WILLIAM RIVERS PITT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The NSA/Verizon/PRiSM/Snowden story has been erupting for several days now, and I have made a point of taking my time with it before coming to any conclusions. There may be more revelations in the offing, and some questions have been raised about the accuracy of the reporting on the matter, which leaves me where I started: waiting, watching, and wondering.
I guess, for me, it comes down to this at the moment.
Yes, of course, a lot of the NSA spying Mr. Greenwald appears so breathlessly surprised by has been going on for many years. I know because I've been writing about it since the PATRIOT Act. The Washington Post did an excellent, enormous report on the US surveillance state in 2010 titled Top Secret America, which included a section titled Monitoring America, which pretty much let all the cats out of all the bags on this particular subject...and yet now, all of a sudden, members of the "news" media and a bunch of other people who should know better are shocked, shocked that such things are going on. Simple truth: anyone acting all astonished by this is either oblivious, naive, or is desperately trying to sell you something.
On the other side of the coin are the people arguing it's no big deal, because it's been going on for years, and besides, it's legal, and Congress has oversight, so chill out. Invariably, these are the Obama supporters, many of whom have conveniently forgotten the president's vehement promises to dramatically scale back the assault on civil liberties he inherited from Bush and the War on Terra. Besides, didn't they mention that Congress has oversight? All is well.
Congress?! That's supposed to make anyone feel better? The Capitol dome is half-packed with outright Christian fascists, and most of the rest of them I wouldn't follow into the water...but they've got the country's back on domestic surveillance? Spare me. I'd bet my salary that 90% of Congress doesn't even begin to understand the basic details of this situation; half the guys in the House GOP still light their cigars by banging rocks together...and most of them would gleefully authorize full-spectrum surveillance of anyone not Bathed In The Blood Of The Lamb. I am not comforted.
Besides all that, flatly, all this is a very big deal, but maybe not for the reasons they're crowing about on CNN. The simple fact of the matter is this: our laws have not caught up with our technology, and we gave away far, far too much of ourselves as a nation to the plastic-sheeting-and-duct-tape bedwetters who used fear to win elections and turn a tidy profit off the wars.
The amount of information the government can gather up about us today, fully within the letter of the laws, is orders-of-magnitude more than it was when these laws were first passed a decade ago, thanks to the explosion of the digital age (cell phones, social media, etc.). That, among many other things, needs to be addressed.
If this Snowden guy's revelations lead the country to an honest discussion about what has been going on in these Overly-Surveilled States of America for all these years, and if that discussion opens the way to reclaiming at least some of what has been lost, then in my opinion he did the country a service. Specifically, the country needs a long, detailed discussion of the gulf between the general public's understanding of the current laws and what those laws are actually able to do in the digital age. Beyond that, it is high time the country has a long sit-down with itself to decide what we want to be going forward, how much of ourselves we are still willing to surrender, and how much we want to get back.
In a half-assed media-tainted way, the discussion is happening, which is good. It is to be hoped that someone who understands the breadth and scope of the issues will step forward and carry the conversation to the place it needs to be. As for the White House, well, if Obama has a sad because this discussion is happening on his watch, he should have applied for a different gig...or kept all those high-flown campaign promises he made about rolling all this back. Maybe, just maybe, now would be a good time for him to deploy all those leadership qualities we've heard so much about. It's never too late to keep a promise.
(Photo: National Security Agency)