ou should be sitting down for this one.
I know it’ll be hard for you to believe, but I have something to tell you that may come as a shock.
Your government has been spying on you.
Yes, it’s true. I know, I know, incredible!
Yes, snooping, recording, taking notes and filling databases about everything you do — your phone calls, text messages, emails, online purchases, social networking, those little chat rooms you visit that your spouse doesn’t even know about, and, yes, even your tweets end up somewhere, written down for posterity.
Lucky for you, the only person on God’s green Earth who really cares anything at all about your incessant communiques are, well, you.
And frankly, you, sir, or ma’am, are most likely one in a few billion average folks, none too bright, or too rich, or too threatening to anyone, or even interesting, except to a few people, who maybe enjoy your quick wit, cute face or that talent you possess for tying up animal balloons or some such trick.
Sorry to break it to you, but though the government may be recording your every telecommunications gesture, unless you’re talking about blowing up an airliner with someone in Saudi Arabia, or subscribing online to Inspire, Al Qaeda’s own glossy magazine, or talking with someone in Chechnya about a spot in the next pressure cooker bomb-making training seminar there, then your communications likely are not even a pimple on the chin of a single blip on the U.S. intelligence community’s massive eavesdropping apparatus.
Be grateful for your insignificance. Cherish it even.
Of course, I’m making light (sort of) of the recent hubbub over Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor who left his cushy job at the National Security Administration to become the latest “whistle-blower” to alert the world to perceived abuses by the American intelligence community. For Snowden, it was PRISM, a software program used by the government to collect massive, massive amounts of data by tapping into the world’s telecommunications networks. Snowden has told a number of media outlets now that essentially he and other NSA agents can with a flick of the wrist and a convenient email address or phone number monitor anyone’s communications. Snowden made his explosive statements from Hong Kong, where he also made his escape, leaving behind his job, the country he supposedly loves and his super hot girlfriend.
Traitor? Probably not.
Hero? No, probably not that either.
Idiot? Closer. Yeah. I would say idiot’s pretty close, particularly if you’ve caught any glimpses of the girlfriend.
So, let me get this straight: You work at the government’s super secret NSA for a whole three months, learn about this not-really-so super secret program that vacuums up the world’s communications and sifts them for intelligence, you get high-brow and heavy about said program’s implications on America’s bloodstained liberties, and so you blow the whistle, ditch your hot girlfriend, and flee to — China!?!
That story just doesn’t sound right for some reason. First, he’s 29. Second, he worked at the NSA for all of three months. Third, he left for China, where he is in hiding. Quibble with me all you want about the difference between Hong Kong and the mainland, but where the rubber meets the road, the commies control Hong Kong.
Comparing Snowden to other whistle-blowers, such as Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s, or even to more recent NSA whistle-blowers, like Thomas Drake, who leaked documents showing financial waste, abusive legal practices and pure, unadulterated dysfunction at the super secret spy agency, is laughable.
Ellsberg spent two years trying to convince top government officials, including Henry Kissinger as well as two U.S. senators, to release the Pentagon Papers, a secret history of the Vietnam conflict that showed the U.S. government lied to the public over and over about almost every aspect of the war’s execution, from early overtures from Ho Chi Minh to gain favor with the U.S. that could have averted the war altogether, to Lyndon Johnson lying about the timing when he ordered troops into the country, to secret bombings hidden from the public.
Drake, for his part, is a 56-year-old man who worked for the NSA from 2001 to 2007. He too went to a number of superiors and congressmen with his concerns before he went to the media. He was indicted in 2007 for providing top secret documents to a Baltimore Sun reporter, who went on to write an award-winning series of articles about malfeasance at the spy agency, including alluding to massive domestic communications intelligence gathering. Drake was facing felony charges that he violated the 1917 Espionage Act, that is until the case against him imploded days before his trial in 2011. He ended up pleading to a misdemeanor.
Ellsberg and Drake are true whistle-blowers. Both faced the music for what they did. Heavy prison time and expensive court procedures highlight both cases. They didn’t flee to Hong Kong and then disappear.
Sure, I agree it’s troubling that the government is scooping up everything about everybody that it can get its hands on. Surely, at some point, that practice will come back to bite America in the keister.
But we live in a world that changed on Sept. 11, 2001. We’re a country at war with fanatical religious extremists who have no problems executing women and children to further their cause. Not that the government wasn’t already spying on us, anyway. J. Edgar Hoover’s domestic spying is legendary.
But even the NSA’s spying isn’t really new.
I can remember picking up a book in the early 1980s that talked about this massive, massive government agency that no one knew about that wired the free world from the U.S. to Britain to Australia and Japan with super secret listening posts, dragging communications from around the world into a computerized dragnet. James Bamford’s “The Puzzle Palace” sort of spilled the beans back in 1983 — when it was communists planning to kill Americans in droves instead of terrorists.
The world is dangerous. The wars in Afghanistan and in the Middle East are far from over. The Boston bombings tell you that the threat to Americans on American soil is still very real.
Maybe when the world finds peace again, or some modicum of it, the American people can debate the ramifications of the NSA’s snooping. But for now, let’s let the NSA do its job.
As for Snowden., I hope he enjoys his 15 minutes of fame. I doubt very much he will have Drake or Ellsberg’s luck when the cuffs do go on.