I read a lot of so-called liberal blogs and it is astonishing how many seem to be squirming uncomfortably with the Snowden revelations. Some seem to see nothing wrong with the government seeking to keep secret the massive spying programs while paradoxically saying that they knew it was going on all the time so the revelations tell us nothing new. But if they knew it already (or thought they knew), why are they opposed to everyone knowing it? Or do they think that only the elites should know such things? One wonders whether if such people were living in the former East Germany, they would have approved of the Stasi and its program of collecting data on people. If they feel that what the Stasi did was wrong, then why do they think that what the NSA did is right?
The case of whistleblower Edward Snowden seems to have exposed the dividing line between authoritarians (those who are willing to give up their rights and place their trust in the government in the belief that the government is acting on their behalf and wants to take care of them) and anti-authoritarians (those who distrust the government and think that it basically works to serve its own needs and the needs of an oligarchy). The anti-authoritarians groups see transparency and openness as fundamentally good things because it exposes the true nature of government and whom it is working for.
The celebrated whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg is one of the transparency advocates and has been a consistent supporter of the practice of whistleblowing, repeatedly calling on people within government and private agencies to reveal any knowledge of wrongdoing that might be in their possession. Hardly anyone in the establishment criticizes Ellsberg now because the conventional wisdom has become that the Vietnam war was built on lies and Ellsberg is routinely praised for his actions in revealing those lies, though at the time he was vilified by the government and its supporters in much the same way that Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are now. People are always willing to praise dissenters and truth-tellers when the events have passed safely into history.
Ellsberg has been a consistent supporter of Manning and applauds the actions taken by Snowden. In an op-ed provocatively titled “Edward Snowden: saving us from the United Stasi of America” that deliberately draws the comparison with East Germany, he says that since the administration, congress, the judiciary, and much of the establishment media are complicit in this wrongdoing, it is only whistleblowers from whom we can get the truth. The defense by government supporters that what has been done is legal and with congressional oversight is disingenuous.
The government claims it has a court warrant under Fisa – but that unconstitutionally sweeping warrant is from a secret court, shielded from effective oversight, almost totally deferential to executive requests. As Russell Tice, a former National Security Agency analyst, put it: “It is a kangaroo court with a rubber stamp.”
For the president then to say that there is judicial oversight is nonsense – as is the alleged oversight function of the intelligence committees in Congress. Not for the first time – as with issues of torture, kidnapping, detention, assassination by drones and death squads –they have shown themselves to be thoroughly co-opted by the agencies they supposedly monitor. They are also black holes for information that the public needs to know.
The fact that congressional leaders were “briefed” on this and went along with it, without any open debate, hearings, staff analysis, or any real chance for effective dissent, only shows how broken the system of checks and balances is in this country.
Obviously, the United States is not now a police state. But given the extent of this invasion of people’s privacy, we do have the full electronic and legislative infrastructure of such a state [My italics-MS].
That is what Snowden has exposed, with official, secret documents. The NSA, FBI and CIA have, with the new digital technology, surveillance powers over our own citizens that the Stasi – the secret police in the former “democratic republic” of East Germany – could scarcely have dreamed of. Snowden reveals that the so-called intelligence community has become the United Stasi of America.
Ellsberg’s vigorous support of Manning and Snowden must really irk those who are trying to make the distinction that what Ellsberg did was different and right, while what Manning and Snowden did was wrong.
I agree with Ellsberg. We need a flood of whistleblowers to counter the obsessive secrecy of the national security state.