When I first read that Glenn Greenwald plans to publish the name of every NSA surveillance target, I thought:
- That takes some careful research.
- That’s a good thing to do, and I can see why he wants to do it. It gives specificity to his charges of NSA overreach. It is also an example of the openness that Greenwald advocates.
- Let’s see how long the list is.
The next day, I thought: How long is that list, after all? Can he possibly contact everyone on the list, to obtain permission to publish the individual’s name? If he publishes names without permission – it seems pretty clear he would be open to criticism if he did that.
Some people will take membership in this group of domestic surveillance targets as a badge of honor. If NSA thinks I’m a troublemaker, I must be doing something good. That’s not how a lot of people think, though. The opposite thinking goes, if NSA has marked you out for surveiilance, you must be up to something bad. Otherwise, why would they be watching you? And if they watch you, I don’t want to have anything to do with you, because then they’ll watch me!
Greenwald invites ostracism and other trouble for people on the list. He doesn’t intend publication of targets’ names to have that consequence, of course, but that’s how people think. The Red Scare’s Hollywood blacklist only worked because so many people thought a blacklist was a good idea. Greenwald works in an environment where many powerful people want to ostracize – and silence – people they think pose a threat to the country’s security.
Michael Hayden is one of those powerful people. The title of his article above starts out, “Questions that still puzzle me…” That is a snide, sneering way for him to begin. The questions he lists in his article – and he has many – all take the offense against Snowden, to discredit his character, his motives, and the effects of his actions. For Hayden, Edward Snowden belongs at the top of the blacklist. He would put enablers like Poitras and Greenwald in positions two and three. From Hayden’s point of view, all other supporters can step up and count themselves in if they like.
Hayden has no doubt that he is right about Snowden. Snowden is a bad apple, that brings rot to the whole barrel. For people who side with Snowden, people who support the NSA have already eaten out the core of our republic, where we have only the appearance of democracy now. No one pretends any longer that government works for the people, or that the people mentioned in the Constitution’s preamble actually control and limit government’s exercise of power.
Alright, Hayden pretends that government still works to protect people. Underneath his sneering, snide tone, you see a bad sport who is indignant about Snowden. The indignation comes because his beloved national security establishment was brought down by a snivelling, twenty-something contract underling who was more clever than all the powerful people who puff themselves up with a salad bowl of medals on their uniforms. Snowden isn’t fit to tie my shoes! Yet he walks off to Hong Kong in his loafers, loaded with information that makes us look bad in front of the entire world.
We focus on the information Snowden revealed about what the NSA was up to, and we should, but the issue of secrecy is the key to NSA’s behavior. Normally, intelligence agencies do not want their counterparts overseas to know their data collection methods. They want everything about their foreign intelligence operations to remain secret, to preserve their advantages over foreign intelligence agencies. At the same time, we want to know as much as we can about foreign data collection methods, in order to protect ourselves. That’s what we mean by counter-intelligence.
The significant thing is, Snowden did not reveal information about how we gather information related to Russia, North Korea, China, Iran, Syria, or any of the other countries we consider rivals or enemies. Snowden revealed information about data collection efforts against close U. S. allies like Germany and Brazil, and most significantly, against the United States citizens within our own borders! NSA applied the same methods, and official secrecy to domestic data collection that it applied to foreign intelligence. Think about that. That means the government no longer sees itself as protecting us. It sees itself as protecting itself from us.
That is a big difference. If there were nothing insidious about what the NSA was doing domestically, it would not have to keep its activities a secret. Snowden would have had no secret information to steal. Note the significance of that single word, steal. For Hayden, Snowden stole the information from the government. For Snowden, the information belonged in the public domain in the first place, and government concealment of the information amounts to theft. No compromise can reconcile these two points of view.
We have accepted secret and criminal activity on the part of our intelligence agencies for a long time. It took place in Laos, Vietnam, Cuba, Chile, Guatemala, Iran, the Soviet Union, East Germany, and any other country we considered a threat, especially during the Cold War. It also acted against perceived communists within our own borders. When government identified a shadowy international terrorist movement as a threat, it applied the same methods to stop them. It mounted a technologically sophisticated surveillance operation within our own borders, to find threatening people before they could act.
That is how NSA’s surveillance program looks to the NSA. They believe that we won the Cold War partly because we had superior intelligence, and that we will win the war on terror the same way. That is why NSA and other members of the country’s national security establishment regard Snowden as a traitor. When he laid open NSA’s surveillance programs, NSA and the rest of the government appeared to panic. They honestly seemed to think that the sky would fall, not only on them, but on the whole world, due to the actions of one man.
We know two truths now. Even though we hear loud, testy accusations from people who still regard Snowden as a traitor, most agree about these points.
First, NSA’s collection efforts were – and are – illegitimate and illegal. NSA had to conceal them not because revealing them would harm national security, but because they plainly violate the Constitution. If the surveillance programs had no grounds for objection, NSA could have conducted them just as effectively in the open. If NSA thought the methods were legitimate and effective, it would have said to allies: “Look what we’re doing to catch terrorists here at home. You ought to undertake similarly sophisticated programs to accomplish the same thing in your countries.” Do you think a public statement like that would make our enemies abroad change their current behavior? Of course not.
Second, Snowden’s revelations did not harm national security. Most of the information was old. Much of what Greenwald chose to publish came from Powerpoint slides, where NSA trainers boasted about the capabilities of their data collection systems! The slides and all the other information about collection capabilities, proposed surveillance programs and actual programs, did embarrass NSA, which wanted to keep those activities secret. Saving face and protecting your own interest in power, however, are not the same as protecting the nation from external threats.
In fact, our actual enemies abroad are happy if NSA expends resources on domestic surveillance. Resources deployed domestically are resources not available for foreign data collection. Significantly, NSA leadership believes we have enemies who might, or do, operate within our borders. They look for enemies of the state. They have to search for enemies wherever they operate. The closer they come to effective infiltration, the more threatening they become. “Another 9/11” is the spectre that hangs behind every justification for illegal surveillance.
Whether you think NSA’s surveillance methods are illegal, or merely objectionable but necessary, the feds’ near panic after Snowden acted indicates how important it is to the national security establishment that they maintain a pretense of democracy. That pretense gives them a great deal more latitude than they would have if the appearance of democracy did not exist. In short, fooling people about what they are up to grants them the freedom they need to build a surveillance network that amounts to a domestic empire.
It’s significant that the first thing NSA wants to do with Snowden is charge him with espionage. That’s the only way they can think. Anyone who tries to lay them low has to be a spy. They cannot fathom that spying on United States citizens, within the United States, is a crime. No matter what the Constitution says, NSA does not regard its efforts to gather information about U. S. citizens as a crime. Why? Because in doing so, NSA acts to accomplish its own mission, and they carefully follow their own procedures.
They do not recognize that their own mission, and that of the national security establishment more generally, became corrupt long ago. The whole national security barrel became rotten in the years that followed World War II, and no one has thrown out those apples since then. When Snowden removed the top from the barrel to let the stink out, it’s no wonder the characters inside started to panic. They want to put the barrel top back on, ventilate the room to get rid of the odor, and make an example of the troublemaker, to make sure no ones tries something like that again.
Here’s an article about what good journalists can accomplish when the undertake serious investigation of unsolved crimes. The Jinx is the example everyone talks about now. Andrew Jarecki nailed Robert Durst for the murders he committed years ago. Jarecki’s success leads one to ask, why don’t journalists go after crimes like 9/11? They do in Europe. The answer becomes clear as you ask it. When U. S. journalists and whistleblowers investigate government crimes – journalists and whistleblowers like Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, and Edward Snowden – the feds force them to live in Europe!
The mainstream media, including HBO, would never touch an honest documentary about 9/11. Consider what happened with the mainstream documentaries about Kennedy’s assassination during 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of the crime. Not one of them gave an honest account of what we know about the murder. They referred to controversies, of course, but their motivation was not to discover the truth about Kennedy’s death.
A hundred years from now, I truly hope, Snowden will be David, and the nation’s entire security establishment will be Goliath. I hope Snowden, and all the people who know he is their courageous champion, will succeed. David stunned the giant with a stone to the warrior’s forehead, then walked up to him and cut off his head with Goliath’s own sword. The feds acted stunned when Greenwald published selections from Snowden’s files. The national security establishment is weaker than we think. We can bring it down, but we have to be clever, competent, and confident of success.