It’s Not the Spying, It’s the Lying

Does anyone deny that the inherent vulnerability of all forms of digital communication to archiving and data mining is of significant value to governments seeking to secure themselves against their enemies?

Given that, why shouldn’t governments exploit this vulnerability to identify, track down and defeat those enemies?

Of course, in a democracy, “those enemies” should never include the people.

To the contrary, in American democracy government is meant always to be, as President Abraham Lincoln put it in his Gettysburg Address: “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

The horror of the Obama Administration’ communications penetrations is that everything about them, how they are used, against whom, upon what predicates, under whose authority, under whose supervision, even — but for Edward Snowden’s leaks to Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian, — their very existence, has been hidden from the American people.

Snowden’s whistle-blowing (any anyone who disputes that label should ask himself, “Why did he tell The Guardian and not the Russians or the Chinese?”) has ignited a great political war, the most important of our generation.  It is a war about power, power which, under strict rule of law, should reside, not in the White House or the Congress, but with the people.

As usual, the essence of power is knowledge, in democratic terms, the knowledge the people need to grant informed consent to their representatives in the legislature and their administrators in the executive branch.

The Obama Administration is just the latest, although perhaps the greatest White House offender against our Constitutional concept of democratic governance.  It has lied by omission and commission.  It has consistently denied the American people knowledge of the realities of government surveillance.  It has thus pre-empted the consent of the governed, the thing which gives them legal and moral legitimacy.  It has abused the people directly and individually, and it has abused their elected representatives.

In the name of national security, the Obama Administration has treated the American people as its enemy.

It certainly treated the documentary-making journalist Laura Poitras like an enemy, assaulting her with not just digital technology, but in-her-face gumshoe intimidation.  And this went on for months, long before Snowden reached out to her with his explosive information about “our KGB.”

The details of the security apparat’s harassment of Poitras are spelled out in Peter Maass’ terrific
NY Times story
of the Snowden to Poitras to Greenwald to us revelations of snoops gone wild.

It’s not just the White House that hides the facts, and not just ordinary people who are misled.

As The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman pointed out, the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee, with the acquiescence of its members, hid from all the other members of the House, the facts of the NSA’s phone data collection in the days before the crucial 2011 vote to approve radically expanded domestic as well as international spying under the so-called Patriot Act.

This is how establishment Democrats and Republicans worked together specifically to disenfranchise the millions of voters who installed the Tea Party caucus in the House.  As Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) told Ackerman, ‘We’re trying to get information so we can do our jobs as congressmen. If we’re not able to get that information, it’s inappropriate.”  

Or worse than inappropriate, “this is tantamount to subversion of the democratic process,” Bea Edwards, the executive director of the Government Accountability Project told Ackerman.

Now, thanks to Ackerman and Maass, Poitras and Greenwald, and of course thanks to Edward Snowden, the American people know better, and are now knowledge-armed to fight this vital war against anti-democratic abuse of governmental power.

It’s going to be a long war, and hard for the people to win.  For every story in the Guardian or the Times, there are the sorry performances at President Obama’s last news conference, at which he revealed his “trust me, even if I can’t trust the facts to you” formula for surveillance “reform.”  Gregory Ferenstein of TechCrunch told the story of how the White House press corps whiffed almost entirely, and thereby left their customers in the dark.

The spying continues, as it partly should, but so does the journalistic process of revealing lies and discovering secrets, of passing along information, of refining info into knowledge, and hopefully, at some point, knowledge into effective power.  People power, what democracy is supposed to be all about.

As I said at the top, spying is not the problem, it’s the lack of control over the spying, the lack of honesty with the people so they might exercise, or democratically delegate control over the ever-more-effective, ever-more-intrusive revolution in digital surveillance.

It’s the lying, stupid.  

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