Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On The Question of Exemptions From Security State Scrutiny

During the past month or so, we've seen an explosion of interest in the National Security/Surveillance State apparatus, and we've learned about its vast reach around the world and its apparent ability to spy on anyone at any time. How such spywork product is used is still somewhat murky, as we really have no idea which Americans have been spied on by the NSA (leave aside for the moment the question of foreign targets) and to what object if any. There have been suggestions, however, that when the NSA "targets" an American it is for the purpose of domestic law enforcement or active terrorist investigation, and that essentially all the NSA provides in such cases is raw digital data that may or may not be useful in the investigation. But we don't know that. We don't know a lot of things about how our rulers keep tabs on us or what they do with the information.

What we do know is that a number of individuals and institutions have demanded to be exempt from the sort of blanket scrutiny everyone else is under, starting with "the press."

There was, after all, something of a trial balloon on the topic of uncalled for domestic surveillance when the AP Thing (ABQ Journal story; if not a subscriber, you will need to answer a marketing question) broke back in May (was it? doG, it seems so long ago.)  The issue then was slightly different in that phone calling records of AP reporters were sought and looked at by DoJ in connection with an investigation of a leak of high level information to the press. Sound familiar? Sure. The upshot was that not only was the AP marching around in High Dudgeon over this "Chilling of Freedom of the Press," they would demand and have essentially received an exemption from this kind of surveillance scrutiny going forward. Whoo-hoo!

As I pointed out at the time the story was making headlines, though, EVERYONE was subject to the kind of surveillance AP was demanding an exemption from, and the real issue was the intrusive/invasive that was probing everyone's phone records and doG knows what-all with or without warrants. This was in May, remember, a solid month before the NSA story broke in the Guardian. We knew -- or at least "anyone who was paying attention" knew -- that we rabble and proles were being spied on by Our Betters in both the government and the corporate sectors the government serves, and many of us knew how that information was being used, too. Anyone who was or is involved in Occupy, for example has more direct knowledge of the National Surveillance State than most other Americans by far, but America's Muslim community has had much more ongoing negative experiences with it, and black and brown communities in general have been its targets for generations.

At some point though -- variously dated to 2001 (prior to or almost immediately after the installation of the Bushevik regime) or 2005 (when certain devices were installed)  -- the surveillance started including everyone, all phone calls and other telecommunications, at home and abroad, and for a time -- maybe still -- there was someone assigned to surveil every physical address in the country. It was long ago out of control, and the NSA wasn't the chief culprit.

The principal base-line culprit all along has been the corporate entities that collect information on all of us, that analyze and store it, and that share it for a price or in trade with one another and with government agencies. That's where the data-haul comes from for the most part, and quite willingly, too, despite the lies and the denials of many of the corporate culprits.

So comes the AP Thing in May, and AP is demanding an exemption, because of the First Amendment. Never mind the Fourth Amendment because invoking that would mean everyone would be exempt from blanket surveillance, and what's the fun of that?

AP got their exemption in July as the link above describes. After the AP story broke, a FOX "news" reporter was revealed to be under similar surveillance due to another leak investigation, and wah-lah, FOX, too, was given the same exemption as AP. In fact, all "legitimate" so-called news orgs were given the same exemption in the DoJ announcement. Determining who or what is "legitimate" became an issue, but it's clear enough from the announcement that bloggers and independent media are not considered "legitimate" by the corporate media or the DoJ. So at least we know that not everyone who practices journalism is considered "legitimate" -- and we can be pretty sure where that will lead, too.

Needless to say, despite a rather full court press by various media, including much of New Media, Blobosphere and all, the story of surveillance of the AP (and later of FOX) and their demands for exemptions on Constitutional grounds failed to catch the mood of the country, I think because people wondered why should they be exempt while everyone else is being watched all the time?  Constitution? Feh.

On the other hand, when the NSA story broke in June, just about a month after the AP story broke, all holy hell broke loose because, surprise, the upshot of the initial few stories was that EVERYONE was under surveillance by the NSA, and there was really nothing anybody could do about it -- that is if they chose to live in the Modern World.

Oh. Well. What a surprise. "We didn't know..." And we demand....? Going from knowledge of surveillance to the Ask has been something of a rocky road to say the least. Just what is it Snowden, Greenwald and the rest have in mind as the goal as it were? We don't know. They initially said all they wanted was a "debate" about the surveillance they were revealing; then Greenwald the other day in his Argentine interview said that they wanted people to know that certain software was being employed to hoover up all phone and other electronic communications pretty much everywhere and suggested that by knowing this people could take precautions and even elude the hoover. But whatever the case, at no point have Greenwald or Snowden suggested ending the Surveillance State. They haven't even called for the repeal of the legal underpinnings (like AUMF, NDAA, PA, and FAA) that have enabled it and encouraged its metastasis.

I find that rather curious myself. No, all they say they want is the "debate" and for people to have knowledge that they are being surveilled.

All righty then. Implied is the notion that some people should be exempt from blanket surveillance, starting with technically adept people, for example, who know what to do to elude the surveillance bots through strategic technical gamesmanship. I've seen some of them post instructions on how to do it, and it's mostly gobbledygook, useless for everyday people, and probably non-functional in any case due to coding and other errors, whether accidental or deliberate. The fact is many geeks are not inclined to ensure that you are free of surveillance, only that they themselves are. Liberty!

Meanwhile, when the NSA domestic surveillance story was still somewhat new, Congresscritters held hearings and demanded of the spooks giving testimony that they, sitting Congresscritters, be exempted from surveillance, and they were assured that they were indeed exempt. I don't think many of them believed it though, as some of their colleagues had been clearly and obviously surveilled over the past many years, and some of them seem to be convinced that prosecution and blackmail are not unheard of in the Hallowed Halls due to findings of the surveillance bots.

Of course the press and media (well, that part which is "legitimate") demanded -- and got -- their exemption.

Anybody else seeking exemption from general surveillance? You would think the corporate board rooms and bankers' counting rooms would be automatically exempt. That is where Power is concentrated, yes? Can't have random spooks snooping around among the Highest of the Mighty, can we? In fact, corporate board rooms and bankers' counting rooms are where much of the snoopery of the rest of us originates, or at least where the plots and plans for it are laid and implemented. Let's not fool ourselves into believing it's any other way.

Of course, people in Greenwald's somewhat... interesting... position would naturally want their own exemption (albeit, he hasn't asked for one specifically for his ownself, not that I know of anyway). Expat world traveler journalist/polemicist/propagandist/provocateurs such as he might actually want to avoid the security/surveillance state for some reason, I don't know what, but he has never indicated that he's suffered personally in any particular or general way from the surveillance he must -- I mean MUST -- be under... hm. How does that work, I wonder? Is he surveilled but exempted from consequences? Or is he not surveilled at all? Or...? Is it something else?

Well, we don't know, and we're unlikely to ever find out, either. Wheels within wheels, don'tchaknow. It is quite an interesting game being played by individuals and institutions seeking to perfect their power relationships with one another, if you will. That much is obvious to me. Their rivalries and controversies have little to do with us, after all. This is a reason why the NSA/Snowden Thing strikes me as a bit overwrought given their apparently top-level at 40,000 feet overlook position, not generally one that affects individuals, nor necessarily does it affect contending institutions in their power plays. Or does it?

What exactly does the NSA do that interferes with the machinations of the Highest of the Mighty? We get some clue now and then when we hear dark rumblings of intellectual property piracy and unauthorized sharing of corporate marketing and other plans through some sort of spy network, but it is a murky tale at best and rarely told with any clarity at all. Is the NSA the lead agency in these matters? Mmm. Could be.

If as may be the corporate boardrooms and the R&D departments are the real playgrounds of the NSA and other spooks, despite denials (who really believes them, anyway?) then the demands for exemption that are background noise right now may have more to do with the nature of the NSA controversy/"scandal" than we know, and once that's worked out to mutual satisfaction, this Thing will settle right down.

We've been living in an era of institutional failure and collapse. Practically everything we've relied on for social, political, and economic stability in our lifetimes has proved to be worthless or has collapsed in failure. Yet wealth and power are ever more concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, and more and more authoritarian and exploitative rule is being imposed on the masses. In the overall context of institutional collapse and failure and the general imposition of authority and exploitation of the masses, the spook stories and consequent impotent rage they inspire is very useful for the interests who seek to consolidate power over the rest of us.

To me, that's the reason why the NSA story is being played to such a high level of public exposure this Shark Season. Nothing will be done about curbing domestic/international surveillance of the masses, though the masses will be whipped to a frenzy of anger about it. As Naomi Wolf pointed out, the Surveillance State is useless for controlling the masses if they don't know about it. Now they know. They have had an opportunity to vent about it, but their venting results in nothing. Nothing changes. It's the way of the world.

Behind the curtain, however, in that Deep State which actually rules us (oh yes, the Turks have nothing on US), there are many adjustments going on, both here and abroad, and fierce contests are under way over which surviving institutions will hold the primary reins of power. Make no mistake, Greenwald, the Guardian, and more than likely Snowden, are Players in that game. What role they have on the chessboard is an open question, but they are clearly not uninvolved observers and dispassionate Truth Tellers. They are obviously working on behalf of something greater than themselves, but exactly what that might be is still murky -- I have called them Corporate Libertarians, but that doesn't describe their actual roles and goals.

Nor does it reveal where all this is headed. On the surface, it's just another summer shark story, another missing white woman, for the rabble to fret over. But go a bit deeper, and ponder who and what is being "exempted," from scrutiny by the surveillance state, as power is consolidated on behalf of surviving institutions in this era of institutional collapse, and we can start forming a pretty good picture of how the story may play out.

We'll see.

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