The days are longer now, which means that sleep is hard to come by. A combination of the heat, the mosquitoes and the sunlight – to set aside the aches of an older body – make it so much more difficult to dream. But this also means nightmares are in short supply, those terrors of the dark that haunted me so many years ago when I understood so little even when I could remember so much more. It is evening now, and the day winds to a close. I shall soon shut down my computer, pick up the book I am reading, make my way to bed and read till it becomes impossible to concentrate. That never takes long. What takes longer is the falling asleep.
Sitting in a plastic chair in a lonely transit lounge, an orphan of nation-states, carrier of the worst kind of secrets, magnet for the worst kind of slurs – I can see you sitting there. You are only twenty-nine. You are full of fear. “I could be rendered by the CIA,” you told Glenn Greenwald. “And that’s a fear I’ll live under for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be.” This is an enormous burden to carry. The choice was simple: “you can get up every day, go to work, you can collect your large pay check for relatively little work against the public interest, and go to sleep at night after watching your shows” or you can make a ruckus. The first sounds a lot like the lives some lead, whether as financial wizards whose alchemy makes our labour into their wealth, or else as technomancers whose guile changes the shape of world events to suit the interests of the few against the many. Even though these bureaucrats of the world disorder are not allowed into the inner reaches of Richistan, the rewards are enough to cultivate habits of disdain for the introspection and outrages of morality. You had the bad luck to fall prey to that inner voice. It can bring grief, but also relief.
Those who hire people like you are tempted by the genius of youth – your facility with computers and your devotion to long hours are something that the Acronyms of Power cannot avoid. Thousands such as yourself are sucked into the system, promised free dinners and expensive houses, afforded the electric proximity to power as an elixir against ethics. What they did not understand is that people like you who have such capability in your fingertips are also afforded a brain, and that the brain is an unreliable servant. Inside those thousands such as yourself lurk lineages of thought – deep commitments to the Internet as Nirvana, and wide reaching linkages to friends whose own lives have been catapulted by the financial downturn. The Morse code of Anonymous and Occupy drilled an ethical migraine into your brilliant heads. You are not alone. There are many like you who are equally unmoored from the work that you have been doing for the world disorder.
Others before you had alerted the world to NSA espionage, people such as NSA employee Russell Tice (as early as May 2005) and AT&T employee Mark Klein. Several others blew the whistle on racial profiling and on unethical treatment of prisoners in the post-911 period, people such as Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld as well as former FBI agents Bassem Youssef and Sibel Edmonds. Then, of course, there is Bradley Manning, who is facing a court martial in Maryland, where you once lived. Manning’s release through Wikileaks lifted the lid from under sleazy diplomatic manoeuvres and provided compelling evidence of war crimes (notably through video of the 2007 Apache Gunship murder of Iraqi civilians). People like Bradley Manning and you have no other avenue to remain true to your conscience than to come out to the public. The Whistleblower Protection Act excludes people who work in the intelligence community. In 2006, Thomas Gimble, Inspector General for the Department of Defense, told the US Congress that the name Intelligence Community Whistleblower Act of 1998 “is a misnomer.” The Act actually protects classified information that comes to Congress from the Executive branch. Smoke and mirrors. “If living unfreely but comfortably is something you’re willing to accept,” you told Greenwald, then so be it. People like Manning and Tice, and of course you, have no other option – what you did is what you must do.
In television stations across the United States, liberal commentators shrug off the calming presence of their café lattes to hyperventilate about your treasonous behaviour. You should have turned yourself in, they say, as Daniel Ellsberg did (although Ellsberg himself says that the times have changed, and he too would have fled, sitting with you in a Moscow airport, watching the time slip by with too hot coffee in too badly insulated cups). You have taken refuge with totalitarian regimes, they say, as if your revelations have not shown the totalitarian nature of the government that tore up your passport. You have secrets in your computers that you have sold to the enemy, they say, when you had already told them, “If I had just wanted to harm the US? You could shut down the surveillance system in an afternoon. But that’s not my intention.” Those who spy on the world accuse you of being a spy, a logical train of thought that does not interfere with the blather that slips so easily from a liberalism entombed in the aspic of imperial arrogance.
Events in Egypt – the enormous energy of the population that has taken to the streets on several occasions to defend their vision for the future combined with the tragedy that their hopes might be narrowed to a two horse race between the Army and the Muslim Brotherhood – help focus my mind. So does the news that the North Atlantic states put the life of the Bolivian president Evo Morales in peril because they thought that you might be on that aircraft. Bombs went off in the Mahabodhi temple in India, where the Buddha gained Enlightenment. On Twitter, a friend writes, “Gautam Buddha would just smile and go back to his meditation. Mere mortals fighting for power in this life of maya.” But Buddha was a canny observer of the world of maya. “The King, although he may be the ruler of all land this side of the sea, up to the ocean’s shore, would, still insatiate, covet that which is beyond the sea.” That is the King of Profit and Power whose will is omnipotence and, as you know better than us, omniscience.
Beneath these colossal tragedies, this “ocean of misery,” as the Buddha put it, lies an alternative. The Buddha could not establish it. “I have gained coolness,” he said, “and have attained nirvana.” It was his task to “go out” of the social world and to “arrive at” his preferred community of the monks. The exit and re-entry is no longer as it was then – now it is to “go out” of the clutches of the Washington Consensus and to “arrive at” a new dispensation that suits the people. Latin America is closer to its objective, which is why it has the courage to welcome you, as it did Julian Assange. I hope you will find a way to get there – a UN laissez-passer to ease the passage to Caracas, to Managua or to Quito. Perhaps someday we can meet in Plaza Bolívar at Café Venezuela, drink a café bombon and watch Egypt’s revolution consolidate into the kind of catalyst for Latin America that Venezuela has become.
Better burn this.
Vijay Prashad will be in conversation with his editor Andy Hsiao (Verso Books) at the Brecht Forum on July 24 in New York City on his new book, The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South.