FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Risk of Snowden Fatigue

by BINOY KAMPMARK

Oh, the fury of the states at the peeping toms of Uncle Sam, the lusty search for data, material and subject matter.  The latest Edward Snowden spectacular has seen the Spanish government haul the US ambassador before its offices to deal with “doubts” arising from his country’s espionage exploits.  Spain’s EU minister, Inigo Mendez de Vigo, cited the familiar round of disapproval with the monitoring allegations, claiming that, if proven, they would be “inappropriate and unacceptable”.  An EU delegate in Washington was quoted by the BBC (Oct 28) as claiming that there had been “a breakdown in trust”.

The Spanish case, highlighted in detail in El Mundo, did more than raise the eyebrows of the public prosecutor, who explained on Monday that the NSA had violated the privacy of millions of Spaniards “which is punishable by up to four years in prison under Article 197 of the Penal Code.”  Much of this took place between December 2013 and January 2013.  US intelligence officials have responded by claiming that while telephone calls, the numbers of the callers, and recipients were logged, the contents of telephone call were not.  This goes to show how the NSA embraces the worst of both worlds: violating privacy, and doing it in a half-baked style.

The higher up the food chain of intelligence, the more revealing.  The German tabloid Bild am Sonntag, for all its smutty mercies, cited unnamed sources on Sunday that President Barack Obama had been told by the NSA director in 2010 that Angela Merkel’s phone was being tapped.  The NSA’s Vanee Vines responded that the NSA had done no such thing, though again, it did not quash suggestions that tapping of the German chancellor’s phone had never happened.  This was truth told in circuit.

Meetings have been held between representatives from the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and members of the US Congress.  The cool topic: the blanket surveillance of EU citizens, the almost avaricious manner the intelligence services have gone about their task.  One of the members of that delegation, British Labour MEP Claude Moraes, stated the objective.  “We wanted to transmit to them first that this mass surveillance of EU citizens is a genuine concern.”  Confidently, he claimed that those on the Hill were willing “to have some sort of dialogue.”

A few of those steeped in the surveillance culture genuinely can’t see what the fuss is about.  Why listen, suggest the NSA honchos, to the deliberations of a thief who risks lifting the veil of liberty from the American dream?  The NSA Director Keith Alexander is in a tizz and not entirely sure what to do.  He is adamant about one thing: such behaviour as that of Snowden’s must stop.  For the Defense Department’s Armed with Science blog, he claimed that, “We ought to come up with a way of stopping it.  I don’t know how to do that.”  From the director’s “perspective, it’s wrong to allow this to go on.”

Alexander’s description is dim witted.  He sees the disclosure of any secret documentation on surveillance as tantamount to selling material.  “I think it’s wrong that newspaper reporters have all these documents, the 50,000 – whatever they have and are selling them and giving them out as if these – you know it just doesn’t make sense”.  In a recently released YouTube video, Alexander ran with the “hero” line his agency was pursuing: “They do more to save our lives that anybody else that I know.  The leaker is not a hero.  He will have cost lives” (Mashable, Oct 28).  And naturally, such a mission of espionage helps America’s allies, those disgruntled ones unnecessarily concerned about the privacy of their irrelevant citizens. Such are the burdens of empire.

The observations here are prescient, for they chart the avenues open to the EU and their delegates.  Are they genuinely interested in a matter of halting the insidious surveillance culture that has crept around them and their citizens?  Or will they simply adopt the David Cameron model of plugging leaks and identifying the breaches in the dam spiced by the official stance of incandescent fury?  (There is a third, near unmentionable one: the Australian reaction, which is to say nothing, do nothing and hope for the best.)

Altruism and theft do not necessarily go hand in hand, and it all comes down to what proprietary interest one attaches to documents and the material contained therein.  Snowden can hardly have pilfered what was, in any case, information that the global public – and governments – should know about.  Distinctions about friend and foe have simply not applied here – this has become surveillance for surveillance’s own pitiful sake, a cry, perhaps, of an empire teetering rather than strutting.

Public knowledge remains the greatest threat against democratic corrosion.  It is that knowledge that renders the NSA paladins apoplectic, concerned that their ivory tower is finally coming down, or at the very least penetrated.  The only problem may end up being that they have nothing to worry about.  Outrage, if not channelled and used, is merely superfluous sentiment.  EU officials risk remaining sentimental in this regard rather than constructive.  After all, democracy is hardly their forte, and transparency even less so.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail