Over the past few years there has been a slow evolution of revelatory agents that have exposed the darker parts to the light. These people have been declared whistleblowers, they have also served as placeholders for people to mount other titles to their taxidermied busts on display. Some of the other titles have been “coward”, “shill”, “thief”, “traitor”, and “enemy combatant”. They have performed actions which have revealed truth as they see it to as wide an audience as they possibly could reach and then let the chips fall where they may. I’ve got at least three people in mind for this when I’m writing about it. Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden. Each of these people in turn have done very similar things – they’ve found ways to collect secrets and hidden things and reveal them to everyone. There are a few things to unpack for all of this discussion, first the nature of what they revealed and the point of their revelations and then how people responded to what they did. All of this is very relevant now because as time goes by I am starting to see how others respond to these revelations and it deeply concerns me.
Julian Assange has created a progressively expanding website called WikiLeaks, which is devoted to exposing secrets wherever they hide. The response wasn’t one of understanding and defending a person for taking a risk for what, in my opinion, is the greater good but rather condemnation, promised punishments, and lengthy discussions about extradition.
Bradley Manning was in the military and hamfistedly stole military secrets and helped reveal things about the US Military that they would have preferred remain secret. We don’t have to wonder what the response was to Bradley Manning. He was apprehended and incarcerated. He still is incarcerated.
Then we get to Edward Snowden. Not as hamfisted as Bradley Manning, he went about his task with design and cleverness. He revealed something truly upsetting and honestly “Earth Shattering”, that the US Government through the auspices of the National Security Agency has been spying on everyone. Not just citizens, which is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment but on everyone on the planet. This is about as revelatory as one can possibly get and what he did and how we all responded has really been an education.
What of these three people? They are vilified, declared traitorous and because we don’t know much about their story except for what is fashioned for us through the media, a mouthpiece of the government really, everything we are told is colored by those particular filters. I see people declaring that these “whistleblowers” are reprehensible traitors, communist sympathizers, and deeply criminal. For all of them, Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden, I stand apart from the mob. Instead of fashioning them into scapegoats on which I can blame a host of flaws and then punish, I instead spend a lot of my time thinking about what they did, and then moving on to why they did it. What they did was expose secrets. Why did they do it? Why does a whistleblower blow their whistle?
Revelation is a violent act, the Bible has it as the end of the world – that’s quite violent enough and serves as a great set-dressing for what these three people did and how we all responded to them. Is it better to know the dark secrets? I think it is. Pulling back the curtain and letting sunshine hit the darkness makes it cleaner, tidier, more orderly. By exposing secrets you flush out the darkness, the mystery, and once aired, everyone is wiser for the experience because we no longer suspect, we know.
Really this is about Edward Snowden because he is the most recent whistleblower and his secrets are the most upsetting and how people have responded is the most enlightening thing I’ve experienced in years. It has definitely been quite a shock for me to witness how the material has been dealt with by others and how Edward Snowden himself is being slowly painted as a monster. The revelations keep on pouring out of him and with each new exposure the narrative that we are presented with paints Edward Snowden more as the villain and less as the hero.
So what is the big deal? That one question is principally the extent of the response that I’ve witnessed from everyone. I feel so alone, so estranged from my fellow American citizen. I am alone in my outrage, not at Edward Snowden, but at the NSA. Nobody seems to care. That’s really the galling thing about it. When you tell someone that the NSA is actively recording everything that you do, from the harmless-sounding “Telephony Metadata” they collect to recording your email conversations and your telephone conversations, listening in on your private affairs. This bothers nobody. This is absolutely gobsmackingly outrageously stunning to me. What really shocks me is the line ripped right out of the Nazi SS officials playbook on this “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” This pretext is just a stepping stone to “Papers, please.” and still nobody seems to even notice. When I raise the concern, in general around others about how our Fourth Amendment rights are being trampled RIGHT NOW I get confused looks and blank stares. The majority of responses I get amount to the notion that people either don’t know, can’t grasp it, or can’t be bothered with it at the moment.
If the NSA is spying on all of us, if the FISA court is a kangaroo court as people in our very government have said it is, if what Edward Snowden revealed is true then I have really only one question: Why did we fight in World War Two? What did we win? Is it awful enough that the GOP has turned into Nazi Party Part Two, or that lines from the SS are now being laughed over as punchlines? “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” I used to have something to hide. Something that 60 years ago could have landed me in a concentration camp next to a Jew. I suppose I’m a lot closer to this bleeding edge than other people, but what is one secret against another? If I have nothing to hide, I have nothing to fear.
And there is the word again. Fear. Fear is harvested and manipulated like a force. A force that manipulates public policy and public discourse and as it is, the narrative for Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden. Fear. Fear of? Pick something, pick anything. Fear of Iranians, fear of Israelis, fear of terrorists. And there isn’t enough without, try some fear within too, fear of economic collapse, fear of environmental collapse. Throughout all this fear we feel, this fear that allows others to short-circuit our thinking and provide us with a narrative that we feel safe with:
“Julian Assange is a traitor and a criminal, he should be punished for revealing leaks and I feel safer now that he’s taken care of.” –
“Bradley Manning is a traitor and a criminal, he should be punished for revealing leaks and I feel safer now that he’s taken care of.” –
“Edward Snowden is a traitor and a criminal, he should be punished for revealing leaks and I feel safer now that he’s taken care of.”
Fear and “… taken care of.” How this plays out for these people means very little to any of us, as we don’t know them, not personally, so we don’t care so much to know the real people behind these names. Perhaps these people are just like the rest of us in extraordinary circumstances. It strikes me that if I had access to expose secrets I would, which makes me just like these other people. The value of exposing the truth is more important than what other people think of me and that personal journey may be very close to how these other people perceive their own situations as well. These others could be just as engaging and loving and nice as I am deep down, but if I were in their shoes, the narrative would be written against me and people would hurl rotten vegetables at me as well, because fear makes people seek the refuge of canned narratives.
So what is to be done? What can anyone do? I’ve done about as much as I can. Professionally there is nowhere to go and nothing to do. All that is left is personal due diligence and so I have overhauled my PGP keys, enriched them, sent the public bits back into the public key servers and championed the technology as best as I can. What’s the traction in security? Zero. Nothing. I’m the only one. So, being lonely as I am, being concerned as I am, and being apparently alone in my concern is a source of stress, but at least I am prepared. I have encrypted everything, I’ve done everything I can to secure my own self and my effects.
I am still consistently and persistently shocked at how the fourth amendment to the United States Constitution has been violently savaged by our own government and we can’t be bothered. We’re being spied on and we don’t care. Our private conversations are being recorded and we just shrug it off. People are sleepwalking through the alarm klaxons. It’s hilarious and sad.
And so, we get to Edward Snowden, who stands in for Bradley Manning and Julian Assange. They’re all pretty much the same story played out over and over again. I’ve noticed people throwing their rotten vegetables over the notion that Edward Snowden fled to Hong Kong, and then Moscow, with a hint he was maybe headed to Cuba, or Ecuador perhaps. I’ve read that people consider Edward Snowden to be a traitor who has “secrets to sell” to these other countries and that’s why he’s “on the run”. We’re starting to see old grudges reappear all because of Edward Snowden. “The relationship between the US and insert country here have been deeply damaged by their harboring of the known traitor Edward Snowden.” Grudges we thought we could get past, against China, against Russia, against… Ecuador? Sure, why not. Anything works to serve the corrupt narrative we’re being fed. So why is Edward Snowden popping up all over? He has more secrets to reveal and that the NSA has spied on US Citizens is just the start. The secrets he has to tell likely have more life in them to people who are the actual subjects of the secrets themselves. If the NSA spies on the US, and the United States is one of the largest multiplexes of the Internet on Earth, then it’s pretty much a safe assumption that the NSA is spying on EVERYONE. Get a map of the world, throw a bucket of red paint at it and you’ll have a relatively accurate map of just how deep this particular rabbit hole goes. That’s why Edward Snowden is traveling, that’s why he’s talking to other countries, this is all just getting started.
And it comes down to secrets. Secrets and spying and doing massively illegal things. As I observe how this is all playing out – with Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden, I can’t help but think about how people react to hearing news about death. If you tell someone that John Doe killed Jim Doe in premeditated cold blood people are outraged. If John Doe kills a million people in premeditated cold blood, people frown, shrug, and stop thinking about it. When you do something wrong and it’s small, it’s important. When you do something wrong and it’s immense, it’s irrelevant. The NSA spying on me? Upsetting. The NSA spying on us all? Irrelevant. People like me are screaming in the dark and we are upset because nobody around us seems to be interested – and perhaps it’s because people can’t be interested. When wrong is being perpetrated at this scope it may be beyond peoples capacity.
But life will go on. It’ll go on for Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden. I don’t see these people as villains or criminals or traitors. I see them as making the hardest decision and the bravest for doing what they did and living with the consequences. I reject the narrative that Edward Snowden is a “sell out” or is “selling our secrets to the highest bidder”. He’s playing the revelation game, this isn’t an Ian Fleming novel.
When it is all said and done and we see the extent of just how bad things are for us all I can only hope that it isn’t too late and what I foresee happening is just a fever dream of what could be and not what is to be.