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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 3/17/14

Citizen Snowden: Why he matters

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Source: Hightower Lowdown


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Who knew that 1984 was a how-to manual?

Of course, George Orwell did not intend for his novel about life in a dystopian, totalitarian society to be a blueprint for a secret surveillance state. Yet, unbeknownst to us supposedly sovereign US citizens, a cabal of militarists, corporate contractors, a handful of in-the-know politicos, and some Rambo-esque intelligence operatives appear to have been ripping pages right out of 1984 to guide their clandestine creation of just such a despotic mechanism deep within our own government. To do it, they have employed such Orwellian concepts as perpetual war, newspeak, doublethink, memory hole, and thoughtcrime.

[The] true patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the Nation all the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it. ~~ Mark Twain's The Czar's Soliloquy, 1905

Since 2001, under both the Bush and Obama presidencies, this coterie has quietly (but very aggressively) transformed the obscure National Security Agency into a $52 billion-per-year, super-secret, all-seeing, all-grabbing, electronic spy matrix of breathtaking size and power. Operating behind the dark curtain of the hyperbolic "war on terror," the legitimate security mission of NSA has been perverted from protecting the American people to one of maintaining constant, non-blinking, computer-driven surveillance of the people themselves. Every minute of every day, the agency's watchers, armed with electronic weapons of mass espionage, routinely reach right through our Bill of Rights, intruding into and storing information about your, my, and everyone else's private affairs -- not to mention doing the same to the people and leaders of our closest allied nations.

This has nothing to do with terrorism or making us more secure. It's about power:

  • The power of today's largely privatized spy establishment to turn public fear into a roaring waterfall of government contracts awarded, often on a no-bid basis, to corporate profiteers.

  • The power of highly advanced digital technologies and cyber-security toys to dazzle policymakers, setting up a technological imperative: "Because superfast supercomputers now make it possible to do whole-nation, vacuum-sweeping surveillance, we should do it. Indeed, we must."

  • The arrogance of power, an arrogance that grows like kudzu in the insular, autocratically inclined spook culture. Macho spymasters have no patience with "outsiders" questioning either the specifics or the morality of anything they do, for the company credo says that everything they do is justified, ad infinitum, by their all-encompassing mantra: "We are protecting America from another 9/11." Nothing -- not even the Constitution -- can be allowed to stand in the way of their heroic mission.

Down the rabbit hole

We still wouldn't know about any of this, except that Edward Snowden, a 30-year-old NSA whistleblower, who had expert computer skills and top-security clearance, dared to download a mass of internal, electronic documents and make them public last year by giving them to respected investigative reporters. For eight months now, we have absorbed one explosive story after another from those reporters, all based on NSA's own records, about the skullduggery being committed non-stop in our names. Many more exposes will flow this year from the Snowden trove of some 1.7 million documents. Taken together, they make clear that we no longer live in the America that was, in Lincoln's phrase, "conceived in liberty."

Okay, let's take a couple of deep breaths here and recognize that the USA is nowhere near the soul-crushing, mind-controlling, authoritarian regime of Orwell's imagination. But what We The People need to confront is the fact that NSA's technologies of algorithmic, full-spectrum surveillance have been turned on us, creating a continuous watch that inevitably will be abusive and is inherently un-American. To the growing astonishment of the general public, thousands of NSA analysts (like Snowden) can and do -- with the click of a mouse -- Hoover up any American's personal information, along with our constitutional guarantee to be free of "unreasonable searches and seizures."

So, while we've not yet plummeted kersplat into the full depth of Orwell's 1984, that is the dark and dangerous rabbit hole that the techno-spies have tripped America into. Consider just three indicators of how far down we've already tumbled:

  • The US government's enthusiasm for punishing domestic dissidents is so notorious worldwide that, last July, Attorney General Eric Holder actually had to put in writing an official assurance that "Mr. Snowden will not be tortured" if he comes home. "Torture is unlawful in the United States," the AG deadpanned, as if saying that means our leaders don't do it, which prompted guffaws around the world.

  • Last year, on Dec. 5, the National Reconnaissance Office (one of NSA's many surveillance "partners") launched an Atlas V rocket carrying a spy satellite into orbit, positioning yet another eye-in-the-sky to keep track of us earthlings. What was unique about this payload, however, was that it bore an unusually candid logo flaunting the spy establishment's overweening attitude toward your and my personal liberties. The emblem portrays our globe being wholly enwrapped by the tentacles of a monstrous octopus, and (in case anyone might miss the symbolism of a world-sucking cephalopod) the illustration is underscored by this menacing motto: "NOTHING IS BEYOND OUR REACH."

  • With only a handful of exceptions, members of Congress were kept as clueless as we commoners were about the secret agency's intrusiveness into the private communications of seemingly everyone, everywhere. Finally, it dawned on some members that -- wait a minute -- "everyone" could include us! On Jan. 2, Sen. Bernie Sanders dared to ask agency officials: "Has the NSA spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other American elected officials?" As usual, the spooks tried to play dodgeball: "Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all US persons," a functionary responded, unresponsively. "NSA is fully committed to transparency with Congress," the agent blathered on, "and we will continue to work to ensure that all members of Congress, including Senator Sanders, have information about NSA's mission, authorities, and programs to fully inform the discharge of their duties." (Actually, if you decode this blah-blah-blah, it inadvertently amounts to a candid response: We have the same respect for the privacy of lawmakers as we do for every other citizen -- none -- so yes, count yourself as spied upon.)
The Grover Norquisters who say they hate "Big Gubbmint" should focus on this behemoth that has arisen so suddenly in our midst. To call NSA big, enormous, gargantuan, etc., doesn't even begin to describe its physical presence, much less its intrusive reach. Headquartered at Fort Meade, Maryland, just off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, spook central operates from a sprawl of unmarked buildings and bunkers on an almost eight-square-mile campus. The facility is nearly 10 times the size of the Pentagon. At night, it's bathed in an other-worldly yellow-orange-ish security light, making the place look every bit as menacing as its mission.

Fort Meade, however, is not the extent of it, for NSA's 33,000 employees are also positioned in massive outposts in Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii (where Snowden was based), Texas, and Utah, as well as in an untold number of listening posts around the globe. With an unprecedented, almost unimaginable array of snooper-vision gadgetry, this matrix of databases draws in, analyzes, and stores some five billion records a day just from cell phones, plus your, my, and the world's landlines, computers, credit cards, fiber optic cables, satellites, banks, internet servers, and -- coming soon -- our cameras, smart homes, and wearable electronic gear. Time magazine reports that the absorption of our private information is so vast that the agency's new classified data-processing center in the Utah desert will require up to 1.7 million gallons of water a day just to keep its computer servers cool.


The Establishment rushed en masse in an enraged, bug-eyed, foam-at-the-mouth, demagogic attack on the truthteller who both exposed and embarrassed them. "Kill the messenger" has not been simply a figure of speech when directed at Snowden, but a denouement devoutly desired by blustering defenders of mass intrusion. John Bolton, the chickenhawk promoter of the Bush-Cheney WMD debacle in Iraq, squawked on Fox News in December that "Snowden committed treason, he ought to be convicted of that, and then he ought to swing from a tall oak tree." Earlier, former-NSA honcho Michael Hayden quasi-jokingly told a conference of cyber-security enthusiasts that the "traitor" Snowden should be put on the government's kill list, prompting Rep. Mike Rogers, the dunderheaded chair of the House intelligence committee, to join the merriment by responding: "I can help you with that."

The traitor tag apparently was designated to be Talking Point Number One in the orchestrated PR campaign to demonize the young spiller of NSA beans, for it has been a constant refrain in the attacks on him. Even the odious Dick Cheney -- who openly betrayed America's democratic values and processes when he sought to establish his vice presidency as a secret, lawless, autocratic fiefdom -- snarled the "T" word at Snowden, adding wildly (and one-hundred percent wrongly) that the disaffected analyst was a spy for China's communist government.

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Jim Hightower is an American populist, spreading his message of democratic hope via national radio commentaries, columns, books, his award-winning monthly newsletter (The Hightower Lowdown) and barnstorming tours all across America.

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