Edward Snowden’s hegira – from the beaches of Hawaii to the teeming metropolis of Hong Kong, and then on to Russia and ultimately Ecuador (as of this writing) – dramatizes the decline and fall of the American republic in ways historians will look back on as emblematic of our era. As a lone individual makes fools out of bumbling US government officials, outmaneuvering them at every turn, defenders of the regime– let’s call them Regimists – are frantic. While Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian newspaper are pulling back the curtain on the Surveillance State, the Regimists are rallying around some very revealing talking points, one of which is that the countries Snowden has sought refuge in are hardly bastions of civil liberties. Hong Kong, an autonomous region of Not-so-Red China, Russia (every good neocon and neoliberal knows Putin = Stalin), and now – eeek! – Ecuador, which is being cast as another Venezuela. In response to these developments, Ken Roth, head of "Human Rights Watch," tweeted:
No sooner had Snowden’s plane touched down on Russian soil then Roth retweeted this pearl of wisdom from one of his "human rights" buddies:
"Edward Snowden, martyr for online freedom and privacy, now passing thru Moscow? Say hi to Alexei Navalny while you’re there."
As one Twitter wit quipped:
"Seems @KenRoth is following Snowden around the world, blasting HR in every country his plane is landing."
Your check is in the mail, Ken.
I hope that check isn’t over two figures, however, since this particular talking point only underscores the arguments Snowden, and civil libertarians in the US, have been making: that the creation of a secret police state apparatus represents a fork in the road for the United States. Snowden said his motive was to make it possible for the American people to decide whether the Surveillance State is what they want – and that they couldn’t do this unless they knew what was going on behind their backs.
Aside from the absurdity of criticizing someone who is merely passing through a country that isn’t exactly a libertarian utopia, fleeing a threat to his freedom and possibly his life, the fact of the matter is that there aren’t any free countries left in the world – not with the US falling rapidly (and secretly) into authoritarianism.
It is a "soft" version, to be sure, at least for the moment. But the baring of authoritarian teeth was visible this [Sunday] morning, when the journalist who broke the Snowden story, Glenn Greenwald, appeared on "Meet the Press." Host David Gregory assumed the tone of a Justice Department prosecutor when he sternly asked:
"To the extent that you have aided and abetted Edward Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?”
To this onscreen transformation of a supposed "journalist" into the Grand Inquisitor, Greenwald responded:
"I think it’s pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies."
Well, yes, it is extraordinary, but I think we should all be getting used to it pretty soon. And it’s not like there’s no precedent: I recall the Weekly Standard demanding the prosecution of the New York Times for revealing the Bush administration’s hand in pioneering the eavesdropping system the Obamaites have perfected, with other conservative "journalists" joining the chorus. But this used to be the kind of thing only neocons would say out loud – now the "liberals" have appropriated the neocons’ rhetorical style as well as their intelligence-gathering methods.
It was clear what Gregory was doing: letting the journalistic mask slip for a moment, and assuming his real role as the Voice of the Powers That Be, he was issuing a direct threat on behalf of his government sources – We’re gonna get you, punk!
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they tried: Gregory, with his sources in officialdom, may have been alerted to the possibility. As Glenn pointed out, the Obama administration has proffered the "legal" theory that a Fox News journalist who worked with a source inside the government is a "co-conspirator" and therefore a felon: even David Axelrod, the President’s own chief political advisor, confessed he found this "disturbing."
Let’s be clear about what the stakes are in this fight: the US government has been busy setting up a comprehensive database that contains vital information on everyone in the country: they can call up your phone calls, your online activities, your movements – anything and everything about you.
Oh, but we aren’t looking at any of this "content," they cry: it’s just "meta-data" we’re collecting. Anyone who believes that vast treasure trove of potentially incriminating information isn’t going to be used to the political advantage of whatever faction has access to it at the moment is living in world of illusion. This is the kind of thing the old KGB would’ve loved to get their hands on: the idea of tracking the "social networks" that might sow the seeds of subversion is an authoritarian’s dream come true. The belief that this could never happen here is what the myth of "American exceptionalism" is all about: we are somehow inherently inoculated against the toxic totalitarianism that poisons civil society in much of the rest of the world. History, however, refutes that conceit.
As McClatchy News reports, the Obama administration – already surpassing all previous administrations combined in their relentless prosecution of whistle-blowers – is cracking down hard within the government to make information of all kinds unavailable to the public, including the press. Tyranny percolates best in the dark, especially when the transition from a constitutional republic to democratic despotism is still in process. And we are right at that conjuncture when it’s still possible to stop it – which is why we’re getting a virtually united bipartisan Establishment pushing back hard against Snowden, Greenwald, and those who support them.
They have revoked Snowden’s passport – a typically totalitarian tactic against political dissidents, long practiced by the Soviet Union and the US during the cold war era – and my guess is that they will stop at nothing to discredit him, using methods straight out of the old KGB playbook. Consider what Snowden has told us about the ability of NSA "analysts" to penetrate the lives of anyone they choose to target, "even the President if I had a personal email." Snowden is no exception to this rule: they have a dossier on him, you can be sure, and there is nothing preventing them from handing out the juicy details (if there are any) to their favored "journalists."
In readying the population for quasi-authoritarian rule, our rulers have constructed an elaborate technological and "legal" machinery that implements and rationalizes what is in effect a "legal" coup d’etat. Snowden, however, has upended their plans by impeding the most vitally important element of the coup: getting Americans to go along with the program. The Bush administration thought they could do it by stealth and fear, and the Obamaites are pursuing that path with even greater determination than Dick Cheney ever showed. Just as they were on the brink of achieving their goal, however, one man – a modern day Paul Revere – sounded the alarm and wakened the American people to the danger they face.
In doing so, Snowden has made himself into a sacrificial offering on the altar of the Leviathan, bearing the entire burden on his own shoulders and suffering so that we might be free. Was there ever a nobler act performed in defense of our old republic? If so, I haven’t heard of it.
On January 11, 2011, Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit vendor, set himself on fire in front of the city hall in his village in protest against harassment he’d endured at the hands of authorities, who were preventing him from selling at the marketplace without a government license. His self-immolation set off a firestorm of protest that soon spread to much of the Arab world, toppling US-backed tyrants such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak: the seismic power of the "Arab Spring" is still shaking the region. My question is this: could Edward Snowden be our Mohamed Bouazizi, setting off a popular protest against the consolidation of a police state in America?
Mordor Washington Snowden is being vilified,
out here in the cornfields he’s a hero – and his deft maneuvering to get away
from the long arm of the Leviathan has ordinary people cheering, just as it
has the Washington sycophants at the Court of King Obama enraged beyond all
measure. There is a powerful movement afoot in the country that resents and
even hates these arrogant and very well-heeled parasites, and that anger is
just looking for a catalyst to give it full expression. The Snowden revelations,
coupled with the threat of yet another – this time, bigger – economic meltdown,
could be the sparks that ignite a prairie fire.
Most of our incredibly slow-witted and cowardly politicians don’t know what is happening, but I have to hand it to Sen. Rand Paul, the only Washington politician to stand up for Snowden, who gave us a little historical perspective on the big news of the day:
"I do think that when history looks at this, they are going to contrast the behavior of James Clapper, our national intelligence director, with Edward Snowden. Mr. Clapper lied in Congress, in defiance of the law, in the name of security. Mr. Snowden told the truth in the name of privacy. So I think there will be a judgment, because both of them broke the law."
Let history judge, as Soviet dissident Roy Medvedev put it – but be aware that we are writing that history, even as I am writing these words. And if the historians of a future Sovietized – or, rather, Obama-ized – America are assigned this task, you can bet their judgment will be very different from Sen. Paul’s. If we lose this battle, future students of history will learn how Edward Snowden, the evil Chinese-Russian agent of influence, "betrayed" his country and made us all less safe from omnipresent terrorists. Indeed, I have little doubt that the next successful terrorist attack in the US will be blamed on Snowden’s revelations: officials will argue that the exposure caused the Bad Guys to somehow change their tactics and elude detection. Of course, the Boston Marathon bombing occurred while the Surveillance State was operating in the dark full throttle, but never mind: no prominent figure, except for the saints among them, will dare bring up this point for fear the contents of their government-held dossiers will be "leaked." And you can bet those are the kinds of leaks our wise rulers will be quite relaxed about.
God help us if we don’t stop them.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).