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Now that Edward Snowden is safely away out of the clutches of the US police state, at least for now, let’s take a moment to contemplate how this one brave man’s principled confrontation with the Orwellian US government has damaged our national security state.
Firstly, there are the four computers loaded with National Security Agency secrets, which have already exposed the details of how our government is monitoring our entire national communications grid, prying into the details of the telephonic and internet activity of every American citizen. We’ve only begun to learn about the ugly totalitarian activities of our government, and now that Snowden is safe from arrest, we will no doubt learn much more.
Second, the US has been humiliated by both China and Russia, which have demonstrated dramatically that they cannot be intimidated by the world’s dominant superpower, which stands revealed as less super and less powerful than it has been claiming. China, according to local experts on Hong Kong/China relations like Chinese University of Hong Kong professor Willie Lam, intervened in the legal process to tell Hong Kong authorities not to honor the US government’s arrest warrant on espionage and theft of official secrets charges, and to allow him to leave the territory. Russia, meanwhile, whose President Vladimir Putin had already volunteered to grant Snowden amnesty, provided the world’s most celebrated whistleblower a seat on an Aeroflot flight from Hong Kong to Moscow, where he just landed safely today.
The US was left to bluster impotently that Hong Kong’s unwillingness to arrest and hold Snowden in response to the US indictment and extradition request was a sign that the Hong Kong Special Administration Region, which is supposed, under Chinese Law, to have autonomy from Beijing, and to be able to follow its own laws, including an extradition treaty with the US which was signed a year before the territory was handed over from British to Chinese control in 1996, was actually not so autonomous. As an unidentified “senior official” of the Obama administration was reported saying to the Washington Post, “”If Hong Kong doesn’t act soon, it will complicate our bilateral relations and raise questions about Hong Kong’s commitment to the rule of law.”
That line must be evoking gales of laughter around the world, and could also be a laugh line for local comics here in the US, where the rule of law died years ago with the illegal invasion of Iraq, the illegal secret rendition, detainment and torture of hundreds of suspects in the Bush/Obama “War” on Terror, the continued operation of the internationally illegal Guantanamo Bay detention and torture center, the three-year detainment without trial and torture of Army whistleblower Bradley Manning, the extra-legal killing of Americans by drone-launched missile attacks, and the NSA spying on all Americans, begun as early as 2007. Meanwhile, the high-minded sounding US talk about respecting the “rule of law” has also been exposed as a fraud by the latest execution slaying of Ibragim Todashev, shot six times, including an execution shot to the back of the head, by an FBI agent at the end of a three-hour middle-of-the-night interrogation in Todashev’s Orlando, Florida apartment. Todashev, an acquaintance of slain Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, had been being interrogated by three FBI agents, along with several Massachusetts State Troopers, when all but one agent inexplicably left the room, leaving him alone with one agent. The agent claims Todashev attacked him, initially claiming that all manner of weapons were involved, but later admitted the suspect was unarmed. Nonetheless, the agent emptied his revolver into the man. It subsequently came out that in 150 cases of FBI agents shooting a suspect since 1993 (including 70 fatalities), investigations by the FBI had concluded that “all were justified.” (Even the LAPD and the NYPD don’t make that kind of an absurd claim.) Snowden’s revelations also exposed the US as a hypocrite in accusing China of criminally hacking into US corporate and government computers. It turns out that the US itself is the biggest official hacker, with a massive campaign, run out of the NSA, of hacking into Chinese, Hong Kong, Iranian and other countries’ computer systems, and of actually engaging in a kind of undeclared computer warfare against rival states against which this country is not, officially, at war.
All in all, Snowden, acting on his own at great personal risk, has done a remarkable amount of damage to the US national security state. He has not, as the fascist apologists in Congress, in the Obama administration and in the media are howling, damaged US security, or put American lives in jeopardy. On the contrary, he has damaged those in power who are undermining Americans’ freedom and what is left of our democracy. Most Americans seem to get this, even in the face of several weeks of an orchestrated government and corporate media campaign to smear him and label him a traitor, with even poorly worded polls showing that 54 percent of Americans think Snowden should be prosecuted for what he did, but 49% say the release of classified government information “serves rather than harms” the public interest. As well, 63 percent say their privacy would be violated if information has been collected by the NSA about their communications.
Here’s hoping Snowden finds a safe place to settle down — whether it’s Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador or wherever (my advice would be Uruguay) — and that he manages to obtain protection against criminal US efforts to terminate him or to rendition him to Guantanamo or to a US holding cell. From there, he can judiciously release more of his trove of data, further exposing and undermining the workings of the US security state. One thing is certain: The US government’s offing or locking away of Snowden would do nothing at this point to stop the flow of information about the workings of the NSA’s domestic and international spying operation. His data is now, almost certainly, also in the hands of Russian, and possibly Chinese authorities, as well as journalists and the Wikileaks organization, which, according to founder Julian Assange, was instrumental in helping Snowden arrange for asylum from the US torture/prosecution machine, including helping him obtain travel documents after the US, on Saturday, revoked his US passport, effectively making him a “stateless” person (so much for that US citizenship we all assume is our birthright).
DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).