Monday, May 19, 2014

Trusting Greenwald??!

I understand Glenn Greenwald has a new book out which can be seen as the capstone of the long-term project he's been undertaking to have his voice heard at the highest levels of government and corporate board rooms.

It would appear they're listening now.

To what object may still be something of a mystery, but an overall goal, beyond being "heard" has never been entirely clear with Greenwald. "Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person!" Yes, well...

It would appear he got his wish. The toast of the town, he is, at least for now, wined and dined among the highest of the mighty, with abundant accolades, prizes and gravitas besides. He is someone now, and that seems to be what he's wanted more than anything all along. To be known, to be recognized, to be honored, and more than anything, to be reckoned with.

His personal toxicity aside, Greenwald has actually accomplished quite a feat. He's managed to rise to the top of the profession of journalism primarily by means of the NSA scoop, not through any particular writing talent, understanding of the issues, or ability to tell a cohesive and compelling story. His writing throughout has been one of his weaker aspects, as much of what he writes unedited reads like a legal brief rather than news, and it became clear to me (if to no one else) that the NSA articles he was bylined for the Guardian were heavily edited by someone or someones into something more "journalistic" before publication. In fact, in the end, they didn't read like they had been written by him at all, whether or not he shared a byline with someone else.

Those many others who helped make Greenwald's meteoric rise as a journalist possible have been essentially "disappeared." This is most telling in the case of Ewen MacCaskill of the Guardian who, along with quite a few others at that institution, have essentially vanished in the marketing and tale-telling surrounding the NSA scoop. MacCaskill was awarded a Polk for his work on the NSA stories, but you'd never know it to listen to the current hagiography surrounding the "biggest story of the first half of the 21st Century" -- or however it's being marketed these days. This was made painfully obvious in Amy Goodman's coverage of the Polk Awards and Greenwald's prodigal return to the USofA from his exile in Brazil. Amy, in a nearly Stalinist propaganda move, literally erased MacCaskill from the record of the Polk Award, and ever since has barely mentioned him at all. Yet he was apparently the old-hand journalist who was sent by the Guardian to accompany Greenwald and Poitras to Hong Kong to vet Young Snowden's validity, and so far as I can tell, MacCaskill was the one who edited and co-wrote the original stories that appeared in the Guardian.

Also, there is a widespread claim that Greenwald "won a Pulitzer" -- when he specifically did not. The papers that initially published the NSA stories (the Guardian and the Washington Post) won the Pulitzer Public Service Award -- which only goes to institutions, not to individuals. But in the telling of the story of the Pulitzer Prize for the NSA stories, the nearly universal convention among Greenwald's acolytes is to claim he (sometimes he and Laura Poitras) won the Pulitzer themselves as individuals, when they clearly did not.

There's another actor in this drama, Bart Gellman for the Washington Post, who has written some of the most incisive investigative reports on the NSA documents. Gellman is also part of the team -- that's not really a team at all, it would appear -- who was given access to the Snowden Trove at the outset of the undertaking. He's a long-time serious journalist whose work is well-respected within the profession. Thus, apparently, he has to be essentially disappeared as well from the received narrative of Greenwald's intrepidness and daring.

Ah yes, and about that daring... One of the primary themes in Greenwald's narrative of himself has been his trembling fear and anger at the perfidy of the National Security State's potential to arrest him and throw him "in a cage" for being a journalist, because high-ranking individuals in Congress have suggested as much and the lawyers at DoJ wouldn't assure his lawyers that he wouldn't be arrested if he returned to the USofA. Same with Laura Poitras who lives in Berlin.

So, quaking with fear of being arrested and rendered for torture to some demonic foreign land, Greenwald and Poitras sat in exile in Rio and Berlin respectively (though apparently they traveled fairly extensively during the interim, just not to the United States or Britain) until such time as they were awarded the Polk and determined to return like prodigals to the US and to dare the authorities to do anything about it.

Of course, the authorities paid no attention to them, any more than they would to anyone else, and their breathlessly awaited return went off without a hitch. No one in a position to do anything about their arrival in the USofA let alone render them seemed to care.

And so it has been ever since, as Greenwald has embarked on a nationwide book tour, unmolested, and Poitras, well, who knows what's happened to her? She is like a wraith, appearing and disappearing at will, offering stern and sturdy perspectives now and again, but more often she is referred to but neither seen nor heard from.

And Snowden? So far as we know, Snowden is still comfortably ensconced as a resident guest of the Kremlin, in what appear to be very nice digs, somewhere in Moscow or its environs. He has "given up so much" -- and yet seems to be well provided for and happy enough in his Russian exile, able to "appear" pretty much whenever he wants to and wherever he wants to via electronic means, including (notoriously) during Vladimir Putin's annual call in show on Russian television.

It was a notorious appearance not so much because of what Snowden had to say, which was relatively innocuous, but because of the relentlessness of the anti-Russian/anti-Putin propaganda campaign that's been waged by all the capitals of the West for many months now. For Snowden to appear "with" Putin (even if only electronically and recorded at that) was yet another emblem of his supposed "treason."

Snowden doesn't get as many awards as Greenwald, doesn't have a book, isn't -- so far as we know -- profiting from any of this hoo-hah, though he seems to enjoy at least some modest luxury and apparently some freedom of movement while he is a guest of the Kremlin. There have been many stories about his life in the US and as an international spy or perhaps not a spy but a genius at IT matters, or perhaps... the stories are legion. What's true and what's not is open to speculation. There are significant portions of the received narrative that don't fit, but that's another issue for another day. The only question I would ask right now is what Snowden is actually doing in Moscow, as there have been a number of reports that he has been hired by one or another private Russian enterprise as an IT consultant. If it's true, it might be interesting to find out more, but when it comes to Snowden, fact and fiction are so intermingled, the real story is pretty much unknowable -- at least not until the book comes out and the movie is released. Even then, mystery will no doubt continue to abound.

But speaking of Snowden... one thing that was very intriguing to me (though it may not mean anything) is that Snowden was living in Hawaii -- allegedly with his high-class artistic stripper girlfriend -- while he was acquiring the data trove from the NSA through his private contractor employment with Booz Allen Hamilton. Now of course this is the story; we don't know that it is true, and we will probably never be able to know for sure given the nature of spycraft and all...

At any rate, assuming it's true, Snowden was living comfortably in Hawaii, acquiring his NSA data clandestinely while a few miles away, Pierre Omidyar was also living in Honolulu, taking care of his many far-flung projects. Projects, in the Islands, on the Mainland, and well, let's face it... all over the world, including the soon-to-erupt in revolt and civil war Ukraine. Oh yes, Pierre has his fingers in many ((MANY)) pies simultaneously. And he's not shy about it, either. He's one of the richest men in the world and he uses his wealth for whatever objective he has in mind, whether it is educating the masses in Ukraine about the wonders of European Democratic Capitalism (or is it Fascism?), or building luxury condos on unspoiled Hawaiian beaches, or getting into the lucrative micro loan business on the ground floor and making out like a bandit.

Oh but there's more. As far as I know, Pierre lives primarily in Hawaii, though he has a number of homes in United States and apparently in Europe as well.

I'm given to understand he is financially involved with Booz Allen through interlocking boards, and his PayPal subsidiary of eBay is apparently closely tied in with NSA and law enforcement at all levels all over the world. One assumes that eBay is just as closely linked with these contractor, surveillance and law enforcement outfits as PayPal is. Then of course, there's the whole PayPal14 imbroglio which dogs both Pierre and Greenwald.

Pierre owns a news outlet in Hawaii which focuses on aspects of corruption as seen through a particular lens. (There's a similar outfit in New Mexico, though it has a much lower profile and is not, so far as I know, an Omidyar project.) That lens is essentially libertarian.

At some point around the time that Young Snowden went to work for Booz Allen in Hawaii, Pierre was taking the initial steps to form First Look Media, the umbrella under which he has placed a rather impressive stable of journalists -- including, of course, Greenwald and Poitras, whose Snowden docs are their principal claim to fame ...and fortune.

It's been pointed out by some observers that once Pierre's stable was essentially filled with formerly prolific journalists, their output declined, and for some it came to a screeching halt. In other words, going to work for Omidyar meant... silence, or nearly so.

"Transformative media" indeed. When you think about it, saying and publishing nothing on a regular basis can be just as "transformative" as anything else. It's all in the way you look at it, no?

Or in the case of The Intercept, Greenwald's personal fief under the First Look umbrella, "nothing" has been accompanied by fluff, nonsense, and occasional bursts of interesting stories of Surveillance State operations both here and abroad, but without any indication of how or whether they can be controlled, curbed or thwarted.

Of course the lack of any idea of what could or should be done about the All-Pervading and All-Knowing Surveillance State has been a consistent theme in the revelations to date. The world is to know in substantial detail about the surveillance they are under, but they are not, ever, to imagine anything can be done about it. Knowing about it without the ability to thwart it is an Orwellian means of control.

When this was pointed out by Naomi Wolf so long ago now, back in June of last year, she was viciously attacked by some of those who saw her questions about the purpose of what were then called the Snowden leaks as some kind of uncalled-for assault on Snowden and/or Greenwald, no doubt set up by the NSA. Or something. No, she had it right. Knowing that there was mass surveillance going on, without the ability to do anything about it, was and is a means of controlling the behavior of the population; it works quite well, as those who have lived under such conditions can tell you.

One of the keys to understanding the NSA Surveillance is the fact that nothing has been done about it -- and the implication is that nothing can be done about it. Greenwald has shown an interest in gaining exemptions from blanket surveillance for certain categories of people, such as journalists like him, but y no means has he shown an interest in undermining the Surveillance State itself, any more than Snowden has.

Well, it's not entirely accurate to say that "nothing has been done about it." Because something most definitely has been done: The #1 and #2 at NSA were... "retired" under pressure. In other words, they were forced out, though it was with great good will, of course. Policies have been (they say) revised to better attend to the privacy interests of the public, and there has been a good deal more "transparency" about the surveillance programs under way. Further, there are a number of efforts at beginning "reform" of the NSA to enable more oversight of its surveillance activities.


So there is that.

Meanwhile, Greenwald seems quite delighted with himself and has even taken to being somewhat less abrasive and contemptuous of others in his public appearances (which are legion). He's explained that his antagonistic and sometimes over the top assholitry/performances in public were meant to propel him into the limelight sufficiently to be heard -- apparently in the mainstream, where he seemingly wanted to be.

Well, he's heard nowadays, but what does he really have to say?

There are those who say that Greenwald is one of the few journalists -- or the only journalist -- they trust.  As far as I can tell, Greenwald is as trustworthy as most others in the field -- which is to say, somewhat, though never absolutely. Critical thinking is necessary no matter who the messenger is. Greenwald has established a place in the firmament, but neither he nor anyone else in that field should be granted blanket trust. His narrative on the Snowden matter is filled with gaps and contradictions, and his stories about it are just that, stories. Take them for what they are worth, but don't take them on faith.

It seems so obvious, and yet the desire for a heroic figure is strong. As conditions get worse for so many, the need for a heroic figure grows stronger.

Many have placed their faith and trust in Greenwald.

Some have felt betrayed by him for various reasons, others feel rewarded to bask in his reflected glory.

But in the end, we're still pretty much in the same place we were vis a vis the Surveillance State. We know a bit more about it now, but we don't have the ability to control it or to thwart it, nor does Greenwald have any intention to provide that kind of control.

Even if we were able to have some measure of control over the government's surveillance activities, there is still the little matter of corporate surveillance which is even more pervasive and intrusive than that of the state. In other words, even if we we were able to tie a rope around the All-Knowing, All-Pervading Surveillance State, it would still go on, unimpeded, through its many corporate partners.

So what ultimately has been accomplished?

And what do we want to accomplish?

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