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Wake Up Call: June 10, 2013
It’s sometimes difficult to find a local angle to a national news story. There’s not always a home-town boy or girl coming back from the latest illegal and unnecessary war that we started, to hang a local news story on. Sometimes, though, the fruit is so low-hanging it’s just everywhere. In case you’ve been on another planet, last week there began a string of huge national and international news stories that document massive government spying on every single one of us, now and for years past, with the help of pretty much every major telecommunications and internet company. This would be the National Surveillance State I referred to in my August 2012 column “A Roomful of Elephants,” during the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, as #4 on my list of Top 10 vitally important things being ignored.
The wave of revelations (here, here, here, and here, with apparently more to come) were thanks to Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer, civil rights activist, and an absolutely fearless journalist who now writes for the American division of the British newspaper, The Guardian. Greenwald’s enormously courageous source is Edward Snowden, a 29-year old former CIA employee who most recently worked for defense intelligence and NSA contractor Booze Allen Hamilton. I have thought for some time that Greenwald, who spoke recently at SUNY Brockport’s American Democracy Project, is the most important writer working in America today. These stories confirm it. And Greenwald and Snowden belong in the same pantheon of American heroes that includes the likes of Bradley Manning and Daniel Ellsberg, and even, for journalists, the original versions of Woodward and Bernstein. And if you wonder what the stakes are for Snowden, look at how Manning has been mistreated and abused.
There is a great deal to be said about this case… and all the major players, including the President, the NSA, at least 2/3 of Congress, and virtually all of the corporate players, desperately want to change the subject. They would all much rather talk about ANYTHING other than whether or not the government and its corporate co-conspirators should be spying on us, or the flagrant violation of the Constitution it involves – or, as Salon.com’s David Sirota asked Monday, “Who are the Real Criminals?”
1. Shoot the messenger. The active players on defense, from the president to the – ha ha – watchdog mainstream media, are all systematically trying to change the subject, and shift the story from the spying to the whistleblower and his so-called “crimes.” NSA chief and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, himself a flagrant perjurer, by the way, – and as yet not discussed as a criminal – called Snowden’s leak “reprehensible.”
Booze Allen Hamilton’s statement describes Snowden’s leak as “a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm.” Let’s see. Those would be the core values that say it’s OK to violate the Constitution and spy on millions of Americans in a vast, sweeping dragnet, without warrant or justification of any kind. Snowden violated those core values, by telling us about the spying.
And as of Monday, every major news outlet was focusing on the question of Snowden’s whereabouts and his potential fate – not on the crimes he exposed. Welcome to the War on Whistleblowers.
2. We’re not listening to anybody’s phone calls. Says the president, et. al. Irrelevant, misleading, and a PR triumph. Anyone in marketing, including political campaigning, knows that vast amounts of information can be gleaned about people – you and me – from “metadata,” in this case records of calls made, which can easily be combined with other databases and run through sophisticated computer programs that pick out patterns of activity – of whoever they want to look at. Some of the scarier examples of how metadata can be put to use are described by Jane Mayer, writing in The New Yorker. Communications patterns can actually be more revealing than content itself. Patterns can reveal things like networks of people, impending corporate takeovers, personal medical information, activities of political opponents or business competitors. And you think it’s all about keeping us safe from terrorists?
The denial also ignores the second wave of the revelations tsunami, which was that the federal government also apparently has back-door direct server access to the entire internet traffic of at least seven major internet giants, including Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Skype, YouTube, and AOL – and their subsidiaries. That’s an awful lot of email, IM, chat, video chat, photos, and video. They have the content too.
3. If you want us to keep you 100% safe, you have to give up some privacy. Bull. The only actual case they can point to of a terrorist attack thwarted could have been cracked with good old-fashioned police work. Who really expects to be kept 100% safe, anyway?
4. Where are all the 2nd Amendment gun nuts? Some of my friends are gun nuts, and they all seem to hang their hats religiously on the Second Amendment. It’s our constitutional right. (In fairness, I also know some civil liberties nuts, including some lawyers, who are not gun nuts, who just care about the Amendments, period, including the Second.) For the most part, the NRA “cold dead hands” crowd is being awfully quiet while the rest of the Amendments go down the toilet. From this moment forward I refuse to treat any of them as credible, until they get religious about all the Amendments.
5. A Government of, by, and for the Corporations – or, “It’s all legal anyway.” The line is, the spying wasn’t spying; it was all legal. Just ask Congress – who represents you, they say.
So: Congress passes the sloppy laws that open the doors; The Executive branch does whatever it wants, along with its partners in corporate America; and the courts, like the FISA court (Foreign Intelligence Services Act) that’s supposed to be a checks & balances kind of thing, except in secret, instead just rubber-stamps everything. Of course, sometimes the timing is off a wee bit, like it was back in 2007-8 when the Federal Government got a bunch of telecommunications giants, including AT&T, to first allow unfettered access to their customers’ communications. Those were really clear felonies – and really big ones, too. And when they got in legal trouble, the telecoms just went to Congress, who passed an extraordinary act granting them retroactive immunity. So remind me, please, why we had those laws in the first place? Does anybody remember?
Maybe the Second Amendment nuts have been right all along. This is looking more and more like a rogue government.
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