On Thursday, I took part in a fascinating conversation on Voice of Russia about Edward Snowden, the role of whistleblowers and the surveillance state. The discussion was entitled, “How far can politicians go to protect our security?” and I was with Brendan Cole in London, while, in Moscow, Dmitry Medvedenko’s guest was Dr. Boris Martynov, Deputy Head of the Institute of Latin America in Moscow, and in Washington Rob Sachs’ guest was Bruce Zagaris, a partner with Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe LLP.
The 40-minute show is available here, and in it I made a particular point of explaining how far too much of the mainstream media is obsessively focusing on Edward Snowden’s search for asylum, rather than focusing on the aspect of the story that is much more significant — the fact, as I put it, that “he felt compelled to sacrifice his career because he wanted to reveal the extent that people were being spied on by their governments.”
I also explained why that is so important — because, instead of governments regarding their citizens as “innocent until proven guilty,” they have revealed themselves — with America in the driving seat — as “massively obsessed with trawling for information about all of us,” and having “an obsession with power and a sense of paranoia that is very inappropriate.”
There was much more in the show, and I hope you have time to listen to it, not least because Bruce Zagaris was very informative about the legal and political aspects of the case, involving extradition treaties and international law.
I was very pleased to be asked to take part, as the importance of whistleblowers cannot be overstated. As Bradley Manning’s trial continues, and Edward Snowden seeks a safe place for asylum, it’s worth remembering how another NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake, described the threat to all of us from the US government and those working closely with it (like the UK, for example).
Drake, who, as the New Yorker described it, “was charged with espionage for revealing details about an electronic-eavesdropping project called Trailblazer, a precursor to Operation Prism, one of the programs that Snowden documented,” spoke to ABC in Australia a few days, and described “a vast, systemic, institutionalized, industrial-scale Leviathan surveillance state that has clearly gone far beyond the original mandate to deal with terrorism.”
That says it all, really. And as Edward Snowden said, in the video that introduced him to the world just three weeks ago, “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things.”
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
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On Facebook, Kevin M Benderman wrote:
Correct me if I am wrong. I think Snowden and Manning did what they did to help us all and not to receive all of the hero worship being piled onto them. I have never spoken to either, but it seems to me, they wanted us all to have this info so we would work together to correct the problem. It seems the masses just want someone to idolize and praise, without really acting on the information they gave us. Maybe I am off the mark.
Neil Goodwin wrote:
I see what you mean Kevin, but I believe that they certainly deserve recognition – especially as they face being hunted and imprisoned. I, for one, go beyond acting – I’m actually living the reality that the information they gave us has helped to re-adjust in my mind and daily life.
Kevin M Benderman wrote:
Please don’t take what I said the wrong way. I know there are many who are doing things. Public recognition is needed to get their points across, I just think it shouldn’t end there. Once we have the info, on top of all the rest that is already public, i.e. illegal invasions, rendition, torture, spying on us, etc. how much more will it take before we act on the principles of law? These laws mean nothing, if we do not apply them to everyone. Bush has a library with his name on it in Texas.
Obama is continuing the practices of his predecesser. And more of the fundamentals of our rights are being stripped away. How much further do we take, before we move to correct it? Do people have to start being taken away after dark? I mean, the tsa searches of elderly wheel chair bound and small children should have been enough. I can’t understand how “the land of the free” tolerates this.
Neil Goodwin wrote:
There is a thing called ex-formation – a total glut of information, so vast that your culture drowns in it, and nothing can ever get acted upon, because continual revelations keep rushing in. You could call it Cyber Shock and Awe.
Kevin M Benderman wrote:
Neil, cyber shock and awe is as good a description as any. Seeing Bush and crew on trial would be a great recognition of their efforts, in my opinion.
Thanks, Kevin and Neil for your comments, and thanks to everyone who has liked and shared this article. I hope you’ve also had time to listen to the show. I too like Cyber Shock and Awe as a description, Neil.
One problem, it seems to me, is that far too many compassionate, intelligent people are being swamped by the sheer scale of the bad news, while what we’re up against are people who are ignorant, but who don’t know or don’t care. Things could hardly be more polarized.
Kevin’s not off the mark. Like many others, he’s expressing a common sense of frustration.
How do you get millions to see and admit to what’s going on, and then act? You’re competing with someone human instinct for survival first. How many times have we heard this standard comments about protests?
Who’s got time to protest? Only students, the unemployed or retired people have time for that. I don’t,
Many celebs have lined up behind Assange, then Manning and now Snowden. If I (an average person) protest and gets arrested, are any of them going to bail me out too? Is the ACLU or the UK equivalent going to take my case pro bono?
You have to consider a legal element of this. Many say that this spying is illegal, Obama’s breaking the law and should be prosecuted. Obama’s response? To go to trial, you need to have evidence. The evidence you need to prove your case is “classified”. How then will go to trial? Right now, unless a leaker produces more evidence, nobody will touch Obama, and he knows it. Will the Democratic Power Elite allow anything to happen to Obama? Will any politician publically say that Manning, Assange and Snowden are heroes? No, they won’t. Not even Ron Wyden, Morris Udall or Bernie Sanders will throw away their political careers.
What you need to do is balance doing what you can to make people aware of this, and protect your own well being at the same time. When push comes to shove, individual human survival comes first. I’ve seen this happen in the States, in Europe and in Asia. I’m not saying don’t continue to fight for positive and real change. I’m just saying in the process you have to protect yourself.
I appreciate what you’re saying, Tom, but I’m not sure we’ll get chance until things are so bad that people feel compelled to mobilize in large numbers – as we’ve seen in other countries, of course. That said, the world would be transformed into a much better place if everyone who claimed to care about various issues actually did something about it.
Most people have too much to lose by protesting. Anyone with a job who is not self employed could lose it if they get arrested.
I agree that the world would be better. Again, I’m not saying don’t continue to peacefully fight for what you know is right. Hopefully it won’t get to that ugly point. I’m just basing my thoughts about personal survival coming first on some ugly personal experiences in the past with others.
So something has gone horribly wrong, hasn’t it, Thomas? If law-abiding citizens can’t protest for fear that they might lose their jobs, then we’re not living in the open and fair societies that we’re told we live in. I’m self-employed, but perhaps those who aren’t need to follow the example of the youngsters I see at events, who cover their faces with scarves. The police swarm around them like vultures, but they keep their IDs hidden.
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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