Saturday, June 21, 2014

Privacy for Me But Not for Thee

I'm almost done reading Glenn Greenwald's new book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State (Metropolitan Books, 2014), and it's well worth my time.  It doesn't tell me much that I didn't already know, but it's a good roundup of what has been learned and what it means.

In particular, Chapter 4, "The Harm of Surveillance," is an excellent discussion of the meaning of privacy and its violation by the State, along with a history of illegal spying on citizens by the American government and its agencies.  If you don't feel like reading the entire book (though it's not very long, and quite readable), read this chapter.

And guess what?  I finally found the video clip I've been trying to find for a couple of years now, in which President Obama not only declared, improperly, that Private Manning "broke the law," thereby prejudicing Manning's chances of a fair trial, but that "people can have philosophical views [about Bradley Manning] but I can’t conduct diplomacy on an open source [basis]… That’s not how the world works."  As another writer argued, "Nobody thus far has suggested that all diplomacy be conducted out in the open," but the key point about Obama's remark is that NSA spying has extended to the governments of friendly countries.
In 2009, for example, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon wrote a letter to [then-Director of the NSA] Keith Alexander, offering his "gratitude and congratulations for the outstanding signals intelligence support" that the State Department received regarding the Fifth Summit of the Americas, a conference devoted to negotiating economic accords.  In the letter, Shannon specifically noted that the NSA's surveillance provided the United States with negotiating advantages over the other parties ...

The NSA is equally devoted to diplomatic espionage, as the documents referring to "political affairs" demonstrate.  One particularly egregious example, from 2011 [that is, around the time Obama was protesting that he couldn't do open-source diplomacy], shows the agency targeted two Latin American leaders -- Dilma Roussef, the president of Brazil, along with "her key advisers"; and Enrique Peña Nieto, then Mexico's leading presidential candidate (and now its president), along with "nine of his close associates" -- for a "surge" of especially invasive surveillance [138-9].
In other words, the Obama regime expects other countries to do open-source diplomacy, but doesn't want to be held to the same requirement.  This sort of double standard is virtually universal among governments, of course -- it's justifiable for us to spy on you, but your spying on us is criminal! (My skepticism about this attitude makes it difficult for me to read most spy fiction.)  And closer to home, our government expects its citizens to live open-source lives while increasing its own secrecy exponentially.

I'm going to quote myself from an older post: Was the information Snowden released "private" in the first place? No, except in the narrow and circular sense of "secret." It was public in the truest sense of the word: it concerned events that were paid for by the public dime, and then concealed from the public by public agencies. Governments do not have a right to privacy, especially when they are engaged in criminal enterprises; nor do government officials in their role as government officials. Whether Barack Obama wears boxers or briefs, for example, is a matter I'm happy to leave private, though it's just the kind of fact that many Americans, and the corporate media, would claim that the public has a right to know. (I suspect that Obama would address the boxers vs. briefs question more readily than questions about dead Afghan or Pakistani children, however.) But what our government is doing with its weapons and its troops and its vast amounts of money is what the public has not only a right but an obligation to know. I would include the world, not just Americans, since so much of our crimes are committed on foreign soil, but also because our government is spying on the entire world now.