Government Spying and Edward Snowden

June 13th, 20013

D0 You Feel Safe Now?

If you’re following the story about the NSA spying on Americans and the man (Edward Snowden) who leaked the news (and the documents) to the Guardian newspaper, then you might be interested in the latest news about Mr. Snowden. It’s mysterious, to say the least and possibly ominous.
Mr. Snowden predicted that the US government, rather than bother with messy things like laws (those nasty little obstacles that get in the way of spying, assassination, torture, etc.)–might “arrange” for him to meet with an accident. This is not conspiracy theorizing. This is, sadly, current everyday policy as practiced by the people in Washington and elsewhere who obviously do not see themselves as bound by the constitutional freedoms and protections that thousands of people died creating and protecting over the life of this country.
When is the last time you actually said “The Government” or “Washington” or “The President” and felt that those entities or people had any real connection to you or your life? They (including “Congress”) have become like foreign entities–external, unconnected forces that shape your life but are in no way shaped by you.

There’s plenty to say about all this, but there are two things which I’m thinking about now–and I’m sure a lot of you are too.

1) At what point does a government, especially one that is supposed to be a democratically elected, representative government, pass the point where their “protection” of freedom becomes the very danger and oppression their “protection” is meant to protect against?”
This kind of (once creeping, now galloping) fascist behavior reached the epitome of absurdity–in word and deed–when, during the Vietnam War, an officer in the US Army, declared that they (the army) had to “destroy a village in order to save it.”
The current NON-representative government in Washington D.C is destroying the soul and the body of Democracy in order to save it. So where do we go from here?

Clearly, there is some kind of choice involved here–some delicate and constantly changing borderline between privacy and security that has to be negotiated–
The Founders of the country never imagined nuclear weapons or dirty bombs or, for that matter, telephones or the internet. Bill Maher said, a few nights ago, that he was willing to sacrifice his privacy to save his life and the lives of others. Truth is, a lot of people feel that way. My listeners on Sirius XM, generally a fairly individualistic, even radical crew–are about evenly split over this. No one wants to see explosions, poisonings of waters supplies, suicide attacks, etc.

The fourth amendment says we are entitled to privacy and security in our homes, in our person and things. In other words, you, what you own or carry, and what is in or goes on in your home is supposed to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure (and spying).   –But what happens when you send a phone call through a cable or through the air–or send a private message you’re writing to a friend by e-mail. Do you sacrifice your right to privacy when you do that? Obviously the government thinks so.

All this is vital to be discussed, debated, negotiated…
But one thing’s for sure–and this is what makes the point– We can’t have a debate about this if the process itself is kept a secret. In other words– without the leak and the newspaper story following it–we wouldn’t know the NSA was doing this in the first place!

2) The motives of people like Mr. Snowden and the reasons why they do what they do, are always complex, sometimes hidden, even from the people who do such things.
Mr. Snowden joined the army to “do good”, was appalled by the behavior of his fellow soldiers and officers. Then he joined the CIA and was a contract employee of the NSA–and was appalled by their behavior. At this point in our country’s history, it’s passing naive to imagine joining the Special Forces or the CIA or NSA will be an unalloyed venture into goodness and justice.
I don’t know anything about this man’s past life but he clearly puts himself in places and in positions where he is going to be let down. He is an idealist–and idealists can sometimes have a tenuous relationship to the realities of life. They often act out of confusion or some personal drive to attain an unattainable perfection. And here I speak from personal experience… How many times do you mount your white horse and charge before it occurs to you to figure out exactly why you’re doing it and what you’re charging into?
No matter… what he did was, in the end, still a choice. He chose to violate the law and he has sacrificed his life and liberty to do so. Some people would say what he did was heroic. To the extent that he really knew what he was doing and was aware of the consequences, I’d be one of those people.

It’s important to note that, like Daniel Ellsberg (and unlike Bradley Manning–who I still feel did the country a great service), Snowden selected from a mass of documents and chose to NOT reveal things that would cause harm to actual agents in the field or real damage to our country’s security. Ellsberg held some documents back and Snowden, who had access to enough material to almost shut down the US intelligence agencies, chose not to reveal more dangerous material. He deliberately revealed that the government was breaking the bonds of democracy and, in very general terms,  how they were doing it. He did not reveal specific cases or detailed technical methods used.
Dedicated terrorists already know that every call they make and e-mail they send is being tracked–just as they are being tracked the minute they turn on their cell phone. As for the unaffiliated terrorists who don’t know or don’t care that they are being monitored, they are probably more easily caught.

The danger from ideological, well-funded and fatalistic terrorists is real and it needs to be combatted, but throwing a net over every American’s communications is far to big and dangerous a response to the threat. What  Snowden did, in my opinion,  is to reveal the greatest danger of all–the relentless corporate-governmental partnership that regards the constitution and democracy as obstacles to their profit and power. The connections between Booz Allen Hamilton (the massive private company that did this work for the NSA) and the highest levels of our spy agencies is so incestuous, you’d need a detailed chart to figure it out. The Carlyle group (George H.W. Bush) owns Booz Hamilton. Bush was once the head of the CIA. One of the two top executives at Booz Hamilton is the former head of the NSA. The current head of National Intelligence, James Clapper, is a former top executive at Booz Hamilton. This company has made several billion dollars off the the American taxpayers who never knew that their hard-earned money was being used to spy on them.

Finally, it doesn’t even matter (outside of the inevitable interest in people’s behaviour) what Snowden’s motives were. The fact is that he has sounded an alarm bell that EVERYONE needs to hear. This is not the draft in Vietnam and it’s not police dogs and church bombings down south, but it is a public diagnosis of a fatal disease affecting the core of democracy. The question is: What are we going to do about it?

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