Rather than facing unpleasant facts about runaway surveillance programs, lawmakers have preferred to kill the proverbial messenger.
Published in the September 2013 issue of the New Internationalist.
Brazilians are furious.
In June, ex-defense contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified documents from the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) to the Washington Post and to Glenn Greenwald of the British Guardian. Since then, Greenwald has published a series of scoops revealing the troubling reach of U.S. surveillance.
A story in July showed that U.S. intelligence has monitored millions of e-mails and phone calls from Brazilian citizens. According to the Guardian, this makes Brazil—ostensibly a U.S. ally—”among the most heavily data-mined nations, alongside China, Russia and Pakistan.” In the wake of the revelations, shame-faced U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was left to call Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to convince her not to cancel a visit to Washington in October.
Bolivians are furious.
When the U.S. suspected that a plane from Russia carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales might also be transporting Snowden to asylum in Latin America, it used diplomatic pressure to force the plane to land in Vienna. Morales charged Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal with joining in a Washington-coordinated effort to refuse the plane airspace access. The Obama White House has not bothered to deny involvement. Snowden was not, in fact, aboard the plane.
The episode prompted protests in Bolivia and expressions of solidarity throughout the region. “We are not colonies any more,” said Uruguayan president Jose Mujica. “We deserve respect, and when one of our governments is insulted we feel the insult throughout Latin America.” Needless to say, had Morales grounded Obama’s plane, U.S. Marines would probably be occupying La Paz by now.
Europeans are furious.
It’s not clear that European allies would participate in such a scheme again, given mounting indignation over evidence that they, too, have been the victims of U.S. spying. For starters, the NSA hacked into the computer system at the European Union offices in Washington, DC and bugged numerous foreign embassies in violation of a 1961 treaty on diplomatic relations. Through its PRISM program, the agency has tracked the online activity of millions of foreign civilians foolish enough to use Google, Yahoo, Apple, or Microsoft. In Germany alone, the NSA may be collecting data on six billion phone calls and e-mails every year.
Lawmakers in the U.S. are… well… not so furious.
But at least they’re coming around. Headlines in late July read, “Mood Shifting; Congress May Move to Limit NSA Spying.” This after revelations, in the words of one newswire, that “NSA intercepts of Americans’ private phone calls and online communications were exponentially broader than the agency earlier acknowledged.”
What were the elected officials doing for weeks before realizing that runaway surveillance programs might actually be dangerous and unconstitutional? Rather than facing unpleasant facts, they’ve preferred to kill the proverbial messenger. Politicians and Obama administration officials lined up to label Snowden a traitor. Their lackeys in the media then furthered the character assassination by labeling the leaker “a grandiose narcissist” and “a high school dropout who is a military washout.”
Of course, if Snowden were out for personal gain, he could have sold the classified documents en masse to a nation such as China. Instead, he has been judicious in deciding what to release, making sure the leaks have clear importance in revealing unscrupulous government activity.
Fortunately, Snowden also has defenders. Former President Jimmy Carter has spoken up on his behalf and contended, “the invasion of human rights and American privacy has gone too far.” Former Republican Senator Gordon Humphrey wrote to tell Snowden he had “done the right thing in exposing what I regard as massive violation of the United States Constitution.” Moreover, a July 10 poll suggested that while 34 percent of Americans regard Snowden as a traitor, 55 percent believe he’s acted in the public interest.
This majority’s belief mirrors that of furious citizens around the world. Their message: End illegal spying; don’t shoot the whistleblower.