Sunday, July 1, 2012

Glenn Greenwald on Challenging the Surveillance State

By Kevin Gosztola

Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald gave a talk at the Socialism 2012 conference in Chicago where he described how central it was to activism and movements like the Occupy movement to challenge the surveillance state in America. Any attempts to meaningfully challenge state or corporate power, he declared, run up against the surveillance state because it is designed to impede, deter and chill action. Understanding how it operates and “how to challenge it and undermine it and subvert it really is an absolute prerequisite to any sort of meaningful activism.”

Reminding audience members of the history of abuse of eavesdropping powers, he cited Democratic Senator Frank Church, who led the Church Committee that tried to rein in the government which was engaged in this radical abuse of power. He found every single president, whether Democratic or Republican, had systematically abused eavesdropping powers. And he warned about the National Security Agency at the heart of this abuse in the Church Committee report:
The National Security Agency’s capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. [If a dictator ever took over, the NSA could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.
Greenwald makes clear this scenario Church warned about has come to be. The condition he has warned about, of the NSA apparatus being directed inward, has “come to pass.” Beginning in 2001, the NSA was secretly ordered to spy on American citizens. (Additionally, as Greenwald points out, no US senators these days would talk about the national security state in this manner and suggests it could get out of control and lead to “total tyranny.”)
The surveillance state has only grown under President Barack Obama. Greenwald outlined some statistics on surveillance in the US. He mentioned William Binney, a former employee of the NSA and whistleblower who was targeted by the federal government for trying to call attention to abuse of spying abuses. He said on “Democracy Now!” the government under Obama has “assembled on the order of 20 trillion transactions about US citizens with other US citizens.” They’ve assembled data “about everybody,” and from that data, they have targeted anybody they want. And what he said about these statistics is that what is remarkable is that despite how “incredibly ubiquitous”  and “menacing” it happens to be, the American people really know very little about it.

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