FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

NSA Spying: From the UN to PRISM

by MARCIA MITCHELL

“It’s déjà vu all over again.” It was Yogi Berra’s classic observation in 1947, and one eminently appropriate for Edward Snowden more than a half century later. Only the subject now is NSA secret operations, not baseball. Specifically, the déjà vu observation refers to an earlier leak of that agency’s secret operations. And this time, unlike before, America is taking notice.

Clandestine snooping by the National Security Agency? A member of an intelligence agency leaking secrets? All that’s new here is the abundant attention focused on this latest example of NSA’s enormous power to play by whatever rules it establishes—or by no rules at all.

Last time around, it was the London Observer revealing NSA’s clandestine operation. This time it’s the Guardian. British press lighting the stage, illuminating an American cast.

Entering into the heated, certainly contentious, discussion about the Snowden disclosure is a panoply of concerns. National security versus civil rights, the extent and powers of the Patriot Act, the sharing of secrets, hero versus criminal, whistleblower versus leaker. All hot topics.

Here’s the déjà vu aspect that deserves our attention: Exactly ten years ago, this same all-powerful agency launched an illegal spy operation against representatives of six members of the UN Security Council in an attempt to convince those members to vote in favor of a US-UK resolution legitimizing the invasion of Iraq. It doesn’t take rocket science to determine just how personal information about the six could be used to influence their vote—according to NSA’s secret memorandum—“to obtain results favorable to US goals.” In the ten-year-old case, newspapers worldwide (except in the US) ran banner headlines reading, “US Dirty Tricks at the UN.” Readers wondered about a game of high-stakes blackmail.

Katharine Gun, a British Secret Service office stationed at GCHQ in Cheltenham, England, received a copy of NSA’s invitation to join in the illegal UNSC operation, and made the same decision as did spytriedSnowden. She leaked the information. She was 27 at the time. Snowden is 29.

Within a matter of weeks, Katharine was arrested for high crime against her country, George W. Bush and Tony Blair withdrew the controversial proposed resolution, and we went to war.

Later, looking back, Michael Hayden, the agency’s director at the time, told C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb that the NSA works only within the confines of the law, within “what’s legally permitted.” This would not be the only time he would insist that everything the NSA did was in compliance with the law. But spying on the UN was not legal. One of the questions that will not go away, especially with the present attention focused on the Snowden case, is what US intelligence can do legally and what it cannot.

For the most part, the fact that Hayden’s claim is at best controversial and at worst a lie has escaped public notice until now. But not this time, because the media are watching and Snowden is speaking out. In an extensive interview, he defended his seeking sanctuary in Hong Kong and denied that he was, in fact, defecting to China, “an enemy of America.” China, he observed is not America’s “enemy.” We are significant trade partners. We are not at war. Apparently, he feels safer in Hong Kong than in the US.

Snowden left the country believing he was a target, that he would spend the rest of his life concerned about retribution for having leaked NSA secrets. As for questionable Big Brother behavior by intelligence agencies, “It will only get worse until policy changes,” he said. Seeking a policy paradigm switch that protects both the individual and the nation challenges all Americans—except for those determined to retain the status quo.

Snowden is right to be concerned about the quality of his future life. Katharine Gun didn’t run. After first denying that it was she who leaked the NSA illegal spy operation, she confessed. Married only a few months, she knew at the time that her plans for the future were shattered. After a year awaiting trial, charges against her were dropped the day her trial opened at the Old Bailey. The Government, with her signed confession in hand, chose not to present evidence that the invasion of Iraq was, in fact, legal, a demand by the Defense.

Life for Katharine since she was granted freedom has been difficult. An expert in Oriental languages and a Mandarin translator at the time of her arrest, finding and keeping employment has been difficult. For a time, she tried living in another country. Nothing will ever be the same. Yet, she has no regrets.

As she left the courtroom, Katharine’s response to questions about why she did what she did were very much like Snowden’s. “I only followed my conscience,” she said, adding, “I would do it again.” This holds today.

Actor Sean Penn put it beautifully in speaking about Katharine: “It was a decision of conscience in a world where nobody celebrates that. She will go down in history as a hero of the human spirit.”

In contrast, former Prime Minister Tony Blair saw Gun differently, and would likely see Snowden through the same lens.

“We are going to be in a very dangerous situation as a country if people feel they can simply spill out secrets or details of security operations, whether false or true, and get away with it.”

For Snowden, time will tell what “getting away with it” really means.

Marcia Mitchell is co-author of The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 28, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Slandering Populism: a Chilling Media Habit
Andrew Levine
Why I Fear and Loathe Trump Even More Now Than On Election Day
Jeffrey St. Clair
Mountain of Tears: the Vanishing Glaciers of the Pacific Northwest
Philippe Marlière
The Neoliberal or the Fascist? What Should French Progressives Do?
Conn Hallinan
America’s New Nuclear Missile Endangers the World
Peter Linebaugh
Omnia Sunt Communia: May Day 2017
Vijay Prashad
Reckless in the White House
Brian Cloughley
Who Benefits From Prolonged Warfare?
Kathy Kelly
The Shame of Killing Innocent People
Ron Jacobs
Hate Speech as Free Speech: How Does That Work, Exactly?
Andre Vltchek
Middle Eastern Surgeon Speaks About “Ecology of War”
Matt Rubenstein
Which Witch Hunt? Liberal Disanalogies
Sami Awad - Yoav Litvin - Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Never Give Up: Nonviolent Civilian Resistance, Healing and Active Hope in the Holyland
Pete Dolack
Tribunal Finds Monsanto an Abuser of Human Rights and Environment
Christopher Ketcham
The Coyote Hunt
Mike Whitney
Putin’s New World Order
Ramzy Baroud
Palestinian, Jewish Voices Must Jointly Challenge Israel’s Past
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 100 Days of Rage and Rapacity
Harvey Wasserman
Marine Le Pen Is a Fascist—Not a ‘Right-Wing Populist,’ Which Is a Contradiction in Terms
William Hawes
World War Whatever
John Stanton
War With North Korea: No Joke
Jim Goodman
NAFTA Needs to be Replaced, Not Renegotiated
Murray Dobbin
What is the Antidote to Trumpism?
Louis Proyect
Left Power in an Age of Capitalist Decay
Medea Benjamin
Women Beware: Saudi Arabia Charged with Shaping Global Standards for Women’s Equality
Rev. William Alberts
Selling Spiritual Care
Peter Lee
Invasion of the Pretty People, Kamala Harris Edition
Cal Winslow
A Special Obscenity: “Guernica” Today
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey’s Kurdish Agenda
Guillermo R. Gil
The Senator Visits Río Piedras
Jeff Mackler
Mumia Abu-Jamal Fights for a New Trial and Freedom 
Cesar Chelala
The Responsibility of Rich Countries in Yemen’s Crisis
Leslie Watson Malachi
Women’s Health is on the Chopping Block, Again
Basav Sen
The Coal Industry is a Job Killer
Judith Bello
Rojava, a Popular Imperial Project
Robert Koehler
A Public Plan for Peace
Sam Pizzigati
The Insider Who Blew the Whistle on Corporate Greed
Nyla Ali Khan
There Has to be a Way Out of the Labyrinth
Michael J. Sainato
Trump Scales Back Antiquities Act, Which Helped to Create National Parks
Stu Harrison
Under Duterte, Filipino Youth Struggle for Real Change
Martin Billheimer
Balm for Goat’s Milk
Stephen Martin
Spooky Cookies and Algorithmic Steps Dystopian
Michael Doliner
Thank You Note
Charles R. Larson
Review: Gregor Hens’ “Nicotine”
David Yearsley
Handel’s Executioner
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail