In an informative lead story in Sunday's New York Times, "No Morsel Too Miniscule For All-Consuming N.S.A.," Scott Shane describes the scale of the National Security Agency's eavesdropping on the world's communications. Based on the revelations of Edward Snowden the article sheds light on the NSA's $10.8 billion-a-year spying apparatus.
Last June, when Snowden first made available to Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras his treasure trove of NSA documents we heard a loud chorus of denunciation from the mainstream press. Jeffrey Toobin condemned Snowden as "a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison." Bob Schieffer, Tom Brokaw, Politico, and others followed suit with their own put-downs in what looked like a coordinated smear campaign. The Washington Post's Richard Cohen called Snowden a "cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood" (whatever the hell that means).
The documents Snowden chose to share with the world have exposed the behavior, attitude, and culture of the NSA. The revelations alone about spying on allied heads of state, such as Brazil and Germany, have already caused real damage to bilateral relations between the U.S. and those countries. The NSA is clearly out of control.
With the NSA's code names for its electronic spying operations like "Dishfire," "Tracfin," "Polarbreeze," and "Snacks" -- (an acronym for "Social Network Analysis Collaboration Knowledge Services") -- I was reminded of the Central Intelligence Agency's domestic spy apparatus that was exposed in the 1970s with codenames like "Chaos," "Cable Splicer," "Garden Plot," and "Leprechaun."
Like the CIA's past abuses, or the FBI's COINTELPRO, the current practices of the NSA feature the same duping of the American people, the same lies to Congress (see "Clapper, James R."), and the same overblown claims of protecting "national security." During the Cold War we needed to be spied on to defend ourselves against the Soviets and the Maoists. Today, it's the terrorists -- tomorrow? Who knows?
The NSA's singling out of Venezuela as a special target makes it look like the agency never outgrew its obsession with fighting "Socialism" even decades after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Snowden's documents have also exposed the underlying corporate mindset of the NSA. The corporate boardroom has apparently merged with a largely privatized governmental spy agency. The "for-profit" model that has failed us so miserably in the fields of privatized prisons, health care, and education isn't going to work with "intelligence" gathering either. This fusion of corporate and governmental power is currently undermining the privacy rights of the American people.
As we saw with the abuses of Blackwater-Xe, KBR-Halliburton, and many other private companies that sucked up lucrative government contracts during the United States' occupation of Iraq, opening the doors to profiteers inside the world's most powerful high-tech spying agency cannot be good public policy.
It's only a matter of time until this capability begins targeting the Left in this country, if it has not already. J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Helms did it in the 1960s and 1970s. There are no real safeguards in place that would prevent it from happening again.
All the NSA would have to do is claim that some hippies somewhere are planning a tree sit and were therefore engaging in "eco-terrorism." This classification under the Patriot Act could be used as a justification to open up any organization or individual tied to such environmental protesters to surveillance. The Snowden materials paint a picture of the NSA as a quasi-corporate entity. And we all know what Corporate America thought about Occupy Wall Street.
Just wait until a Far Right candidate manages to get elected and seizes this vast spy apparatus for his or her own political purposes. Warning against this kind of future was one of Snowden's main motives for leaking the documents in the first place.
In the final paragraphs of his article, Shane quotes William Binney, a former NSA official, who is concerned with potential NSA abuses against Americans.
"Mr. Binney said that without new leadership, new laws, and top-to-bottom reform, the agency will represent a threat of 'turnkey totalitarianism' - the capability to turn its awesome power, now directed at other countries, on the American public. 'I think it's already starting to happen,' he said. 'That's what we have to stop.'"
Now that Snowden's revelations have proven to be so important do you think that Toobin, Politico, Schieffer, Brokaw, Cohen, and the others have come to regret that they crapped all over him at the time of his first interview?