On the bigger picture, I do find a great deal of media/blog discussion about serious questions such as those I raised, question that relate to querying some sources of news stories, and their potential relationship to intelligence agencies or to other agendas that may not coincide with the overt narrative, to be extraordinarily ill-informed and naive.
There is no bright line that separates ‘real events’ from the world of intelligence, surveillance, and potential intervention in outcomes. There is not ‘reality’ and ‘spy novels’ any more, with no interpenetration. On the contrary — the surveillance/security world and ‘the real world’ are bring more closely knit all the time, and both reporters and commentators need to lose their naivete about this interpenetration.
There is no longer a bright line between ‘us’, transparent reality in which everything is as it appears, and ‘them’ — the spooks, the shadow side, what used to be the material of John le Carre novels.
The security state and its apparatus is a now a massive part of our economy; billions and billions of dollars — the number is not transparent — are transmitted via DHS, the NSA and other entities into the hiring of vast numbers of people whose job is to do what they do while not appearing to do what they do, in terms of surveillance and other forms of domestic scrutiny of dissent; other billions are funnelled into the technology that indeed watches everything we do and say. Some of the jobs go to people inside the NSA — but more and more of these tasks are being done by people contracted to engage in security or surveiilance-related tasks, in mainstream corporate America.
Billions of dollars in surveillance work or other kinds of intelligence work, now directed at ‘the homeland’, gets contracted out to once-neutral third parties such as Booz Allen, a perfectly respectable consulting firm. The local NYPD cop, who used to work for you, now works for DHS, and may be funnelling surveillance info upward. In DC, you are perfectly likely to sit next to someone working in domestic surveillance, at brunch — people such as Valerie Plame, who spent years apparently doing one thing professionally, while she was in fact doing something else — working as a high-level CIA operative. Spies are not exotic, otherworldly creatures who never show up next door in the US; at my college at Yale, Berkeley College, was well known as a seedbed for baby CIA recruits, and a very senior member of the college’s administration was understood to approach promising graduates to recruit them for ‘the Company’ during their senior year. Spying is not just the stuff of films and novels.
But what most US media have not adjusted to — and neither have most US readers, it appears — is the great change post-9/11: the things that spies were tasked with doing overseas, to destabilize ‘enemies’ in foreign countries through various kinds of hidden interventions and fake identities — are now legal to direct against ‘enemies’ of the government, or of the police state, or of the intelligence services, here at home. (Or are made legal, as we see, through secret law).
What do we think spies do abroad? They create false identities, build fake companies, influence real media with fake stories, create distractions or demonizations in the local news that advance US policies, bug (technologically) and harass the opposition, disrupt and infiltrate the meetings and communications of factions that the US does not wish to see in power. It is not ‘tin hat theorizing’ to acknowledge this, when it is done elsewhere.
So why is it considered ‘conspiracy theorizing’– a phrase with an echo of eccentric mythologizing — to raise questions based on being aware of the obvious — that now this same kind of activity is highly funded here at home?
This is something you can’t not see if you spend time around people who are senior in both the political establishment and the intelligence and state department establishments. You also can’t avoid seeing it if you interview principled defectors from those systems, as I have done since 2007′s The End of America, my book that warned Americans about exactly this rise of the police state in ‘the Homeland’.
The fact that now the same kinds of surveillance, infiltration, influence on news stories, overt identities that mask covert identities, and so on, that are very basic to intelligence work overseas — are now legal to engage in here at home, and are very heavily funded.
Many of these forms of disruption of domestic political and news events — from the fake Occupy protesters who were really DHS or NYPD operatives, to the confirmed history of FBI disruption of grassroots groups, and so on — have been fully documented.
Why should it be seen as bizarre to wonder, if there are some potential red flags — the key term is ‘wonder’ — if a former NSA spy turned apparent whistleblower might possibly still be — working for the same people he was working for before?
The questions may be reasonable or may turn out to be groundless; but given the vast explicit intention of DHS to intervene in outcomes in domestic life in America — why would it not be sensible to remain alert to all possibilities,especially in evaluating every news story that relates to this all-important issue of vast surveillance?
Most readers can’t know why I sometimes raise such questions, because I can’t write explicitly about many of the sources that have disclosed to me the ways in which ordinary life in America is now at times subjected to the same kinds of targeting, surveillance and harassment by operatives that used to be confined to our ‘enemies’ overseas.
But I will never forget a very young public servant who came up to me after an End of America speech. He was a young man of intelligence, conscience and spirit; a very obvious leader. He spoke with great anguish about how his pride in serving his country had been terribly compromised by the task that he and his young colleagues had been assigned — involving taking damaging actions that I won’t disclose, against critics of the US government, on social media. I won’t disclose them not because he said that these actions were classified — for the record, he didn’t — but simply from an abundance of caution. But they were actions that should shame the leaders of the sector that he represented, and that violate the letter and spirit of the constitution.
He said he knew that this task was un-American; and that he had signed up for the branch of public service that he had in order to support his country, not to take unconstitutional action against his fellow Americans.
I may have a more cynical view of the need of journalists to be critical of potential intelligence service, DHS or other not-apparent possible intervention in news events, because many people tasked with such interventions have come up to me with similar anguished confidences — with stories of interventions in Americans’ daily lives and privacy, the creation of fake identities online and fake organizations, etc., that I can’t even report on. Like the other journalists such as Chris Hedges who signed on to the NDAA lawsuit, I too now fear reporting on stories that may trigger the ‘classified’ minefield that the security state has created — and that it created, of course, precisely to intimidate reporters with.
But since I know from these disclosures that a great deal of money, effort and skill is being directed into intervening in outcomes in the United States, in ways that are often opaque or in contexts that dissemble, I think it wise to raise these questions, or at least not reflexively rule them out, when assessing some news events.
I wish we did not have to. I wish we could go back to a pre-NDAA world, in which it was still illegal to propagandize Americans; and a pre-Patriot Act world, in which it was still a crime to violate Fourth Amendment rights.]]>
Some of Snowden’s emphases seem to serve an intelligence/police state objective, rather than to challenge them.
a) He is super-organized, for a whistleblower, in terms of what candidates, the White House, the State Dept. et al call ‘message discipline.’ He insisted on publishing a power point in the newspapers that ran his initial revelations. I gather that he arranged for a talented filmmaker to shoot the Greenwald interview. These two steps — which are evidence of great media training, really ‘PR 101″ — are virtually never done (to my great distress) by other whistleblowers, or by progressive activists involved in breaking news, or by real courageous people who are under stress and getting the word out. They are always done, though, by high-level political surrogates.
b) In the Greenwald video interview, I was concerned about the way Snowden conveys his message. He is not struggling for words, or thinking hard, as even bright, articulate whistleblowers under stress will do. Rather he appears to be transmitting whole paragraphs smoothly, without stumbling. To me this reads as someone who has learned his talking points — again the way that political campaigns train surrogates to transmit talking points.
c) He keeps saying things like, “If you are a journalist and they think you are the transmission point of this info, they will certainly kill you.” Or: “I fully expect to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act.” He also keeps stressing what he will lose: his $200,000 salary, his girlfriend, his house in Hawaii. These are the kinds of messages that the police state would LIKE journalists to take away; a real whistleblower also does not put out potential legal penalties as options, and almost always by this point has a lawyer by his/her side who would PROHIBIT him/her from saying, ‘come get me under the Espionage Act.” Finally in my experience, real whistleblowers are completely focused on their act of public service and trying to manage the jeopardy to themselves and their loved ones; they don’t tend ever to call attention to their own self-sacrifice. That is why they are heroes, among other reasons. But a police state would like us all to think about everything we would lose by standing up against it.
d) It is actually in the Police State’s interest to let everyone know that everything you write or say everywhere is being surveilled, and that awful things happen to people who challenge this. Which is why I am not surprised that now he is on UK no-fly lists – I assume the end of this story is that we will all have a lesson in terrible things that happen to whistleblowers. That could be because he is a real guy who gets in trouble; but it would be as useful to the police state if he is a fake guy who gets in ‘trouble.’
e) In stories that intelligence services are advancing (I would call the prostitutes-with-the-secret-service such a story), there are great sexy or sex-related mediagenic visuals that keep being dropped in, to keep media focus on the issue. That very pretty pole-dancing Facebooking girlfriend who appeared for, well, no reason in the media coverage…and who keeps leaking commentary, so her picture can be recycled in the press…really, she happens to pole-dance? Dan Ellsberg’s wife was and is very beautiful and doubtless a good dancer but somehow she took a statelier role as his news story unfolded…
f) Snowden is in Hong Kong, which has close ties to the UK, which has done the US’s bidding with other famous leakers such as Assange. So really there are MANY other countries that he would be less likely to be handed over from…
g) Media reports said he had vanished at one point to ‘an undisclosed location’ or ‘a safe house.’ Come on. There is no such thing. Unless you are with the one organization that can still get off the surveillance grid, because that org created it.
h) I was at dinner last night to celebrate the brave and heroic Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Several of Assange’s also brave and talented legal team were there, and I remembered them from when I had met with Assange. These attorneys are present at every moment when Assange meets the press — when I met with him off the record last Fall in the Ecuadoran embassy, his counsel was present the whole time, listening and stepping in when necessary.
Seeing these diligent attentive free-speech attorneys for another whisleblower reinforced my growing anxiety: WHERE IS SNOWDEN’S LAWYER as the world’s media meet with him? A whistleblower talking to media has his/her counsel advising him/her at all times, if not actually being present at the interview, because anything he/she says can affect the legal danger the whistleblower may be in . It is very, very odd to me that a lawyer has not appeared, to my knowledge, to stand at Snowden’s side and keep him from further jeopardy in interviews.
Again I hate to cast any skepticism on what seems to be a great story of a brave spy coming in from the cold in the service of American freedom. And I would never raise such questions in public if I had not been told by a very senior official in the intelligence world that indeed, there are some news stories that they create and drive — even in America (where propagandizing Americans is now legal). But do consider that in Eastern Germany, for instance, it was the fear of a machine of surveillance that people believed watched them at all times — rather than the machine itself — that drove compliance and passivity. From the standpoint of the police state and its interests — why have a giant Big Brother apparatus spying on us at all times — unless we know about it?
That email comes directly to me, so please do not be shy. It is not going through an intermediary.
Thank you so much — I very much look forward to hearing your thoughts, insights and experiences! Our hope is that we hear from men and women, gay/straight/bi/transgender, of all backgrounds and ages…and the ones that may not make it for space reasons into the paperback, will go on the website devoted to the book and our discussions that Danielle is creating!
Thank you so much in advance — and warm thanks to to all of you who have already shared your thoughts, feelings, experiences and insights! yours Naomi]]>
I went to Ecuador last March with G Adventures – they supported my trip with a ticket for me to see what they are doing in terms of protecting local micro-environments in the Galapagos. They also have started a program to place tourists to the area with local families, to infuse the tourist dollar back into the local communities.
This area is an incredibly sensitive and special area — of course, where Darwin’s observation of natural selection in finches that had been isolated by the islands, led to his insights about evolution.
Apart from the incredible beauty and magic of the area, I was really impressed with how the company, which is an ethical travel company whose mission is to empower local guides as “CEO’s” or “chief experience officers” — watched their ecological footprint; hired charming and idealistic Ecuadorans who were incredibly well-versed in their own culture and environment, and really empowered them to make the best decisions on the local level for the travelers and their own communities; and how they even supported the volunteer work of their guides in the towns in question.
Our young guide in Quito, for instance, was working with low-income kids in the capital city, which has a lot of poverty as well as a lot of beauty and historical richness; we ran into her at a tourist destination – the ‘center of the world’, a site that explains the science of the Equator — showing experiments about gravity and the earths’ orbit, etc, to her group of elementary school children. She works with them on her own grassroots literacy project, that gives them a hot lunch as well as tutoring and these kinds of educational field trips. G Adventures’ nonprofit arm, Planeterra, supported her in her project — it was very special to see her there with them, all of them learning intently. It adds another dimension to ‘spring break’ to help contribute even in a small way to something so necessary locally, and not just look at the culture and ‘consume’ it.
Also kind of amazing in this cookie-cutter world of corporate travel experiences is how they tailor what you do to what the local guides, or CEO’s, think is what is valuable about their own culture — rather than having to do what a corporate office far away in another culture altogether says is valuable; and you as travellers get input too, so you are on what often feels like a real adventure instead of what too often feels like a canned or theatrical experience with other tours and global travel companies. So for instance we were taken to an indigenous market in the Andes where we saw local Andean indigenous people buy and sell livestock — as well as selling crafts, food and so on in a setting that was very far from corporatized; we were taken to explore alleyways and small neighborhoods in Quito that were far from the usual tourist spots, to experience really unique local cuisine and music; and we got to explore condor reserves, leather works, cathedrals, local parks — and to witness (inadvertently) a massive demonstration against mining in the rainforest, that spontaneously brought thousands of Indian people to Quito!
It was incredibly refreshing to explore this remarkable country (and G Adventures goes all over the world) with local students, poets, environmentalists and activists — who also worked as guides and who thought creatively about what our group loved and what was a unique fit for us with all the things Ecuador has to offer. If we could have stayed longer, we would have taken bike tours into a cloud forest….hiked a volcano — and other delicious local experiences to add to what was already unforgettable.
G Adventures also funds such projects as a blindness treatment program and — including my favorite — a leadership conference for women and their local CEOs, from all over the world, that was held recently in California (They also host a conference for women at all levels in all offices (including CEOs) around the world.) Many of the women who came to the event had never been outside their country. You really feel the difference this kind of altruistic travel experience provides — in terms of feeling that your travel dollar is not grinding down the local communities but helping them with their own autonomy and well-being, cultural as well as environmental.
Do check them out if you are booking travel — that industry has such an impact for better or worse on communities and ecosystems around the world. I would like them to become a model for other companies through their success, so that corporate travel industries in general will have to compete for the ‘ethics dollar’ by investing in local communities and protecting local ecosystems.
I found that the ‘ethical travel’ difference really makes a difference to an excursion or vacation…and to the quality of one’s memories about it.
A new production by Keren Levi / NeverLike, 2012
“The Dry Piece is a pseudo-spectacle for five female dancers and their virtual doubles.
The work of Busby Berkeley, the legendary American director of 1930′s musicals and “The Beauty Myth”, a study written by the neo-feminst writer Naomi Wolf’s about how images of beauty are used against women as a currency of control, are the the starting point for the creation of this performance.
Exposing the space separating inspiration and manipulation, The Dry Piece will shuffle elements of showbiz with principles of research performance, inverting the spectacle inside-out.”
Tour dates: http://www.kerenlevi.com
Thank you for sharing this Keren!]]>
Still can’t forget Dawn Porter’s haunting movie about the messed up criminal justice system and how it monetizes the misery of the poor and often minority kids and their families who get trapped in it… in Georgia, there is no sentencing flexibility for judges for the most part, mandatory sentences mean that one stupid teenage mistake gets kids ten year or longer sentences in prisons where they are sure to be anally raped time after time…there are industries that profit from the system and keep people from escaping…the families get charged THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS A MONTH for the kid’s ankle bracelet if he has house arrest…these are people who can scarcely pay their existing bills. The bail for shoplifting is FORTY FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS so because they can’t pay this people accused but not tried sit in jail for EIGHT MONTHS awaiting trial and plead guilty whether they did it or not just to serve the time and get it over with…since they lose families, homes and jobs while they are waiting for trial…and you give UP YOUR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS in many ways when you plead guilty! You lose the right to the fourth amendment, you can be searched at any time..the right to vote — and you CAN’T GET STUDENT LOANS. If there were ever a clearer picture of how the system CREATES an endless supply of felons or ‘felons’ for profit motives..what is more likely to keep someone in a life of crime than forbidding them from every taking out a student loan once they have served their time? And why do you lose your right to vote…because you pled guilty to a crime? How is that related?
And this will kill you: PROSECUTORS GET PAID MORE THAN PUBLIC DEFENDERS. How can anything be more likely to skew an outcome and guarantee endless convictions? Not only are public defenders underpaid, they serve 150-180 clients AT A TIME. An important non-profit, Gideon’s Promise, has arisen to boost the morale of these brave often young men and women who devote their lives to the rule of law and to the principle that everyone deserve the best possible defense in our system.
Scary conversation at a bar with some of Dawn’s colleagues the first night we were in Sundance — they confirmed that when they talk to law students now, they are often asked, ‘How can you defend people like that?’ The notion that everyone, even ‘the worst of the worst”, deserves a fair trial, is not even solidly held anymore in America by LAW STUDENTS. I think the Guantanamo years have clearly taken this toll.
One beautiful line in the film, from a public defender, about why he does what he does, is something like, ‘Human liberty is precious and it should be difficult to take it away.”
Public defenders in Dawn’s film have about three hundred dollars left after student loans and rent and can barely take care of their kids. A major state by state reform that is obvious from this is to raise the pay of public defenders.
I felt how rigged the system was, as a mother of a white middle-class teenager. Dawn noted that some of these low-income teens are sent away for years from just being in a car with someone who had pot. I am certain that the affluent white teens in our social circle, children of my friends, would NOT get sent away for a decade if they were caught in someone’s Prius with some joints. White educated kids always always always get second, third, and fourth chances after doing something stupid or even after breaking some kinds of laws.
Dawn Porter is a young woman of great talent and humanity, an African American lawyer, whose first film this is. She has brought an amazingly important issue to life and they will be traveling the country showing the film to citizens’ groups and others…please don’t miss it.