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:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 30, 2016
Russell Mokhiber
Matt Funiciello and the Giant Sucking Sound Coming Off Lake Champlain
Mike Whitney
Three Cheers for Kaepernick: Is Sitting During the National Anthem an Acceptable Form of Protest?
Alice Bach
Sorrow and Grace in Palestine
Sam Husseini
Why We Should All Remain Seated: the Anti-Muslim Origins of “The Star-Spangled Banner”
Richard Moser
Transformative Movement Culture and the Inside/Outside Strategy: Do We Want to Win the Argument or Build the Movement?
Nozomi Hayase
Pathology, Incorporated: the Facade of American Democracy
David Swanson
Fredric Jameson’s War Machine
Jan Oberg
How Did the West Survive a Much Stronger Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact?
Linda Gunter
The Racism of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima Bombings
Dmitry Kovalevich
In Ukraine: Independence From the People
Omar Kassem
Turkey Breaks Out in Jarablus as Fear and Loathing Grip Europe
George Wuerthner
A Birthday Gift to the National Parks: the Maine Woods National Monument
Logan Glitterbomb
Indigenous Property Rights and the Dakota Access Pipeline
National Lawyers Guild
Solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against Dakota Access Pipeline
Paul Messersmith-Glavin
100 in Anarchist Years
August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Burkinis: the Politics of Beachwear
Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail