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Snowden and Manning Are Only the Beginning

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Here it is in a nutshell: To carry out its plans for what it hopes will be unchallengeable supremacy on a world scale, the national security state must carry out its policies in secrecy and with increasing doses of violence, shrouded by deception, operating without regard to "outmoded niceties" such as due process, separation of powers, the rule of law, international law, and public scrutiny and accountability. [1] To carry all of this out, however, requires large numbers of people privy to the systems' inner workings, people like Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning.

This is a fault-line for the system: its policies reflect the interests of the 1% (or even less) -- i.e., it rests upon exploitation and plunder - but these policies must be carried out by many others, among whom are those individuals who at some point along the line recoil from the policies and practices they are charged with carrying out. These individuals know first-hand that the public officials and other authorities - private and public - who are describing to the public what is going on are lying shamelessly. They know just what kind of crimes and dystopian practices are being done in the people's name and how extreme these policies and practices are and how much they are harming the people and the environment.

Here is an excerpt from the Guardian about how Snowden came to the point of deciding to become a whistleblower:

"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.'"

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It is impossible to win everyone who is involved in doing the work of this filthy game into identifying with just how much duplicity and death dealing is required. While paying people a lot and trying to intimidate them works on a lot of people, it isn't working and isn't going to work on everyone. Think about the tens of thousands who work for the NSA alone plus the many more who work for private subcontractors for the NSA. Think about the many who work in military intelligence and the CIA. Think about how typical in many ways Snowden's and Manning's attitudes were going into their jobs: they believed and believe in the rhetoric and value of treating people fairly and humanely. They believe that murdering and torturing people -  men, women, and children - who are innocents is wrong per se. They believe that lying on a grand scale about indecent and criminal acts is wrong.

As the gap between what authorities say for public consumption and what they are actually doing grows larger, the more likely it becomes that other whistleblowers and others who are in a position to throw a monkey wrench into these practices will emerge.

In any population of people there are some who cannot be bribed or intimidated indefinitely. There are always going to be at least a few who are brave enough and eventually outraged enough to stand up and speak the truth, no matter what the personal consequences. You cannot stop this even by assassinations and legal hangings. This is the problem that Obama and the Empire that he represents face.

On top of this, the vast majority of people have a material interest in rejecting the lies being told them by authorities. They have an interest in hearing and understanding what whistleblowers reveal to them. They will not all recognize this, however, especially initially, and some people can be fooled for a protracted period of time. Many people think, for example, that they "have nothing to hide" and therefore what authorities are doing with their massive dragnet isn't threatening. Pabulum and fear-mongering work on these people. They need to be woken up and some of them will wake up. What matters most, however, is that those who are more aware, more far seeing, less credulous and more courageous need to act now and in the coming period ahead. As Edward Snowden put it: "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."

What the world needs now is not more Obamas, self-serving front men whose job it is to fool people into letting their guard down while indecent and obscene acts of violence and plunder are carried out. The world instead needs more Snowdens and Mannings now, from every walk of life.

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[1] This is true no matter what individual occupies the White House since systems are larger than the parties that front for that system. What governs, in other words, is not primarily the individuals or their parties but the logic of the system that they are the political representatives of and apologists for.


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Cal Poly Pomona Sociology Professor. Author of "Globalization and the Demolition of Society," co-editor/author (with Peter Phillips) of "Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney." National Steering Committee Member of the World Can't (more...)

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