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PHOTO: Mad Magazine
Almost four months ago, I wrote an article explaining why it was important to understand who Edward Snowden was and what he had done. At the time, I thought his exposure of NSA secrets would fade in the minds of the general public, much like Chelsea Manning, formerly Bradley Manning, has seemed to do.
While Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian continue to expose more and more astounding disregard for the 1st and 4th Amendment, I thought it was only right to expand on my earlier article and include the new revelations that have since been revealed.
When Snowden’s name first popped up in the news, there was much speculation about whether what he was saying was true, and if so, if it was deemed acceptable by the American public or a gross violation of our basic rights as Americans.
At the time, the only real revelation was that the NSA was collecting metadata from phone records. I was surprised to find that a lot of people were comfortable with this. The mindset seemed to be, “I have done nothing wrong, so I have nothing to hide.” While I can understand this viewpoint, as I myself have done nothing to warrant interest, I also see the threat of this stance. Give them an inch, they will take two miles, which has become quite apparent since my first article.
What has become most obvious, is that Edward Snowden is not “out to get us.” He has exposed the overreach of our government and flat out illegal practices, but contrary to what the government would have you believe, his character assassination failed and he has not threatened American lives.
There was talk of working with the Chinese, then that he was working with Russia, but neither accusation has shown to have any merit. If anything, Russia is annoyed with the USA for canceling Snowden’s passport while he was still in their country.
Luckily, after an excruciating wait, the Russian government gave Snowden one year temporary asylum. This will hopefully give him time to find a way to South America, or wherever he is headed.
Since the first revelations Snowden brought us about PRISM, I have been shocked with the ongoing exposure of the depth of the NSA spy program and the lies surrounding it.
After PRISM came XKeyscore, a program that gives the ability to the NSA to search any database for information linked to any one person. Now, President Obama has said that the NSA cannot just dive into any American’s email, browser history, etc., but that it needs a court order to perform these searches. He forgot to mention, however, that the court order they need is coming from the FISA court.
You may not know this, but the FISA court basically is a free pass for the federal government. With very little oversight and no opposition to the government’s position when presenting a case, the FISA court has proven to be a rubber stamp for the executive branch. For example, they recently came out and stated that the NSA’s phone tapping program is legal under the Patriot Act.
It has also become common knowledge that the DEA has been using tips and information coming from the NSA spy program to launch investigations and then retrace their steps to cover up the fact that they are using said information. As described to Reuters by a former agent, an example of their technique was,
“You’d be told only, ‘Be at a certain truck stop at a certain time and look for a certain vehicle.’ And so we’d alert the state police to find an excuse to stop that vehicle, and then have a drug dog search it.” After an arrest was made, agents then pretended that their investigation began with the traffic stop, not with the SOD tip.
So, information collected by the NSA, supposedly collected only to prevent terrorism and gather information about people abroad, is used to begin DEA investigations. A rarity in itself, I am actually using Fox News as a way to express how I feel about this situation:
The NSA has directed telecommunication companies to hand over the metadata of their customers, with Section 215 of the Patriot Act as the justification. Sadly, it appears that most companies have gone along with the process without resistance. Once their part was exposed, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Yahoo have filed a motion to release the NSA requests for metadata. It speaks volumes that these large companies waited until it was proven their hands were dirty before they reacted. This actually makes more sense when you understand that the NSA paid them and other companies millions of dollars to cover the cost of compliance.
Most recently, it has been exposed that our government is giving Israel raw data collected by the NSA. This alone is completely preposterous. It shows that not only is our government spying on us, they are sharing this raw data with our foothold in the Near East without reviewing if said data has US citizens’ information within. If it does contain US citizens’ personal information, Israel is allowed to hold that information for up to a year. If they receive correspondences between government officials, they are to dispose of it immediately. Israel also does not have any restriction on how they can use this data.
As far as the reaction to these revelations are concerned, I have been surprised. While the usual suspects in the USA are actively protesting the blatant disregard for our most basic freedoms, once again the general public seems to show indifference to the situation, although they do seem more miffed than usual.
Happily, I have seen a much harsher view on our government’s disregard for the ideology it spews from the worldwide stage. Unfortunately, this issue isn’t unique to the United States.
Threats and Crackdowns
If things were not confusing and frustrating enough with Obama claiming expanded protection of whistleblowers while at the same time literally lying to the public, Chelsea Manning getting 30 years in prison while those who committed war crimes she exposed are not investigated, the US government threatening Wikileaks – a legitimate news organization – as if they were terrorists, the American and some European governments took this already amazing event and turned it into a witch hunt.
At the beginning of July, President Evo Morales of Bolivia was denied access through French, Portuguese, and Italian airspace because it was rumored that Edward Snowden was a stowaway on his plane. The Spanish government claimed they would allow Morales to land and refuel, but only if they were given permission to search the President’s plane. The Bolivian President was forced to make an emergency landing in Vienna, where they were grounded for 14 hours. South America was outraged, rightfully so, at this gross injustice. Morales spoke out against America, who he blamed for the event stating, “Message to the Americans: The empire and its servants will never be able to intimidate or scare us… European countries need to liberate themselves from the imperialism of the Americans.”
In August, Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was making a connecting flight in Heathrow from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro, where he had stayed with Laura Poitras. The British government thought that he was carrying information leaked by Snowden, from Laura Poitras to Glenn Greenwald. Once Miranda landed in Heathrow Airport he was apprehended and held for nine hours, the maximum time allowed without following up with an arrest, under Section 7 of the Terrorism Act of 2000. 97% of people detained under this provision are held for less than an hour.
This event sparked discussion around the world, as well as the British government forcing the Guardian UK office to destroy hard drives which contained information regarding the Snowden leaks when the office refused to hand over their documents to the GCHQ. What was amazing about this event, was that the British GCHQ was told the information the destroyed computers contained was held in other places, including the United States. This crackdown, and Mr. Miranda’s detention, were blatant attempts at intimidation against the newspaper and its reporters.
Backpedaling and Lies
When Snowden first came out with his leaks and explanation, President Obama made it very clear that “Nobody is listening to your calls.” When taken in the literal sense, yes, it is very unlikely that every time you pick up the phone someone is trying not to breathe too heavy into the line. Obama also stated in an interview on PBS that ” if you’re a U.S. person, then NSA is not listening to your phone calls and it’s not targeting your emails unless it’s getting an individualized court order. That’s the existing rule.” It was also stated by the Obama administration that the dragnet surveillance program under Bush was discontinued. In reality, it has actually expanded.
In a harsh article in the Washington Post, Andrea Peterson lays out how, although President Obama has stated the NSA has not abused it’s power, there are well over 2,500 cases, just in the Washington D.C. and Fort Meade area, that point to the contrary.
One of the most damning spectacles of this fiasco is the case of James Clapper. In March, Clapper, the Director of the National Intelligence, flat out lied to Congress, telling them that the NSA was not spying on Americans. He later apologized, saying that he “responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful, manner.” Instead of being held in contempt, he will be consulting for the review of NSA practices.
When governments hypocritically claim we live in a free society with protected rights of free speech, one has to wonder about such actions. But don’t take my word for it, listen to what Edward Snowden has to say about the entire program.
What Edward Snowden has done is expose a government that will obviously not stop expanding its knowledge of what the American people think, say, and do. Through the continued exposures and the claims and false statements from the executive branch, it is very clear that the government is not using this program to protect Americans from terrorists, but to protect the government from Americans.
I ended my previous article on Snowden by stating that he has given us the question of what kind of society we wish to live in. I believe now, even more than then, that this is a very important question that needs to be addressed by us as a nation sooner rather than later.