FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Snowden Testimony

If you want to help me, help me by helping everyone: declare that the indiscriminate, bulk collection of private data by governments is a violation of our rights and must end.

-Edward Snowden, Testimony, Mar 7, 2014

The case of Edward Snowden is an object study about why whistleblowers have mountains to climb when it comes to revealing abuses within a system. Last Friday1, Snowden detailed a series of answers to submitted questions from the European Parliament outlining what those mountains were.

One particularly troubling one is the pressure exerted by the US intelligence community to spread the web of surveillance through its allies, notably by means of a “European bazaar” of intelligence transfer and sharing. “One of the foremost activities of the NSA’s FAD, or Foreign Affairs Division, is to pressure or incentivize EU member states to change their laws to enable mass surveillance.” Legal teams at the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ “work very hard to search for loopholes in laws and constitutional protections that they can use to justify indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance operations that were at best unwittingly authorised by lawmakers.”

Specific examples include pressure on Germany to degrade its G-10 law “to appease the NSA”, the effect of which would diminish civil liberties protected under the Constitution. Agreements are then made with various countries that seemingly protect their citizens while allowing the NSA to spy on others. Just because the NSA promises not to spy on German citizens in Germany does not mean they will not do so from Denmark. The noose is thereby tightened. Each “individual contribution is enabling the greater patchwork of mass surveillance against ordinary citizens as a whole.”

Snowden ventured no less than 10 times2 to make formal complaints about the various government spy programs before releasing information. The National Security Agency disputes3 such efforts claiming that, “after extensive investigation, including interviews with former NSA supervisors and co-workers, we have not found any evidence to support Mr. Snowden’s contention that he brought these matters to anyone’s attention.”

Presidential Policy Directive 194, a measure that supposedly grants federal employees scope to question classified programs, did not prove very useful. At a news conference in August, President Obama pointed out that Snowden might well have availed himself of “other avenues”, suggesting that PPD 19 was one.

The directive itself “prohibits retaliation against employees for reporting waste, fraud and abuse” and protects employees serving in the Intelligence community or those “eligible for access to classified information”. As with any of these directives, the measure is designed to avoid any disclosure outside the structured channels advocated by the President, keeping it within the remit of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The impediment to Snowden was one that private contractors with access to government information find – the protective loop is simply not there. Governments can effectively evade the internal restrictions placed on their employees via an outsourcing mechanism. “As an employee of a private company rather than a direct employee of the US government, I was not protected by US whistleblower laws, and I would not have been protected from retaliation and legal sanction for revealing classified information about law breaking in accordance with the recommended process.”

The intelligence fraternity, like any other bound by oaths, is bound by self-assumptions of archaic loyalty and sinister practice. The very idea that aspects of it might be questioned is highly problematic. Snowden’s descriptions of reactions to his concerns fell into two camps. The first involved “well-meaning but hushed warnings not to ‘rock the boat’.” Remember the fates, he was cautioned, of those other NSA whistleblowers, such as Wiebe, Binney and Drake. “Everyone in the Intelligence Community is aware of what happens to people who report concerns about unlawful but authorised operations.” The second response tended to be the dismissive one – it was someone else’s problem. Besides, complaining about it would not necessarily result in ending the unlawful program while more than likely ending a career.

Snowden’s testimony put more meat on the body of the security states whose complexes he has so spectacularly exposed. It demonstrates the intelligence communities in question are not so much interested to abide by rules than evade them through agreements, forum shopping and outsourcing. They do so, of course, at the behest of their executives and not-so-bright parliamentarians.

While these programs have the effect of chipping away at the corpus of civil liberties, they are fundamentally worthless – “no western government has been able to present evidence showing that such programs are necessary.” People have tended to be saved, as Snowden ventures with the example of the Underwear Bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, not through mass surveillance as good, old fashioned incompetence. Things as they stand are “the inevitable result of subordinating the rights of the voting public to the prerogatives of State Security Bureaus”.

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

More articles by:

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

April 26, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
As Trump Berates Iran, His Options are Limited
Daniel Warner
From May 1968 to May 2018: Politics and Student Strikes
Simone Chun – Kevin Martin
Diplomacy in Korea and the Hope It Inspires
George Wuerthner
The Attack on Wilderness From Environmentalists
CJ Hopkins
The League of Assad-Loving Conspiracy Theorists
Richard Schuberth
“MeToo” and the Liberation of Sex
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Sacred Assemblies in Baghdad
Dean Baker
Exonerating Bad Economic Policy for Trump’s Win
Vern Loomis
The 17 Gun Salute
Gary Leupp
What It Means When the U.S. President Conspicuously and Publicly Removes a Speck of Dandruff from the French President’s Lapel
Robby Sherwin
The Hat
April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail