Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Vile Treatment of Dissenters -- How Any Critical Thinking or Questioning Is Suppressed

The Snowden Thing has given rise to one of those phenomena of the internet and occasionally of print media that I have long objected to and find deplorable in the extreme.

It is the lynch mob mentality that is utilized -- primarily by supposed libertarians without irony -- to suppress any sort of independent or critical thinking or questioning of events taking place, so long as those events are being driven by designated "heroes."

I gave up hero worshiping well before adolescence, so I never really passed through the phase that seems to be so typical of the adolescent mindset. But hero worship has been integral to the Snowden Thing, and once he was designated a Hero by one faction, no question about him or his motivations was allowed. Raising any sort of question or reservation about his actions or his heroism was sufficient to mark one as either an Obamabot or a crackpot, or -- as happened to Naomi Wolf -- as an "NSA operative" (even though in jest) and thus all questions not mediated by Glenn Greenwald could be dismissed outright. The theory was that any questioning of Snowden was a distraction, probably deliberately engineered in the White House to defend the NSA and its surveillance programs and shift attention from the programs to the personalities of the whistleblowers and courageous journalists who were bringing this secret world to light.

Naomi Wolf has long been one of those voices in the dark that have been warning us of the impending or present destruction of our economic, political and social infrastructure and offering her insights about what is going on, who is involved, and what to do about it. I don't think she's always right, but I've never seen her as a dishonest observer or commentator. She says what she sees; take it for what it's worth.

Last week, she posted on some of her reservations and questions about the Snowden Thing. She was, she said, quite familiar with what she called "the whistleblower community," and Snowden didn't fit what she knew to be the common thread among them. He was an outlier, and some of what seemed to be going on with him and the way his revelations were being presented in the media ran directly counter to her understanding of whistleblowers, their motivations, and their actions once they decide to blow the whistle on matters of state.

She put it this way:

Some of Snowden's emphases seem to serve an intelligence/police state objective, rather than to challenge them.
Anyone who does any sort of critical thinking about this ongoing episode recognizes how it can easily serve the interests of the National Security State by making clear to everyday people that they can be and are being watched and that their data can be mined whenever necessary to make a case against them if they dare to get out of line. This is the way police states operate. They want you to know they're watching, and they want you to fear them.

Snowden provided the first documentary evidence we've seen of just how pervasive and potentially intrusive the surveillance we've long been told was going on actually is. And that opened the door for public officials, including the president, to talk about it repeatedly and in surprising detail, something they've always been reluctant to do ...until now.

This serves the interests of the police state, or we would not see it happening at all. If they didn't want us to know, they would clam up. They haven't. I say that's because they do want us to know, and Snowden has performed a useful service to the police state by documenting some of what is going on. I have no idea whether that was his and Greenwald's intent, but that has been the upshot.

Wolf points to Snowden's apparent media savvy as a potential red flag. It is something highly atypical, she says, of the whistleblower community on the one hand, yet almost universally understood and utilized by political operatives on the other. She points rather vaguely to the fact that he arranged for a talented filmmaker to shoot the interview with Greenwald in the Hong Kong hotel, but what she seems to have missed and probably hadn't heard or read when she wrote about it was that Snowden (apparently) went to the filmmaker (Laura Poitras) first, last January, and it was she who did the scut work to make the arrangements with Greenwald at the Guardian and Geller at the WaPo. According to some reports, a film deal has already been reached with Snowden, and Poitras has made clear that she intends to use her cinematic talents to extend the story in her own way and in her own time when she's ready.

Wolf wonders about Snowden's preparation apparent in the video interview in which he seems to be completely on message at all times, something very rare among whistleblowers, even though they may be highly intelligent and articulate. I would point out that staying on message is a political operative skill, one that takes some time to internalize, but one that Snowden has demonstrated in all his purported interviews and online appearances.  (I say 'purported' because some of his appearances -- such as the online chat at the Guardian the other day -- are deliberately impossible to verify.)

Wolf points to Snowden's repeated warnings to journalists that they are literally risking their lives and/or liberty if they are identified (by the state) as the "transmission point" of secret information. She points out that Snowden repeatedly emphasizes how much he is sacrificing to make these state secrets available to the public -- his high salary as a contractor, his home in Hawaii, his girlfriend, his family, ever returning to his country, everything he holds dear is now gone, and he will never get it back. Wolf sees this as a direct warning to other would-be whistleblowers: "Don't do what I'm doing, or you'll lose everything."

She points out (again) the obvious fact that any vibrant police state wants you to know that it is watching you and how very awful it can be for you to challenge its authority and rule. Of course. The National Surveillance/Security State has been an ongoing topic for more than a decade now. "Anyone who's been paying attention" knew they were being surveilled, but now, with Snowden's documentation, there can be no doubt about it by anyone. Everyone is a target for surveillance. All the stories which have proliferated in the media since the initial ones in the Guardian have hammered that fact home. The president doesn't deny it, but he has made clear that it is all very benign, we shouldn't worry our pretty little heads, and the numerous police state apparatchiks who have so cheerfully been testifying at hearings reinforce the message: "Nothing to worry about, it's for your own good, go on about your business, we're watching over you with the best of intentions, have a nice day!"

She mentions the importance of the sex-angle to maintain media interest, in this case, the somewhat strange business of the pole-dancing poetic girlfriend -- who ought not to be part of the story at all.

Wolf wonders about Snowden's purported disappearance and undisclosed "safe house" location somewhere in Hong Kong, pointing out that the whole concept of universal surveillance makes the idea of "safe houses" quaint to the point of ridiculousness -- especially so in a police/surveillance state like China, of which Hong Kong, yes, is part -- despite all the starry-eyed nonsense about its supposed independence and so-called liberty. (So did Snowden move from his plush hotel to the American CIA bureau he says is down the street? We don't know, but we can be all but certain his "watchers" know exactly where he is.)

She wonders where Snowden's lawyers are, as whistleblowers (typified by Assange, she seems to think) need counsel present at their sides at all times given their legal jeopardy. Apparently she forgot that Greenwald is an attorney, and at least during the Hunt for Assange, he was often acting as an ad hoc legal advisor to the fugitive. But wouldn't it make sense for Snowden to have other lawyers at hand? Some that could actually defend him in court should it come to that? (I think Greenwald said he let his law license lapse, though it could be reactivated, one supposes.) Does Snowden have other attorneys on tap? Who knows? Does he need them?

Wolf wraps up with the following:

But do consider that in Eastern Germany, for instance, it was the fear of a machine of surveillance that people believed watched them at all times — rather than the machine itself — that drove compliance and passivity. From the standpoint of the police state and its interests — why have a giant Big Brother apparatus spying on us at all times — unless we know about it?


The almost immediate explosion of condemnation in her comment section is instructive -- and typical.  

One is not to raise questions about Heroes!

After she was savaged in her comment threads, she was subject to any number of condemnations elsewhere, including attacks intended to shut down any kind of critical thinking about the backstory and how it affected the release of secret information.

One was permitted only to take sides, "hero" or "traitor," all other questions about Snowden and his secrets were forbidden.

Naomi did a followup post that explained her perspective a little more fully, but she has been silent about it since, and let's face it, silence from those who question is the objective of those who launch attacks against them.

Almost exactly the same tactics were used against Mark Ames, Yasha Levine and Katrina van den Heuvel when The Nation dared to publish a piece by Ames and Levine that raised questions about the "Don't Touch My Junk" guy (John Tyner) and his connections with various Libertarian causes connected with the Kochs. The internets exploded with vituperation against Ames and Levine, and attacking The Nation and van den Heuvel for their temerity in publishing such a "smear" to the point that van den Heuvel essentially conceded to the screamers and Ames and Levine have never been seen on the pages of The Nation again.

Naomi Wolf, Katrina van den Heuvel and others who point out anomalies and ask questions about Heroes are typically not their enemies. They are trying to engage in and encourage critical thinking about what's going on. They are subjected to smears and vituperation to the point where they often simply give up. It's sad and it shouldn't happen. But it still does.

Meanwhile, Webster Tarpley has weighed in on the topic of "limited hangout." Make of it what you will.

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