Big Brother’s world tour

November 7, 2013

The ever-expanding surveillance state doesn¹t make the world safer, only less free.

THE LONG arm of the U.S. security state reaches across oceans and stretches into the presidential palaces of America's closest allies. Last month, the National Security Agency (NSA) was exposed for tapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone--for over a decade.

This is the most recent exposé of the extent of the U.S. surveillance machine courtesy of Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor turned whistle-blower. Snowden, who faces espionage charges in the U.S. and has temporary asylum in Russia, has offered to testify before German parliament on the extent of NSA activity.

Merkel isn't the only head of state to be a target of U.S. surveillance. The NSA also reportedly listened in on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, according to a September report by the Globo television network, based on NSA documents provided by Snowden. Officials from Germany and Brazil are circulating a draft resolution calling on the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate the NSA for the violation of privacy rights at home and abroad.

Angela Merkel with Barack Obama on a visit to the White House
Angela Merkel with Barack Obama on a visit to the White House (Pete Souza)

According to the information supplied by Snowden, no one anywhere is out of bounds as far as the NSA is concerned.

According to a October 21 report in Le Monde by independent journalist Glenn Greenwald, based on documents from Snowden, the NSA retrieved more than 70 million digital communications inside France in a single month, from December 10, 2012, to January 8, 2013.

In Spain, the El Mundo and El País newspapers, also basing their reporting on documents provided by Snowden and viewed by Greenwald, reported that NSA data covered more than 60 million phone calls of Spanish citizens collected between December 2012 and early January 2013.

Acccording to El Mundo, the leaked documents also revealed a hierarchy that the U.S. government used to classify allies. There are four groups of countries: "Comprehensive Cooperation," which includes Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand; "Focused Cooperation," which includes 19 countries, most of them in Europe, plus Japan and South Korea; "Limited cooperation," which includes France, Israel, India and Pakistan, among plenty of others; and "Exceptional Cooperation," which includes countries the U.S. considers to be hostile.

One day before the El Mundo report was released, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander was testifying before the House "Intelligence" Committee, where he was asked about reports that the NSA monitored millions of calls in Spain, France and Italy. His response: "Completely false."

As for accusations that the NSA had gone too far in eavesdropping on all manner of telecom and Internet communications in the U.S. and outside it, Alexander told committee members that the agency would prefer to "take the beatings" from the public and in the media "than to give up a program that would result in this nation being attacked."

THE REPORTS of the U.S government carrying out surveillance against the heads of state of its closest allies has to be a little embarrassing for the Obama administration.

So far, Barack Obama hasn't said anything definitive about what he knew about the spying. And no wonder--the administration is in a bind. If Obama denies he knew about the surveillance, then it looks like the NSA is running out of control. But if he admits he knew, that raises a different problem--with world leaders who don't look kindly on being monitored by a country that claims to be a "beacon of democracy" to the world.

Either way, it's clear there's a whole lot of lying going on.

But this international breach of trust didn't stop supporters of the surveillance state in Washington from moving on to more important concerns--villifying Edward Snowden.

In the wake of the we-spy-on-everyone-everywhere revelations, California's Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein quickly returned to the security-at-any-cost refrain in an appearance on CBS's Face the Nation, where she promised that Snowden would be prosecuted. "He had an opportunity--if what he was a whistle-blower--to pick up the phone and call the House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, and say, 'Look, I have some information you ought to see,'" Feinstein said.

Referring to Michigan Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Feinstein continued, "And we would certainly have seen him--maybe both together, maybe separately--but we would have seen him, and we would have looked at that information. That didn't happen, and now he's gone and done this enormous disservice to our country. And I think the answer is no clemency."

Put yourself in Edward Snowden's place. Would you trust Dianne Feinstein with the devastating information you possessed about the NSA? Feinstein, after all, made her feelings about whistle-blowers like Snowden crystal clear in June, when she called him a traitor. And the NSA's collection of massive amounts of data from telecommunications and the Internet? "It's called protecting America," Feinstein said.

In a November 2 op-ed article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Feinstein reiterated her support for NSA data collection by invoking--wait for it--the September 11 attacks, which, she claimed, "succeeded in killing nearly 3,000 Americans in large part because our intelligence community lacked the tools to connect disparate pieces of information to uncover the plot, or failed to use them."

But wait--there's more! Feinstein continued:

Ever since Edward Snowden fled to Hong Kong and eventually Russia with millions of pages of classified national security secrets, the American intelligence community has been under siege.

This drip, drip, drip of disclosures--often without proper context and frequently just plain wrong--has eroded the confidence of the American people in the dedicated men and women of our intelligence community and the strong legal and constitutional protections already in place to prevent improper behavior.

One program that helps prevent another terror attack--but continues to be mischaracterized--is the National Security Agency's call-records program.

OUTSIDE THE santimonious Washington establishment, the information Snowden divulged has inspired outrage of a different kind--against the idea that the U.S. government should be able to spy on anyone and everyone, around the world.

More than 50 public figures in Germany, including actors, novelists and the head of the country's soccer league, have called on the government to support Snowden in Der Spiegel magazine. The magazine also published an open statement by Snowden titled "Manifesto for Truth."

Snowden's revelations about the scope of the Big Brother surveillance machine have stunned people around the world. Even the State Department's reliable mouthpiece, otherwise known as the New York Times, is expressing concern that the NSA seems to think there's no such thing as too much eavesdropping.

A September 2 Times article begins with the story of how the NSA prepared for a meeting between Obama and Ban Ki-moon--by intercepting the United Nations Secretary General's talking points in advance. As the Times concluded:

Mr. Obama and top intelligence officials have defended the agency's role in preventing terrorist attacks. But as the documents make clear, the focus on counterterrorism is a misleadingly narrow sales pitch for an agency with an almost unlimited agenda. Its scale and aggressiveness are breathtaking.

Breathtaking is right--the NSA's crimes certainly aren't limited to invading the privacy of Angela Merkel. America's super-spies are listening in on people everywhere--in Germany, in the U.S. and around the world. And this isn't just about collecting data--it's about preparing for the persecution of individuals and organizations, because of who they talked to or how often. It's about spying on members of mosques, people who donate to Palestinian charities, activists who stand up to U.S. imperialism or racist immigration laws, and much more.

NSA spying isn't protecting America or the world, as Feinstein would have us believe. The American Big Brother state is making the world more dangerous--first of all, for the people who could become targets of the runaway surveillance apparatus.

Far from keeping the U.S. safe from attack, the NSA's super-spies are stoking bitterness and anger at the world's unaccountable superpower. After the September 11 attacks, George W. Bush was fond of saying, "They hate our freedoms." The reality is that people around the world hate and fear the U.S. government because it takes freedoms away from them.

At least outrage at the NSA has forced a re-examination of surveillance programs by members of Congress. On October 31, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced it had approved legislation to impose...a five-year limit on the retention of bulk communication records acquired under the USA PATRIOT Act.

Do you feel safer now?

The U.S. government can't be entrusted our freedoms--we have to win them and defend them ourselves. That's the message Edward Snowden is telling the world--as he wrote in Der Spiegel: "Citizens have to fight suppression of information on matters of vital public importance. To tell the truth is not a crime."

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