One last word on the recent contretemps here involving Glenn Greenwald. I want to own up to a misstatement I made in my reply to Glenn. It was, literally, a parenthetical comment made in passing, not a main part of the argument, but it did contain a misstatement of fact, for which I apologize, and which I can only ascribe to the failing memory of an aging brain. The comment was this:
… (I have never advocated a “total dump” of the data, by the way; in fact, I don’t know anyone who has.) …
This is not factual. A writer I’ve quoted very often here — Arthur Silber, whose medical crisis was in fact the subject of the original post that sparked another post that eventually led to Greenwald’s comment — has indeed called for a “total data dump,” and has done so for a long time. Being familiar with his work, I knew this, of course, but in writing my somewhat hurried reply to Glenn (hurried because, for god’s sake, one can’t spend untold hours chewing blogospherical cud when there is a real life to be lived out there in the real world), I forgot Silber’s very powerful and penetrating arguments for, yes, opening all the secrets of the national security state — or as he terms it, more accurately, the Death State — to the eyes of the world.
Silber has usefully reminded us of this fact in a new post, which takes off from my erroneous statement and lays out once more his compelling case for exposing all of the corrupted innards of our national security apparat. In addition to his own arguments — which directly address the various objections to this course — he also brings in a searing quote from Hannah Arendt on the issue of “irresponsibility” when confronted with the implacable power of a state based on fear, violence, conformity and “projecting dominance.” I recommend anyone interested in these issues to read Silber’s piece in full.
Please keep in mind that we are dealing with a state that believes it has the arbitrary, unchallengeable right to kill any of its citizens, at any time, without any judicial process whatsoever, simply at the whim of the president — or any of the innumerable agents he empowers to kill on his behalf as they see fit. This is the reality we live under — a reality reconfirmed just this week by a federal judge, who ruled that the families of American citizens murdered by their own government have no standing to challenge this action in a court of law. And of course, this system extends its arbitrary license to kill to every human being on earth. It claims the right to kill anyone, anywhere, at the order of the president — who meets every week with his advisers to pore over hit lists, just as Stalin did with the Politburo, and decide which of the targets will live and which shall die.
Now, you may be happy with such a system policing itself with a few “reforms” which are devised and supervised by the system itself. A system which remains, at every point, completely hidden to the public that pays for it, and which at every turn, day after day, year after year, exacerbates the very extremism, violence, instability and chaos it purports to combat. (When it doesn’t just fund it and arm it outright, as it is is doing in its backing of violent, head-chopping, heart-eating extremists in Syria, for example.) You may be comforted by the thought that a small number of legislators whose careers are funded by this system — and very often directly by war profiteers and “security” profiteers — will be “overseeing” whatever “reforms” of the system eventually become law (assuming that any of them actually do).
But some people aren’t comforted by this. Some people continue to believe — or hope against hope — that we can do better than this. If such people see promising openings — like the exposure of NSA documents — falling short of the effect they could have, if they see these opportunities slowly being swallowed up in toothless “reforms” and “debates” by the very system they hope to break down and do away with, can they not question, criticize, even rail against this state of affairs, without being accused of envy, personal pique or irresponsibility? Why can’t they, like Robert Kennedy, “dream of things that never were, and ask, why not?”
UPDATE: Greenwald and Snowden appeared, via video link, at an Amnesty International conference in Chicago on Saturday. They rightly decried the weakness of the NSA “reforms” proposed by White House, pointing out that this pig-lipsticking exercise by the powers that be allows for — among many other sinister activities — the continued harvesting of meta-data. And meta-data, as the duo note, is actually more useful to the nefarious activities of the surveillance state than the content of individual phone calls. As Snowden put it: “Metadata is what allows an actual enumerated understanding, a precise record of all the private activities in all of our lives. It shows our associations, our political affiliations and our actual activities.”
Greenwald also promised new dynamite revelations that will finally rouse the people to anger, as the Guardian reports:
Greenwald, who met with Snowden 10 months ago and wrote about the leaked documents in the Guardian and other media outlets, promised further revelations of government abuses of power at his new media venture The Intercept.
“My hope and my belief is that as we do more of that reporting and as people see the scope of the abuse as opposed to just the scope of the surveillance they will start to care more,” he said.
“Mark my words. Put stars by it and in two months or so come back and tell me if I didn’t make good on my word.”
It’s good to hear that we will eventually see more revelations — especially ones that provide details on specific crimes and abuses being perpetrated by the USSA (United States Stasi Apparatus), as opposed to stories on, as Greenwald says, “just the scope of the surveillance,” which most people already assumed was vast and pervasive. (Not that it isn’t useful to have details on this as well — which is sort of the whole point: the more we know, the better.) I don’t know if questions were allowed or even technically possible at the Chicago link-up, but if they were, I would have been interested in hearing Greenwald’s response to a few follow-up questions, such as:
1. If you have in hand revelations that you know will actually rouse people to anger and action, that will make them “start to care more” and demand genuine changes, not just the cosmetic efforts you have rightly criticized today, could you explain why you have waited 10 months — and might wait a couple more — before releasing these explosive revelations?
Obviously these stories lie within the agreement you and Snowden made on which parts of the truth that the public should be allowed to hear and which parts should be kept from them; otherwise you wouldn’t be promising to publish the coming new material. So if your agreement with Snowden has not prevented the publication of these secrets, what is the reason for keeping back these shocking and galvanizing revelations for so long?
2. You and Snowden today forcefully pointed out the weakness of the “reforms” proposed by the White House and Congress. What does this situation say about the strategy of withholding the vast majority of the NSA secrets? If 10 months of the trickle-down strategy has produced nothing but these transparently cosmetic reforms (which, as you note, will actually further entrench and ‘legitimize’ many sinister practices), and what’s more, has also left the public unmoved, is it unreasonable to consider reassessing the current strategy and consider other options that might prove more effective?
3. Finally, on a somewhat lesser matter: Given the reality that you have described today — a public unroused, still needing “to care more” after 10 months of trickle-down, a government offering cynical jokes as “reform” etc. — can it really be true that all questions or criticisms of the current strategy should be summarily dismissed as nothing more than “moral cowardice” and personal animus? Is it really impossible that there might be at least a modicum of objective substance to at least some questioning of the strategy thus far employed?
And do you honestly think that people who raise such questions — because they would like to see even more damage done to the monstrous imperial machine of death squads, drone bombs, military aggression, oligarchy, lawlessness, intervention, subversion and “total information awareness” by predatory and clandestine security services — can actually be equated morally with “neocon warmongers” who support all these things?
Then again, perhaps it wouldn’t have been all that interesting to hear the response, because one can be fairly certain what it would be: a ripping attack and character assassination of anyone who dared raise even these very narrow and circumscribed questions. As for other issues, I think it would have been pointless to ask Greenwald about, say, any concerns he might have over his new system-challenging enterprise being funded solely by someone whom the system has made one of the richest people on the planet, and who has eagerly cooperated with the national security state, most recently in its interesting activities in Ukraine. Greenwald has made it clear that this does not trouble him at all.