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, and Laura Poitras announced as its first hires, the outlet will emphasize investigative journalism, but as Omidyar explained in a post, the site will serve all news.

Rattling his dumpster of cash, Omidyar will soon join other billionaires who made their money elsewhere and now peddle product at the newsstand, including Michael Bloomberg of Bloomberg News, Jeff Bezos of the Washington Post, Herb Sandler of ProPublica, Philip Anschutz of the Weekly Standard and the Washington Examiner, Mortimer Zuckerman of the Daily News and U.S. News and World Report, Richard Mellon Scaife of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, John Henry of the Boston Globe, the late Sidney Harman of Newsweek, and the late convicted felon Rev. Sun Myung Moon of the Washington Times. A whole junior varsity of sub-billionaire moneybags, including Wendy P. McCaw of the Santa Barbara News-Press, Jared Kushner of the New York Observer, Doug Manchester of U-T San Diego and Chris Hughes of the New Republic, have similarly bought their way into the news business to spread their influence or enrich democracy, depending on who is doing the telling.

Plutocrats the world over delight in owning media properties, and for good reason: Money can buy a lot, but unless you own a publication you're just one of the world's 1,426 billionaires -- human cargo on a private jet, a delegator, an employer of lobbyists, another yakker in the opinion chorus. Moving to the head of the line requires the media club upgrade, which makes you and your publication a compulsory venue for campaigning candidates. Media properties are like musical instruments: when played just so, they compel your enemies to dance, as William Randolph Hearst of the San Francisco Examiner and New York Journal first demonstrated with his family's money in the 1890s, and the super billionaire Koch brothers would have discovered had they purchased the Los Angeles Times.

A week ago, few outside the tech and business worlds knew who Omidyar was, and even inside some newsrooms his name would have likely drawn a blank. Today he's a celebrity whose every utterance will be recorded, cataloged, analyzed, assessed, and yes, valued! Last week, he was just another billionaire who supported non-profit journalism (Center for Public Integrity, Columbia Journalism Review, and Honolulu Civil Beat, which he founded) and civil liberty organizations (Sunlight Foundation). Today, he's a budding philosopher king.

from The Great Debate:

The mysterious agency that can block a global merger

When Smithfield Foods CEO Larry Pope appears before the Senate Agriculture Committee this week, senators will likely grill him on whether U.S. consumers will be harmed by the proposed $4.7 billion sale to the Chinese firm Shuanghui. Some members of Congress have suggested the deal could hurt the U.S. food supply, even though the meat will be exported.

It seems probable that the deal will go through, but one hurdle is that it must receive approval from the little-known Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). As foreign investment rises CFIUS, the federal committee created by President Ford that is barely known outside Beltway and M&A circles, will only become more central to investment by foreign firms. CFIUS’s opaque rules will reach even further into deals from candy companies to technology portals.

from Jack Shafer:

NSA and the Pandora’s box of surveillance

Let's assume for a moment that National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander was telling the truth yesterday on ABC News's This Week when he said that the NSA material leaked by Edward Snowden "has caused irreversible and significant damage to our country and to our allies."

That would mean that the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and other friendly nations that depend on the NSA's ability to suck electrons out of the ether, store them, sort them, and computer-analyze them for intelligence purposes, have suffered mightily. Unlike tornados, tsunamis, earthquakes or hurricanes -- disasters that tend to inflict only temporary damage that can be repaired -- Snowden's leaks have visited upon the national security of the allies a blight that can't be rolled back or ameliorated. It's permanent. It's everlasting. You know, it's irreversible, as the general said.

from Jack Shafer:

Edward Snowden and the selective targeting of leaks

Edward Snowden's expansive disclosures to the Guardian and the Washington Post about various National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs have only two corollaries in contemporary history—the classified cache Bradley Manning allegedly released to WikiLeaks a few years ago and Daniel Ellsberg's dissemination of the voluminous Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other newspapers in 1971.

Leakers like Snowden, Manning and Ellsberg don't merely risk being called narcissists, traitors or mental cases for having liberated state secrets for public scrutiny. They absolutely guarantee it. In the last two days, the New York Times'David Brooks, Politico's Roger Simon, the Washington Post's Richard Cohen and others have vilified Snowden for revealing the government's aggressive spying on its own citizens, calling him self-indulgent, a loser and a narcissist.

from Breakingviews:

Fugitive whistleblower puts China on the spot

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By Peter Thal Larsen
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Edward Snowden may have embarrassed the United States by leaking intelligence documents. But by seeking refuge in Hong Kong, the fugitive whistleblower has also put China on the spot. His case could become a high-profile test of Beijing’s policy towards the captive city-state, as well as towards its main geopolitical rival.

from The Great Debate:

Building America’s secret surveillance state

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ILLUSTRATION: Matt Mahurin

“God we trust,” goes an old National Security Agency joke.  “All others we monitor.

Given the revelations last week about the NSA’s domestic spying activities, the saying seems more prophecy than humor.

from Jack Shafer:

The spy who came in for your soul

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Using EFTPOS (electronic funds transfer system at point of sale) in a store in Sidney, Dec. 11, 2012.  REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

Leaks to the press, like hillside rain tugged seaward by gravity, gather momentum only if the flow is steadily replenished.

from David Rohde:

Obama’s overdue reckoning on secrecy

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President Barack Obama on the White House South Lawn in Washington, June 6, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing

All day Thursday, officials from across the political spectrum scrambled to explain reports in the Guardian and Washington Post of unprecedented government collection of phone and Internet records.

from The Great Debate:

Prying open drone secrets

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A federal appeals court rebuffed the Obama administration's drone policy on Friday, ruling that the CIA stretched its considerable secrecy powers “too far.”  The stinging decision may be the biggest news in the war on terror that you've never heard about.

The ruling lays down a key marker for a significant shift in counterterrorism policy. Under President Barack Obama, the United States has moved from detaining suspected terrorists to killing many of them in targeted attacks. There were 10 times as many drone deaths in 2010 as 2004, according to the Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative.  This is why there are now fewer pressing questions about detention or Guantanamo, a vestige of post-September 11 battles. The United States hardly ever captures any new terror suspects.

from Events:

Brennan’s confirmation and where CIA drones go from here

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If President Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor John Brennan is confirmed as director of the CIA on Thursday, he will take the role of the lead authority for CIA drone strikes, institutionalizing a program that has killed an unknown number of suspected militants and civilians since 2004. Although his confirmation is expected to help preserve the drone program while glossing over concerns about its transparency and effectiveness so far, his appointment leaves a bigger question about the CIA's future role.

Brennan’s open hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday has been pegged as a time to demand answers about the highly secretive U.S. campaigns to target and kill al Qaeda militants using unmanned aerial vehicles in places like Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. The administration is tight-lipped on the subject, and critics have assailed the campaign over its lack of public accountability. U.S. drone strikes have killed not just foreign militants, but also civilians and American citizens. Rights groups have lambasted the extrajudicial killings of American citizens, including the “Internet imam” Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son in Yemen. A New York Times report last May revealed that the government’s troubling definition of a “militant” suggests any military-age man in a strike zone is fair game. On Tuesday, a 16-page memo from the Justice Department published by NBC News further outlined the vague criteria for who can target and be targeted, as well as showed an expanded definition of conditions that the government can use to order strikes.

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