Category Archives: Bradley Manning

NSA Stands For Not Suckers Anymore: Americans Rally Against Smooth Talk and Cheap Theatrics


US media are obsessed with Tea Party Republican threats to crash the economy and Ted Cruz’s self-promoting talkathon about Obamacare, while more important news gets buried.  US Senate hearings into abuse of NSA surveillance powers, far from representing popular opposition to the spying, in practice demonstrated nothing but the security agencies’ regulatory capture of Congressional committees. Fuming at their exposure by Edward Snowden, officials said they were finding ways to “counter the popular narrative” in order to keep monitoring citizens’ phone calls. Only Senator Ron Wyden challenged this story: the NSA leadership, he said, “built an intelligence collection system that repeatedly deceived the American people.”

This is the defining feature of US politics today – the diverging trajectories of the public and the executive branch. While the administration is negotiating secret trade agreements that would lock in corporate hegemony over small nations and the US population (such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP), there is growing domestic opposition to the administration’s plans for far-flung military interventions and its refusal to curb the excesses of big banks.

The lack of international and domestic support for these strategies is what constrains the Obama administration from continuing the course set by George W. Bush. Obama’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday was a blunt assertion of neo-imperial ideology, while denying the label of empire.  He said: “The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region. … We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world.”

His realpolitik made Bush look like a starry-eyed idealist, while giving his message a liberal tinge by warning that US disengagement from the Middle East would lead to chaos by “creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.” This tone-deaf (to other countries) remark seemed intended primarily to bring his Congressional critics into line. Journalist Jeremy Scahill was flabbergasted by the speech, pointing out that Obama “basically stakes out a neo-con vision of American foreign policy and owns it and kind of wraps it in this cloak of democratic legitimacy.”

On the one hand, public disillusion with the US imperial role stems from Americans’ experience of Iraq and Afghanistan. But it is also connected to the revelations of NSA surveillance and growing economic impoverishment at home. Americans see themselves potentially caught in a vise of lost opportunity and lost rights. The administration is seeing pushback from several fronts: from the Occupy movement to whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, and even real congressional opposition within the Democratic party, to be distinguished from the sideshow theatrics of the Tea Party extreme right.

Take for instance the success of Democratic senators’ opposition to Obama’s pick for Federal Reserve chair, Larry Summers. Ezra Klein reported in the Washington Post: “Summers really fell because those Senate Democrats — and many other liberals — don’t trust the Obama administration’s entire approach to regulating Wall Street. … Liberals want to see the biggest banks broken apart so they’re easier to oversee and less of a threat to the financial system if they go bust. … The Obama administration simply disagrees that this concentration is, in and of itself, a problem.”

Harold Meyerson makes clear that these political divisions have their source in a profound social distrust of corporations and the financial sector. He explains that “the abject failures of the market economy” are creating a “growing conflict between those Democrats who have hitched their wagons to Wall Street [like Cory Booker and Rahm Emanuel]… and those … who believe government’s role is in advancing the interests of the middle class and protecting it from finance. … what Warren & Co. have going for them is millennials’ pervasive disenchantment with the market economics that have plunged them into a nightmare of unemployment and undercompensation.”

The same pervasive disenchantment with the results of neoliberal market economics that led to Occupy Wall Street’s rise two years ago continues to simmer. The campaign of the low-waged for a $15 minimum hourly rate taps into that same sensibility. Their argument is that they are forced to subsist on a pittance while the corporate owners make billions out of their labor. Bill de Blasio’s campaign for New York mayor is also boosted by the same anti-inequality sentiment.

Before Occupy came on the scene, public criticism of the super-affluent was taboo. Media commentators and political figures felt obliged to portray them as a shining symbol of capitalism’s success. Occupy’s most lasting legacy is a shift in the national discourse that identifies the antagonism between the “one percent” and the American public, one that surfaced again clearly in the political reaction to Romney’s “47 percent” remarks during the 2012 election.

Many of Occupy’s activists had voted for Obama in 2008 and became disgusted with his administration’s refusal to curb bank predations or to prosecute a single banker. The wildfire spread of occupations – alarming the establishment – brought together many preexisting protest and community campaigns around a common focus. As Rebecca Solnit writes: “Almost as soon as Occupy Wall Street appeared in the fall of 2011, it was clear that the national conversation had changed, that the brutality and obscenity of Wall Street was suddenly being openly discussed, that the suffering of ordinary people crushed by the burden of medical, housing, or college debt was coming out of the shadows, that the Occupy encampments had become places where people could testify about the destruction of their hopes and lives.”

The experimental communities of occupiers were not able to withstand systematic state disruption and the difficulties of maintaining their camps in a hostile environment.  The movement returned to its diverse origins – transformed by the experience but unable to continue general assemblies without the imperatives of communal survival keeping the components of the movement together – leaving intact networks that re-emerged when state institutions failed the community, such as Occupy Sandy.

Writing in CounterPunch, Steven Sherman discusses Occupy’s inherent weaknesses. He writes: “Occupy encampments were already starting to suffer exhaustion when they were swept off the streets by the police after about two months … Movements have been known to meet in union halls, community centers and many other places. You don’t actually need a camp out to have a movement. And yet Occupy did go into a tailspin. … The sense that the movement was growing and growing, that a call for a radically different sort of politics had truly touched a nerve, that ‘we are unstoppable’ has utterly receded.”

But it did not simply fall apart. Author and journalist Nathan Schneider points out: “This was a movement that was systematically torn apart by the security state, by the militarized police forces in cities all across the country. …It was not only brute force. In meeting after meeting after meeting, there were clear infiltrators who were disrupting the discussions and making sure that no sustainable organizing practices could take hold.”

Clearly the movement did not pose a physical danger to society by taking over public spaces. The threat to the ruling elite was primarily ideological, it seems to me. Occupy captured the public imaginary in a way that had not happened since the 1970s, and broke through the structure of social control that had confined dissent to ineffective and contained protests and to the two-party system.

Obama’s public role was to divert resistance into his re-election, leveraging the sentiment Occupy channeled by adopting its rhetoric. It’s a testimony to his political skill that his own role in the 2008 TARP bailout is not more clearly remembered and that he is able to retain his appeal as a symbol of the social movement that elected him.

The suppression of Occupy didn’t destroy this social movement, which is making itself felt in a subterranean way through the political system. The unlikely alliances of Democrats and libertarian Republicans in Congress express, however mutedly, intense public discontent with the way the Obama administration is running the country on behalf of Wall Street and the business classes while the plight of the average American is glossed over with soothing rhetorical phrases.

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Filed under 2012 Election, Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, National Security Agency, Obama, Occupy Sandy, occupy wall street, political analysis, Rahm Emanuel, US policy

Power to the People or Power to Our Masters? King’s Legacy and Obama’s Presidency


We seem to be living in a bizarro alternate universe where Republican politicians are against another imperial military adventure in the Middle East and Nancy Pelosi is all for it. Donald Rumsfeld – who ten years ago wanted to invade the whole of the region, one country after another – now vocally opposes a strike on Syria.

Obama will seek approval from Congress after losing British support and coming under pressure from the Senate and the House, but his success is by no means certain. Like Cameron’s failure to get backing from British MPs, this signals the undermining of executive power as a consequence of its over-reach over the last ten years. Juan Cole points out that the legacy of the false justification for the Iraq war hung over the British parliament; in Washington, the legacy includes an ongoing military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and the further revelations of NSA spying.

Obama is prepared to use executive power to launch wars on the other side of the world, but he shows no sign of using it to further the fight against social inequality in the US. This dissonance made Wednesday’s commemoration of the March on Washington an embarrassing travesty: while Martin Luther King preached nonviolence to achieve social change, the president who was elected on the back of the achievements of the civil rights movement channeled the outlook of the military-cyber-industrial complex.

Dana Milbank noted the corporate atmosphere of the event: “The original march was a challenge to the established order. The sequel was a rally of the powerful, including three presidents. There were special entrances for ‘ticketed guests.’ There was a $132-per-person ‘I Have a Dream’ brunch at the Willard Hotel (with ‘commemorative Martin Luther King keepsake’).”

Obama berated the desire for government support as “denying agency in our own liberation,” but told ordinary citizens that just by being good citizens (or businessmen paying a fair wage) they were changing the world for the better. He praised the original marchers in terms of dutiful citizenship but minimized the legacy of civil disobedience. “Everyone who realizes what those glorious patriots knew on that day, that change does not come from Washington but to Washington, that change has always been built on our willingness, we, the people, to take on the mantle of citizenship – you are marching,” he declaimed.

In contrast to King, who sought to inspire his supporters to empower themselves through political struggle, Obama recast protest as obeying the law rather than questioning the basis of its fairness. By divorcing social issues from government he urged citizens to leave politics to the political elite – a “trust us” message that buttresses the role of centralized executive power and furthers the agenda for a security state.

The genius of Martin Luther King lay in his ability to connect all the strands of the movement for social justice and simultaneously inspire and give it direction. He had realized how the struggle for civil rights could be translated into a mass political movement that put pressure on the Kennedy administration. The confrontations he led in Alabama were aimed at impacting the political consciousness of the nation.

The 1963 March on Washington is remembered today as a march over civil rights, but it was originally planned by union activists to protest growing unemployment and discrimination against African-Americans in northern cities. It was only after Bull Connor used attack dogs and high-pressure hoses against children in Birmingham that civil rights got national attention and rose to the top of the agenda.

According to historian Taylor Branch,  “[King] took a stupefying risk in Birmingham to allow not only high school students, but elementary school students, to take the place of a dwindling number of adult volunteers who were discouraged. And instead of 10 or 15, which is what the daily quota had finally dwindled down to be, they had over a thousand students march, downtown Birmingham, and were met with dogs and fire hoses on May 2nd and May 3rd. It was a stupefying gamble in his career … before that breakthrough, the sides were in gridlock over segregation in America. … After Birmingham, everybody was raising questions.”

King’s leading role in transforming the political discourse is made clear in a phone call that was recorded by the FBI, cited in a New York Times book review. “ ‘We are on the threshold of a significant breakthrough, and the greatest weapon is the mass demonstration,’ King told his close friend Levison… Because of Birmingham, King went on, ‘we are at the point where we can mobilize all of this righteous indignation into a powerful mass movement,’ and even the mere threat of a march on Washington might so ‘frighten’ President Kennedy that he would send a meaningful civil rights bill to Congress.”

King’s articulation of his dream – that all men are created equal – was a triumph of imagination, an ideal that succeeded in strengthening and encouraging civil rights campaigners who daily confronted jail or death, making it a moral imperative by couching it in the language of the Declaration of Independence and of the Gospels. This language spanned the racial divide to inspire whites as well as blacks and isolate segregationists.

His speech was addressed directly to those who had come “fresh from narrow jail cells,” the “veterans of creative suffering.” He told them to “continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our Northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.”

The substance of King’s rhetoric, and what still resonates today, is the ideal of justice that mobilized the tremendous sacrifices involved in carrying out this campaign of civil disobedience in the most difficult conditions in 1963. The substance of Obama’s rhetoric, on the other hand, is support for the status quo. He seeks to undermine popular sovereignty by telling citizens to go about their business without protesting the authority of the executive to authorize NSA surveillance, the jailing of whistleblowers, and force-feeding foreign nationals imprisoned in Guantanamo.

King’s dream persists not because of the grandiose ceremonies last week, but because of the struggles of ordinary workers throughout the country for a living wage, and the struggle of Chicago teachers to defend the right to education. It lives in the actions of whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, and the growing popular resistance to the security state and military intervention in Syria. The ideal of justice is alive in the people, and that is why freedom will ring.

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Pulling Back the Curtain on Wizards, Plutocrats, and the Secret Police State


Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning’s appeal for a presidential pardon casts a spotlight on the role Obama himself had in Manning’s conviction. He was not a bystander in the process; as Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jónsdóttir pointed out, the military commander-in-chief had declared his certainty of Manning’s guilt before the trial had even begun.

The prosecution was closely guided by the government, which demanded a sentence of 60 years, or a lifetime in jail. The judge gave him 35 years, but even with remission he will be dishonorably discharged, losing pay and pension rights, so will presumably be condemned to a life of homelessness after release. Meanwhile those responsible for actual crimes and military atrocities remain at liberty.

David Coombs, Manning’s defense lawyer, told journalist Alexa O’Brien on Democracy Now that not only was the government’s unprecedented charge of aiding the enemy presented without supporting evidence, “in every other charging decision that they made, they pushed the envelope of, and even strained, any realistic reading of what the law is. … It was almost a win-at-all-costs mentality. … every day we had a group of people behind the prosecution, that just sat there. Occasionally they would pass notes to the trial counsel … clearly there were outside influences. … They never deviated from pushing the envelope.”

Does the punitive sentence justify Chris Hedges’ conclusion that “There are no institutional mechanisms left to halt the shredding of our most fundamental civil liberties … State power is to be, from now on, unchecked, unfettered and unregulated”? To assume the defeat of democracy is premature, although Hedges’ frustration at the apparent public docility over these STASI-like stratagems is understandable. It may be that, as Juan Cole says, “the government took us another step down the road to authoritarian government by convicting [Manning] on espionage charges, confusing leaking with spying for the enemy,” but this step hasn’t yet brought us to a police state. The real issue is, where are we on this road?

The detention of David Miranda, Glenn Greenwald’s partner, by the British government at Heathrow was intended to send a message of intimidation to the journalist and his publisher, but another message got sent instead. As Greenwald wrote: “every time the US and UK governments show their true character to the world – when they prevent the Bolivian President’s plane from flying safely home, when they threaten journalists with prosecution, when they engage in behavior like what they did today – all they do is helpfully underscore why it’s so dangerous to allow them to exercise vast, unchecked spying power in the dark.”

The Guardian added: “The detention of Mr Miranda subverts the benefit of the doubt that liberal democracies ask for when they arm themselves against terrorism.” While the White House distanced itself from the heavy-handed way British authorities acted, it did so because their ineptness makes it too clear that the security state does not exist to protect its citizens but to pursue the political agendas of its global masters.

In other words, the extreme nature of the security state’s reaction to Snowden and Manning’s revelations indicates its vulnerability to exposure. This would be unimportant if the public had already accepted the existence of unfettered state power, if its democratic spirit had already been crushed. The threat to state power comes from the possibility that increased scrutiny will lose it popular acceptance of its authority to govern.

Some argue that nation-states are being transformed into “globalized states that serve the interests of transnational capital above the interests of national populations.” A strengthening of the executive branch, in this view, corresponds to relatively autonomous elite rule, weakening the state’s connection with citizens “as the state follows capital into a new global economic system.”

However, there is a tension between this trend and the actual source of governmental legitimacy in popular sovereignty. To avoid major unrest, it is vital for a state to hide from its population how much of its independence has been sacrificed to international capital; in the case of the US, it means concealing the extent to which democratic rights have been superseded by strategic moves towards authoritarian rule. This may go some way to explain why Obama, elected on a platform of transparency, has been so active in defending state secrecy.

Yves Smith suggests that these moves have been exposed to the public before the plutocracy is ready to enforce them. “It isn’t just that the economic rights for ordinary workers and the social safety nets of the New Deal and the earlier labor movements here and abroad are being demolished. … ordinary people are increasingly aware of [the program], and the folks behind it didn’t want to be caught out at this delicate stage. Imagine if you were executing a coup and got exposed, before you had seized all the critical installations you needed to capture for your victory to be complete. The collective awareness of the degree of loss of economic and political rights we had all taken for granted has risen considerably as a result of the Snowden/ Greenwald/ Poitras revelations.”

Apart from domestic surveillance of its citizens, what else does the US government want to hide? Two secret agreements currently being negotiated are the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the US-EU “Free Trade” agreement. Just like the NSA, Congress has nominal oversight of the negotiations while in practice legislators cannot examine the details because the text is classified. Corporations, on the other hand, have participated in the drafting of the agreements.

According to economist Dean Baker, the deals are about securing regulatory gains for major corporate interests, enforcing patent and copyright protection across national borders which threaten to increase prices on specific items like patented drugs by a factor of thousands above the market price. He says: “The Obama administration is negotiating these pacts in secret. It has made almost nothing about the negotiating process public and has shared none of the proposed text with the relevant committees in Congress. … This is yet another case where the government is working for a tiny elite against the interests of the bulk of the population.”

The administration’s close identification with corporate rent-enforcing is confirmed by the political orientation of Obama’s top advisors. One of them, Jim Messina, the campaign manager of his 2012 reelection campaign and chairman of his ongoing grass-roots lobbying operation, has become a consultant to the reelection of the austerity-enforcing, anti-public sector and anti-immigrant party of British prime minister David Cameron.

Harold Meyerson commented that this ideological side-step “reflects an emerging set of political beliefs among some younger Democratic Party leaders who have grown close to Wall Street, Silicon Valley or both – as Messina did while bringing both big money and technological wizardry to Obama’s reelection campaign. This umpteenth iteration of the New Democrats believes in such socially liberal causes as gay marriage but is skeptical of unions and appalled at economic populism.”

The “technological wizardry” of Obama’s reelection campaign treated voters in the same way that Amazon or Google treats consumers – as data points in a spreadsheet to be manipulated. There is a convergence in outlook between the security state, the corporate elite, and leading corporate Democrats like Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and Newark mayor Cory Booker, who defended Wall Street during the election controversy over Bain Capital’s plant closings.

But senators like Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, and Representative Justin Amash, who have fought to reveal the extent of state surveillance are leveraging a bipartisan popular mood of resistance that is increasingly in opposition to corporate Democrats – all of whose Congressional representatives voted against the Amash bill to defund the NSA. They reflect a Congressional leadership increasingly losing its trust in Obama’s credibility. They are catching up with the rest of us.

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Executive Overreach and Its Season of Discontent: Judge Scheindlin Rebukes Stop-and-Frisk


In a landmark ruling on Monday, federal judge Shira A. Scheindlin found that the stop-and-frisk tactics of New York police violated the constitutional rights of minority youth. According to the New York Times, she said the NYPD had “adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling” and that the city was responsible for a battery of constitutional violations. While not ordering an end to the practice, she said the stops had to be carried out in a manner that “protects the rights and liberties of all New Yorkers.”

She found that the NYPD’s practices violated not only 4th Amendment rights but also the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, ruling that “Targeting young black and Hispanic men for stops based on the alleged criminal conduct of other young black or Hispanic men violates bedrock principles of equality.”

Writing before the verdict was announced, Guardian writer Gary Younge commented that the stop-and-frisk investigation, together with the trials of Bradley Manning and George Zimmerman, “raises fundamental questions about the function and purpose of the American state, the moral underpinnings of the legal system in which it is grounded, and the degree to which the law is designed to work for or against the people in whose name it operates … while [the state] has aggregated power, it has failed to garner the influence to sustain or justify it.” His implication is that the executive’s overreach has undermined the social consensus needed to maintain the state’s legitimacy.

Judge Scheindlin’s decision answered Younge’s questions by demonstrating that the U.S. state is not a monolithic entity but rather a complex of competing bureaucracies, in which sections of the judiciary as well as legislators who believe the law must work for the people coexist in an antagonistic relation with executive power. Judge Scheindlin is as much a part of the state as the Supreme Court and the National Security Agency, as are whistleblowers like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden; the state as a whole is a battleground between competing interests, and its history is one of both repression and resistance, just as U.S. society embodies the history of savage racial discrimination and courageous movements for civil rights.

Instead of an informed and engaged public, as envisioned by the Constitution’s drafters, the national security state has a different objective.  Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch argues that its goal “is to turn the American people into so much absorbable, controllable intelligence data, our identities sliced, diced, and passed around the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the surveillance world.” He adds: “thanks to our ‘spies’ [Manning and Snowden], we know a great deal more about how our American world, our government, really works, but we still don’t know what this thing that’s being built really is. … We lack words for what is happening to us.  We still have to name it.”

One feature of what has happened to us is the exponential growth of the security apparatus in relation to other state agencies. Juan Cole points out: “It is one of the problems with having a standing army and a huge intelligence-industrial complex, which the founding generation warned against – it becomes a lobby within the government for militarism and against civil liberties.” The excesses of the executive under Bush that have been continued by the Obama administration trace their roots to the military role of the U.S. state in policing the world. Since the late 1970s, the capture of government agencies by corporate and plutocratic interests has exacerbated anti-democratic tendencies, turning policing against Americans and their resistance to the social disruption and unemployment created by globalized production.

Even though Americans are divided culturally, most share a commitment to ideals of freedom and equality that originate with the American Revolution. That is why Edward Snowden’s revelations of NSA surveillance produced a visceral reaction of support that cut across party and ideological ties. He showed in detail how the security agencies cooperated closely with high-tech companies not only to carry out electronic surveillance but also to conceal and control the information available to the public.

After Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, Amy Goodman asked author Bob McChesney about the time Amazon shut down the servers it was renting to WIkileaks. McChesney replied: “I consulted people I knew fairly high up in the State Department off the record, and they said that they did not have to put pressure on … Amazon for that to happen, that Amazon was more than willing to cooperate. It was not a difficult sell, and there was no real pressure on them. … the large Internet giant monopolies, starting with, at the top of the list, Amazon, but really including Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, AT&T, Verizon, right on down the list, they all have an extraordinarily cozy relationship with the national security state, with the military, the intelligence community. … we’ve created this military-digital complex of sorts.”

McChesney argues that the corporations have the dominant role in this relationship, adding: “How much power is in unaccountable monopolies? And these companies are really unaccountable to the government. You look at Obama running around trying to be on good terms with the companies. And now they control the news media directly, some of them, like Bezos.”

Glenn Greenwald, on the other hand, thinks that it was the government that initiated “the vast public-private surveillance partnership … as our reporting has demonstrated, most US-based tech and telecom companies (though not all) meekly submit to the US government’s dictates and cooperative extensively and enthusiastically with the NSA to ensure access to your communications.”

Whoever took the lead in forming the partnership, it would seem to me that both the tech corporations and security state have a joint dependency: the tech companies need state legislative sanction and government subsidies to operate, and the security forces need tech companies’ expertise in gathering data on individuals. There is a convergence of interests where economic exploitation of consumers and political surveillance of citizens come together.

Globalization has transformed states insofar as the executive is drawn closer to a corporate view of society as abstract consumers whose behavior needs to be monitored. This has led to a paranoid drive for secrecy and vindictive punishing of whistleblowers – because the security agencies require citizens to remain passive while they are being “protected,” and fear public reaction to what they are really up to.

Should we then call the U.S. state a plutocratic dictatorship, some kind of police state or “corporate totalitarianism,” as Chris Hedges believes? That would be jumping the gun, in my opinion, because the state is divided internally as a reflection of potential resistance from the public and of its own democratic traditions. Americans are energized today not just by outrage at government surveillance, but also by economic hardship. Since unions and strikes have been virtually legislated out of existence, the low-waged are driven to strike actions aimed at leveraging public opinion – such as the campaign for a $15 minimum wage – which inevitably turn towards political action, like the Washington DC City Council decision to mandate a $12.50 hourly wage for projected Walmart stores in the area.

So I would venture to characterize the U.S. as a transitional state in which there is a growing tension between democracy and the security forces, between the remaining institutions of the New Deal and neoliberal dispossession of the public estate. Its exact nature has still to be fought out, but thanks to courageous individuals within the state itself, the struggle is one in which the public is increasingly engaged.

UPDATE: Google has argued in court that users of its gmail service should expect to have their correspondence scanned for delivery of targeted ads.  There’s no technical difference between mining email content for ads and scanning it for dissent.

UPDATE 2: The Washington Post has reported that the NSA broke privacy rules on US citizens’ communications thousands of times since 2008. “One team of analysts in Hawaii, for example, asked a system called DISHFIRE to find any communications that mentioned both the Swedish manufacturer Ericsson and ‘radio’ or ‘radar’ — a query that could just as easily have collected on people in the United States as on their Pakistani military target.”

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Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, and the crisis in government legitimacy


The events of the past few weeks have vindicated Edward Snowden many times over. A public discussion is now taking place about NSA surveillance that would never have happened without his revelations; Glenn Greenwald has proved his claim that any NSA analyst could access anyone’s keystrokes by detailing the XKeyscore software that will do this; and Snowden’s own father has supported his decision to seek asylum in Russia because the US “cannot guarantee a fair court,” given the vindictive prosecution of Bradley Manning.

At the same time, limits to the power of the US security state have become apparent. Russia has given Snowden asylum – as a strong state it will not allow any attempts at rendition – and the Obama administration is losing its grip on Congress.

In his latest article, Glenn Greenwald reports how legislators, who theoretically have oversight of the security forces, are furious at having been denied information about the domestic spying program even when they have specifically requested it. He concludes: “members of Congress in general clearly know next to nothing about the NSA and the FISA court beyond what they read in the media, and those who try to rectify that are being actively blocked from finding out.”

An unprecedented Congressional revolt came within seven votes of ending NSA surveillance of US phone calls altogether by cutting off funding. The bill panicked the White House, which used some serious arm-twisting to prevent it from passing. Amy Goodman reported on Democracy Now: “NSA director, General Keith Alexander, personally lobbied House members, reportedly calling their cellphones and opening with a joke that, yes, he already had their number.”

According to the Guardian, “Justin Amash, the Republican congressman whose measure to terminate the indiscriminate collection of phone data was narrowly defeated 10 days ago, said he was certain the next legislative push will succeed. … In the Senate, Democrat Ron Wyden said there was similarly ‘strong bipartisan support for fundamental reforms’, a direct consequence of revelations about the nature and power of NSA surveillance. ‘Eight weeks ago, we wouldn’t have had this debate in the Congress,’ he said. ‘Eight weeks ago there wouldn’t have been this extraordinary vote’.”

At the same time, the executive branch is continuing its offensive against whistleblowers and publishers. At least five government departments, if not more, participated in preparing the case for Bradley Manning’s prosecution, charging him with espionage rather than whistleblowing. The framing of their case made it clear that Julian Assange and Wikileaks is next.

Assange himself pointed out that the investigation against Wikileaks “is the largest investigation and prosecution against a publisher in United States history and, arguably, … anywhere in the world. … The tender for the DOJ to manage the documents related to the prosecution—the broader prosecution against WikiLeaks and myself, and not just the Manning case—is $1 [million] to $2 million per year just to maintain the computer system that manages the prosecution’s documents.”

Although the government failed to convict Manning of the capital crime of aiding the enemy, he still faces a potential lifetime in jail. The judge backed away from the aiding the enemy charge not only because of its possible implications in criminalizing investigative journalism and the media but also because of the public reaction to Edward Snowden’s revelations. A Pew poll found that 47% of those polled considered that anti-terrorism policies had gone too far, while only 35% thought they didn’t go far enough. This is the first time that Pew has found more people expressing concern over civil liberties than terrorism since 2004.

It’s worth pondering the implications of the poll results. The shift in attitudes spreads over political and ideological lines, showing that privacy concerns are not confined to a fringe element of libertarians. What characterizes the political situation is the growing awareness of the US population to sensitive political issues like race and state invasion of privacy.

Veteran journalist Chris Hedges seems to have misjudged the changed political landscape, telling Paul Jay of the Real News Network: “We have shifted, I think, from a democratic state to a species of corporate totalitarianism.” He argues that “the mechanisms of control, as any Walmart worker will tell you, are quite severe. … We are the most surveilled, monitored, eavesdropped, controlled, watched population in human history, and I speak as somebody who covered the Stasi state in East Germany.”

Although it’s true that the Obama administration has extended the framework of a police state, we are not there yet. The signs are of an increasingly fractured society, whose governing systems are under strain. Certain forms of resistance like unions and the radical left have indeed been undermined, but Americans have not been cowed and defeated.

More evidence that this is true is given by the largest strike of fast-food workers in the history of the US. Hundreds of workers walked out in major cities in the Midwest as well as New York City to demand a living wage. Josh Eidelson commented on Democracy Now: “We have seen that having these workers out on strike has created momentum that politicians have jumped onto. The Congressional Progressive Caucus has been rallying and picketing with these workers. It’s shifted the national debate, in much the way that, organizers note, didn’t happen when labor was pushing for labor law reform a few years ago.”

Terrance Wise, who works two jobs at Pizza Hut and Burger King, said on the program: “we’re already dying slowly in our day-to-day lives, so why not speak up and stand up and let the nation know that we’re suffering? And this is really a cry for help. And this great nation shouldn’t turn their back on working-class people who need help.”

As fast-food workers join those intervening in the political discourse, it is clear there are fissures opening in US society’s ideological underpinnings. There may not be mass demonstrations out on the streets, but the decisions and statements of the government and courts are shaped with an eye to keeping control of public opinion, underlining the tenuousness of government legitimacy.

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