It looks like Edward Snowden is settling in to life in Russia, learning the language and the culture. He may well decide to stay on there if the Russian government lets him. Although he apparently travels freely and is unrecognized by people, he is living incognito at a secret location with security, presumably just in case the US government gets an insane idea to kidnap or even kill him. They are less likely to do that in Russia than in some smaller country like Venezuela or Ecuador because the US government, like all bullies, only picks on people that cannot fight back.
The impact of Snowden’s work continues to reverberate around the world. The Brazilian president postponed a state visit to the US in reaction to reports of the US spying on her communications. The country is also considering projects that will enable their internet communications to bypass the US. Although many in the US may think this is not a major issue, thinking of Brazil as just another insignificant third world country, they are mistaken. It is one of the biggest countries in the world, with an area almost equal to that of the US and a population of 200 millions and an economy that is growing rapidly. It is one of the so-called BRICS consortium (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) that seeks to balance out the US-European dominance of the global economy.
Meanwhile in the US, the Snowden revelations have sparked more openness. The FISA court judges, smarting from accusations that they have become accomplices in the secret government spying program by rubber-stamping the spying requests it receives is arguing for more openness of its proceedings.
The court that oversees US surveillance has ordered the government to review for declassification a set of secret rulings about the National Security Agency’s bulk trawls of Americans’ phone records, acknowledging that disclosures by the whistleblower Edward Snowden had triggered an important public debate.
The Fisa court ordered the Justice Department to identify the court’s own rulings after May 2011 that concern a section of the Patriot Act used by the NSA to justify its mass database of American phone data. The ruling was a significant step towards their publication.
It is the second time in a week that a US court has ordered the disclosure of secret intelligence rulings. On Tuesday, a federal court in New York compelled the government to declassify numerous documents that revealed substantial tension between federal authorities and the surveillance court over the years.
Meanwhile, conflicting reports are emerging about the extent to which the government knows what documents were taken by Snowden. Earlier reports on August 20 said that they had little idea but later reports on September 18 said that the reason Edward Snowden had access to such a large cache of documents was because it was his job to move the documents to more secure locations and that was why he was able to take them without detection but that they knew what he had taken. As is usually the case, some of this information is given to reporters by anonymous government sources so one has to factor in the fact that they are pushing an agenda. It may well be that they have decided that acting like they know what information is out there makes them look more in control than giving the impression that they are like the rest of us, waiting to see what bombshell will explode next.
David Kravets lists the six ‘biggest whoppers’ put out by the NSA and its supporters in the wake of the NSA revelations, made by senator Diane Feinstein (a person with one of the worst records on civil liberties), Director of National Intelligence and admitted liar who still has his job James Clapper, head of the NSA Keith Alexander, attorney general Eric Holder, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, and president Obama. Isn’t it comforting to know that the people at the highest levels of government are such brazen liars?
There is no question that Edward Snowden has emerged as a heroic figure to many in the internet technology world, in which technical skill and commitment to openness are highly valued. What Snowden has revealed shows that the government works completely against that goal. In an open letter to the next unknown whistleblower, Tom Englehardt argues that the secretive system that the government has created is what will guarantee the generation of future whistleblowers who will be repulsed by it.
I don’t know who you are or what you do or how old you may be. I just know that you exist somewhere in our future as surely as does tomorrow or next year. You may be young and computer-savvy or a career federal employee well along in years. You might be someone who entered government service filled with idealism or who signed on to “the bureaucracy” just to make a living. You may be a libertarian, a closet left-winger, or as mainstream and down-the-center as it’s possible to be.
I don’t know much, but I know one thing that you may not yet know yourself. I know that you’re there. I know that, just as Edward Snowden and Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning did, you will, for reasons of your own, feel compelled to take radical action, to put yourself in danger. When the time comes, you will know that this is what you must do, that this is why you find yourself where you are, and then you’re going to tell us plenty that has been kept from us about how our government really operates. You are going to shock us to the core.
And how exactly do I know this? Because despite our striking inability to predict the future, it’s a no-brainer that the national security state is already building you into its labyrinthine systems. In the urge of its officials to control all of us and every situation, in their mania for all-encompassing secrecy, in their classification not just of the millions of documents they generate, but essentially all their operations as “secret” or “top secret,” in their all-encompassing urge to shut off the most essential workings of the government from the eyes of its citizenry, in their escalating urge to punish anyone who would bring their secret activities to light, in their urge to see or read or listen in on or peer into the lives of you (every “you” on the planet), in their urge to build a global surveillance state and a military that will dominate everything in or out of its path, in their urge to drop bombs on Pakistan and fire missiles at Syria, in their urge to be able to assassinate just about anyone just about anywhere robotically, they are birthing you.
I hope he is right. I think he is right. Just as surely as authoritarian governments try to control their populations, courageous individuals fight back and rally opposition.
Snowden, Manning, Thomas Drake, William Binney, Jessalyn Radack, John Kiriakou, and others have blazed a trail for what one form of anti-authoritarian activism looks like in the information world, just as Occupy Wall Street created another form for the financial world.
There will be others.