Sunday, April 28, 2013

Freedom Lost: Life In Top Secret America

For more than a decade now, too many lives and too many freedoms have been lost in a battle against terrorism. Policies and strategies created in the frenzied and angry months which followed the attacks on 9-11 chase after an elusive sense of security, transforming our world.

The nature of this astonishing transformation was at the heart of a recent discussion between Bill Moyers and Glenn Greenwald via Moyers' show on PBS:

"GLENN GREENWALD: There is a Washington Post series in 2010 called Top Secret America, three-part series by Dana Priest and William Arkin. And one of the facts that reported was that the National Security Agency, every day, collects and stores 1.7 billion, that's with a B, billion, emails, telephone calls, and other form of electronic communications by and between American citizens.

And what's amazing is, is that if you look at the case in Boston, the surveillance state, this massive apparatus of monitoring and storing information about us that we've constructed over the last decade that's extremely expensive and invasive really didn't do much. It didn't detect the attack before it started. The attempted Times Square attack in 2010 wasn't stopped because of eavesdropping or government surveillance but because a hot dog vendor noticed something amiss with the bomb that had been left.

So again, the surveillance state doesn't really do much in terms of giving us lots of security. But what it does do, is it destroys the notion of privacy, which is the area in which human creativity and dissent and challenges to orthodoxy all reside. The way things are supposed to work is we're supposed to know everything that the government does with rare exception, that's why they're called the public sector.

And they're supposed to know almost nothing about us, which is why we're private individuals, unless there's evidence that we've committed a crime. This has been completely reversed, so that we know almost nothing about what the government does.

It operates behind this impenetrable wall of secrecy, while they know everything about what it is we're doing, with whom we're speaking and communicating, what we're reading. And this imbalance, this reversal of transparency and secrecy and the way things are supposed to work, has really altered the relationship between the citizenry and the government in very profound ways.

BILL MOYERS: Is it conceivable to you that-- that giving up our privacy and even much of our liberty becomes a way of life in exchange, a trade for security? Tom Brokaw suggested as much the other day. Here he is.

TOM BROKAW on NBC News: Everyone has to understand tonight however that beginning tomorrow morning, early, there are going to be much tougher security considerations all across the country. However exhausted we may be by them, we're going to have to learn to live with them and get along and go forward and not let them bring us to our knees. You'll remember last summer how unhappy we were with all the security at the Democratic and Republican convention. Now I don't think that we could raise those complaints after what happened today in Boston.

GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, I think that is, first of all, it's extraordinary that journalists lead the way in encouraging people to accept greater government intrusion into their lives. The media, journalists, are supposed to be adversarial to the government, not encouraging people to submit to greater government authority.

But I think the broader point is that it's that false dichotomy, that the more the government learns about us, the safer we'll be. In part because what history shows is that when governments are able to surveil people in the dark, generally the greatest outcome is that they abuse that power and it becomes tyrannical. If you talk to anybody who came from Eastern Europe, they'll tell you that the reason we left is because society's become deadened and soulless, when citizens have no privacy. And it's a difficult concept to understand, why privacy is so crucial, but people understand it instinctively. They put locks on their bedroom doors, not for security, but for privacy."