Edward Snowden: I mistakenly believed in Obama’s promises.

NSA whisteblower

Edward Snowden: I mistakenly believed in Obama’s promises

June 9, 2013 | 4:37 pm 

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Edward Snowden, the self-revealed whistle-blower at the National Security Agency, explains that part of the reason he decided to come forward was because President Obama did not roll back the surveillance measures put into place by the Bush Administration.

“A lot of people in 2008 voted for Obama. I did not vote for him. I voted for a third party,” Snowden said in an interview with the Guardian. “But I believed in Obama’s promises. I was going to disclose it [but waited because of his election]. He continued with the policies of his predecessor.”

Snowden acknowledged that he watched Obama struggle as he attempted to justify the surveillance programs during his press conference on Friday.

“My immediate reaction was he was having difficulty in defending it himself,” Snowden said about Obama. “He was trying to defend the unjustifiable and he knew it.”

Snowden referred to a “grassroots movement” planning to take to the streets on July 4 in defense of the Fourth Amendment. The movement is called “Restore The Fourth Amendment,” and grew out of the Reddit community.

“I have been surprised and pleased to see the public has reacted so strongly in defence of these rights that are being suppressed in the name of security,” Snowden said in the interview.

Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations

NSA whisteblower

Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations

The 29-year-old source behind the biggest intelligence leak in the NSA’s history explains his motives, his uncertain future and why he never intended on hiding in the shadows

Link to video: NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: ‘I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things’The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he said.Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world’s most secretive organisations – the NSA.In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”Despite his determination to be publicly unveiled, he repeatedly insisted that he wants to avoid the media spotlight. “I don’t want public attention because I don’t want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing.”He does not fear the consequences of going public, he said, only that doing so will distract attention from the issues raised by his disclosures. “I know the media likes to personalise political debates, and I know the government will demonise me.”Despite these fears, he remained hopeful his outing will not divert attention from the substance of his disclosures. “I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in.” He added: “My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”He has had “a very comfortable life” that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves. “I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”

‘I am not afraid, because this is the choice I’ve made’

Three weeks ago, Snowden made final preparations that resulted in last week’s series of blockbuster news stories. At the NSA office in Hawaii where he was working, he copied the last set of documents he intended to disclose.

He then advised his NSA supervisor that he needed to be away from work for “a couple of weeks” in order to receive treatment for epilepsy, a condition he learned he suffers from after a series of seizures last year.

As he packed his bags, he told his girlfriend that he had to be away for a few weeks, though he said he was vague about the reason. “That is not an uncommon occurrence for someone who has spent the last decade working in the intelligence world.”

On May 20, he boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he has remained ever since. He chose the city because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”, and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government.

In the three weeks since he arrived, he has been ensconced in a hotel room. “I’ve left the room maybe a total of three times during my entire stay,” he said. It is a plush hotel and, what with eating meals in his room too, he has run up big bills.

He is deeply worried about being spied on. He lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping. He puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them.

Though that may sound like paranoia to some, Snowden has good reason for such fears. He worked in the US intelligence world for almost a decade. He knows that the biggest and most secretive surveillance organisation in America, the NSA, along with the most powerful government on the planet, is looking for him.

Since the disclosures began to emerge, he has watched television and monitored the internet, hearing all the threats and vows of prosecution emanating from Washington.

And he knows only too well the sophisticated technology available to them and how easy it will be for them to find him. The NSA police and other law enforcement officers have twice visited his home in Hawaii and already contacted his girlfriend, though he believes that may have been prompted by his absence from work, and not because of suspicions of any connection to the leaks.

“All my options are bad,” he said. The US could begin extradition proceedings against him, a potentially problematic, lengthy and unpredictable course for Washington. Or the Chinese government might whisk him away for questioning, viewing him as a useful source of information. Or he might end up being grabbed and bundled into a plane bound for US territory.

“Yes, I could be rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me. Or any of the third-party partners. They work closely with a number of other nations. Or they could pay off the Triads. Any of their agents or assets,” he said.

“We have got a CIA station just up the road – the consulate here in Hong Kong – and I am sure they are going to be busy for the next week. And that is a concern I will live with for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be.”

Having watched the Obama administration prosecute whistleblowers at a historically unprecedented rate, he fully expects the US government to attempt to use all its weight to punish him. “I am not afraid,” he said calmly, “because this is the choice I’ve made.”

He predicts the government will launch an investigation and “say I have broken the Espionage Act and helped our enemies, but that can be used against anyone who points out how massive and invasive the system has become”.

The only time he became emotional during the many hours of interviews was when he pondered the impact his choices would have on his family, many of whom work for the US government. “The only thing I fear is the harmful effects on my family, who I won’t be able to help any more. That’s what keeps me up at night,” he said, his eyes welling up with tears.

‘You can’t wait around for someone else to act’

Snowden did not always believe the US government posed a threat to his political values. He was brought up originally in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. His family moved later to Maryland, near the NSA headquarters in Fort Meade.

By his own admission, he was not a stellar student. In order to get the credits necessary to obtain a high school diploma, he attended a community college in Maryland, studying computing, but never completed the coursework. (He later obtained his GED.)

In 2003, he enlisted in the US army and began a training program to join the Special Forces. Invoking the same principles that he now cites to justify his leaks, he said: “I wanted to fight in the Iraq war because I felt like I had an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression”.

He recounted how his beliefs about the war’s purpose were quickly dispelled. “Most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone,” he said. After he broke both his legs in a training accident, he was discharged.

After that, he got his first job in an NSA facility, working as a security guard for one of the agency’s covert facilities at the University of Maryland. From there, he went to the CIA, where he worked on IT security. His understanding of the internet and his talent for computer programming enabled him to rise fairly quickly for someone who lacked even a high school diploma.

By 2007, the CIA stationed him with diplomatic cover in Geneva, Switzerland. His responsibility for maintaining computer network security meant he had clearance to access a wide array of classified documents.

That access, along with the almost three years he spent around CIA officers, led him to begin seriously questioning the rightness of what he saw.

He described as formative an incident in which he claimed CIA operatives were attempting to recruit a Swiss banker to obtain secret banking information. Snowden said they achieved this by purposely getting the banker drunk and encouraging him to drive home in his car. When the banker was arrested for drunk driving, the undercover agent seeking to befriend him offered to help, and a bond was formed that led to successful recruitment.

“Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world,” he says. “I realised that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.”

He said it was during his CIA stint in Geneva that he thought for the first time about exposing government secrets. But, at the time, he chose not to for two reasons.

First, he said: “Most of the secrets the CIA has are about people, not machines and systems, so I didn’t feel comfortable with disclosures that I thought could endanger anyone”. Secondly, the election of Barack Obama in 2008 gave him hope that there would be real reforms, rendering disclosures unnecessary.

He left the CIA in 2009 in order to take his first job working for a private contractor that assigned him to a functioning NSA facility, stationed on a military base in Japan. It was then, he said, that he “watched as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in”, and as a result, “I got hardened.”

The primary lesson from this experience was that “you can’t wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realised that leadership is about being the first to act.”

Over the next three years, he learned just how all-consuming the NSA’s surveillance activities were, claiming “they are intent on making every conversation and every form of behaviour in the world known to them”.

He described how he once viewed the internet as “the most important invention in all of human history”. As an adolescent, he spent days at a time “speaking to people with all sorts of views that I would never have encountered on my own”.

But he believed that the value of the internet, along with basic privacy, is being rapidly destroyed by ubiquitous surveillance. “I don’t see myself as a hero,” he said, “because what I’m doing is self-interested: I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.”

Once he reached the conclusion that the NSA’s surveillance net would soon be irrevocable, he said it was just a matter of time before he chose to act. “What they’re doing” poses “an existential threat to democracy”, he said.

A matter of principle

As strong as those beliefs are, there still remains the question: why did he do it? Giving up his freedom and a privileged lifestyle? “There are more important things than money. If I were motivated by money, I could have sold these documents to any number of countries and gotten very rich.”

For him, it is a matter of principle. “The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to,” he said.

His allegiance to internet freedom is reflected in the stickers on his laptop: “I support Online Rights: Electronic Frontier Foundation,” reads one. Another hails the online organisation offering anonymity, the Tor Project.

Asked by reporters to establish his authenticity to ensure he is not some fantasist, he laid bare, without hesitation, his personal details, from his social security number to his CIA ID and his expired diplomatic passport. There is no shiftiness. Ask him about anything in his personal life and he will answer.

He is quiet, smart, easy-going and self-effacing. A master on computers, he seemed happiest when talking about the technical side of surveillance, at a level of detail comprehensible probably only to fellow communication specialists. But he showed intense passion when talking about the value of privacy and how he felt it was being steadily eroded by the behaviour of the intelligence services.

His manner was calm and relaxed but he has been understandably twitchy since he went into hiding, waiting for the knock on the hotel door. A fire alarm goes off. “That has not happened before,” he said, betraying anxiety wondering if was real, a test or a CIA ploy to get him out onto the street.

Strewn about the side of his bed are his suitcase, a plate with the remains of room-service breakfast, and a copy of Angler, the biography of former vice-president Dick Cheney.

Ever since last week’s news stories began to appear in the Guardian, Snowden has vigilantly watched TV and read the internet to see the effects of his choices. He seemed satisfied that the debate he longed to provoke was finally taking place.

He lay, propped up against pillows, watching CNN’s Wolf Blitzer ask a discussion panel about government intrusion if they had any idea who the leaker was. From 8,000 miles away, the leaker looked on impassively, not even indulging in a wry smile.

Snowden said that he admires both Ellsberg and Manning, but argues that there is one important distinction between himself and the army private, whose trial coincidentally began the week Snowden’s leaks began to make news.

“I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest,” he said. “There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”

He purposely chose, he said, to give the documents to journalists whose judgment he trusted about what should be public and what should remain concealed.

As for his future, he is vague. He hoped the publicity the leaks have generated will offer him some protection, making it “harder for them to get dirty”.

He views his best hope as the possibility of asylum, with Iceland – with its reputation of a champion of internet freedom – at the top of his list. He knows that may prove a wish unfulfilled.

But after the intense political controversy he has already created with just the first week’s haul of stories, “I feel satisfied that this was all worth it. I have no regrets.”

SAVING PRIVATE YOU.

SAVING PRIVATE YOU.   A SERMON ABOUT MEMORIAL DAY BY MARIO MURILLO

Saving Private You

I know that this will come as a shock…today is not a day about buying a car or a sofa.  It is also not a day we honor veterans, we do that on Veteran’s day in November.  No, today is about stopping to remember that someone died for you.   Someone made the ultimate sacrifice.  They died to give us the freedoms so many abuse today.

Memorial Day was first known as “Decoration Day.”   It is not hard to guess why.   The nation would visit graves of fallen heroes and leave flowers and other tokens of gratitude and honor.

In the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan attached above, we see, perfectly depicted, the right response of a soul that knows someone died to save them.

One of Satan’s masterstrokes is to cheapen holy days.  He has done this for thousands of years.  To blur, devalue or even utterly redefine a holy day is his stock and trade.

We see this at Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving.  The meaning and intent of a solemn or joyous day is sapped by banal and bankrupt counterfeits.   Why does Satan do this?

The answer is clearly seen in the incident of King Jeroboam.  Jeroboam seized power from the House of David by using the anger of Israel toward Solomon’s son Rehoboam.  The Jews rejected Rehoboam after he vowed to raise taxes and reduce services to the people.

1 Kings 12: 26 Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. 27 If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.”

Likewise Satan knows that Holy Days can trigger a return to values and subsequently a return to God in our nation.

Our president is steering us the way Jeroboam steered Israel by cheapening or redefining American Holy Days.

The proof is in the fact that he:

-Regularly skips the National Day of Prayer.

– Renamed the National Christmas Tree the “Holiday Tree.”

-Went golfing on Memorial Day in 2009 and 2011; this despite the fact that George W. Bush refused to do it as president to honor the parents of those who lost loved ones.

Recently I took criticism for pointing out that as Memorial Day weekend began Obama did not return the salute to the Marine who saluted him at the door of Marine One helicopter.  Obama fans noted that he corrected this by stepping back outside the Helicopter and talking with the soldier.

My point is that there is no excuse for this oversight.  It smacks of a mind detached from honoring our military.

As the leader goes so go the sheep.   Memorial Day finds us oblivious to the treasure that families have spent to guarantee our freedom.  

In a very real way we are all Private Ryan.   Satan wants to bury that fact.  

Memorial Day cuts me to the heart that all over our nation there are moms and dads who  have lost sons and daughters and they did it for you and me.   Memorial Day also fuels my rage against our government’s tendency to take away the freedoms that our fallen heroes died to protect.

As an evangelist, I am constantly preaching a message about the One who died for us all, which is another reason why I am adamant about Memorial Day.

Satan did not want Israel to remember their Holidays, days and remembrances that could lead back to God.   Wonder what Satan thinks Americans might realize if they think long and hard about someone dying for them?

Cross in the clouds copy

Obama fatigue has opened the way to Bush affection.

fatigue blog

The Presidential Wheel Turns

Disaffection for Bush gave us Obama. That explains the new affection for Bush.

  • By PEGGY NOONAN

  • Barrack Obama was elected president in 2008 because he was not George W. Bush. In fact, he was elected because he was the farthest thing possible from Mr. Bush. On some level he knew this, which is why every time he got in trouble he’d say Bush’s name. It’s all his fault, you have no idea the mess I inherited. As long as Mr. Bush’s memory was hovering like Boo Radley in the shadows, Mr. Obama would be OK.

In an excerpt from a longer interview, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is asked by Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institution whether he plans to run for president in 2016. “Uncommon Knowledge” is produced by the Hoover Institution for WSJ Live.

This week something changed. George W. Bush is back, for the unveiling of his presidential library. His numbers are dramatically up. You know why? Because he’s the farthest thing from Barack Obama.  Obama fatigue has opened the way to Bush affection.

In all his recent interviews Mr. Bush has been modest, humorous, proud but unassuming, and essentially philosophical: History will decide. No finger-pointing or scoring points. If he feels rancor or resentment he didn’t show it. He didn’t attempt to manipulate. His sheer normality seemed like a relief, an echo of an older age.

And all this felt like an antidote to Obama—to the imperious I, to the inability to execute, to the endless interviews and the imperturbable drone, to the sense that he is trying to teach us, like an Ivy League instructor taken aback by the backwardness of his students. And there’s the unconscious superiority. One thing Mr. Bush didn’t think he was was superior. He thought he was luckily born, quick but not deep, and he famously trusted his gut but also his heart. He always seemed moved and grateful to be in the White House. Someone who met with Mr. Obama during his first year in office, an old hand who’d worked with many presidents, came away worried and confounded. Mr. Obama, he said, was the only one who didn’t seem awed by his surroundings, or by the presidency itself.

Mr. Bush could be prickly and irritable and near the end showed arrogance, but he wasn’t vain or conceited, and he still isn’t. When people said recently that they were surprised he could paint, he laughed: “Some people are surprised I can even read.”

Coverage of the opening of his presidential library Thursday was wall to wall on cable, and a feeling of affection for him was encouraged, or at least enabled, by the Washington press corps, which doesn’t much like Mr. Obama because he’s not all that likable, and remembers Mr. Bush with a kind of reluctant fondness because he was.

But to the point. Mr. Obama was elected because he wasn’t Bush.

Mr. Bush is popular now because he’s not Obama.

The wheel turns, doesn’t it?

Here’s a hunch: The day of the opening of the Bush library was the day Obama fatigue became apparent as a fact of America’s political life.

When Bush left office, his approval rating was down in the 20s to low 30s. Now it’s at 47%, which is what Obama’s is. That is amazing, and not sufficiently appreciated. Yes, we are a 50-50 nation, but Mr. Bush left office in foreign-policy and economic failure, even cataclysm. Yet he is essentially equal in the polls to the supposedly popular president. Which suggests Republicans in general have some latent, unseen potential of which they’re unaware. Right now they’re busy being depressed. Maybe they should be thinking, “If Bush could come back . . .” Actually, forget I said that. Every time Republican political professionals start to think that way, with optimism, they get crude and dumb and think if they press certain levers the mice will run in certain directions.

The headline of the Bush Library remarks is that everyone was older and nicer.

Jimmy Carter, in shades, with wispy white hair, was gracious and humorous. Anyone can soften with age, but he seemed to have sweetened. That don’t come easy. Good for him.

George H.W. Bush was tender. He feels the tugs and tides of history. “God bless America, and thank you very much.” He rose from his wheelchair to acknowledge the crowd. That crowd, and the people watching on TV—the person they loved and honored most was him.

Bill Clinton does this kind of thing so well—being generous to others, especially former opponents. “We are here to celebrate a country we all love,” he said. He was funny on how he wanted Mr. Bush to paint him and then saw Mr. Bush’s self-portrait in the bath and thought no, I’ll keep my suit on. He got a laugh when he called himself the black sheep of the Bush family. I said everyone was older and nicer. It’s occurred to me that the Clintons and both Bushes were president when baby boomer journalists were in their 30s and 40s and eager to rise. Everyone was meaner, both the pols and the press, because they were all young. Now they’re in their 60s. When they went through the 9/11 section of the library, the day before the opening, some had tears in their eyes. They understood now what that day was. Young journalists: You’re going to become more tolerant with time, and not only because you have more to tolerate in yourself. Because life will batter you and you’ll have a surer sense of what’s important and has meaning and is good.

President Obama was more formal than the other speakers and less confident than usual, as if he knew he was surrounded by people who have something he doesn’t. “No matter how much you think you’re ready to assume the office of the president, it’s impossible to understand the nature of the job until it’s yours.” This is a way of seeming to laud others when you’re lauding yourself. He veered into current policy disputes, using Mr. Bush’s failed comprehensive immigration reform to buttress his own effort. That was manipulative, graceless and typical.

George W. Bush was emotional: “In the end, leaders are defined by the convictions they hold. . . . My deepest conviction . . . is that the United States of America must strive to expand the reach of freedom. I believe that freedom is a gift from God and the hope of every human heart.” He then announced that on Saturday he would personally invade Syria. Ha, kidding. It was standard Bush rhetoric and, in its way, a defiant pushing back against critics of his invasions and attempts to nation-build. Who isn’t for more freedom? But that bright, shining impulse, that very American impulse, must be followed by steely-eyed calculation. At the end Mr. Bush wept, and not only because the Bush men are weepers but because he means every word of what he says, and because he loves his country, and was moved. John Boehner weeps too when he speaks about what America means to him. You know why they do that? Because their hearts are engaged. And really, that’s not the worst thing.

Back to the point. What was nice was that all of them—the Bush family, the Carters and Clintons—seemed like the old days. “The way we were.” They were full of endurance, stamina, effort. Also flaws, frailty, mess. But they weren’t . . . creepy.

Anyway, onward to Obama fatigue, and the Democratic Party wrestling with what comes next. It’s not only the Republicans in a deep pit.

Given life under Obama, more Americans already feeling better about Bush

Given life under Obama, more Americans already feeling better about Bush

By Andrew Malcolm

Freddy Ford / AP (Bush autographs his personal pickup which he donated for charity auction. It brought $300,000 for military families.)
Freddy Ford / AP (Bush autographs his personal pickup which he donated for charity auction. It brought $300,000 for military families.)

Fifty-one months of an Obama presidency seem like an eternity of speeches, photo ops, fundraisers, soaring debt, stagnant job growth, blame games and did we mention speeches?

In historical context, however, it’s the snap of a finger. Which makes it somewhat surprising that already Americans are quietly rehabilitating President George W. Bush’s image in their own minds. This despite Bush’s virtual disappearance from the political scene since Jan. 20, 2009, save for a brief promotion tour for his book, “Decision Points.”

You’re about to hear a whole lot more about Bush, at least briefly, with Thursday’s dedication of his presidential library at Laura Bush’s alma mater, Southern Methodist University in Dallas. By custom, all former presidents will attend.

President Obama will also be there, although he’s blamed Republican Bush for just about everything that’s gone wrong during these long 1,554 days, except Obama’s miserable NCAA tournament brackets. First, of course, to make the trip worthwhile, Democrat Obama will do another political fundraiser in Dallas.

Remember those iconic billboards that went up during the great ObamaCare legislative con? A smiling Bush waving with the caption, “Miss Me Yet?” Well, apparently more people do. ABC News and the Washington Post came out early this morning with a new poll timed to the library dedication.

When Bush left office after eight tumultuous years, including 9/11 and the Iraq War, 66% of adult Americans disapproved of him, twice as many as approved. The new findings: His disapproval has dropped to just half, while his approval has increased to almost half (47%).

This essentially ties the Texan with the Chicagoan, whose public approval has plummeted from 67% on Day One, when he had yet to break a single promise. Remember Obama’s first day, the big ceremonial Executive Order signing to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center within 365 days? Well, never mind.

As Gary Langer points out, poll improvements four to five years after leaving the White House are not unprecedented. Bush’s father improved 18 points, but Bill Clinton dropped four points.

The public still thinks negatively about Bush 43 in two major areas: the economy and Iraq War. Although even there, feelings have mellowed. It’s now 53% disapproval-43% approval on the economy, versus 73% disapproval-24% approval way back when.

On the war, Bush was 65% disapproval-33% approval in 2008. Now, that’s improved to 57% disapproval-40% approval.

The poll finds Bush’s approval has gained across a broad ideological front of Americans–up 11 points among independents, 16 points among Republicans and 19 points among Democrats. That’s right, up 19 points among Obama’s Democrats.

Now, what could possibly explain that, do you suppose?

Go Ahead, Admit It: George W. Bush Is a Good Man

Go Ahead, Admit It: George W. Bush Is a Good Man

In the rush to mythologize and demonize our presidents, we forget they’re human.

By Ron Fournier

Updated: April 23, 2013 | 10:24 a.m.
April 22, 2013 | 7:40 p.m.

(AP/Ron Edmonds)

More on the Bush Legacy

 White House press secretary Ari Fleischer walked into the media cabin of Air Force One on May 24, 2002, and dropped identical envelopes in the laps of two reporters, myself and Steve Holland of Reuters. Inside each was a manila card – marked by a small presidential seal and, in a simple font, “THE PRESIDENT.”

Handwritten in the tight script of President George W. Bush, both notes said essentially the same thing: “Thank you for the respect you showed for the office of the President, and, therefore, the respect you showed for our country.”

What had we done? Not much, really. An hour earlier, at a rare outdoor news conference in Germany, Steve and I decided to abide by the U.S. media tradition of rising from our seats when the president entered our presence. The snickering German press corps remained seated. “What a contrast!” Bush wrote. “What class.”

I dug out Bush’s thank-you note this week while contemplating the opening of his presidential library Thursday, a milestone that most journalists will use to assess the 43rd president’s legacy. The record includes Bush’s responses to 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and bogus claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – all worth exploring skeptically.

But I’m going to take a few paragraphs to discuss something that gets less attention from the White House press corps – the essential humanity and decency of our presidents.

Bush’s note, a simple gesture, spoke volumes about his respect for the office of the presidency. He did not thank us for respecting him. He knew it wasn’t about George W. Bush. He was touched instead by the small measure of respect we showed “for our country.”

The same sense of dignity compelled Bush to forbid his staff to wear blue jeans in the White House. Male aides were required to wear jackets and ties in the Oval Office.

He was a stickler for punctuality. Long-time adviser Karen Hughes asked him years ago why he was always early for appointments. “Late is rude,” Bush replied. He thought that if people were going to take the time to see him, he shouldn’t keep them waiting.

He remembered names of the spouses and children of his staff, and insisted that hard work at the White House not be an excuse to let family life suffer. One steamy summer day in 1999, then-Gov. George W. Bush called me with an exclusive interview and interrupted my first question. “What’s all that noise in the background, Fournier?” he asked.

“I’m at the pool with my kids, governor.”

Bush replied, “Then what the hell are you doing answering your phone?”

Damn good question, sir. We quickly ended the interview.

His record as commander-in-chief will be long debated, as it should be. But for this story, at least, let’s remember that Bush insisted upon meeting U.S. troops and their families in private and after his public events, so that he could give them undivided attention.

He told his staff, “I never want to look at my watch and say, ‘I’ve got to go.’ ”

Presidents Clinton and Obama also visited troops, in private and for hours at a time. I could tell you many stories about their basic decency, too – of then-Gov. Bill Clinton quietly helping the family of an ailing state employee or of Obama reading 10 letters each night from ordinary Americans.

For as much time as we spend understanding our presidents’ policies and politics, relatively little effort is spent trying to understand them as people. We mythologize them as candidates and demonize them as presidents, denying our leaders the balm that soothes mere mortals: benefit of the doubt.

Disclosure: I am the worst offender. I get paid to hold leaders accountable, not to walk in their shoes. Conversely, I am also a bit biased. Presidents Bush and Clinton agreed last year to meet privately withmy autistic son for a project on the presidency. But that is the point: Neither man had anything to gain by agreeing to meet Tyler. They’re not running for office. I don’t cover them anymore.

Fact is that both Bush and Clinton do small acts of kindness every day, with little or no public notice.

Why? Because, like past presidents, they realize the office is bigger than they are. Because they are deeply grateful for the job we gave them, and they feel obliged to return the favor.

Our presidents and ex-presidents are not perfect. You won’t always agree with them. You might not even think they’re worthy of the office. But try to remember what Clinton told me a few days before he left Arkansas for Washington (and a few years before the Lewinsky affair made it sadly ironic): “You don’t check your humanity at the Oval Office door.”

Remembering that is to respect the office. And it’s the decent thing to do.