Thursday, July 10, 2014

Is That All There Is?

There's a long well-written piece over at the now nearly moribund Intercept that informs us that five prominent and well-connected Muslims (or four and and atheist, accounts vary, even within the piece) had their emails intercepted and spied upon by the NSA -- or maybe it was the FBI using technology provided by the NSA, accounts are unclear -- from about 2003 to about 2008, though it's neither clear nor certain when the interception started and whether it has stopped.

What is apparently clear is that the email interception and surveillance happened, and that these five men agreed to be interviewed for the Intercept, and their stories are interesting.

As I say, the article is quite long, some 8,000 words, and there are embedded videos that continue their sagas in some detail. All of these men were and are well connected in the American Muslim community, and most were very well connected with Power. Some were fairly frequent visitors to the White House and one ran for office. The idea that these men were subjected to surveillance -- by having their emails intercepted and read -- is apparently supposed to shock our consciences, as it is patently obvious that these men were not deserving of such scrutiny, even if it was legal, which is not entirely clear. It may well have been legal, but even if it was, these men of all men did not deserve the dishonor and humiliation of being surveilled by the state.

They were and are prominent, important people, you see. Men of substance, gravitas. Leaders among men. High ranking staff of important elected officials. Lawyers. These men, of all men, did not deserve to be treated like the common herd.

Should these men have been exempt from surveillance by reason of their status? That seems to be the upshot of the long anticipated story "naming names."

That only five names are named -- out of a list of several thousand email addresses that was provided by Edward Snowden -- and all of those named are Muslims (or four Muslims and an atheist) has caused something of a stir among the rabble who were so eagerly awaiting the post that would "name names" and be a "fireworks finale" and so on and so forth. Greenwald hyped this thing to the heavens in numerous teevee and print interviews over the past few months, waxing rhapsodic (well, as rhapsodic as he can wax) over the spectacle he was preparing to unleash around the end of June/Fourth of July.

Some of his thunder was stolen by Bart Gellman at the WaPo who wrote -- before the release by the Intercept -- that the NSA actually sweeps up many hundreds of thousands of emails in their surveillance dragnet, and most of them -- more than 90% -- are in no way related to investigations into terrorism or various prioritized criminality. They are "innocents."

Just as Greenwald's named names are.

Of course, in the minds of many Americans, Muslims, per se, are not innocents at all, and the more scrutiny and surveillance they are subjected to, the better. This is pure bigotry in most cases, and the article describes a somewhat astonishing level of crude bigotry that informed the actions of the FBI at the time these men were being surveilled. Good heavens! How unprofessional! Indeed. It was the Cheney era. What does one expect?

Which leads to a consideration of the letdown this supposed "fireworks show" and finale represents for many who have seen it and read it.

If that's truly all there is, it's pretty much a nothing-burger.

Airy but not very nutritious.

Everyone knew, did they not, that American Muslims were being spied upon,  sometimes very intrusively, and in great numbers, said to be justified by the threat they supposedly posed to the good order, peace and security of Regular Americans, thanks in large measure to the attacks on 9/11/2001 which killed several thousand innocents.

Their actual innocence can be disputed, but that's another issue.

The Muslim threat was and is considered real by the malefactors of the State. The threat is not to "innocents"-- the threat is to the State and to the Power of the State.

When Cheney was running things, paranoia was rampant within the government to the point where he ordered a bunker built under his mansion at the Naval Observatory. Thousands were rounded up, protesters were encaged, innocents were rendered and tortured, wars of aggression were ordered and undertaken against peoples who had nothing to do with the attacks, millions have died or been displaced.

That's the legacy of what happened one day in September so many years ago. That's the Cheney legacy, too, for Cheney let it happen -- whether deliberately or not is beside the point. He had and has another priority than the protection and security of the American people: his priority was his own protection and financial well-being and after the attacks, he concerned himself with the protection and security of the State and particularly its executive apparatus.

Anything and everything was fair so long as his priorities were met.

The loyalty he inspired and still inspires within the confines of the Government and its contractors is something of a wonder, especially given the nearly universal contempt with which his ostensible Boss, George Bush, is held.

The five men named and profiled in the long-awaited Intercept report were close to the Bush-Cheney White House, and given the paranoia of the times and the paranoid natures of the men and women in charge in those days, it's no wonder at all that these five men were placed under surveillance. They and many tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands or millions of others were and are subject to the gentle kindness of State surveillance, on the basis of the lingering paranoia that seems to have wormed its way into the foundations of government today.

By no means were or are Muslims the only targets, any more than the NSA is the only or the primary surveillance outfit.

The problem with Greenwald's reporting on the topic all along has been its narrow focus and its obsession with the NSA. Well, that and the endless hype that leads... essentially nowhere.

The stories, when they are well-written as this one is, are interesting but apart from The Debate, they have led to no substantive positive changes in the surveillance state at all. In fact, the argument can be and has been made that the changes that have taken place and those to come have strengthened and expanded the surveillance state, not weakened it at all. The revelations have mostly been of "things we already knew" at least in broad outline. They've filled in details, but the details simply let us know how very pervasive corporate and government surveillance is. It hasn't provided us with tools to do anything about it; in fact, the revelations have essentially let it be known that "you can't do anything about it." And so, knowing they are under surveillance, Americans are more careful about what they say and what they do, aren't they? And isn't that the point of telling people they are -- or at least could be -- under surveillance?

These revelations serve the State, whether they are intended to or not. And this latest article does the same -- in this case by making clear to American Muslims that there is no exemption for even their highest ranking comrades. They are all considered suspect.

But we knew that, didn't we?

So really, is that all there is?

Then let's keep dancing...


  1. How much longer will the Intercept last? I suppose it could go on for quite a long time given how much money Omidyar has. But are people like Scahill just going to sit around and do nothing? It should be an interesting scene.


    1. So many other mostly very good online news outlets have cropped up since Omidyar's venture was announced, I'm not sure that the Intercept has a future, or that it was meant to have one. All these others seem to be functioning well -- no matter what anyone thinks of their point of view or content -- and they are publishing a lot of content by lots of journalists. They didn't take months and endless months of preparation, either.

      Not saying there isn't room for the Intercept, just that there may turn out to be little or no interest in it. If this is the culmination of the Snowden stories, and the Intercept is only meant to be a platform for those stories, then there's little point in continuing with it.

      On the other hand, the silence of Scahill and Taibbi particularly -- but the others as well -- is the chief upshot of Omidyar's stable. It doesn't matter that they may -- or may not -- be "working on something" to publish eventually. The fact is, they are not publishing now, and they haven't published since they went into the Omidyar stable, and to all appearances, that was the point of hiring them.