Turnkey tyranny

 

Edward Snowden [Guradian image]

Those words concluded Ed Snowden’s interview with the Guardian after he disclosed the National Security Agency’s communications dragnet:

The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change. People will see in the media all of these disclosures. They’ll know at length that the government is going to grant themselves powers unilaterally to create greater control over American society and global society. But they won’t be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things, to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests.

In the months ahead, the years ahead, it’s only gonna get worse until eventually there will be a time where policies will change,. . .a new leader will be elected; they’ll flip the switch, say that because of the crisis, because of the danger we face in the world, you know, some new and unpredicted threat: “We need more authority. We need more power.” And there’ll be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it. It’ll be turnkey tyranny.

Those last two words rang a bell. Last week, when the story broke, I was more outraged than surprised; I knew there was something familiar about Snowden’s revelations. In March, 2012, I read an article in Wired magazine about the Utah Data Center then being completed at Bluffdale, south of Salt Lake City. The article revealed in detail not only the functions of the data center but also a lot about the NSA surveillance programs it would facilitate, the programs about which Snowden has sounded an alarm:

The NSA has become the largest, most covert, and potentially most intrusive intelligence agency ever.

Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.

But “this is more than just a data center,” says one senior intelligence official who until recently was involved with the program. The mammoth Bluffdale center will have another important and far more secret role that until now has gone unrevealed. It is also critical, he says, for breaking codes. And code-breaking is crucial, because much of the data that the center will handle—financial information, stock transactions, business deals, foreign military and diplomatic secrets, legal documents, confidential personal communications—will be heavily encrypted. According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”

Later in the story:

The former NSA official held his thumb and forefinger close together: “We are that far from a turnkey totalitarian state.”

I had forgotten until rereading the article how much detail it contains, which Snowden’s revelations confirm. I encourage you to read it: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/ 

English: Daniel Ellsberg

Daniel Ellsberg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Daniel Ellsberg, whom I mentioned in my previous post, has spoken up, calling Snowden’s revelations the most significant disclosure in the nation’s history:

I was overjoyed that finally an official with high or a former official with high access, good knowledge of the abusive system that he was revealing was ready to tell the truth at whatever cost to his own future safety, or his career, ready to give up his career, risk even prison to inform the American people.

What he was looking at and what he told us about was the form of behavior, the practice of policy that’s blatantly unconstitutional. I respect his judgment of having withheld most of what he knows, as an information specialist, on the grounds that its secrecy is legitimate and that the benefit to the American people of knowing it would be outweighed by possible dangers. What he has chosen, on the other hand, to put out, again confirms very good judgment. …There has been no more significant disclosure in the history of our country. And I’ll include the Pentagon Papers in that. . . .

I fear for our rights. I fear for our democracy, and I think others should too. And I don’t think, actually, that we are governed by people in Congress, the courts or the White House who have sufficient concern for the requirements of maintaining a democracy.

I am really glad the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit to stop these blatantly unconstitutional programs. However, I fear that Ellsberg’s assessment is true; Congress and the White House have created a monster that is raging out of control. Can they rein it in? Can, will We (the People)?

It is not looking good: CBS has just released a poll showing that 46 percent of Americans think the government has struck the right balance between fighting terrorism and protecting civil liberties, 36 percent say the NSA has overreached, and 13 percent say the government has not gon far enough. CBS poll This, my friends, is disturbing news.

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