Gwynne Dyer: Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, spies, and whistle blowers

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Edward Snowden, a former contractor to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, has been trapped in the transit lounge of Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow for the past two weeks, while the United States government strives mightily to get him back in its clutches. Last week it even arranged for the plane flying Bolivian president Evo Morales home from Moscow to be diverted to Vienna and searched, mistakenly believing that Snowden was aboard.

Former U.S. army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning is already in the U.S. government’s clutches. Having endured 1,100 days of solitary confinement, he is now on trial for “aiding the enemy” by passing a quarter-million U.S. embassy messages, Afghanistan and Iraq war logs, detainee assessments from Guantanamo, and videos of U.S. attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq to the WikiLeaks website.

These two American whistle blowers have a lot in common. They are both young idealists who had access to the inner workings of the U.S. “security community”, and were appalled by what they learned. Their intentions were good, but their fate may be harsh. (Bradley faces life in prison without parole.) And there is one big difference between them.

Bradley, the more naive of the two, was shocked by facts that more experienced observers take for granted: that governments, including the U.S. government, routinely lie to their citizens, their allies, and the world, and that armies at war, including the U.S. army, sometimes commit terrible crimes.

So he published a mountain of evidence that substantiated those lamentable truths. That greatly angered the U.S. government, and he will probably pay a heavy price for it. The U.S. government wants its secrets, especially the most shameful ones, to stay secret, and its extraordinary vindictiveness towards Bradley is intended to deter others from blowing the whistle.

Edward Snowden, on the other hand, has exposed something that even experienced observers did not take for granted: that the U.S. government has created a massive apparatus for discovering everybody else’s secrets. Under the cover of the “war on terror”, it has been secretly trawling the telecommunications networks of the whole world for information not just on terrorism, but on any other subject that affects its interests.

Never mind the hypocrisy of this. (American secrets are sacred, but the United States has the right to know everybody else’s.) It’s the sheer scale and brazen arrogance of the operation that are so stunning. Exhibit A is the PRISM programme, whose very existence was a secret until Snowden spilled the beans early last month.

This program, run by the National Security Agency, began in 2007. It collects data from all nine major American internet giants—Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Google, Skype, et cetera—and they are not allowed to reveal the fact that they are passing the data to the U.S. government.

In the first instance, it’s mostly traffic analysis: who is talking to whom? But if the traffic pattern sparks the NSA’s interest (or if the U.S. government wants to know the content of the messages for other reasons), then the spies can read the actual messages. And, as you would expect, PRISM didn’t just stay focused on “terrorism” for very long.

The NSA started using its new tools, and some older ones, to spy on foreign governments and companies, including those of America’s allies. “We hack network backbones—like huge Internet routers, basically—that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one,” Snowden told the South China Morning Post in late June.

U.S. citizens resident in the United States are allegedly exempt from having their messages read without a court order (but the court is secret, too). Unless, of course, American citizens communicate with people living outside the U.S., in which case they are fair game.

Americans, on the whole, are remarkably untroubled by the NSA’s actions. Almost a million people work in the U.S. security industry, and most of those jobs would disappear if Americans did not believe that “terrorism” is the greatest threat facing their country. So the industry works very hard to sell them this fiction, and most of them accept it.

Foreigner governments, by contrast, are very angry. The countries targeted by the NSA included not just obvious candidates like China and Russia, but U.S. allies like France, Italy, Greece, Japan, and South Korea.

The European Union’s embassy in Washington, its office at the United Nations, and even its headquarters in Brussels have been hacked. Latin American targets include not just Venezuela, but Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Brazil. (It’s those pesky Brazilian terrorists.)

French president Francois Hollande responded to Snowden’s revelations by demanding that the spying “stops at the earliest possible date—that is to say immediately.” Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff said that the NSA’s actions, if proven, would represent “violations of sovereignty and human rights.”

But foreign protests will not force a shut-down of the PRISM program. At most, it will be renamed and re-hidden. The U.S. government gains major advantages by knowing everybody else’s secrets, and the million people in the “security community” are a huge domestic lobby.

Manning and Snowden have done the world a service by exposing the U.S. government’s illicit actions past and present, but Manning’s future is probably life imprisonment, Snowden’s a life in exile (if he’s lucky).

No good deed goes unpunished.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

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Leone

Jul 12, 2013 at 10:09am

Orwell almost got it right. It's not Big Brother, it's Big Uncle...Uncle Sam.

blah

Jul 12, 2013 at 10:52am

Everybody is doing it. Maybe not on the same scale as the U.S., but everybody is doing it.

I Chandler

Jul 12, 2013 at 11:33am

"These two American whistle blowers have a lot in common. They are both young idealists"

Young idealists? As old idealists, (5 decades with NSA) Russell Tice and William Binney have much in common with these young idealists.

Both Snowden and Biney have won the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence, given by a group of retired CIA officers:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Adams_Award

Russell D. Tice leaked that the NSA had spied on Obama, federal judges, ranking military officials and members of congress.

" something that even experienced observers did not take for granted: that the U.S. government has created a massive apparatus for discovering everybody else’s secrets."

Observation: Discovering everybody else’s secrets, is something that the CIA/NSA was created for......

Michele Baillie

Jul 12, 2013 at 12:20pm

One whistle blower of note comes to mind; Tyler Kent. If anyone is interested, his story can be found at ihr.org (Institute for Historical Review) I can promise you; it will be an eye opener.

Alan Layton

Jul 12, 2013 at 1:06pm

I keep hearing at how enraged the American public is, but there have been no demonstrations and now the world seems more interested in Snowden's romantic story of adventure and intrigue, than what he uncovered. I'm not even sure what he uncovered was really that astounding or as unknown as stated. As for foreign governments being upset, I'd be interested to know what their programs are called, because you can make a bet that either they have nascent programs running or would like to have them.

I think part of the reason there isn't a real, sustained outcry from the public is that few can identify any personal damage done by it and also that with social media, everyone has had a chance to vent their spleen to the world and have now moved on to other more pressing issues, such as the summer blockbuster movies, or what they are going to wear to the beach.

Martin Dunphy

Jul 12, 2013 at 2:11pm

Michele Baillie:

What part of that "story" do you consider an eye-opener?
The part at the end where he concludes that, with regard to the Jews, "Hitler was right"?

Brain Dead

Jul 12, 2013 at 2:56pm

Alan Layton:

The reason is clear. Most Amercicans, and westerners for that matter, are brain dead, lack historical perspective, or vicious.

Claire Duboc

Jul 12, 2013 at 3:30pm

Why the asymmetry?

Surely the optimal method of surveillance is to allow everyone to watch anyone, not just a privileged class of watchers waiting to exploit the information gathered.

I Chandler

Jul 12, 2013 at 4:53pm

Some historical perspective might have been expected from a historian. The fact that LBJ was a close neighbour of Hoover, assisted him in becoming president. Hoover could not have imagined this
dystopia in a wet dream. It would be nice if one could explain the damage done by these programs. After reading this column ,someone might not understand the extent of the spying

"U.S. citizens resident in the United States are allegedly exempt from having their messages read without a court order"

Regurgitate: "Nobody is reading your messages, and nobody is listening to your phone calls"
But NSA Does store every phone call, of Every american,while having the capability to listen to them at any time. After all it is very inexpensive:

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130621/03390823552/how-much-would-it-...

This Interview with Whistleblower Russ Tice, describes how intelligence can be used to control journalists, supreme court judges , politicians, generals etc:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6m1XbWOfVk

Ted Reynolds

Jul 13, 2013 at 8:57am

The state that jails and persecutes its patriots, and, moreover, prevents me from even voting for the people and issues I desire, receives no certificate of legitimacy from me.

I may not feel like rising in rebellion against it at this moment, but I feel no need to respect its actions, demands, and mandates. I will try to do what is right, even when the political and economic rulers are criminally wrong.

BRADLEY MANNING IS INNOCENT. So are Edward Snowden, and John Kiriakou.

Pass it on.

Pass it on.

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