Jonathan Kay on Glenn Greenwald: There’s ‘no place to hide’ from Big Brother. But few seem to care
Jonathan Kay | May 17, 2014 | Last Updated: May 27 4:17 PM ET
When former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden released his massive trove of stolen intelligence files to investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras, some called him a traitor, others a hero.
To this day, opinion remains split. But there is absolutely no doubt his actions make him one of the most important civil libertarians in modern history. From his work with the NSA, Snowden had an insider’s knowledge of America’s massive, post-9/11 apparatus for performing warrantless surveillance of virtually every form of digital communication known to humankind. And he spilled it all.
“I realized,” Snowden told Greenwald during their first heady cloak-and-dagger meetings in Hong Kong, “that [the NSA was] building a system whose goal was the elimination of all privacy, globally. To make it so that no one could communicate electronically without the NSA being able to collect, store, and analyze the communications.”
In his new book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, Greenwald explains how Snowden made the transformation from aimless intellectual dilettante, to self-professed “computer wizard,” to modern-day Daniel Ellsberg, to a Russian-resident fugitive from U.S. justice.
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The tone toward him is hagiographic: If Greenwald has any moral qualms about Snowden fleeing to Russia, an authoritarian U.S. quasi-enemy where respect for civil liberties is a joke, he hides them well. Indeed, he suggests in the book’s final pages Snowden’s evasion of U.S. justice is “inspirational,” since “the public image of him is not a convict in orange jumpsuit and shackles but an independent, articulate figure.”
Much of the book is arranged chronologically. Several long chapters deal with Snowden’s first attempts to make contact with Greenwald and their 2013 meetings. Greenwald also explains how he sifted through the mountains of data Snowden provided, and describes how the strain from this giant bombshell caused him to part ways with his newspaper, Britain’s The Guardian.
He also proudly recites some of the evidence suggesting Snowden’s revelations have produced “profound shifts” in U.S. public opinion, even notwithstanding the pervasive spirit of fear that still exists 13 years after 9/11.
“Just a few weeks after my first Snowden-based article for the Guardian exposed the NSA’s bulk metadata collection, two members of the House [of Representatives] jointly introduced a bill to defund that NSA program,” Greenwald writes in his epilogue.
“Remarkably, the bill’s two cosponsors were John Conyers, a Detroit liberal serving his 20th term in the House, and Justin Amash, a conservative Tea Party member in only his second House term. It is hard to imagine two more different members of Congress, yet here they were, united in opposition to the NSA’s domestic spying.”
But ultimately, that legislation failed — as has just about every other effort to reform the surveillance state. And this helps explain why there is such a strong current of anger running through Greenwald’s book. Since 9/11, he argues, we’ve been drunk on fear, and Americans in particular have submitted meekly to “radical and extremist theories of [U.S.] power.”
This month, Greenwald came to Toronto to debate against famed American legal scholar Alan Dershowitz and former Central Intelligence Agency director Michael Hayden, on the proposition, “Be it resolved that state surveillance is a legitimate defence of our freedoms.”
Before the 3,000 audience members had even filed into Roy Thomson Hall, Greenwald told the media, “I consider [Hayden] and Dershowitz two of the most pernicious human beings on the planet. I find them morally offensive. There’s an element of hypocrisy to being in the same room with them, treating them as if I have outward respect, because I don’t.”
The idea someone of good faith might defend the need for mass surveillance in an age of apocalyptic terror seems alien to Greenwald.
“9/11 made some people in the United States completely insane,” he told me during a phone interview Thursday.
“For most people, the hysteria of 9/11, and the moral blinders it put on them, wore off. But for some people like Dershowitz, it never did. In fact, if you look at the arc of his career over the last 10-15 years, you’ll see that there is one issue that’s predominated, and that has drowned out all others. And that issue is Israel … And so anything that aids that cause becomes something he will support.”
At other points in his book, Greenwald brings down his anger on ordinary citizens who shrug off state surveillance as a necessary price of security.
I find them morally offensive. There’s an element of hypocrisy to being in the same room with them, treating them as if I have outward respect, because I don’t
These people “have passwords on their email and social media accounts — they put locks on their bathroom doors,” he complains,” yet they blithely “applaud as the authorities collect vast amounts of data about what they say, read, buy and do.”
Even God himself is a civil-liberties sell-out, apparently: Toward the end of the book, Greenwald tells a story about the bat mitzvah of a friend’s daughter.
“During the ceremony,” he complains, “the rabbi emphasized that the ‘central lesson’ for the girl to learn was that she was ‘always being watched and judged’ [by God]. The rabbi’s point was clear: If you can never evade the watchful eyes of a supreme authority, there is no choice but to follow the dictates that the authority imposes … All oppressive authorities — political, religious, societal, parental — rely on this vital truth.”
Even putting aside the somewhat flat quality of Greenwald’s writing, No Place To Hide should be a more stirring book than it is: His Snowden scoop truly was a momentous event in investigative journalism, one that will continue to generate stories for years. And yet I confess that the effect of the book on me, as with the initial Snowden disclosures in 2013, was that it made me feel that I should be outraged, as opposed to actually making me outraged.
Perhaps that’s because, even by the time Snowden first emerged as a whistleblower, the nature of our relationship with information and technology had eroded our expectation of privacy.
Since the 1990s, every keystroke we have typed on a corporate email system has been legally snoopable by our employers. On our home computer systems, we surf and use Gmail under the watchful eye of nerds in Palo Alto, Calif. Mark Zuckerberg has thousands of pictures of my kids. My iPhone geotags my every waking moment. Given all this, I didn’t care that much when I learned NSA had joined the information-gathering party — even though I know that, in principle, I really, really should care.
There’s Canadian content in Greenwald’s book: In Chapter 3, he mentions we Canucks are “a very active partner with the NSA and an energetic surveillance force in [our] own right.” By way of example, he recites the by-now well-known story of Communications Services Establishment Canada (CSEC) targeting the Brazilian Ministry of Mines & Energy in search of economic intelligence.
It was a huge story at the time. Ambassadors were summoned. Outrage was expressed. The CBC, the National Post and other news outlets led with it, eager to give a Canadian angle on the Snowden disclosures.
And then? Nothing. No reforms at CSEC. No overhaul. No public inquiry. Overall, the whole story got about one-hundredth of the media footprint of a single guy named Mike Duffy.
The problem isn’t just that there’s “no place to hide.” It’s also there are precious few people to care.http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2014/05/17/jonathan-kay-glen-greenwald-may-be-right-that-theres-no-place-to-hide-from-the-surveillance-state-but-precious-few-seem-to-care/