So now that Obama has proposed what is being reported as “modest reforms” that are actually gestures enshrining and burnishing a permanent surveillance state, it is wise to look at the chess game, but working backward.
After the NSA revelations — which remain an impressive and brave piece of reporting by Glenn Greenwald and a Nobel-worthy act of editorial courage by the Guardian’s editors — we saw the following: disclosure of and acknowledgement of spying on citizens by Britain, France, and Scandinavian countries; disclosure and defense of US telecoms spying on rival overseas telecoms, and Obama’s defense of commercial spying of this kind; the revelation by Putin — even as he is hosting Snowden — of a turnkey, 360-degree surveillance program exactly like PRISM, and aimed at his own people; and the uniform rollout by the US and the UK using identical soundbites, of this situation being the new normal, and what we get now is “transparency’ about it.
There is a word for this kind of consistent habituation of an audience to a new reality, with uniform soundbites used, in politics. It is called starting with a trial balloon, and when it is strategized more completely, it is called a message rollout. Snowden may well be simply and minimally a patriot and a whistleblower, or turn out to be something more complex; it does not really matter. That is not where our focus should be. What does matter is watching the outcome of the revelations as mediated by gatekeepers from NSA spokespeople to President Obama to British intelligence counterparts using identical soundbites to those in the US (‘needle in the haystack’…) — to me this set of reactions still doesn’t feel like crisis management; it still, I hate to say it, feels like a marketing campaign — to habituate the whole world, but especially the West, with its habit and inheritance of constitutional freedoms and past cultural guarantees of privacy, to being China.
As I have noted many times, the transnational forces (global telecoms, Global War Inc., global surveillance technologies inc., global corporatocracy in general) that are now more powerful than nation-states, benefit immensely from a world in which everyone, but especially in the West, is under surveillance — a world in in which Western political leaders are under surveillance (as Congress learned it was a week or so ago) — in which there is thus little dissent or protest — in which everyone who could pass a law restricting what global capital wants to do, can be blackmailed.
Look at outcomes, rather than causes. We are vastly deeper now into that world.
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