NSA Leaks – What Does It Mean?


If you haven’t heard of the recent spate of whistleblowing from the nearly revered Edward Snowden then you must surely have been living in a hole for the past three weeks or so. Snowden has followed the stellar examples set by the likes of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange by not sitting quietly, not accepting this new status quo we find ourselves in and choosing to stand up for what he believes is right. Stick with TechWench as we discuss the implications of the leaks.

NSA Leaks – What does it mean?

Whether or not you agree that Snowden should have leaked the information he did is somewhat superfluous to his future course of events, he has started a ball rolling down a hill so steep that we cannot see the bottom of it as yet. The scale of the surveillance he has exposed is truly Orwellian in its scope on the American front of the cyberwars but this exposition has made major strides in exposing the surveillance systems of other nation states; a truly steep hill as I say. As countries around the world find that their backfur has been raised by the spectre of the apparently panopticon society we have somehow allowed ourselves to stumble into. Germans in particular have taken especial umbrage at the thought of American eyes sifting through their private data on a regular basis, this umbrage brought attention on EU nation states cyber surveillance systems and exposed the fact that the UK, amongst other EU members, also has a sprawling global network of watchers feeding information back to Blighty. China has come under focus as the usual go-to scapegoat when the West’s cyber activities offend the sensibilities of the masses, attempting to derail attention from American surveillance programs with stories of cyber-industrial-espionage of militarised Chinese hackers working relentlessly to acquire American intellectual property and to take down the infrastructure of the US. “Hundreds of attacks a day” is the eye-grabbing quote used by the mainstream media junkets across the EU and US as they attempt to move attention from their own skeleton filled closets to Chinese wardrobes.

So; the US is furious at Snowden, Nations are irked at other Nations and the public are curious as to just what is being recorded by whom and for what purposes. A true pig of an affair started by the quiet looking, college dropout hero; Edward Snowden. Why a hero? Surely his leaking of the information has made the world less safe? We are now at incredible risk, right? So they would have you believe; in an attempt to marginalise Snowden’s efforts it is claimed that making the public aware of these systems has made the entire world less safe, especially from the relentless American Right-wing news pundits who have made concerted efforts to get the American public to either hate Snowden or forget about him. Notice how everyone got their fingers out and started pointing as soon as their own houses looked somewhat suspicious? Did you notice how the decision to arm Syrian rebels came just days after the initial leaks?

Snowden is a hero to the majority of the world, the reticent US public should have been screaming his name from the rooftops as the underdog vigilante needed to break this security driven American zeitgeist they have wandered into and yet he has managed to mobilise massive protests around the rest of the world. Hong Kong residents were out in droves protesting the surveillance machine and hailing Snowden roundly; thanking him for choosing Hong Kong and including their city in his fantastic mission. Ecuador, Iceland and a number of other countries have said “Yep, this is a good guy trying to help humanity, let’s protect him from the bad guy” Americas response has been to deliver draconian warnings to any country who offers him asylum, to expose smaller scandals in an attempt at misdirecting public angst and to revoke Snowden’s passport leaving him in a situation similar to the film The Terminal, a film about a man without country trapped in the transit circuit of an airport. Unable to enter Russian territory, not allowed to fly without a valid passport.

Yes indeed, the man has caused a helluva stink in the established power structures and should be commended for this. He should be revered for this simple fact; he acted on his beliefs. There are many armchair warriors out there with vehement opinions on a whole panoply of issues who remain armchair warriors, preaching to their own local choirs and making little headway in the battle. This is a man who was privy to information that he believed nobody should be privy to, a man with an extremely well paid job and associated house and family in Hawaii. All he was asked to do for these privileges is sit at the computer and keep it mum. Yet he was not happy to just swallow that big dollar pill and allow the machine to roll on spreading its tendrils into our everyday lives, he believed and he acted. A truly heroic quality in itself, this is exemplified when you consider not what he was giving up but what he was inviting into his life.

The US is known for hunting its enemies to extinction; Saddam, Gaddafi, Noriega et al. The list of countries that the US has intervened in is somewhat inordinately large now, it has grown rapidly in the past decade with the focus being on the Middle East as opposed to Asia or South America. Any enemy high profile enough but who isn’t the leader of a nation is hounded, hounded till they get their wanted results. Hounded to the nth degree of the judicial system , talons are flexed and feathers fly as the American Eagle bears down upon its transgressors, disallowing them the chance of returning to a ‘normal’ life after the fur has settled. Consider the sexual assault charges brought against Assange as soon as he spoke too much, for the past year he has been hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in London under total house arrest; he cannot leave due to UK extradition agreements meaning that as soon as he is on UK soil he will be packaged off to face proceedings. Manning, the famed army whistleblower who exposed the Iraq and Afghan War Logs is currently in the grips of this imbalanced legal system which favours the perpetrators over those who expose the scandal.

Assange and Manning now face either a life on the run or a life in prison. Manning especially does not look to be released as a free man any time soon after passing on nearly a million documents to Wikileaks exposing shocking actions perpetrated by the US army including civilian air raids and diplomatic cables which showed the level of intrigue and subterfuge at play between nations. But are these men heroes? Surely they have made our world less secure with their flagrant disregard for security and secrecy laws? Right? Wrong. These men know of the problems involved with releasing classified information, but these problems largely arise from their own countries. Does the US seriously think that by exposing the fact that they are watching the world and the world watches back, that they have invited terrorism to wander freely?

Terrorists arise from marginalised populations. Populations that have been castigated and radicalised by a force majeure. A force majeure they are morally opposed to but have no legal method for countering. Without an established countering method they have to turn to extralegal methods of spreading their message. The specific terrorists the Americans are focussed on at the moment are Islamists, Islamists who have had to endure decades of unwanted American influence which has left their infrastructure somewhat fractured and their populace radicalised against America. The Middle East was already angry enough before the exposition of the surveillance networks though, by comparison, Middle Eastern nations have a much lower propagation of Internet technology when compared with the nations conducting this surveillance. So just how effective can it be to endlessly monitor a fractured internet structure? Not very. The PRISM leaks only add credence to the theory that the NSA’s surveillance infrastructure is focussed on bringing in the Panopticon Society in America, especially so when you consider how the requirements for appearing on a watch list have broadened in the past 5 years alone. This article alone will raise flags on the PRISM systems as it makes use of the following words; Snowden, CIA, terrorists, PRISM, amongst others. This article is not a security risk, it is a discussion of a current news story and so exposes the ineffectiveness of such a system.

What is majorly surprising about the Snowden affair is the fact that it has not come to our eyes and ears sooner; in one of the leaks gathered from Snowden it is claimed that some half a million private contractors have access (at varying levels) to classified US databases. That half a million private interests have been allowed to view private data with nothing by way of democratic oversight to see if the information they are privy to isn’t used against the public or used for private gain. America should not be bearing down on just one contractor, they should bear down on the half a million in order to stop these embarrassing leaks, parse the number down some to reduce their risk. Duh.

Of those half a million, only one had the conviction to stand up against the might of the American Empire and in that we see what makes a hero and what makes a pawn.

RIP Doug Englebart

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