Daniel Ellsberg on the recent revelations

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.


  1. kraut says

    Yeah, but when the Stasi did it – it was for communism. The US does it for capitalism. BIG difference. And of course totally justifiable.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    The Stasi hired/coerced a lot of informers, enough so that most East Germans had to wonder about their own friends and family, and watch their words even in close company. That poisoned social networks in ways different from knowing that the little box in your pocket relays (some of) your private info to a mainframe somewhere.

    Also, the Stasi did their own door-breaking-down, “enhanced interrogations”, and executions. The NSA has maintained a cleaner image by being just one arm of a repressive multiplex, keeping its hands (relatively) clean because other agencies serve as the fists and boots and trigger fingers.

  3. curcuminoid says

    The US government coerces a lot of informants too. As Mano has discussed before, you should never ever talk to the police, FBI, or other federal agents without a lawyer and recording device present (preferably you shouldn’t be talking to them at all). The purpose of these interviews is usually to get you to lie to them (even accidentally) or, failing that, fake evidence that you lied to them. Since lying to a federal agent is a felony, they would then have you by the proverbial balls. This is a known tactic used to force innocent people to become informants or face severe criminal charges.

    Its also kind of splitting hairs to say the NSA isn’t Stasi-like because it doesn’t get its hands dirty. Think of all these agencies as one body (AKA the “Intelligence Community”) and you realize their all just different departments of the same organization.

    On a related note, these government actions have really clarified for me the Federalist & Anti-Federalist debate. I never really got what the Anti-Federalists were fighting against until now.

  4. wholething says

    Ecclesiastes 1:9
     What has been will be again,    
    what has been done will be done again;  
      there is nothing new under the sun.

    Ecclesiastes 10:20 
    Do not revile the king even in your thoughts,
        or curse the rich in your bedroom,
    Because a bird in the sky may carry your words,
        and a bird on the wing may report what you say.

  5. A Hermit says

    The bottom line for me; The people have a right to know know what their government is doing in their name. There may be some things that need to be kept quiet from the general public, but there should still be oversight; checks and balances and the people doing the information gathering need to be able to show a compelling need for their actions to an impartial audience, and to be held accountable when they over-reach.

    All this handwaving about “national security” isn’t good enough.

  6. says

    we do have the full electronic and legislative infrastructure of such a state

    It’s very dangerous. As soon as there’s a division among the power elites and one side or the other realizes they can turn the machinery of the police state against the other, then it’s going to be the end of the republic. This is another step on the slide into fascism ( http://fabiusmaximus.com/2013/06/13/fascism-51325/ )

  7. Hamilton Jacobi says

    The US isn’t doing it for capitalism, they’re doing it for freedom. So enjoy your Freedom Fries and let’s all extend a warm welcome to Big Brother.

  8. kraut says

    “What’s in a name? A prism breaks light into a spectrum of color. PRISM, as expressed in its Dark Side of the Moon-ish logo, is no less than a graphic expression of the ultimate Pentagon/neo-con wet dream; the Full Spectrum Dominance doctrine.

    The NSA – also known as No Such Agency – is part of the Pentagon.

    Full Spectrum Dominance was conceptualized in the Pentagon’s 2002 Joint Vision 2020. [1] It’s the Pentagon/NSA blueprint for the foreseeable future; in trademark Pentagonese, it identifies “four capabilities – “dominant maneuver, precision engagement, focused logistics and full-dimensional protection”. In sum: Total Information Awareness (TIA).

    “Following the money, the security privatization racket and Snowden’s moves – all at the same time – allows for a wealth of savory scenarios … starting with selected players embedded in the NSA-centric Matrix node making a financial killing with inside information.

    Snowden did not expose anything that was not already known – or at least suspected – since 2002. So it’s business as usual for those running the game. The only difference is the (Digital Blackwater) Big Brother is Watching You ethos is now in the open. TIA, a bunch of wealthy investors and a sound business plan – privatized Full Spectrum Dominance – all remain in play. From now on, it’s just a matter of carefully, gradually guiding US public opinion to fully “normalize” TIA. After all, we’re making all these sacrifices to protect you.”


  9. baal says

    I remember hearing a number of stories of folks who got their Stasi files after the communist dominoes tumbled back in the ’90s. One prominent theme of those stories was “yeah we knew there was huge spying but I had no idea how broad and invasive it was”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *