Saturday, July 06, 2013

Anecdotal Evidence

Current news on the Edward Snowden front: CARACAS, July 5 (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro offered asylum to former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden on Friday in defiance of Washington, which is demanding his arrest for divulging details of secret U.S. spy programs. "In the name of America's dignity ... I have decided to offer humanitarian asylum to Edward Snowden," Maduro told a military parade marking Venezuela's independence day. "He is a young man who has told the truth, in the spirit of rebellion, about the United States spying on the whole world.".

We await further developments - will Snowden meet further unexpected difficulties before he can take advantage of the offer? In the meantime, and in spite of many opinions that roughly go "why should we care about all this surveillance if we haven't done anything wrong? He shouldn't have been giving away secrets anyway", or: "everybody's doing it, so what...", there are still arguments illustrating why we should care - and care a lot.

Arnold Lakhovsky, "The Conversation".
 When politicians are on the campaign trail a favourite ploy is to collect anecdotes from people they've met on the road (or they perhaps sometimes make them up, Aesop's Fable-style). President Obama keeps this tactic in his bag of tricks and uses it regularly, as I recall. Let's play him at his own game then, but to do so I need help from a couple of columnists who've led more exciting lives than I have. My only (known) experience of being spied upon was when I'd been in the USA for a few weeks and couldn't find any comparable over-the-counter headache tablets such as those I'd used in the UK. I found the nearest available formula in tablets available from a Mexican pharmacy, ordered a pack of 30 tablets. I was unaware of the drug law restrictions on tablets containing with the usual ingredients even a teeny-tiny amount of codeine, a "listed" drug. I'd used such an over-the-counter formula for years in the UK (Solpadeine, as it was 10 years ago, anyway) with no problems. Anyway, my package was stopped in the mail and a letter sent to me from the DEA (I think it was the DEA) slapping my wrists and threatening action if I was so naughty again. Nice welcome to the USA - all over 30 headache tablets! Still, I do realise there was a good reason for that particular kind of spying.

So, for more apt anecdotal evidence I need a couple of snips from pieces appearing recently at The Smirking Chimp - and thank you gentlemen:

#1 What's In Your Mail? Inquiring Minds Want to Know by Stephen Pizzo:

Let me tell you a little story... a true story.

One day I went off to the post office where my group had a PO box to pick up the day's mail. We got a lot of mail, mostly contributions from supporters. So much mail in fact that the PO box would not hold it all, so we usually just found a note in the box to come to the counter window where we'd be given the mail in a large flat box.

That day the clerk looked around and, when sure the coast was clear, gestured that I should lean towards him. He whispered something to me. He said that the FBI had been requesting all our mail be handed to them before it was given to us. They weren't opening it, apparently, but rather scanning the return addresses.

A week later I was at home in my SF apartment and noticed that, after the postman put my mail in the box, two guys in suits who had been sitting in a nondescript Ford Galaxy got out, went up to my mail box, removed the mail and calmly began copying down the return addresses on the envelopes.

Back at our modest office, we already were fully aware that our phones were being monitored. But mail monitoring was a new wrinkle.

Oh, sorry, I need to stop here and orient you. I'm not talking about the current NSA revelations. I am talking about 1968. Back I was part of a group that organized all of the Bay Area's antiwar rallies - the Vietnam War for you youngsters. Back then the guys in charge of all this snooping were Richard Nixon and that chubby little cross-dresser, FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover.

My point being, we've been here before. But I never dreamed we would be. That we never again could be. That we'd learned our lesson back then; that, wholesale snooping on ordinary Americans not only violates the core principles we as a nation claim as our patrimony, but also doesn't work.

#2 A Noir America: Killers and Roller-Coaster Rides by John Grant

We're all aware of the reputed Chinese curse about living in interesting times. Upheaval seems to be in the air. According to Wikipedia, the interesting times curse was linked with a second, more worrisome curse: "May you come to the attention of those in authority."

If a young computer nerd like Edward Snowden can access so much secret information concerning US citizens’ lives, what’s to stop some righteous NSA employee with the moral intelligence of Adolf Eichmann from accessing the same material and, in collusion with a para-military cabal of like-minded and armed patriots, deciding someone (me!) is a national security threat in need of neutralization?

Paranoia? Maybe. But I see it as paying attention and having the historically-based imagination to understand we’re no longer in Kansas -- that we actually live in Oz and Toto has been declared a terrorist. The basis of Franz Kafka’s absurd world, of course, is that what you know about yourself doesn’t matter if powerful, secretive elements act hostilely against you based on what they think they know about you.
(My highlighting.)

At an anti-Iraq War demonstration in Philadelphia some years ago, a Civil Affairs cop took me aside and told me the FBI had just called him about me. He seemed to be warning me so I could clean up any suspicious behavior. Since I was exercising my first amendment rights, I felt I had nothing to hide. But, then, I began to wonder why exactly some FBI drone thought I might be a threat and how dangerous for me such a person might be.

It all distills down to Power versus Truth and which one is the lodestar for one’s actions.

“The way things are supposed to work is that we're supposed to know virtually everything about what they [the government] do: that's why they're called public servants. They're supposed to know virtually nothing about what we do: that's why we're called private individuals.”
― Glenn Greenwald


mike said...

Yes, these are interesting times we are living. Interesting not only for the apparent violations of privacy and freedoms conducted by government and corporations, but likewise, for the public's indifference to the intrusions, except for a few concerned individuals.

Yes, I'm sure that this has always been de facto, and particularly under the FBI's J.Edgar Hoover. Never has it been so blatant.

With the advent of the internet, digital devices, software, and apps, "End-User License Agreements" have proliferated and are now part-and-parcel of virtually every aspect of commerce. These ELUAs basically terminate all consumer protection rights and typically have hidden clauses allowing spying and personal data collection, and at the same time, forfeit the user's legal rights. Most contain lengthy, complex legalese beyond the comprehension of the common person. The Patriot Act and AUMF are in essence the equivalent of an ELUA.

Years ago in the last century, I would never have thought that I would live in the present time subservient to the whims of government and corporations. And made to feel fortunate that I am allowed to use these services, products, and sheltered by the "security and protection" these agents provide to me. And I pay for these benefits through my purchases and taxes.

I can't wait for Glenn Greenwald's next installment of Snowden's freedom campaign.

Twilight said...

mike ~ (Your comment landed in spam this morning, one of my own did the same yesterday, luckily I remembered to check before deleting....Blogger's having a bad hair day or two, I guess)

Yes, it's the extent of the mainly unregulated surveillance now that's concerning, and the fact that we've learned not to trust the government....whichever of the "two" parties is in power.

Maybe I was naive back then, but years ago, in pre-Thatcher UK I did trust the government - whether Conservative or Labour - I preferred Labour, but respected Conservatives in those days.

As you say, the license agreements which nobody reads and couldn't understand if they did, cover the asses of those doing the dirty, and the government enacts its own cover stories, with SCOTUS covering their asses.

I see this morning that two more Latin American countries as well as Venezuela (Bolivia and Nicaragua) have indicated they'll offer asylum to Snowden. The trick now will be to get him out of that airport, on to a plane and away.

May Old Neptune throw a cloak of invisibility around him until he's well away from danger!