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News & Analysis

US confronting cracks in the culture of secrecy

Ayesha Alam

Edward Snowden’s explosive revelations have put the US intelligence agencies on the spot. The American people are beginning to wake up to the police state in which they are living and want an end to this state of affairs.

After granting Edward Snowden asylum in Russia and upbraiding US President Barack Obama for his aggressive US exceptionalism on the Syria question in his New York Times op-ed, it is rather ironic that Russian President Vladimir Putin has now earned a more positive global image than Obama on human rights. Meanwhile, a ground-swell of resistance is rumbling within the US, as the impact of revelations on the National Security Agency (NSA) spying gathers steam.

According to recent news, the British authorities have cracked down on The Guardian, the progressive UK-based newspaper that has been releasing the Snowden files since May 2013. Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian’s editor, revealed that the GCHQ, the British version of the NSA, effectively forced them to either hand over the documents or destroy them. Rusbridger revealed that unless he complied, the GHCQ would “move to law,” a gag measure in which “the state can effectively prevent a news publisher from publishing.” So much for freedom of the press.

Domestically in the US, the effect has been to dial up the fear that people feel toward the government — for the first time since 9/11, US citizens feel a greater sense of insecurity vis-à-vis unregulated government run amok than from the terrorists. After revelations about the sophisticated tech platforms used by the United States to spy on US citizens, Americans now fear their government as much as they do terrorists. According to a July Pew Research Center poll, more Americans say they are concerned that the government’s anti-terrorism policies “have gone too far in restricting civil liberties” than say that they “have not gone far enough to protect the country.” Reactions from abroad are even starker, following revelations that the US and UK have instituted global spying platforms that collected institutional communications for the UN, EU, the International Atomic Energy Agency and personal communications of heads of state.

Germany’s Angela Merkel jabbed the US, no doubt facetiously, saying that Germany was considering offering Snowden political asylum. The Belgian government is outraged at revelations that the GCHQ hacked Belgacom, Belgium’s largest telecom company. After learning that the NSA/GCHQ were monitoring her emails and phones, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff canceled a bilateral meeting with Obama, stating that the meeting could not take place “in the absence of a timely investigation.” Given the close business ties between Brazil and the US, coupled with Brazil’s status as an emerging regional power, this was a calculated slap in the face.

For the Latin American powers, which are asserting their regional influence over the Southern half of the American continent, the NSA-GCHQ revelations are a platform to globally assert their independence from the US sphere of influence. After Rousseff canceled her meeting with Obama, almost every Latin American head of state hastened to call and express sympathy and support. Even as the US-UK Panoptican presumes to acquire the eyes of God, the cracks are setting off seismic shifts in power that is unraveling Pax Americana from its seams.

We can also consider the impact of the revelations on the domination of US-based tech companies. The high-tech and telecommunications companies tagged in the Snowden documents as collaborating with the NSA-GCHQ to distribute confidential information of their clients to the government, are all respected institutions enjoying large market shares in conceivably every country of the globe. After learning of their indiscretions — the software, fiber optic cables, etc. tagged with spyware at the behest of NSA — many countries and international organizations are now carving their own information systems domains. For instance, the EU is now demanding that the computer processing communications be located inside Europe or else, be subject to EU regulations. The global commons of the internet that had been under the cultural and technological influence of the US is now to be Balkanized.

While the fallout continues, the US presses down the path to transform into Orwell’s Big Brother, using every “leak” as an opportunity to further consolidate the national security state. The NSA’s Chief Technology Officer Lonny Anderson claims that the NSA is implementing major initiatives to ensure such an embarrassing leak never, ever happens again, including advanced security clearances and other measures. “Could someone today do what [Snowden] did? No,” Anderson claims. Meanwhile, the various institutional rungs of the US National Security State have hit the media circuit defending citizen surveillance as necessary. According to the FBI’s new director James Comey, “[The government’s electronic surveillance program] is both a useful tool and a tool that is circumscribed by all kinds of checks and balances,” Comey said.

Twisted into this cautionary tale of US-UK attempts at covert power dominance is Israeli exceptionalism. The Snowden documents reveal that besides US and UK intelligence services, the information was also ferried to Israel. “The NSA was sharing what they call raw signals intelligence, which includes things like who you are calling and when you are calling, the content of your phone call, the text of your emails, your text messages, your chat messages,” says Alex Abdo of the American Civil Liberties Union. Israel’s access to such sensitive information illustrates its influence in the macro and micro-machinery of the War on Terror — its shadowy ability to hijack social networks, communication flows, and political decisions for its favor.

Israel’s role in the surveillance has been downplayed even in the progressive press, which has been ringing the alarm bells in order to reign in the US and UK governments. Israel’s presence in the shadowy webs of global surveillance highlights the ghostly link between the domestic Islamophobia bubbling in the US and Europe, and the wars boiling in the Muslim East.

For instance, according to CAIR’s recent civil liberties report, Islamophobic groups operating in the US, received over $118 million between 2008 and 2012. The political influence of these groups, most of which have ties to Zionist networks, is glaringly stark. In 2011 and 2012, 78 bills or amendments designed to vilify Islamic religious practices were introduced in the legislatures of 29 states and the US Congress. Sixty-two of these bills contained language that was extracted from David Yerushalmi’s American Laws for American Courts (ALAC) legislation, which is devoted to “banning Shari‘ah” in the United States. Yerushalmi is of course one of the main forces behind the anti-Shari‘ah hysteria that coalesced in 2009 around Feisal Abdul Rauf’s Park 51 Mosque in New York City.

Even as the war against Islam shifts and blends into the war against civil freedoms, the global equations of power are shifting. The Snowden leaks following on the heels of the WikiLeaks scandal translate into depreciation of the US status and prestige in the world. But domestically, it is another systemic shock being used by the National Security State to consolidate its power over society. The encryptions and firewalls that protect the identities of citizens online are fig leaves, blown away by a state that now tolerates no check or balance to its authority

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 8

Dhu al-Qa'dah 25, 14342013-10-01

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