Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A wasted sacrifice on an ungrateful people

The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change. People will see in the media all of these disclosures. They'll know the lengths that the government is going to grant themselves powers unilaterally to create greater control over American society and global society. But they won't be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests. -- Edward Snowden
Well, the smear campaign against Snowden is in full swing. Predictably, the biggest fascists in Congress, including Dianne Feinstein, have already accused him of treason. Lindsey Graham wants the United States to follow him "to the ends of the Earth to bring him to justice." Charges are already being prepared against him, and the FBI has reportedly launched a worldwide manhunt. Snowden himself, who reappeared after his Guardian interview, says he's still in Hong Kong and claims the U.S. government is trying to bully Hong Kong into extraditing him.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Snowden said the NSA has been hacking into computers in Hong Kong and greater China since 2009, with hundreds of targets that include civilians. The purpose behind this latest leak, he said, was to lay bare "the hypocrisy of the U.S. government when it claims that it does not target civilian infrastructure, unlike its adversaries."

"Not only does it do so," Snowden said, "but it is so afraid of this being known that it is willing to use any means, such as diplomatic intimidation, to prevent this information from becoming public." In short, he said, the United States wants Snowden back before word of the NSA's activity in China makes its way back into the local public eye.

Hey, if the government has done nothing wrong, then it should have nothing to hide, right? That's what the fools who are OK with the NSA's activities keep telling us. Because once again, that's all this chest-pounding from the halls of Congress is about: an attempt to divert attention away from the government's lawlessness and wrongdoing. It has nothing to do with compromising state secrets, or giving up vital intelligence to an enemy, as the alarmists on Capitol Hill claim. As Glenn Greenwald put it: "[T]his has nothing to do with terrorism. They’re not trying to keep any of this from the terrorists; they’re trying to keep it from the American people."

Indeed, Snowden was careful about what he released and said his goal was not to bring down individual people or threaten American security, but rather to "reveal criminality" by the federal government. As Greenwald pointed out, Snowden could have got rich from selling the information he had. Instead, he sacrificed everything. He got no personal reward, other than alerting the American people of what was being done in the shadows, without their consent, in their name, with their taxpayer dollars.

Greenwald elaborated:
And as far as the documents are concerned, he had access to enormous sums of top-secret documents that would be incredibly harmful. He went through and turned over only a small portion of those documents to us, all of which he read very carefully. And I know that not only because he told me that, but also because the way we got the documents was in extremely detailed folders all divided by content, that you could have only organized them had you carefully read them. And when he gave them to us, he said, "Look, I’m not a journalist. I'm not a high-level government official. I am not saying that everything I gave you should be published. I don't want it all to be published. I want you, as journalists, to go through it and decide what is in the public interest and what will not cause a lot of harm." He invited -- in fact, urged --- us to exercise exactly the kind of journalistic judgment that we have exercised. And so, had it been his intention to harm the United States, he could have just uploaded all these documents to the Internet or found the most damaging ones and caused them to be published. He did the opposite. The NSA and the rest of the country owe him a huge debt of gratitude for all of the work he has done to inform the American public without bringing about any harm to them.
It's fascinating to see who lines up with Snowden and who opposes him on various parts of the political spectrum. Who ever thought Michael Moore and Glenn Beck would be bedfellows? Both have rightly called Snowden a hero.

So has Julian Assange, who suggested Snowden seek asylum in Latin America -- fitting, since Assange himself has been granted asylum by Ecuador. Russia says it would consider an asylum request. But in his South China Morning Post interview, Snowden says he's not leaving Hong Kong unless he's asked to and will take his chances in the courts if it comes to that, because, as he says, "I have faith in HK's rule of law."

He does have his share of supporters in Hong Kong:
"He is a brave man. The authorities cannot use the 'anti-terrorism' excuse to invade people's privacy without boundaries," said Yang Kuang, a prominent Hong Kong activist. "I hope more and more people will stand out and expose such practices."
A rally in Snowden's support is also planned for this coming weekend in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the ACLU has sued the Obama administration over the NSA's phone-spying program. A separate class action suit is being readied against the companies involved in the NSA's PRISM project. Rand Paul is looking into filing his own class action lawsuit, against the federal government itself. And Rand's dad, the good doctor, Ron Paul -- whom Snowden supported in the 2012 election -- said Snowden was only "trying to tell the truth about what's going on" and adds, "I don't think for a minute that he is a traitor." Paul fears that Snowden could be targeted by a drone strike and set the record straight about where our outrage should lie:
Everybody is worried about him and what they're going to do and how they're going to convict him of treason and how they're going to kill him. But what about the people who destroy our Constitution? ... What do we think about people who assassinate American citizens without trials and assume that's the law of the land? That's where our problem is.
Greenwald agrees that our blame needs to be directed elsewhere:
The primary point that I think needs to be made from all of these stories, and particularly from the very courageous outing, self-outing, of Ed Snowden, is that there is this massive surveillance apparatus that is being gradually constructed in the United States that already has extremely invasive capabilities to monitor and store the communications and other forms of behavior not just of tens of millions Americans, but of hundreds of millions, probably billions of people, around the globe. And it's one thing to say that we want the United States government to have these capabilities. It's another thing to allow this to be assembled without any public knowledge, without any public debate, and with no real accountability. And what ultimately drove him forward -- and what ultimately is driving our reporting and will continue to drive our reporting -- is the need for a light to be shined on what this incredibly consequential world is all about and the impact that it's having both on our country and our planet.
Even Daniel Ellsberg, who exposed the government's numerous lies regarding the Vietnam War when he leaked the Pentagon Papers to the media in 1971, praised Snowden and hoped that the revelations about the NSA will create a system with oversight, accountability, and constitutional boundaries. "This wholesale invasion of Americans' and foreign citizens' privacy does not contribute to our security; it puts in danger the very liberties we're trying to protect," Ellsberg said.

Chris Hedges was even more direct in a recent Facebook post: "Replicating the data from [Verizon] & AT&T & Google does NOT protect you from Al-Quaeda and it never will. The data can be used to spy on you, Blackmail you. Coerce your neighbors to spy on you, or some political opponent."
Sure enough, Snowden's attempts to shine a light on our government have already caused Washington to go into damage-control mode, to the extent that national security officials had to call a meeting with members of the House to explain just what's going on and try to justify it. But what the light of truth has unveiled so far isn't pretty. According to Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California, what House members learned "is significantly more than what is out in the media today."

She elaborated:
I can't speak to what we learned in there, and I don't know if there are other leaks, if there's more information somewhere, if somebody else is going to step up, but I will tell you that I believe it's the tip of the iceberg. ... I think it's just broader than most people even realize, and I think that's, in one way, what astounded most of us, too.
Unfortunately, the likes of Ellsberg, Snowden, Sanchez, and Hedges may all end up being disappointed if they hope for anything to change. Officials have already said the NSA programs will continue as they are. Even worse, most Americans are just fine with all of this. A sickening poll shows that 56% of Americans have no problem with the phone-spying program, and of that group, 45% think the government should be able to intrude even further into all of our personal lives. A full 62% say the government should weigh security over privacy.

What else can you say, except …

I can't decide whether these horrid American opinions are the result of ignorance, apathy, or fear. Maybe a little all of three. But it does make me wonder how many people understand what motivated our Founding Fathers to write the Fourth Amendment in the first place. In colonial times, the king drew up what were essentially blank-check warrants allowing the authorities to go on legal fishing expeditions, snooping through homes and personal belongings without any probable cause. What the NSA is doing today is exactly the kind of abuse of power the Fourth Amendment was written to guard against

Think about the most notorious spy agencies of the 20th century: the Gestapo in Nazi Germany, the KGB in the Soviet Union, the Stasi in East Germany. Those were not nice places to live. Freedom did not exist. People were jailed, tortured, and executed if they stepped out of line. Is history repeating itself? Consider: The U.S. government has surveillance capabilities that, as Ellsberg put it, the Stasi "could scarcely have dreamed of." We also conduct illegal wars and invasions, render people to a network of secret prisons around the world, torture captives in violation of international law, hold people without charges or access to lawyers, drone-bomb innocent children, and even assassinate U.S. citizens without the slightest whiff of due process. On top of that, a new report says Hillary Clinton's State Department covered up its own abuses, including sexual assaults, the hiring of prostitutes, and the existence of a drug ring that contractors in Baghdad used. And don't forget that we have a "Justice" Department targeting journalists, an IRS targeting conservative political groups, and an administration that won't come clean about why four Americans died in Benghazi.

And these are the people that the majority of Americans trust with their private data?

How bad have things gotten? Well, under this administration, merely posting critical opinions about our Dear Leader will land you a "visit" from the Secret Service:
Tom Francois is an outspoken critic of Barack Hussein Obama -- and has a robust Twitter presence. He also likes to dabble with his "paint" program to create funny cartoons. He has never threatened the President in any way, manner or form.

On April 11, 2013, he heard relentless pounding on his door shouts of "Police!" The officers introduced themselves as members of The Secret Service and asked if they could "take a look around."

Since Tom had nothing to hide (and he didn't want any return visits) -- he complied fully with their request. He even signed a consent to search his premises AND an "Authorization To Review Medical and Mental Health Records!"

They asked Tom if he ever left his state or traveled to Washington, D.C.

One Agent asked Tom if he has any intentions of "whacking" the President." To which Tom replied -- "Of course not. I wish him no harm. I disagree with his policies and actions and I make no bones about it. It's my First Amendment Right and I intend to exercise it."

When I spoke to Tom he said, "Yes, I am EXTREMELY critical of Obama in my posts, but I never cross the line and threaten his being. EVER. It's just the idea of Obama's Secret Service intruding on my life when they knew I wasn't really a threat."

The Secret Service had a thick FBI file -- filled with screenshots of hundreds of posts. Said Tom, "I flat out told them 'I have NEVER threatened Obama's life! Yes, I despise him as you can plainly see, but I have that right!' They actually ADMITTED and agreed with me that I hadn't threatened Obama."
They had run a background check and discovered that Tom legally owned two guns -- and they asked to see them. Tom showed them his firearms. They asked, "Are they loaded?" Tom replied in the affirmative. "What good are guns if they aren't loaded?"

So why harass Tom? "The Secret Service officers claimed that "they were concerned that since I have a large Twitter following, and the things I said could be acted upon by some nut case out there! What the hell? They turned my life upside down for THAT?"

Tom didn't refuse the search because they just would have gone and gotten a warrant. "They would have proceeded to tear my house apart. No thanks. I have nothing to hide. They left empty-handed and my house is still intact."

When they left Tom's house, one Secret Service Agent "advised" -- "Keep in mind, if you step over the line, we'll come back for your guns."

After the "visit" to Tom, the Secret Service also visited Tom's 22 year old daughter -- terrifying her and making her fear for her father's safety. She asked them what they were going to do with the information about her Dad. They said they were going to "turn it over to Eric Holder -- he has the last word on what to do, if anything."

Should anyone have any doubt about the veracity of this report, Mr. Francois had the presence of mind to make copies of the Consent To Search (which expressly included computers, hardware, software, recording devices, cell phones, data storage, etc). It also states: "I understand that any contraband or evidence may be used against me in a court of law."

The "Consent To Search" and the "Authorization To Review Medical and Mental Health Records" signed and dated by the special agents of the Secret Service -- were furnished to this reporter.
It's the Gestapo all over again. This is what happens when you say you don't care that the NSA is spying on you, with no oversight, no accountability, and no constitutional restraints.

A free, open, and democratic society does not do this to its own people. This is what tyrannical dictatorships do.

Politicians will tell you they're doing all this to defend our liberties and our way of life. But they're doing just the opposite -- destroying our liberties and our way of life. It is no exaggeration to say that the terrorists have won. If this is what defending America means, then what is there left to defend?

Ellsberg noted that Sen. Frank Church warned that the NSA's surveillance powers "at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left," with the resulting ability "to make tyranny total in America." Senator Church made that warning in 1975. To think of the greater ease with which the NSA can now collect our data in an Internet-connected world is something that should frighten every American citizen. It should do just the opposite of generating an apathetic response.

In fact, Ellsberg and Snowden both warn that all it would take is one more major public crisis to push us over the edge.
  • Ellsberg: "[I]f we suffered one more attack on the scale of 9/11, I fear for our democracy. These powers are extremely dangerous.
  • Snowden: "And the months ahead, the years ahead, it's only going to get worse, until eventually there will be a time where policies will change. … [A] new leader will be elected, they'll find the switch, say that 'Because of the crisis, because of the dangers we face in the world, some new and unpredicted threat, we need more authority, we need more power.' And there will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it. And it will be turnkey tyranny."
A recent discussion at Reddit, in which the original poster said he was fine with letting the government snoop through all of his personal effects, got a lengthy response from someone who offered a cautionary tale of just where such a careless mindset leads people, and nations:
I live in a country generally assumed to be a dictatorship. One of the Arab spring countries. I have lived through curfews and have seen the outcomes of the sort of surveillance now being revealed in the US. People here talking about curfews aren't realizing what that actually FEELS like. It isn't about having to go inside, and the practicality of that. It's about creating the feeling that everyone, everything is watching. A few points:

1) the purpose of this surveillance from the governments point of view is to control enemies of the state. Not terrorists. People who are coalescing around ideas that would destabilize the status quo. These could be religious ideas. These could be groups like anon who are too good with tech for the governments liking. It makes it very easy to know who these people are. It also makes it very simple to control these people.

Lets say you are a college student and you get in with some people who want to stop farming practices that hurt animals. So you make a plan and go to protest these practices. You get there, and wow, the protest is huge. You never expected this, you were just goofing off. Well now everyone who was there is suspect. Even though you technically had the right to protest, you're now considered a dangerous person.

With this tech in place, the government doesn't have to put you in jail. They can do something more sinister. They can just email you a sexy picture you took with a girlfriend. Or they can email you a note saying that they can prove your dad is cheating on his taxes. Or they can threaten to get your dad fired. All you have to do, the email says, is help them catch your friends in the group. You have to report back every week, or you dad might lose his job. So you do. You turn in your friends and even though they try to keep meetings off grid, you're reporting on them to protect your dad.

2) Let's say number one goes on. The country is a weird place now. Really weird. Pretty soon, a movement springs up like occupy, except its bigger this time. People are really serious, and they are saying they want a government without this power. I guess people are realizing that it is a serious deal. You see on the news that tear gas was fired. Your friend calls you, frantic. They're shooting people. Oh my god. you never signed up for this. You say, fuck it. My dad might lose his job but I won't be responsible for anyone dying. That's going too far. You refuse to report anymore. You just stop going to meetings. You stay at home, and try not to watch the news. Three days later, police come to your door and arrest you. They confiscate your computer and phones, and they beat you up a bit. No one can help you so they all just sit quietly. They know if they say anything they're next. This happened in the country I live in. It is not a joke.

3) Its hard to say how long you were in there. What you saw was horrible. Most of the time, you only heard screams. People begging to be killed. Noises you've never heard before. You, you were lucky. You got kicked every day when they threw your moldy food at you, but no one shocked you. No one used sexual violence on you, at least that you remember. There were some times they gave you pills, and you can't say for sure what happened then. To be honest, sometimes the pills were the best part of your day, because at least then you didn't feel anything. You have scars on you from the way you were treated. You learn in prison that torture is now common. But everyone who uploads videos or pictures of this torture is labeled a leaker. Its considered a threat to national security. Pretty soon, a cut you got on your leg is looking really bad. You think it's infected. There were no doctors in prison, and it was so overcrowded, who knows what got in the cut. You go to the doctor, but he refuses to see you. He knows if he does the government can see the records that he treated you. Even you calling his office prompts a visit from the local police.

You decide to go home and see your parents. Maybe they can help. This leg is getting really bad. You get to their house. They aren't home. You can't reach them no matter how hard you try. A neighbor pulls you aside, and he quickly tells you they were arrested three weeks ago and haven't been seen since. You vaguely remember mentioning to them on the phone you were going to that protest. Even your little brother isn't there.

4) Is this even really happening? You look at the news. Sports scores. Celebrity news. It's like nothing is wrong. What the hell is going on? A stranger smirks at you reading the paper. You lose it. You shout at him "fuck you dude what are you laughing at can't you see I've got a fucking wound on my leg?"
"Sorry," he says. "I just didn't know anyone read the news anymore." There haven't been any real journalists for months. They're all in jail.

Everyone walking around is scared. They can't talk to anyone else because they don't know who is reporting for the government. Hell, at one time YOU were reporting for the government. Maybe they just want their kid to get through school. Maybe they want to keep their job. Maybe they're sick and want to be able to visit the doctor. It's always a simple reason. Good people always do bad things for simple reasons.

You want to protest. You want your family back. You need help for your leg. This is way beyond anything you ever wanted. It started because you just wanted to see fair treatment in farms. Now you're basically considered a terrorist, and everyone around you might be reporting on you. You definitely can't use a phone or email. You can't get a job. You can't even trust people face to face anymore. On every corner, there are people with guns. They are as scared as you are. They just don't want to lose their jobs. They don't want to be labeled as traitors.

This all happened in the country where I live.

You want to know why revolutions happen? Because little by little by little things get worse and worse. But this thing that is happening now is big. This is the key ingredient. This allows them to know everything they need to know to accomplish the above. The fact that they are doing it is proof that they are the sort of people who might use it in the way I described. In the country I live in, they also claimed it was for the safety of the people. Same in Soviet Russia. Same in East Germany. In fact, that is always the excuse that is used to surveil everyone. But it has never ONCE proven to be the reality.
Maybe Obama won't do it. Maybe the next guy won't, or the one after him. Maybe this story isn't about you. Maybe it happens 10 or 20 years from now, when a big war is happening, or after another big attack. Maybe it's about your daughter or your son. We just don't know yet. But what we do know is that right now, in this moment we have a choice. Are we okay with this, or not? Do we want this power to exist, or not?

You know for me, the reason I'm upset is that I grew up in school saying the pledge of allegiance. I was taught that the United States meant "liberty and justice for all." You get older, you learn that in this country we define that phrase based on the constitution. That's what tells us what liberty is and what justice is. Well, the government just violated that ideal. So if they aren't standing for liberty and justice anymore, what are they standing for? Safety?

Ask yourself a question. In the story I told above, does anyone sound safe?

I didn't make anything up. These things happened to people I know. We used to think it couldn't happen in America. But guess what? It's starting to happen.

I actually get really upset when people say "I don't have anything to hide. Let them read everything." People saying that have no idea what they are bringing down on their own heads. They are naive, and we need to listen to people in other countries who are clearly telling us that this is a horrible horrible sign and it is time to stand up and say no.
We stand at a dangerous precipice, and in their apathy and ignorance, most Americans seem just as happy to jump over the edge -- sacrificing the ideals of liberty this nation was founded on in exchange for protection from the terrorist bogeyman.

Ben Franklin would weep.

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