Uncle Sam secretly morphs into scary Big Brother!



by Selvam Canagaratna

"Every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies."

- Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (pub. Posth. 1817)

"I slowly realised that, at the CIA, the tail wagged the dog, that America’s real business was covert activities, not intelligence collecting and analysis," wrote Chalmers Johnson in his 2004 book, The Sorrows of Empire. It was during World War II that William J. Donovan had founded the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA’s predecessor.

Johnson concedes that only later did he learn that "an internal CIA history of Donovan’s imprint on the Agency says he saw intelligence analysis as a convenient cover for subversive operations abroad. This subterfuge proved useful down the years."

As part and parcel of the growth of militarism in the US, notes Johnson, the CIA evolved into the President’s private army to be used for secret projects he personally wanted carried out. "Today [that’s 2004, mind you] the CIA is just one of several secret commando units maintained by our government." [Obama, circa 2013, has vastly expanded on GWB’s 2004 secret horrors.]

Author and Founder of the Institute for Public Accuracy, Norman Solomon, noted: "In Washington, where the state of war and the surveillance state are one and the same, top officials have begun to call for Edward Snowden’s head. His moral action of whistleblowing — a clarion call for democracy — now awaits our responses. After nearly 12 years of the ‘war on terror’, the revelations of recent days are a tremendous challenge to the established order: nonstop warfare, intensifying secrecy and dominant power that equate safe governance with Orwellian surveillance."

29-year-old Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg [of 1971 Pentagon Papers fame] and Bradley Manning, currently before a military court, also charged for whistleblowing. Snowden has released material from one of the world’s most secretive organisations – the National Security Agency (NSA).

Commenting on the Snowden revelations, Daniel Ellsberg warned: "After 9/11, the principal ‘liberty’ that many Americans have prized most was the ‘freedom’ to go to the shopping mall without having to fear ‘terrorists’. That attitude gave impetus to the construction of a police-state framework that could crush all the other liberties and freedoms. There has been, at first secretly but increasingly openly, a revocation of the Bill of Rights for which this country fought over 200 years ago. In particular, the Fourth and Fifth amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which safeguard citizens from unwarranted intrusion by the government into their private lives, have been virtually suspended."

In May, while working at the NSA office in Hawaii, Snowden copied the last set of documents he intended to disclose. He then advised his NSA supervisor that he needed to be away from work for "a couple of weeks" to receive treatment for epilepsy, a condition he learned he suffers from after a series of seizures last year. On May 20, he boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he has remained ever since.

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.

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.

"I realised that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good."

He said it was during his CIA stint in Geneva that he thought for the first time about exposing government secrets. But, at the time, he chose not to for two reasons. First, he said: "Most of the secrets the CIA has are about people, not machines and systems, so I didn’t feel comfortable with disclosures that I thought could endanger anyone." Secondly, the election of Barack Obama in 2008 gave him hope that there would be real reforms, rendering disclosures unnecessary.

Snowden left the CIA in 2009 in order to take his first job working for a private contractor that assigned him to a functioning NSA facility, stationed on a military base in Japan. It was then, he said, that he "watched as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in", and as a result, "I got hardened." [Oh, the ‘Second Coming’ that went awry, eh?]

Over the next three years, he learned just how all-consuming the NSA’s surveillance activities were, claiming "they are intent on making every conversation and every form of behaviour in the world known to them."

.Snowden made clear that he carefully evaluated every single document he disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest. "There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is."

Christopher H. Pyle, who teaches constitutional law and civil liberties at Mount Holyoke College. wrote: "Politicians don’t want to admit that Congress (and the courts) have failed to exercise adequate oversight over a giant network of secret agencies and corporations that is wasting billions of dollars on worthless surveillance and, in the process, invading the privacy of millions of Americans and endangering the capacity of reporters, leakers, and crusading members of Congress to check the secret abuses of secret government.

"This scandal is not just about Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency, and Snowden’s profiteering bosses at Booz Allen Hamilton. It is about secret government in general, the militarization of intelligence, the privatization of governmental functions, and the role of secret campaign contributions to prevent adequate oversight of the executive branch and its pet companies."

Pyle notes that since 9/11 private corporations had greatly expanded the intelligence community. "Seventy percent of the community’s budget now goes to private contractors. So members of Congress, reporters, and suspected leakers are not just vulnerable to government surveillance; they are vulnerable to corporate reprisals, should their investigations or disclosures pose a threat to companies in the intelligence business. These surveillance powers can be used not only to protect secret agencies from criticism; they can be used, as General Motors once used them, to try to discredit critics like Ralph Nader.

"Many people believe that they have nothing to fear from government/corporate surveillance because they have nothing to hide. But every bureaucracy is a solution in search of a problem, and if it can’t find a problem to fit its solution, they will redefine the problem. In the 1960s, the surveillance bureaucracies redefined anti-war and civil rights protests as communist enterprises; today the same bureaucracies redefine anti-war Quakers, environmentalists, and animal rights activists as ‘terrorists’."

Eric Draitser, founder of StopImperialism.com, reminded readers that Americans continued to be told that America was the ‘sweet land of liberty’. "We may be able to buy Nike sneakers and flat screen TVs, but that’s not liberty. We may be able to tweet with our iPhones and download our favorite movies, but that’s not liberty either. Rather, as George Orwell famously wrote, ‘If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.’

"So yes, tell the people what they don’t want to hear. Just know this . . . someone will be listening."

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