Testifying before the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties and Home Affairs via a video link this week, Glenn Greenwald reiterated what has become his central claim about the significance of the documents leaked by Edward Snowden.
The documents reveal, Greenwald says, that: “the ultimate goal of the NSA is … nothing less than the elimination of individual privacy, worldwide.”
He acknowledges that “at first glance that [claim] might seem like it’s a bit hyperbolic, like it’s a little bit melodramatic, but it isn’t. It is a literal description of what the NSA and its closest surveillance partners are attempting to achieve.”
There is of course a glaring obstacle that the NSA will somehow need to overcome in order to accomplish its objective: the ability of people to speak to each other, face-to-face, privately.
Another loophole is the ability of people to communicate privately through the use of handwritten messages exchanged on pieces of paper — that anachronism known as a letter.
Thankfully, the shift to electronic communication has resulted in a rapid decline in the use of the near redundant handheld device called a pen and likewise, skill in composition is also in decline.
Thanks to the global proliferation of mobile phones and other handheld devices, significant strides have already been made in the effort to prevent people meeting and talking to each other.
The proliferation of opinion-driven journalism which functions as a cognitive echo-chamber, has contributed greatly in diminishing people’s capacities to think.
All in all, the NSA can be increasingly confident that however people communicate, they will have less and less to say.
Some observes may remain skeptical about the NSA’s objective of eliminating privacy, but Greenwald assures the skeptics that his claim is well-founded.
“The reason that I know that that is what they are attempting to achieve is because this is what they say over and over and over again. On occasion they say it publicly and repeatedly they say it in their private documents, which were written when they thought nobody was able to hear what it was they were saying.”
Meanwhile, as the world’s attention remains fixed on the NSA, there is another intelligence organization operating out of sight which deserves much closer attention.
Regulatory Datacorp, Inc. (RDC), based in King Of Prussia, Pennsylvania, is the world’s number one data source. Some people might think that description belongs to Google, so how do we know it belongs to RDC?
“The World’s #1 Data Source” — there it is in black and white on the company’s website. For an operation that employs only 50 people and whose estimated annual revenue is a modest $3.5 million, it’s quite an accomplishment to have become number one in anything, but who am I to doubt the accuracy of their self-assessment.
They also claim to have compiled an anti-terrorism database which contains more than one million records of individuals and groups, and we all know that the bigger the database, the more useful will be the information it contains.
That’s why we know that if the NSA can collect everything, they will soon know everything.
At this point, no doubt, there are some readers who are wondering why I’ve gone to these lengths to mock Greenwald’s central claim.
Here’s why: it’s a huge distraction from the key issues. He is pandering to a libertarian fear of government that generates an enormous amount of traffic on the internet, and by so doing diminishing the focus on issues that should be of greater concern. Namely, that government officials have repeatedly lied to the public and to our elected representatives and that while claiming to serve the interests of the public they are squandering public resources.
Even if we take at face value the goal of “collect everything,” it’s an unattainable objective in terms of providing real utility.
We have less reason to imagine it poses a real threat to our privacy than it does to the condition of our roads and the quality of our schools.
Americans are paying for a bloated national security apparatus whose principal goal is its own expansion and perpetuation.
You should be less afraid of how much the NSA intrudes into your communications than of the ease with which it empties your pockets.
And on that front, have no doubt that the NSA is still winning.
The panel which just delivered to President Obama its proposals on NSA reform did not even consider questions about the agency’s budget.
How could they?
As everyone in Washington and across America is fully aware, money spent in the name of national security is sacrosanct. To question such spending is regarded as tantamount to questioning the value of American lives.
If the effort to correct the imbalance between privacy and security is successful and yet the security apparatus retains most of its political and institutional power, we won’t have much to celebrate.
About the author: Paul Woodward
Paul Woodward describes himself by nature if not profession, as a bricoleur. A dictionary of obscure words defines a bricoleur as “someone who continually invents his own strategies for comprehending reality.” Woodward has at various times been an editor, designer, software knowledge architect, and Buddhist monk, while living in England, France, India, and for the last twenty years the United States. He currently lives frugally in the Southern Appalachians with his wife, Monica, two cats and a dog Woodward maintains the popular website/blog, War in Context (http://warincontext.org), which "from its inception, has been an effort to apply critical intelligence in an arena where political judgment has repeatedly been twisted by blind emotions. It presupposes that a world out of balance will inevitably be a world in conflict."