Thursday, April 17, 2014

Edward Snowden, the Hero that Americans Don’t Deserve

Edward Snowden has probably destroyed his career and life to show his fellow countrymen how corrupt, dishonest, and unlawful their government is.  For his sacrifice, about half of the general population thinks that he is a traitor for revealing ‘national security’ (hah!) secrets, the other half think he did the right thing but refuse to support him or pressure their elected representatives to take action or even show a decent sense of outrage.  

Edward Snowden is a hero that the American people are no longer worthy of.  Given his fate, I doubt that this country will see any more like him.

The issue here is not primarily that the government was spying on US citizens.  There are problems with the old defense ‘if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about’ but these are secondary.  The main issue is that the government is creating secret laws in secret courts, that agents of the government are no longer accountable to their citizenry or their elected representatives for their actions, that the government is no longer required to obey the law, and that government officials can lie under oath and forge legal documents and not only not be prosecuted, but not even elicit any outrage. 

Oh, and as a bonus, the NSA has been deliberately weakening encryption standards, and planting backdoors into computers that can (and almost certainly ARE) also being used by hostile foreign governments and criminal gangs.  One wonders how much cybercrime is being committed using weaknesses that the NSA deliberately installed into your computer systems, or that the NSA knew about and allowed to go unpatched.  Of course, we can’t know – it’s a secret! – but I’d bet on “quite a lot” as the answer.

In the old days not so long ago when the United States was still a constitutional republic, and police could wiretap suspected criminals.  This wiretapping was done in secret, but the laws by which the wiretapping was done were publicly known and could be debated and discussed, and possibly changed if the public so desired.  Even though a wiretap would be secret at the time, everyone in the government involved in secret wiretapping was aware that it would eventually be made public, and that they would be held accountable for their actions.  There is nothing like accountability to ensure good behavior.

Now the government is out of control – it’s not that the spying is secret, it’s that the rules and laws governing this spying is secret – or the law is just made up as they go along.  There is no public oversight, no debate, and a government whose actions are hidden from the citizenry cannot be called a democracy. 

Remember, the issue is not spying per se, but lack of accountability.  What is to stop the government from not just spying, but also from planting false information?  Nothing!  Because it’s all secret and nobody would find out – and anyone who did find out and told the public would have their lives destroyed. 

The government is already doing this in something called ‘dual construction.’  The idea is that the NSA gathers information illegally, which would not be admissible in court.  So the government goes back and makes up new evidence ‘in parallel’ that looks legal.  There are so many problems with this that’s it’s hard to know where to start.  For the time being it is likely that most such ‘parallel constructions’ are not entrapping otherwise innocent citizens, but where is the guarantee that ‘parallel’ will remain ‘equivalent’?  The government now regards it as standard procedure to falsify legal evidence.  Why not enhance it?  Why not make it all up?  Remember, there is no oversight here, no accountability, if government officials do abuse this power how could you tell, how could you stop it?

A lovely recent precedent states that citizens have no legal standing to sue against secret laws, because they cannot legally prove that these laws exist!  How marvelous!

The notion that there can be oversight if elected officials sworn to secrecy are told about the government’s secret actions, that somehow this counts as public oversight, is rubbish.  First, because the elected officials so informed in these secret briefings are themselves routinely lied to.  Second, because if these secretly briefed representatives object to a secret government program but cannot tell anyone or do anything about it, then it’s all pointless!  And third, because democracy requires that citizens know what actions their elected representatives have taken on their behalf, ‘secret briefings’ are not representative.

If I give you a choice of pushing one of two buttons, and you have to push one, and one kills you and the other doesn’t, but I make it impossible for you to determine which is which, how do you have a free choice in deciding your fate?  You don’t!  And if you elect a senator or congressman and they approve of something that you don’t want, and you are prevented from finding out, then how can your vote for them mean anything?

And on a final note, the secret American government agencies probably have something like 100,000+ analysts of various sorts.  Snowden risked a lot to go public.  A foreign spy or someone with connections to organized crime would not go public – and we would not find out – and out of 100,000+ people, what are the odds that at least several dozen are not on your side?  I’d wager, quite a lot.

The only thing that that NSA and CIA are doing that remotely matches their legitimate purposes is spying on foreign governments.  THAT, they are supposed to do!  The American government is supposed to be accountable to Americans - Germans have their own government.  Besides, if a foreign power like Russia or Germany spies on an American, so what?  They can't use the information to plant false evidence, or have you arrested, or audit your taxes, or anything.  And if the German government does something in secret without informing the German people, this has zero impact on the ability of an American to hold his or her own government to account.  Oh, there may be issues with industrial espionage, but let the big boys worry about that.  That the US government is trying to keep tabs on foreign powers, that alone makes sense.

I still recall when the late unlamented Soviet Union used to spy on its own citizens, and American conservatives used this as evidence of how corrupt and evil the hardline commies were.  Now the American government spies on its citizens so brazenly that it would make Stalin blush, and American conservatives scream that anyone who objects is a ‘traitor’.  How did that happen?

So vilify Snowden as a ‘traitor’ with the rancor of a mindless jingo.  Or give Snowden lip-service support but do nothing and continue to vote for ‘mainstream’ candidates who are happy with the status quo of steadily increasing corruption and cronyism.  Watch as government officials speak outrageous lies in public with utter shamelessness and just shrug it off as business as usual – condemn those few who still object as fundamentalist cranks.  Go on about your petty little lives doing nothing of substance, and your grandchildren will look back on the history of this once-proud country and ask you ‘where did it all go?’


A question posed by Yossarian in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 to find out why so many people were working so hard to kill him.

This seemingly rhetorical question is what one asks when one feels that everyone else is asking stupid questions and one wants to join in and/or point out how obviously stupid their questions are. Or, merely, because one wants to find out why so many people are working so hard to kill oneself.  (From “The Urban Dictionary”, April 2014)

It can also refer to the lack of patriotic Americans willing to take risks telling the truth to the public in the historical period following the Edward Snowden affair (Globus Pallidus XI, April 2014)

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