Glenn Greenwald has written an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times. In this editorial he asserts that American spies are motivated primarily by the desire to thwart terrorist plots. Such that their inability to do so (i.e. the attacks in Paris) coupled with the associated embarrassment motivates a public relations campaign against Ed Snowden. Greenwald further concludes that recent events are being opportunistically leveraged by spy masters to pressure tech companies into installing back doors in their products. Over the course of this article what emerges is a worldview which demonstrates a remarkable tendency to accept events at face value, a stance that’s largely at odds with Snowden’s own documents and statements.
For example, Greenwald states that American spies have a single overriding goal, to “find and stop people who are plotting terrorist attacks.” To a degree this concurs with the official posture of the intelligence community. Specifically, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence specifies four topical missions in its National Intelligence Strategy: Cyber Intelligence, Counterterrorism, Counterproliferation, and Counterintelligence.
Yet Snowden himself dispels this notion. In an open letter to Brazil he explained that “these [mass surveillance] programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.”
And the public record tends to support Snowden’s observation. If the NSA is truly focused on combatting terrorism it has an odd habit of spying on oil companies in Brazil and Venezuela. In addition anyone who does their homework understands that the CIA has a long history of overthrowing governments. This has absolutely nothing to do with stopping terrorism and much more to do with catering to powerful business interests in places like Iran (British Petroleum), Guatemala (United Fruit), and Chile (ITT Corporation). The late Michael Ruppert characterized the historical links between spies and the moneyed elite as follows: “The CIA is Wall Street, and Wall Street is the CIA.”
The fact that Greenwald appears to accept the whole “stopping terrorism” rationale is extraordinary all by itself. But things get even more interesting…
Near the end of his article Greenwald notes that the underlying motivation behind the recent uproar of spy masters “is to depict Silicon Valley as terrorist-helpers for the crime of offering privacy protections to Internet users, in order to force those companies to give the U.S. government ‘backdoor’ access into everyone’s communications.”
But if history shows anything, it’s that the perception of an adversarial relationship between government spies and corporate executives has often concealed secret cooperation. Has Greenwald never heard of Crypto AG, or RSA, or even Google? These are companies who at the time of their complicity marketed themselves as protecting user privacy. In light of these clandestine arrangements Cryptome’s John Young comments that it’s “hard to believe anything crypto advocates have to say due to the far greater number of crypto sleazeball hominids reaping rewards of aiding governments than crypto hominid honorables aiding one another.”
It’s as if Greenwald presumes that the denizens of Silicon Valley, many of whose origins are deeply entrenched in government programs, have magically turned over a new leaf. As though the litany of past betrayals can conveniently be overlooked because things are different. Now tech vendors are here to defend our privacy. Or at least that’s what they’d like us to believe. In the aftermath of the PRISM scandal, which was disclosed by none other than Greenwald and Snowden, the big tech of Silicon Valley is desperate to portray itself as a victim of big government.
You see, the envoys of the Bay Area’s new economy have formulated a convincing argument. That’s what they get paid to do. The representatives of Silicon Valley explain in measured tones that tech companies have stopped working with spies because it’s bad for their bottom line. Thus aligning the interests of private capital with user privacy. But the record shows that spies often serve private capital. To help open up markets and provide access to resources in foreign countries. And make no mistake there’s big money to be made helping spies. Both groups do each other a lot of favors.
And so a question for Glenn Greenwald: what pray tell is there to prevent certain CEOs in Silicon Valley from betraying us yet again, secretly via covert backdoors, while engaged in a reassuring Kabuki Theater with government officials about overt backdoors? Giving voice to public outrage while making deals behind closed doors. It’s not like that hasn’t happened before during an earlier debate about allegedly strong cryptography. Subtle zero-day flaws are, after all, plausibly deniable.
How can the self-professed advocate of adversarial journalism be so credulous? How could a company like Apple, despite its bold public rhetoric, resist overtures from spy masters any more than Mohammad Mosaddegh, Jacobo Árbenz, or Salvador Allende? Doesn’t adversarial journalism mean scrutinizing corporate power as well as government power?
Methinks Mr. Greenwald has some explaining to do. Whether he actually responds with anything other than casual dismissal has yet to be seen.
 Michael C. Ruppert, Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil, New Society Publishers, 2004, Chapter 3, page 53.