As at least 5% of Americans must know by now, the Guardian has been regularly publishing stories about domestic and international surveillance from the trove of NSA documents they got through Edward Snowden, who is now an asylee/exile in Russia.
There's been something peculiar about this story from the get, but just what is going on in and through the national and international spookeries continues to be something of a mystery. The fact that so much media attention has been focused on NSA!!! spying and almost none on the pervasiveness of domestic surveillance through many public sector and private sector operations is one of the reasons why I have suggested this is a Summer Shark and Missing White Boy Story, a time-honored summer media diversion from things that actually matter. This story is a classic of the genre, and I suspect it will go away and be all but forgotten (until next summer) right around Labor Day.
Ah but, before it goes away, there will be several more bursts of OUTRAGE!!!!™ and scare mongering like there was on Sunday when Greenwald's Brazilian life-partner was -- erm -- detained at Heathrow and his things were confiscated.
The hysteria was immediate and nonstop. Though I don't follow Greenwald on the Twitter -- don't follow anyone anymore -- I read that he was just burning up the Twit Feeds with accusations and imprecations that went on and on and on about abuses of power, tyranny, and intimidation. The usual Greenwald stuff.
I got tired of it a long time ago.
Actually, it was a little more than getting tired of it.
I was an early part of Greenwald's commentariat, beginning when he was still on Blogger. Because of my screen name, he decided what my "character" must be. Of course he was wrong, and I told him as much. Basically, he misunderstood the snark inherent in my choice of "Ché Pasa" as a screen name, though many of the other commenters got it right off. It was good for a laugh at any rate.
For the most part, my commenting was confined to either observations I hoped would be humorous -- I'm not a good joke-teller, so my humor is often unrecognized -- or that might provide a supplementary or alternative point of view to whatever the topic might be on any given day.
Things seemed to be fine for several years. I had a fairly good relationship with most of the other regular commenters (though there was one who seemed to be extremely high maintenance and who tended to take offense at practically everything I said.) And after a while, Greenwald seemed to understand that he'd been wrong about me from the outset, and that actually I was closer to his own perspective and point of view, though disagreeing on details and sometimes on methods. Greenwald and I occasionally communicated by email and fairly frequently had disputes or conversations (depending) in his comment sections.
I didn't take the disputes personally and thought the conversations were potentially useful.
But right around the time he got involved with Assange, things started to change. To my eye, at any rate, Greenwald became much more strident and openly anti-government. There had always been a strong libertarian bent to his commentary, a label he hated, but too bad. His wasn't a classic ideological and adolescent male libertarianism, it was a somewhat more nuanced and specialized libertarianism that struck me as corporate rather than individual libertarianism.
During the Bushevik Regime, Greenwald had been highly critical of some of the legal and ethical overreaches of the Regime, but he was very cautious about how to address them, preferring to hold on to some ideal of incremental change, working through the system, etc. Soon after Obama was elevated to the Presidency, however, his attitude and tone changed remarkably, and his long-simmering hatreds seemed to boil over. For the first time, I saw him openly suggest that Revolution might be a necessity (any such talk during the Bushevik Regime was strictly out of bounds -- "they" were watching, after all, and such talk could get the Greenwald site shut down.)
When the Assange Thing came to a head, it seemed as if all restraint disappeared. It wasn't just Glenn, it seemed like almost all the regulars became militants of some sort or another. I suspected there had to be a backchannel of communications between the core commenters and Glenn for things to change so completely and so rapidly.
As for that "core" of half a dozen or so regulars, I realized with something of a startle, that many of the comments on Greenwald's posts were being made by a handful of people some of whom were using multiple accounts and screen names. It was obvious in some cases, other times less so, but after a while it became clear that the number of comments was directly related to how many different accounts and screen names the handful of regulars chose to use on any given day. (The same thing, BTW, is happening at the Guardian. It was pointed out in one instance that something like 40 unique posters were responsible for over 4,000 comments in less than a day on one thread, and others have noticed that there are often hundreds of almost identical comments from dozens of different screen names, almost as if they are generated by a bot of some kind. Isn't technology grand?)
Defense of Glenn and everything he said and wrote and did became the Prime Directive right around the time the Assange Thing came to a head with the distribution of the "Collateral Murder" video. As more and more WikiLeaks material was released (which we now know came -- mostly -- from Bradley Manning), the rigidity of thought and belief at Glenn's Place became stultifying. Defenses of Julian became as strident as defense of Greenwald had been, and when Manning was arrested, defense of Manning became the central cause of Glenn's site.
Critical thinking was banished.
Polemics, propaganda and provocation became the hallmarks of Greenwald's approach to practically everything.
But there was something else, too, something I found very disturbing -- and disturbed.
Glenn would often go into ATTACK!!!™ mode against various government, media and academic figures, picking fights almost randomly, sometimes over completely inconsequential or misinterpreted matters or occasionally over nothing at all. Often his attacks would be so venomous that the target would disbelieve that anyone could be so intentionally vicious over such insignificant issues. Not infrequently, Greenwald would simply be wrong and wrong-headed in his attacks, but it seemed to be of no matter to him. The attack itself and maintaining it was what mattered.
He would unleash attacks on essentially benign or even supportive commenters as well, attacking them sometimes even more viciously and venomously -- and famously wrongly -- than he would attack public figures.
After observing several of these incidents, and seeing some very bright and constructive posters and others be practically destroyed by Greenwald's venomous attacks, while others practically groveled at his feet after being attacked by him, I realized these attacks were matters of dominance and submission for Greenwald, an identity thing, something he needed in order to feel... whole. He needs to be dominant, and he needs to have submissive acolytes. When he achieves that goal, he's happy. Otherwise, he's enfuriated.
The last contact I can recall I had with Greenwald was during the Adrian Lamo Thing. He was trying to reach Lamo and was not having any luck. As it happened, Lamo was living not far from me at the time, and he hung out at a Starbucks not too far away. I didn't know Lamo, but I emailed Glenn that I would see what I could find out and get back to him. Well, I never saw Lamo, but I was able to get his phone numbers, home and cell, and sent them to Greenwald. He emailed back that he would follow up.
Shortly afterwards, Glenn did make contact with Lamo and interviewed him for his column at Salon. It was pretty mean, and that's being charitable. A lot of people have issues with what Lamo did by turning Manning in to the FBI. On the other hand, I've run in to more than a few people who would do the same thing -- because they, too, have been subject to FBI "interest" (as Lamo was) and have basically been turned . I encountered one, for example, who had been a fugitive for many years, and when he finally turned himself in, he was given a deal: become an advocate/informant and you'll only be sentenced to two years, fight us and you'll die in the hole. He took the deal, and he's held up his end ever since.
I checked out of Greenwald's commentariat about three years ago or so when I contracted pneumonia and I had the opportunity to think about the consequences of being in such a toxic environment. Ironically, at the same time, Glenn said he was suffering from Dengue Fever and was in the hospital. I refused hospitalization for my condition, but nevertheless I saw it as a Sign that maybe I should dispense with some of the more toxic elements in my life, and I thought that maybe Glenn would look at things that way too.
But no. He didn't. And actually, I think he was claiming "Dengue Fever" when he was being treated for something else. (Dengue Fever is what killed George Orwell, you see... and I had recently done a long series of essays on Orwell and the misuse of his works on behalf of Libertarian ideology and causes by Greenwald and others.)
Some of the toxic elements I decided to dispense with were Greenwald's venom, his site and his "community" -- and it was something like liberation from a cult.
I decided to concentrate on restoring my health to the extent I could, and on preparations for the move to New Mexico.
So. Here we are.
The NSA stories that Greenwald broke and which he has been dogging all summer became very personal for him, of course, when his life-partner was detained and questioned in London over the weekend, and I see that as a climax to the summer's drama over domestic and international surveillance. Up to the point that Miranda was detained, it may have seemed to many of those involved that this was just a game. It's not. It's deadly serious. I thought the Hastings Thing was surely a clear enough message from the Powers That Be, but apparently it wasn't.
OK. They're going to bring this matter as close to Glenn as they have to in order to contain it.
The rest of us are becoming exhausted by it.
This is one of those cases where there is nothing we can do about domestic surveillance (let alone international surveillance) -- nothing we can do directly, at any rate, any more than most of us can do much of anything when a shark wants to attack, nor can we find the missing White Boy (or Woman or Girl). We can live in dread, but we can't hide from the surveillance state, at least not if we want to live more or less comfortable modern lives.
The more we hear about it, the less we can do about it. Oh. Well.
I'm still thinking this story will end by Labor Day, and we'll hear essentially no more about it until next summer when it will be made into an election football.
But I could be wrong. Oh yes!
Summer's coming to an end after all...