Careful readers who saw something in all my Fuck The Guardian posts beyond envy-fueled animus against He Who Must Never Be Criticized In The Same Way He Criticizes, surely could guess that I wasn’t even slightly surprised when I saw this, from second string Leak Keeper Barton Gellman of the Washington Post:
For those who don’t know, Manhattan’s Upper East Side has among the highest concentrations of wealth in the world and the men-only Knickerbocker is among New York’s most exclusive clubs. So what Gellman described is nothing less than a representative sample of the people on whose behalf the government, the mainstream media, and the security apparatus are mostly supposed to work — applauding both Mr. Snowden and The Debate™ he kicked off.
Feel free to congratulate the gatecrashing Leak Keepers for so deftly infiltrating platforms that even serious third party candidates and advocates of single payer health care can barely touch, and marvel at how quickly they have brought certain elites around on how yes, we really must talk about this NSA business. Alternatively, you might join me in thinking a little harder on stuff I wrote that’s gotten lost in a lot of talk about drips and dumps and proper pleb-to-celeb protocol:
It’s rather naive, and maybe even grandiose for people on the left to think that on the rare occasions when their concerns land on successive front pages of The New York Times and on CNN, this is due to the supernatural savvy of a Greenwald, rather than that people in high places are very ok with certain information getting out and certain debates taking place….maybe we’re having this debate because people in high places want us to. (original post)
…In [NYU Journalism Professor Jay] Rosen’s view, the cascade of events he attributes to the Snowden Effect followed inevitably from Snowden’s disclosures. In mine, Snowden, like every other news event protagonist, is just the raw material with which people with genuine control of the news cycle tell us the the things they think we should hear in the ways they think we should hear them. (original post)
Someone accused me of wearing a ‘tin foil hat’ for insisting that there are no gatecrashers on television news. The proof is in the television news, but there is no conspiracy. It’s powerful decision-makers owning a few carriers, stacking the deck with largely non-unionized, like-minded people and doling out rewards and punishments in accordance with compliance. This is why the ‘national conversation’ is such a toxic waste dump. To recognize this is to take nothing away from the talent and courage of the people who do the best they can within the constraints of this system. But their talent and courage do not oblige an analytical person to mythologize what is actually going on, including the steps people take and the qualities they have (or don’t), that keep them inside the margins.
Now, to observe that elites are aiding and abetting The Snowden Effect is not to say all of them are. But many of them clearly are, so the question is why. Well, it depends on which elites we’re talking about.
On the same day obscenely wealthy men on Manhattan’s Upper East Side applauded Snowden’s name, a few blocks south, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff gave a speech at the UN excoriating the United States for NSA surveillance in her country, as disclosed by Snowden-based stories in the Brazilian press. Rousseff expressed her concern for human rights and made clear which humans she meant:
Corporate information – often of high economic and even strategic value – was at the centre of espionage activity.
Also, Brazilian diplomatic missions, among them the permanent mission to the UN and the office of the president of the republic itself, had their communications intercepted.
The day before, also in Manhattan, the increasingly comedic Leak Keeper Editor/computer smasher, Alan Rusbridger, gave a speech about the leaks in which he disclosed that Obama and David Cameron are ‘nice’, made banal allusions to Orwell, then risibly paraphrased the message of Edward Snowden as ‘Look, wake up. You are building something that is potentially quite alarming.’ He then worried aloud over one alarmed billionaire, an emphasis his paper reproduced in the write-up of his speech:
If you are Mark Zuckerberg and you are trying to build an international business, this is dismaying to you,” Rusbridger said.
Zuckerberg recently criticized the Obama administration’s surveillance apparatus. “Frankly I think the government blew it,” he told TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco.
The Facebook founder was particularly damning of government claims that they were only spying on “foreigners”.
“Oh, wonderful: that’s really helpful to companies trying to serve people around the world, and that’s really going to inspire confidence in American internet companies,” said Zuckerberg
So, to summarize, we know that certain wealthy, important people around the world are concerned about the NSA because:
- Their own emails and phone calls are being monitored by the NSA
- The NSA is engaging in corporate espionage
- NSA spying interferes with profitable internet business by impeding customer trust
Certainly there is some grandstanding for the rubes going on here with Rousseff and Zuckerberg, but those Upper East Side bluebloods applauding Snowden amongst themselves must surely reflect some genuine anxiety in all of these people, and no wonder. Undoubtedly the one percenters like surveillance like they like their justice system and everything else: two-tiered. The NSA system is two-tiered, certainly, but the tiers don’t split neatly along the usual line of wealth and melanin. They divide along the lines of who’s in and who’s out with the NSA, which, with its network of private contractors and thousands of analysts empowered to extract troves of data with a single email address, poses a kind of risk elites can’t buy their way out of.
If you don’t think that alone is reason enough to allow The Debate, consider also the interests of elites within the security establishment, like within The CIA and its own network of private contractors. This crowd must surely be on the easiest of terms with any debate about the security state so steeply skewed toward the Bad Apple-ing of only one agency rather than thorough-going scrutiny of the Intelligence Community as a whole.
With this in mind I went poking around to see what the CIA’s been up to besides incinerating rights-free humans, and found this fascinating presentation given in March at a Big Data conference by The Agency’s CTO, Gus Hunt. Hunt is surprisingly frank in describing the opportunities presented by all the data people expose to ‘sentiment analysis’ via social media and simply as bodies moving through a ‘sensor-connected world.’ A world in which ‘someone can know where you are at all times’ and ‘you can be 100% identified by your gait.’ ‘We are at high noon in the information age’ he says. ‘it is ‘nearly in our grasp to compute on all human generated information.’ Of course to do all that computing, you need all the information:
The value of any piece of information is only known when you can connect it with something else that arrives at a future point in time. Since you can’t connect dots you don’t have, it drives us into a mode of, we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever.
There is a whole lot that’s interesting (and chilling) about this presentation but two things stick out for me. One is that Hunt is presaging the next phase of signals intelligence, where machines connecting the dots of all the data that is just out there will make PRISM look primitive. The other is that the CIA seems to be making a play for dominance in signals intelligence — which has traditionally been the NSA’s speciality — as its ‘investment focus shifts from missiles to big data. (source).’ This means that the CIA could win big if the NSA loses credibility and funding without tainting the CIA in the process. As Snowden’s leak of the black budget revealed, the Agency is certainly in empire-building mode, having surged past the NSA as the most lavishly funded agency in the Intelligence Community, largely by growing covert operations (its third ‘business line’ in Hunt’s words) into a paramilitary force.
The message here really is that people attempting to ‘reform’ the NSA are, whether they acknowledge it or not, in a tactical alliance with a lot of shady people who are in the fight for very different reasons and who have considerable means to make it go a certain way. This is why the Leak Keepers have been given a berth that surprises even them. That doesn’t mean the debate is a fraud or a total loss, though by virtue of its tight circumscription, I find it increasingly banal and pointless. Those who remain transfixed should at least be far more analytical than various starry-eyed reformists, self-mythologizers and sycophants are encouraging you to be. If nothing else, people who call for Clapper’s head because ‘he lied to Congress ‘ — who are, unsurprisingly, the same people that insisted Obama would change everything in 2008 — will be increasingly good for laughs as the narcotic of increased access makes them progressively more giddy. But as the beginning and the end of The Debate, The NSA is a red herring.
Wowsy wow wow.
Oops. Not #Winning???
So the asshole who has worked tirelessly to confine the leaks safely to a ‘Debate’ about public policy — and gotten vastly wealthier and more influential in the process — is now lamenting the entirely predictable result.
Now Glenn’s pal, Andy Sullivan, is coming around. Someone took issue with Glenn’s approving tweet (below) and a little kerfuffle ensued. TBH the worst thing about that little dust-up is the way ostensible anti-authoritarians tiptoe around His (barely) Liberal Highness after yet another sneer at ‘radicals’. Where would we be without Glenn’s trusty, self-effacing radical elves? Under surveillance, that’s where!
Every little charade helps. I feel less surveilled already
Quoting myself from above: ‘increasingly good for laughs as the narcotic of increased access makes them progressively more giddy.’