Intelligence Gathering, Subjects and Citizens


I just want my Constitution back.

-Thomas Drake, former NSA senior executive, July 29, 2014

Both Thomas Drake and Jesselyn Radack are familiar names in the world of whistleblowing. They are currently visiting Australia, giving talks and presentations on the subject of how estranged subjects of the state can reclaim their citizenry. In a neat, taut presentation by both speakers at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne on Tuesday, both outlined the seminal points of the whistleblowing mandate and the consequences of not being one. (We know all too well the consequences that face those who do take that pathway of conversion.)

Drake is one of the few in the growing collective of whistleblowers that has a direct line of inspiration for former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, having himself worked as a senior executive of the National Security Agency. Radack represented Drake in the legal proceedings against him, and was herself a whistleblower in disclosing FBI misconduct in the interrogation of John Walker Lindh, known more popularly as the “American Taliban”. Snowden has also retained Radack as one of his legal representatives.

The language of subjects reclaiming citizenry may seem alien to those of the digital age, where information as concept and presence is ubiquitous. Human beings are units of cumulative data, even as they vote, purchase, and fornicate. Both activists are waging a war against apathy – the disabling apathy that assumes that the totally accessible being, one whose information is readily available for perusal by the powerful, and the secret fraternity, is a worthy idea.

The police state set piece will always be the same in this regard: if you have done nothing contrary to the laws, there will be no retribution or punishment. This logic, by extension, applies to concealing the abuses of that every state. Only the state breaks laws, and remedies them. Citizens (now rendered docile subjects in the digital age) are required to heel.

Drake did come across as gloomy, and he has every reason to. He was hounded, threatened and faced the prospect of having the key thrown away for decades for mishandling documents under the Espionage Act. In June 2011, the 10 original charges filed against him were dropped, leaving the way for a plea for misusing a computer. He now works in an Apple store in Maryland, having had his security access revoked, and the circle of friends within the intelligence community withdrawn. Mixing with Drake is dangerous business if you want to get far on the retirement plan and keep sighing at the picket fence. This is the “radioactive” dilemma – one which the hardened whistleblower faces. Expose, and the world withdraws.

Drake demonstrated the all too problematic of paradoxes in modern intelligence gathering: that efficiency does not lie in massive, bulk collection alone. It lies, rather, in the aptitudes of selection, discrimination and proportion. The move from the analogue world to a digital one has made the gatherers of data lazy, the modern equivalent of gouty, slothful aristocrats.

Both Radack and Drake played much on the metaphor of the haystack and needles. The haystack is simply been filled with more hay, enlarged by the scope of inquiry being pursued by the likes of NSA and GCHQ. The result is that either the needle vanishes, or everything becomes a needle. Perspective here is obliterated.

The whistleblower in national security offers the best corrective to the abusive reach of power, providing the means to return citizenry to individuals who are mere subjects of data and collection. The dangers apparent in the very idea of information collection lie in the precise lack of relationship between agency and citizen. You are not a citizen before the collection demons, but a mere subject of analysis. There is no contractual relationship, either socially or politically, between the NSA operator and the subject he or she examines. The electoral link between representative and citizen is thereby circumvented.

The obsession with controlling very facet of information, data collection, and retention, as a means of protecting a state’s security, has become pathological. This is the message from Drake and Radack. Such pathologies tend to prove grossly inefficient in the main, and very dangerous when left to unguided frolics.

The distance between the scribbles of the Constitution, and the exercise of rights, is becoming wider in the United States. It is even wider in countries, such as Australia, where the very idea of a bill of rights is treated with apoplectic aversion by those who believe that the wisdom of the common law will prevail. Currently, the Australian Attorney General, George Brandis, is busying himself with finding new offences in terms of punishing public disclosure, and protecting the domestic and external intelligence services from the reaches of the law. Freedom is fine, as long as it is exercised by the right sort.

While President Harry Truman ushered in the national security state in titanic confrontations, actual and imaginary, with communism, the post 9/11 world ushered in an intelligence hobgoblin beyond the rule of law. Attempts to claw back that relationship between data and the citizen is one of the most important projects of our time. An intelligence community operating within the tight embrace of the law is not only one that is safer, but one that is invariably more efficient in what it does. The perception of where the needle lies, and what it is, needs to change.

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

Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxemburg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
Majd Isreb
America’s Spirit, Syrian Connection
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving