When Edward Snowden was ready to leak the classified documents he’d stolen from the National Security Agency, the first journalist he contacted was Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald’s new book, No Place To Hide, tells the story of how he met Snowden, the editorial decisions he’s made and the revelations contained in the documents Snowden leaked.
One of the revelations was about how the NSA intercepts shipments of computer network devices (like servers and routers), redirects them to a secret location and implants surveillance equipment:
“This is one of the documents that I found the most remarkable… They literally interdict the package, take it back to the NSA’s location, they then open the package, (and these routers, servers and switches are intended to provide internet service to large groups of people, municipalities, or large corporations or companies or villages) –they physically implant a back door device internally in the product that would be undetectable to the eye. They then close the package, reseal it with the factory seal and then send it on to the unwitting user so that any communications that ever are transported over any of those products are automatically redirected into NSA repositories.
It’s a remarkably invasive program. There’s an entire unit and team in the NSA devoted to doing this on a regular basis… For many years, without evidence, the U.S. government was accusing the Chinese of doing exactly that with Chinese products and warning the world not to buy Chinese products—routers, switches and servers on the claim that that the Chinese government is implanting backdoors into it, and it turns out that it’s exactly what the U.S. government, through the NSA, is actually doing to American products.”
In essence, Venezuela is one of the very few countries with significant oil reserves which does not submit to U.S. dictates, and this simply cannot be permitted (such countries are always at the top of the U.S. government and media list of Countries To Be Demonized). Beyond that, the popularity of Chavez and the relative improvement of Venezuela’s poor under his redistributionist policies petrifies neoliberal institutions for its ability to serve as an example; just as the Cuban economy was choked by decades of U.S. sanctions and then held up by the U.S. as a failure of Communism, subverting the Venezuelan economy is crucial to destroying this success.
As Weisbrot notes, every country in the hemisphere except for the U.S. and Canada have united to oppose U.S. sanctions on Venezuela. The chief of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) issued a statement in February stating that “UNASUR rejects any external or internal attempt at interference that seeks to disrupt the democratic process in Venezuela,” and then issued another yesterday announcing that “UNASUR rejects any external or internal attempt at interference that seeks to disrupt the democratic process in Venezuela.” Weisbrot compares Obama’s decree this week on Venezuela to President Reagan’s quite similar 1985 decree that Nicaragua was a national security threat to the U.S., and notes: “The Obama administration is more isolated today in Latin America than even George W. Bush’s administration was.”
If Obama and supporters want the government of Venezuela to be punished and/or toppled because they refuse to comply with U.S. dictates, they should at least be honest about their beliefs so that their true character can be seen. Pretending that any of this has to do with the U.S. Government’s anger over suppression of political opponents – when their closest allies are the world champions at that – should be too insulting of everyone’s intelligence to even be an option.
The fact that war is the word we use for almost everything—on terrorism, drugs, even poverty—has certainly helped to desensitize us to its invocation; if we wage wars on everything, how bad can they be?
Now, there’s a reason why privacy is so craved universally and instinctively.
It isn’t just a reflexive movement like breathing air or drinking water. The reason is that when we’re in a state where we can be monitored, where we can be watched, our behavior changes dramatically. The range of behavioral options that we consider when we think we’re being watched severely reduce. This is just a fact of human nature that has been recognized in social science and in literature and in religion and in virtually every field of discipline. There are dozens of psychological studies that prove that when somebody knows that they might be watched, the behavior they engage in is vastly more conformist and compliant. Human shame is a very powerful motivator, as is the desire to avoid it, and that’s the reason why people, when they’re in a state of being watched, make decisions not that are the byproduct of their own agency but that are about the expectations that others have of them or the mandates of societal orthodoxy…
…[A] society in which people can be monitored at all times is a society that breeds conformity and obedience and submission, which is why every tyrant, the most overt to the most subtle, craves that system. Conversely, even more importantly, it is a realm of privacy, the ability to go somewhere where we can think and reason and interact and speak without the judgmental eyes of others being cast upon us, in which creativity and exploration and dissent exclusively reside, and that is the reason why, when we allow a society to exist in which we’re subject to constant monitoring, we allow the essence of human freedom to be severely crippled.
Because these deaths of innocents are at the hands of the U.S.
government and its despotic allies, it is very predictable how they will
be covered in the U.S. None of the victims will be profiled in American
media; it’ll be very surprising if any of their names are
even mentioned. No major American television outlet will interview their
grieving families. Americans will never learn about their extinguished
life aspirations, or the children turned into orphans, or the parents
who will now bury their infants. There will be no #FayoushStrong Twitter
hashtags trending in the U.S. It’ll be like it never happened: blissful
This is the pattern that repeats itself over and over. Just see the
stone-cold media silence when President Obama, weeks after winning the
Nobel Peace Prize, ordered a cruise missile strike in Yemen, complete
with cluster bombs, which ended the lives of 35 women and children, none of whose humanity was acknowledged in virtually any Western media reports.
That, in general, has long been Obama’s primary role in our political system and his premiere, defining value to the permanent power factions that run Washington. He prettifies the ugly; he drapes the banner of change over systematic status quo perpetuation; he makes Americans feel better about policies they find repellent without the need to change any of them in meaningful ways. He’s not an agent of change but the soothing branding packaging for it.
As is always the case, those who want genuine changes should not look to politicians, and certainly not to Barack Obama, to wait for it to be gifted. Obama was forced to give this speech by rising public pressure, increasingly scared US tech giants, and surprisingly strong resistance from the international community to the out-of-control American surveillance state.
“One of the big questions when is comes to domestic spying is, ‘Who have been the NSA’s specific targets?’ Are they political critics and dissidents and activists? Are they genuinely people we’d regard as terrorists? What are the metrics and calculations that go into choosing those targets and what is done with the surveillance that is conducted? Those are the kinds of questions that I want to still answer,” Mr. Greenwald told The Sunday Times of London.
Mr. Greenwald also pointed to the failures of the NSA to catch Mr. Snowden during his download and theft of 1.7 million documents, and said that’s further evidence of the government’s inability to guarantee data security.
“There is this genuinely menacing [spy] system and at the same time, [they] are really inept about how they operate it,” he said, Newsmax reported. “Not only was he out there under their noses downloading huge amounts of documents without being detected, but to this day, they’re incapable of finding out what he took.”
Terrorists and extremists and the like have always known that we are trying to eavesdrop on their communications. Osama bin Laden would only communicate, quite famously, through personal courier because of how widespread that knowledge already was long before Edward Snowden. So I don’t think there’s any evidence at all that the reporting that we’ve done has in any way impeded the U.S. government’s ability to spy on actual terrorists. What we’ve really revealed is that everybody else in the world is also the target of the spying.
Glenn Greenwald speaking to Fresh Air about reporting on the NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden
Over the last 16 months, as I’ve debated this issue around the world, every single time somebody has said to me, “I don’t really worry about invasions of privacy because I don’t have anything to hide.” I always say the same thing to them. I get out a pen, I write down my email address. I say, “Here’s my email address. What I want you to do when you get home is email me the passwords to all of your email accounts, not just the nice, respectable work one in your name, but all of them, because I want to be able to just troll through what it is you’re doing online, read what I want to read and publish whatever I find interesting. After all, if you’re not a bad person, if you’re doing nothing wrong, you should have nothing to hide.” Not a single person has taken me up on that offer.
One of the worst myths official Washington and its establishment media have told itself about the torture debate is that the controversy is limited to three cases of waterboarding at Guantánamo and a handful of bad Republican actors. In fact, a wide array of torture techniques were approved at the highest levels of the U.S. Government and then systematically employed in lawless US prisons around the world - at Bagram (including during the Obama presidency), CIA black sites, even to US citizens on US soil. So systematic was the torture regime that a 2008 Senate report concluded that the criminal abuses at Abu Ghraib were the direct result of the torture mentality imposed by official Washington.
The Senate Intelligence Committee today will release part of its “torture report.” The report is the by-product of four years of work (2009-2013) and is 6,000 pages long. Only the Executive Summary, roughly 600 pages, will be released today. Even some of that is redacted: the names of CIA agents participating in the torture, countries which agreed to allow CIA black sites, and other details. For months, top Democrats on the Committee warred with the Obama White House due to the latter’s attempts to redact far more vital information than even stalwart CIA ally Dianne Feinstein thought necessary.
None of this has been in any plausible doubt for years. Recall that Gen. Antonio Taguba, who led an official investigation into prisoner abuse, said in 2008: “There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.” Gen. Barry McCaffrey said : “We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the CIA.” Nobody needs this Senate report to demonstrate that the U.S. government became an official squad of torture (with the American public largely on board).
Still, this will be by far the most comprehensive and official account of the War on Terror’s official torture regime. Given the authors – Committee Democrats along with two Maine Senators: Angus King (I) and Susan Collins ® – it’s likely to whitewash critical events, including the key, complicit role members of Congress such as Nancy Pelosi played in approving the program (important details of which are still disputed), as well an attempt to insulate the DC political class by stressing how the CIA “misled” elected officials about the program. But the report is certain to lay bare in very stark terms some of the torture methods, including “graphic details about sexual threats” and what Reuters still euphemistically and subserviently calls “other harsh interrogation techniques the CIA meted out to captured militants.”
Important parts of the Obama administration engaged in all sorts of gamesmanship to prevent the report’s release, including a last-minute call from John Kerry to Feinstein in which the Secretary of State warned that release of the report could endanger American lives (a warning affirmed yesterday by the White House) And a vital part of President Obama’s legacy will be his repeated and ultimately successful efforts to shield the torturers from all forms of legal accountability - which, aside from being a brazen breach of America’s treaty obligations, makes deterrence of future American torture almost impossible (Obama did that even in the face of some polls showing pluralities favored criminal investigations of torture).
To see how little accountability there still is for national security state officials, recall that the CIA got caught spying on the Senate Committee and then lying about it, yet John Brennan kept his job as CIA Director (just as James Clapper is still Director of National Intelligence despite getting caught lying about NSA domestic spying). Any decent person, by definition, would react with revulsion to today’s report, but nobody should react with confidence that its release will help prevent future occurrences by a national security state that resides far beyond democratic accountability, let alone the law.
The Intercept will have comprehensive coverage of the report throughout the day. We’ll have full annotations of the report; graphical guides to the key parts; reporting in Washington from Dan Froomkin, who has been covering the report for months, and other reporters; and I’ll be live-blogging key parts of the report and other fallout in this space all day, appearing, in reverse chronological order, underneath these initial observations.
It is hard to imagine having a government more secretive than the United States. Virtually everything that government does, of any significance, is conducted behind an extreme wall of secrecy. The very few leaks that we’ve had over the last decade are basically the only ways that we’ve had to learn what our government is doing.
The many pro-surveillance advocates I have debated since Snowden blew the whistle have been quick to echo [Google CEO] Eric Schmidt’s view that privacy is for people who have something to hide. But none of them would willingly give me the passwords to their email accounts, or allow video cameras in their homes.
Each year, Reporters Without Borders issues a worldwide ranking of nations based on the extent to which they protect or abridge press freedom. The group’s 2015 ranking was released this morning, and the United States is ranked 49th.
That is the lowest ranking ever
during the Obama presidency, and the second-lowest ranking for the U.S.
since the rankings began in 2002 (in 2006, under Bush, the U.S. was
ranked 53rd). The countries immediately ahead of the U.S. are Malta,
Niger, Burkino Faso, El Salvador, Tonga, Chile and Botswana.
Some of the U.S.’s closest allies fared even worse, including Saudi
Arabia (164), Bahrain (163), Egypt (158), the UAE (120), and Israel
(101: “In the West Bank, the Israeli security forces deliberately fired
rubber bullets and teargas at Palestinian journalists”; 15 journalists
were killed during Israeli attack on Gaza; and “the authorities also
stepped up control of programme content on their own TV stations during
the offensive, banning a spot made by the Israeli NGO B’Tselem that
cited the names of 150 children who had been killed in the Gaza Strip”).
To explain the latest drop for the U.S., the press group cited the U.S. government’s persecution of New York Times reporter Jim Risen, as well as the fact that the U.S. “continues its war on information in others, such as WikiLeaks.” Also cited were the numerous arrests of journalists covering the police protests in Ferguson, Missouri (which included The Intercept‘s Ryan Devereaux, who was tear-gassed and shot with a rubber bullet prior to his arrest).
It should come as no surprise that the U.S. continues to plummet in
press freedoms under Obama. In October, 2013, the Committee to Protect
Freedom issued a scathing denunciation
of the U.S. government’s attacks on press freedoms, the first time the
U.S. was ever the subject of one of its reports. Written by former Washington Post
executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr., it detailed the multiple ways the
Obama administration has eroded press freedoms, and concluded:
The administration’s war on leaks and other efforts to
control information are the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon
administration, when I was one of the editors involved in The Washington
Post’s investigation of Watergate. The 30 experienced Washington
journalists at a variety of news organizations whom I interviewed for
this report could not remember any precedent.
That warning echoed the one previously issued by James Goodale, the General Counsel of the New York Times during the Pentagon Papers battle, who said: “President Obama wants to criminalize the reporting of national security information” and
“President Obama will surely pass President Richard Nixon as the worst
president ever on issues of national security and press freedom.”