This is the world we accept if we continue to avert our eyes. And it promises to get much worse.
The above quote comes from a handwritten manuscript written by Barrett Brown. Brown, a former spokesperson for the hacktivist group Anonymous, is incarcerated waiting trial on various federal charges. If you want to know more about Barrett Brown, there is a feature article in Rolling Stone about Brown. (currently it is a subscriber-only article)
If you pay attention to the news at all, you know these people have been charged with various crimes against the US government. All of them, except Aaron Swartz who committed suicide, are being investigated, fleeing arrest, or being prosecuted for cyber-crimes, espionage, or sundry other crimes against the state.
These people have one thing in common: their actions have challenged, embarrassed, and exposed the security and surveillance state. The price for these actions is arrest and prosecution by federal authorities who have a real knack for making federal statutes say things they were never intended to say. (i.e. one of the charges against Barrett Brown has to do with him cutting and pasting a website link and posting it on an internet forum)
I realize some readers may consider Manning, Swartz, Snowden, Assange, and Brown enemies of the state. After all, they did violate the law. Their actions have harmed the security and surveillance state and embarrassed the United States in the court of public opinion.
Especially incensed are the flag-waving patriots. They see the actions of hacktivists like Manning, Swartz, Snowden, Assange, and Brown as attempts to aid and abet terrorism and diminish the greatness of America. If given the opportunity, I suspect people like Ted Nugent would be first in line to execute these traitors.
Rather than get into a heated debate over their specific acts, I want to focus on what their acts revealed. We dare not avert our eyes from what we now know about the CIA, NSA, FBI, President Barack Obama, and the security and surveillance state.
Thanks to Glenn Greenwald, we now know the US government is routinely spying on US citizens. They are reading our emails, scanning our snail mail, and logging our phone calls. All of this is being done without a warrant, a direct violation of the US Constitution.
Dare we ignore this egregious violation of our privacy? Dare we avert our eyes from the digital cavity search the US government is now routinely performing on millions of its citizens? (and the same could be said for other countries)
Several weeks ago, a dear friend of mine, a man who is a committed liberal, told me he didn’t have any problem with the government spying on us. After all, he said, we want to feel safe and this is the price we pay for feeling safe. He went on to say, besides everyone knows there is no such thing as privacy. Everyone knows or should show that their emails, tweets, Facebook posts, web search activities and the like are not private.
It is true that ANYTHING we do on the internet should not be considered private. This is Internet Lesson 101. Don’t write anything in an email, a blog comment, or on Facebook that you don’t want others reading. Evidently, we must now apply the same rule to our phone conversations.
Every time a person comes to The Way Forward site they leave a digital trail. I know their IP address, what they read, what links they click on, what browser and operating system they use, and their general geographical location. Every time we click a link, go to a website, or send an email, we are leaving a digital trail.
Several years ago, a nasty, virulent Christian Fundamentalist incessantly harassed me. For awhile I ignored it, but after weeks and months of attacks I decided to retaliate. This genius was attacking me using his computer at work, a business concern that had its own domain. He forgot that he was leaving a digital trail right to the front door of this blog. It took me all of 30 seconds to find a phone number for the company. I called the company’s human resource manager and told him what this Christian Fundamentalist was doing while at work. Within the hour, the man’s blog disappeared and I never heard from him again.
When I am on the internet I assume everything I write and every place I go is being tracked by someone. We now know that SOMEONE includes the security and surveillance state. People become incensed when Facebook or Instagram changes their terms of service or privacy settings, yet, when it comes to the security and surveillance state, far too many people think that the government is just looking out for them and keeping them safe from attacks by terrorists.
They seem to be willingly ignorant of the fact that US government routinely lies to us and routinely distorts the information they provide us. (i.e. The Department of Education refuses to release true student loan default rates. Instead they only release the default rate for two or three years after graduation. This grossly distorts the default rate. According to Matt Taibbi’s article, the default rate for students at community colleges is thirty-one percent)
I am fifty-six years old. I was raised in a home where politics mattered. My mother was actively involved in Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign and George Wallace’s 1968 and 1972 failed attempts to become President.
During Wallace’s 1972 presidential bid, someone broke into our house looking for “documents.” To this day I don’t know what the thieves were looking for. All my mother would say is that they were looking for papers related to the Wallace campaign.
I learned at an early age to not trust the government. While my mother was quite supportive of the actions of United States in Vietnam, supported the murderous actions of William Calley at My Lai, and believed the students murdered by soldiers at Kent State got what was coming to them, she was quite willing to question the actions and motives of those in power.
My mother died 21 years ago. I have often wondered how she would feel about Vietnam, now that we know that President Lyndon Johnson lied to the American people about the incident in the Gulf of Tonkin that set the United States on course for a bloody war in Vietnam. Over my lifetime, countless people have died thanks to lies and distortions of the US government. It is safe to say that the history of the United States is being written in blood.
By now, we should ALL know that we must take anything the US government says with a grain of salt. Call me jaded or cynical, but I no longer am willing to take the government’s word for anything.
In the aftermath of the Edward Snowden/Glenn Greenwald/Guardian revelations about the security and surveillance state, the US government, and the man I voted for twice, Barack Obama, have stood before the American people and lied about or distorted the facts about what the security and surveillance state is really doing with the information they collect. Every new damning revelation brings more explanation and justification. Sadly, the US government is starting to sound like A-Rod. Lots of whining, complaining, and self-justification.
The question then is not CAN the government access, read, and store our private communications and internet actions. The question is SHOULD they be able to do so. Thanks to the Patriot Act and countless other post 9-11 security laws, the security and surveillance state can now surveil, track, and keep files on ANY citizen thy want to. Say the “wrong” thing in a blog post, email, text message, go to the “wrong” website, be acquainted with a “person of interest,” or call the “wrong” phone number, and you just might show up on the security and surveillance state’s radar and become a target worthy of investigation.
We now know the ISP’s and companies like Google, Verizon, and Microsoft routinely grant the security and surveillance state access to their customer’s private data. What is even worse is that these companies can’t even talk about the requests the government makes. Notifying their customers that they are being watched or speaking publicly about the government’s actions is against the law and could result in criminal prosecution.
In recent weeks, several companies that offered encrypted email decided to shutter their business rather than grant the security and surveillance state access to the encrypted emails of US citizens. We now know that using encrypted email or trying to circumvent tracking is a red flag that could result in attention from the security and surveillance state. From the government’s perspective, no citizen needs to use encrypted mail. (and, as we are now learning, encrypted mail can, in many instances, be viewed by the government)
As David Miranda learned, who your spouse is can also bring you under the watchful eye of the security and surveillance state. Miranda is the domestic partner of Glenn Greenwald, a journalist for the Guardian. Greenwald is the journalist who first wrote about and published Edward Snowden’s revelations about the security and surveillance state.
Over the weekend, Miranda was detained at the airport for nine hours and questioned by British security agents. After reading the relevant news and opinion pieces on Miranda’s detainment, it is hard not to see it as anything other than intimidation. This was the British government saying, Fuck you. We can do what we want! (and it seems clear to me that the US government was complicit in Miranda’s detainment)
The actions detailed in this post SHOULD trouble every person who loves freedom and democracy. But it doesn’t. Sadly, most Americans are more concerned about posting their latest drivel on Facebook or finding out how Breaking Bad will end, than they are the security and surveillance state’s assault on their personal freedom.
Several years ago, I wrote a post about the preacher Jerry Jones’s plan to burn a copy of the Quran. Imagine my surprise, when I looked at the server logs, finding out the FBI had accessed the article I had written. Needless to say, I was quite troubled by this. Even though my article on Jones was critical of him, it was worthy of a least a passing glance by someone working for the FBI. (and I am not suggesting that the FBI or any other part of the security and surveillance state shouldn’t pay attention to what is being written on news sites, blogs, and forums)
While I recognize the need for the security and surveillance state, after all we do live in a violent, dangerous world, I refuse to avert my eyes from the US government’s abuse of the Constitution and the civil rights of US citizens. I refuse to ignore the fact that President Obama is waging an unprecedented drone war that has resulted in the targeting and killing of US citizens. I refuse to ignore that the man I voted for twice has expanded the security and surveillance state George W Bush put in place post 9-11. I refuse to ignore that President Obama continues to press the narrative that the United States is good, decent, and moral and is only concerned with the best interests of the world.
Yes, I am quite cynical these days, a cynicism that often fuels my struggle with depression. I realize I am a nobody who has no power. I am a poor man without means, a man who can not pay the requisite fair required for his voice to be heard.
And so I write. I don’t know what else to do. Since I believe in the rule of law, I oppose all forms of violence. Yet, I wonder if the US government is not on a collision course with the American people. What happens when we reach the place where the majority of Americans can no longer avert their eyes from what the security and surveillance state is doing in their name?
I have no answers for the questions I have raised in this post. There are times I think we are like Rome just before its empire crumbled. We are a self-absorbed nation basking in self-deception, oblivious to the fact that foundation of our republic is slowly slipping into the sea. I fear by the time we figure it out, it will be too late.