Edward Snowden's Bold Gambit

If you’ve not watched the video interview of Edward Snowden posted on the Guardian’s webpage, do so. He makes a persuasive case that the American people are being lulled into a false sense of security. We’re moving, inexorably, in the direction of what he calls “turnkey tyranny.” 

Snowden disclosed to the Guardian and to the Washington Post the extent of United States intelligence gathering. We collect electronic information on virtually everyone, all the time. Analysts can summon at a keystroke surveillance material on anyone at anytime. “The NSA collects the communications of everyone,” he says. “Any analyst at any time can target anyone.”

The 29-year-old former employee of Booz Allen Hamilton was a contractor working for the National Security Agency with access to top secret sources. As he sat, year after year, in front of his computer screens, he became troubled. The information infrastructure was taking on a life of its own; abhorring a vacuum, intelligence agencies and their proxies -- for-profit security contractors -- are creating a surveillance state that grows more powerful each year. Data is hoarded, and then mined. Each of our lives can be recreated in a keystroke, and then recast through any prism those controlling the architecture of oppression select.

Snowden stepped forward to raise public awareness about the growing reach and extent of the surveillance state. “The public needs to decide whether these policies are right or wrong,” he tells journalist Glenn Greenwald in the 12-minute interview.

To a distressing degree, the public is deciding. Last week’s disclosures of the extent to which the government tracks private communications was met with outrage by civil liberties groups, but with something approaching indifference by many others. “Of course, the government keeps track of things,” public seemed to sigh. “Someone has to.”

President Obama led the chorus. We need to trade some privacy and inconvenience for the sake of security, he told us. Need there be any greater proof that when it comes to civil liberties the divide between Republican and Democrat is vanishing? Barack Obama is simply a high I.Q. version of George Bush.

Is “living unfreely but comfortably ... something [we’re] willing to accept?” Snowden wonders. His greatest fear is that folks will see the recent disclosures about the extent of government surveillance of the ordinary activities of daily living but be unwilling to take the risks necessary to fight and to stand up to seek change. Snowden has certainly taken risks. I suspect he will be target of federal prosecution. He is the civilian equivalent of Bradley Manning, the Army private now being prosecuted for providing documents to Wikileaks.

The ex-patriate sought refuge in Hong Kong, a part of China with modest autonomy in terms of immigration and economic policy. He expects he may never return to the United States, or that, if he does return, it will be face to prosecution. He even speculates that he might be “rendered” by the CIA, a polite way of referring to state-sponsored kidnaping.

I find it ironic that this courageous young whistleblower, -- or is he a traitor?, the line seems blurred these days -- seeks refuge in China. Last week’s news seemed like a prolonged funeral march for the Fourth Amendment. Can the government compel a DNA sample from those arrested for “serious” crimes? Sure, the Supreme Court said: anything for security’s sake. Then came the revelations about the Government’s monitoring of phone calls and computer records. We the people yawned, or so it seemed. By week’s end, I found myself thinking how like China we were becoming: individual rights, including a right to privacy, must yield and be swallowed by the needs of the group.

Also ironic is the fact that the best reporting on national security issues seems increasingly to come not from American newspapers, but from Great Britain. In the wake of 9/11, it seemed the BBC was a better and more reliable voice about world events. Today, the Guardian has the resources, and the courage, to publish truths we don’t want to hear. 

Watch the Snowden interview. He’s reported to be a high school drop out, yet he speaks more clearly than most television reporters. He reminded me of a young Noam Chomsky, seeing the world for what it is, absent the blinders we call patriotism.

Edward Snowden called the Government’s bluff. He won’t live silently and in shame. He leaked secrets everyone knew -- the Government hoards data and uses it to advance interests it often refuses to discuss with a people it governs but doesn’t trust. Government and industry grow wealthy mining our secrets. When we question authority, we are either surveilled, or, as in the case of Snowden, Manning and Juilan Assange, prosecuted.

Snowden decided to take his case right to the people. Watch the video. Listen to him. See for yourselves whether he makes sense.

I say he is, as they say in Britain, brilliant. Simply brilliant.



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