Has it only been 10 months since Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations changed the world? Can you even remember what the world was like, before he gave 50,000 — no, 200,000 — no, wait, 2 million– secret documents to Glenn Greenwald: smoking guns that exposed Washington’s global surveillance state, which far outstripped the wildest, wettest dreams of the Stasi, of Stalin, yea of Orwell himself?
Try to recall those dark days — now long since banished, thank God! — when the American imperium thrust its grubby hands and greedy eyes into every single digital pie available, scarfing up emails, URLs, locations, even webcam shots, of anybody and everybody, then storing them all in gargantuan data silos, to sift through and fondle for years on end. Remember that? Remember how this surveillance state, this über-Stasi, was put to the service of a regime that was actually going all over the world and murdering people — without charges, without due process, without defense, without warning. Just circling the world, blowing up a wedding party here, a couple of teenagers there, a village, a funeral, a farm, an apartment block, day after day, week after week, year after year? Innocent people, “guilty” people; guilty of something or other, that is — maybe just behaving in a “suspicious manner” in the eyes of unaccountable officials acting arbitrarily in secret, on the basis of screenshots sent by back by robots, and rumors and vendettas gathered, for pay, by secret agents.
Do you remember how this brutal, barbaric, ugly, inhuman regime would then go around the world condemning other nations for not being moral, holy, freedom-loving and strictly adherent to international law? Do you remember the base, sickening hypocrisy of it all? State murderers — proud state murderers, murderers who would go before legislators and under oath to God Almighty swear how proud they were to be murdering people — telling other nations how to order their affairs according to the principles of law and justice and human rights?
Isn’t it wonderful how much has changed since those days, when we discovered the spine and musculature of the surveillance regime that undergirded this ghastly system of murder and corruption and domination?
What? What do you mean nothing’s changed? What do you mean that this barbaric system is still firing on all cylinders? What do you mean that the surveillance state has not been crippled or even slowed for a single instant by all these world-changing revelations? What are you saying? That those who facilitated the exposure of the NSA documents, like Greenwald, are now working for techno-oligarchs who fund rapacious, elite-enriching, regime-changing “philanthropic” enterprises all over the world? Whose companies actually helped strangulate Wikileaks in its greatest hour of need by cutting off its venues of funding?
Are you trying to tell me that even Snowden himself — who risked so much to bring these crimes to light — now declares forthrightly “that spying serves a vital purpose and must continue”? That he has taken great pains to declare that his incendiary material should only be “safely disclosed to responsible journalists in coordination with government stakeholders,” as Arthur Silber pointedly points out? In coordination with “government stakeholders?” The same “government stakeholders” who are murdering people around the world and sticking their webcams into our underwear? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?
What next? Are you going to tell me that even Jeremy Scahill, Greenwald’s partner in the oligarch-funded venture, First Look, which is going to transform journalism as we know it for all time to come, has also declared that their transformative operation will dutifully submit its work to government scrutiny — with the caveat, of course, that they may not follow the government’s advice on how ‘dangerous’ it might be to publish the dutifully submitted material? (Which is, of course, the same way that every other non-transformed journalistic entity in the Western world operates.)
Is that what you’re trying to say? That the murder goes on, the surveillance goes on, the crime goes on, and that even our most cutting-edge, transformative, dangerous and subversive journalists and whistleblowers are committed to acting “responsibly” in “coordination with government stakeholders.”
Well, if I may once again quote the great Mel Brooks quoting the great Joe Schrank: “I can hardly believe my hearing aid!”
Maybe I need new batteries for this thing. Everywhere I hear unstinting — and unquestioning — praise for these developments; but nowhere do I see any genuine effect. I mean, yes, of course, it’s good to see “progressive” hero Rachel Maddow expressing umbrage at the revelations that Barack Obama’s Stasi-State is now brazenly spying on their own putative Congressional overseers. Maddow even goes so far as to call this “End of the Republic stuff.” But is this followed by a call for the impeachment of a president that is “ending the Republic” with a security apparat run amok? Of course not. The main progressive goal, as always, is to express a bit of marginal outrage while devoting one’s main energies to ensuring that whatever “centrist” suit of clothes the bought-and-sold Democratic establishment puts up as a candidate is elected. (Next up: Hilary “Annihilate the Iranians” Clinton in 2016.)
But what of these 2 million documents that Snowden has bequeathed to a few chosen journalists who maintain their iron grip on the revelations, doling them out as they alone see fit – after, of course, submitting them to the scrutiny of “government stakeholders”? Let us return to a salient fact that Arthur Silber keeps pointing out: that only 1% to 2% of this vast trove has ever been seen:
Given all the publicly available evidence, when reporting on the Snowden documents is completed, the general public will have seen only 1% to 2% of all the documents involved. I’ve analyzed in detail how deeply problematic this is. That’s putting it mildly, and with excessive politeness. In fact, this highly selective publishing of leaks is insulting, disgusting, and profoundly offensive …
In short, the methodology adopted by Snowden and the favored journalists is leading straight to complete and utter disaster.
It is also necessary to mention that many of the published documents are offered only with redactions, which are sometimes substantial. Not only that but, as a rule, no explanation is offered as to why particular information has been redacted. Similarly, we are offered only the most general of explanations, if that, for why roughly 98% of the documents will never see the light of day. This presents the general public — for whose benefit all this heroic work is allegedly undertaken — with an insurmountable problem of evaluation and understanding.
Well, hold on there a minute, Arthur, you incorrigible skeptic you. What about the latest revelation from The Intercept, the flagship enterprise of First Look? Just last weekend, the Interceptors dug into this vast trove of criminality to inform us that … the NSA’s newsletter has its own Dear Abby column (or “agony aunt,” as the Brits would say). Now how about that! The NSA has an internal advice column offering tidbits on personnel issues. Now that’s transformative journalism with a vengeance! Just think how many innocent lives now doomed to die from Washington’s surveillance state-supported death squads will now be saved because of this revelation!
Back to Silber:
Snowden has always been at pains to assure everyone — and most particularly, to assure the State — that he doesn’t want to threaten the State in any serious way. And even though his major concern is with mass surveillance, that, too, would be acceptable to him in general terms, provided it is sanctioned by “informed public consent,” and even though he himself would choose differently.
But look again at those concluding remarks to the EU. “[T]here are many other undisclosed programs that would impact EU citizens’ rights…” Many other undisclosed programs that affect tens of millions of people. Maybe they’ll find out about them, maybe they won’t. And Snowden himself won’t make that decision. “Responsible journalists in coordination with government stakeholders” will decide. We’ve witnessed this game for nine months; we know how it’s played. The “responsible journalists” and “government stakeholders” will allow us to see perhaps 2% of all the documents Snowden gathered up. With redactions, and without explanations of the redactions or explanations, even in general terms, of what we will never be told.
But honestly, it’s more than slightly ridiculous to parse these statements further. Snowden’s formulation, and the adoption of his methodology by the “responsible journalists” involved, mean only one thing: these are, ultimately, State-sanctioned leaks. This is State-sanctioned whistleblowing. Whatever dangers much wider, and much more rapid, disclosure might have carried have been entirely obliterated. What remains constitutes no threat of any remotely serious kind to the States implicated. Yes, there will be hearings, some “reforms,” and life for the States will go almost exactly as before. Your life, on the other hand … well, who gives a damn about your life.
Of course, we are glad to have any little fragment of truth we can get our hands on in these dystopian times. As T.S. Eliot said: “these fragments I have shored against my ruins.” And most assuredly, we are in ruins. But I continue to be amazed at the nugatory effect of the Snowden revelations. I continue to be shocked at the way these revelations are being handled — kept tightly under the control of a handful of responsible figures who happily submit them to “government stakeholders,” while effectively repressing 98 percent of the evidence of criminality and moral turpitude on the part of those same “government stakeholders.” So I agree with Silber’s conclusion, with which I’ll conclude here:
I have one request, in the nature of truth in advertising. I want to see all future stories relying on the Snowden documents accompanied by a stamp in which appear the following words. We are provided similar guarantees in connection with food and drugs, for example, and I see no reason not to adapt the practice to “journalism,” given what that term now appears to mean. Each such story should carry this ironclad assurance:
This story contains those facts, and only those facts, that we and the State have determined it is safe for you to know. We will never tell you anything else, and we will most certainly never tell you anything more.