The Snowden Test
No doubt you know the basic story.
Beginning June 5th 2013, a series of explosive articles ran in The Guardian (and subsequently a handful of other newspapers/magazines) detailing a vast web of global surveillance (engineered by the U.S. National Security Agency and U.K. partner GCHQ). The revelations were backed by large troves of primary information (code-names/programme descriptions) and internal documents (charts and diagrams) apparently directly sourced from the NSA.
A storm of controversy soon erupted over the breadth and ubiquity of this global surveillance. Forthcoming details on the myriad of previously secret programmes made it clear that email, text, phone data and communications were being scooped-up, recorded and analysed on a mammoth and almost unimaginable scale around the world.
On June 9th, 4 days after the earth-shaking leaks began, the then 29 year-old Edward Snowden identified himself as the source of the leaks. Secreted in a Hong Kong hotel room, Snowden volunteered his motives and personal history to a voracious media and public. What followed in the succeeding 2 weeks resembled an international spy-thriller, as Snowden fled from one safe-house to another throughout Hong Kong, always one step ahead of the press and (presumably) U.S. law enforcement.
The details are sometimes contradictory, but apparently Snowden then boarded a flight from Hong Kong June 23rd en route (via Moscow and Havana) to safe haven in South America. Oddly, sometime during that flight the U.S. government revoked Snowden’s passport, causing him to be stranded in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. After a lengthy period (somehow, and somewhat miraculously, avoiding both assassins and journalists for over a month) Snowden received legal asylum and left the airport to begin a new life in the Russian Federation.
Meanwhile, various news outlets continued a drip-feed of dramatic and ‘Orwellian’ revelations.
Snowden had become an iconic figure. Celebrated by ‘progressives’ as a whistleblower and hero, derided by ‘conservatives’ as a traitor and fugitive – he lives presently (we’re told) with his girlfriend in Russia, and appears (sporadically) as an advocate of communications privacy and government accountability.
Further theatrics were provided by the incidents of an Ecuadorian Presidential plane being forced to land, numerous international political leaders’ communications being routinely tapped and fierce debate about the probity of Snowden’s actions and the actual spying regime he exposed. American conservatives and pundits denounced his ‘treason’ and pleaded for his ‘extrajudicial assassination’ while others hailed his patriotism.
It was a thrilling, captivating and microscopically reported tale.
Yet somehow…it doesn’t quite stack up. Some thread of doubt remains, some scent of faint incredulity lingers.
Questions provoked by the official narrative are partly logistical, partly philosophical and decidedly pragmatic.
For starters: are we really to believe (especially in light of his own revelations of an all-pervasive clandestine surveillance regime) that Snowden, after booking a flight to Hong Kong (and soon after – numerous hotel rooms) all admittedly on his own credit card, could not be immediately traced and apprehended (or ‘neutralised’) shortly after (assumedly) the entire U.S. security apparatus had been alerted to his actions and movements? Is it really plausible that possibly the world’s most wanted man (at that moment) could just ‘go-to-ground’ and evade the ‘all-seeing-eye’ for a full fortnight in a cosmopolitan and highly-accessible city?
Some sources report that Snowden gave up his rental home in Hawaii (as he was ostensibly ‘transferring jobs’) just days before he ‘fled’ to Hong Kong and global infamy. How convenient.
Snowden also comes from a family steeped in security state nomenclature. His grandfather was a rear-admiral and subsequently a senior FBI official (present at the Pentagon on September 11th 2001) while apparently “everybody in my family has worked for the federal government in one way or another.” Snowden himself enjoyed stints at the CIA and NSA before landing at defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Surely it would be starkly traumatic for one so tethered to the military-industrial-complex, to suddenly turn ‘traitor.’
Still other questions rudely interrupt the ostensibly chivalrous tale.
To put it bluntly, Snowden is possibly just a little too young to be a convincing whistleblower. 29 year-old whistleblowers are statistically a rare thing indeed. By definition – zealots must start with zeal. Only over time is it plausible for the zealot to become wizened by the ugly machine of which he is but a cog. Just a handful of years before turning tumultuous ‘whistleblower’ Snowden was to be found on internet tech-forums waxing enthusiastically about the security state. His ‘gestation’ from true-believer to ground-quaking operative seems unusually and unconvincingly brief.
Fellow whistleblower William Binney is more likely (at least by age) to be the real deal. Over three decades in spy-craft he reportedly became increasingly frightened by the metastasising spectre of the national-security-complex. His revelations, while similar in tone to Snowden’s and predating them by over a decade, were greeted with little fanfare (and considerable personal harassment and marginalisation).
By contrast, Snowden was granted immediate and enthusiastic access to the most venerated organs of ‘controlled opposition’ and officially sanctioned stenography. Each outlet sticking dutifully to their established charter and brand demographic.
While (by some sleight-of-hand) still able to present itself as ‘progressive’ and ‘independent’, the New York Times is neither. Socially liberal yet aggressively war-like in foreign policy tastes (just how elites like it), the NYT has led the charge to countless illegal and immoral invasions/wars/actions and interventions, baying for rivers of blood from Iraq to Syria and beyond.
Likewise, the U.K Guardian gives oxygen to a raft of somewhat nebulous social concerns with po-faced righteousness, while yet being a clamorous cheerleader for bombing and murder from Libya to Ukraine (how many times can one newspaper repeatedly invent the ‘Russian invasion of Ukraine’ and retain any kind of credibility?).
Similarly, there is something decidedly absurd about the pretence of exclusive Snowden techno-anarchist sound-bites gracing the pages of neocon-beltway-bible The Washington Post.
And yet those glorified minarets of state/private propaganda champion a supposedly dangerous traitor/whistleblower absconded into enemy territory? It doesn’t add up.
Indeed, The Guardian tasked one of its most voracious experts in officially-sanctioned fellatio (Luke Harding), to mint the approved novelisation of poster-boy Snowden’s exploits. Harding’s long stint of feeble, flaccid journalism in thrall to MI6 and deep-state enabling has finally found just recompense in a big-time Hollywood pay-cheque (his book adapted for Oliver Stone’s forthcoming Snowden biopic).
As a blunt instrument of propaganda, Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” might indeed make Leni Riefenstahl blush, but could the Snowden gambit be a far more insidious and subtle secret-state strategy?
In purely practical terms alone, the ‘Snowden revelations’ have been an unmitigated victory for the national security state. A global public that was previously blissfully unaware of its position as central target of mass surveillance has now been thoroughly (and generally, comfortably) acclimated to that very idea. A raft of recent studies conclude that the Snowden revelations have had a marked chilling effect on people’s online habits and expressions of dissent.
Indeed, for a permanent cyber-Panopticon to be truly effective as a means of social control, the inmates (the global public) must be at least peripherally aware of its existence. Assuming it does actually exist and one of its aims is (logically) the abortion of popular dissent (through mass scale self-policing), a gargantuan surveillance apparatus also has clear uses as a giant blackmail machine (this would neatly explain the perpetually compliant response from the legislature and judiciary) and as a profound and unimaginably effective tool of social engineering.
Perhaps we are already there? Various leaks about Facebook and the Pentagon’s partnered experiments in ‘crowd herding’ and ‘emotional contagion,’ along with the underreported long-term history of tech corporations (Google, Microsoft, Facebook etc.) co-parenting with the NSA-CIA-Pentagon-DARPA nexus, hint that the entire electronically mediated womb-environment of today might just be one vast dark Psy-Op (interestingly, Vladimir Putin once referred to the internet as a ‘CIA Project’).
Software already exists to constantly monitor social media, analyse (in real-time) public trends and responses, and generate automatic (i.e robotic) comments/posts supporting (or denigrating) a chosen policy/worldview/opinion/initiative/product. We know (ironically largely via Edward Snowden), that our rogue intelligence agencies have been busy launching battalions of cyber-warriors and studying the psychology of online relations and the very architecture of our intrinsic belief systems.
After endless reams of circus commentary and vast volumes of hot air, the net result of the Snowden saga has in fact been the legitimation, legalisation and expansion of the very same unwarranted, unconstitutional, unnecessary (and surely intrinsically illegal) indiscriminate surveillance regime.
‘Mission creep’ has become a stampede, as supine governments rush a candied ‘national security’ wish-list of mass surveillance (and police state) initiatives past a bewildered and disenfranchised public. Nowhere is this more rudely obvious than in Australia, Canada, the U.K and the U.S itself, all of which have increased the state’s options for surveillance and data retention in the months since the ‘Snowden revelations’ (while performing a pantomime of ‘debate’ and ‘consultation’).
The ‘terrorist’ bogeyman (looking understandably tired and unconvincing) has been trotted out yet again to justify all this breathless chicanery. That these nations are all working from the same international (intelligence agency?) playbook seems in little doubt – the timing, wording and circumstances of (for example) recent surveillance ‘reforms’ in Australia, Canada and France being so strikingly similar. Likewise, a similar series of dubious provocations, sieges and ‘terrorist’ attacks predictably and magically manifested themselves just prior to the legislation being tabled – the public must, of course, be cajoled in the right direction.
Is it not possible that we have been completely gamed? The mysterious and messianic figure of Edward Snowden, introduced to acclimatise the global public to the very idea of an endless, all-pervading surveillance state (entirely unaccountable with unstated goals and limitless technology). Snowden as ‘progressive’ Trojan Horse (perhaps much like Barack Obama before him) to activate and mobilise the public passion, only to see it hijacked and channeled into Room 101. After much ‘debate’ from captured politicians and a puppeteer punditry the (entirely noxious) ‘security regime’ is solidified and expanded – the illusion being, that ultimately ‘democracy’ functioned and the population actually ‘chose’ omniscient observation – for the ‘greater good.’
Snowden himself perhaps reminds one of an articulate Lee Harvey Oswald-like character, a brave young patriotic warrior in deep-cover embrace with the Russian bear, dancing a dangerous and duplicitous deep-state deception. Knowingly (or unknowingly) a tool of clandestine forces. Snowden should bear in mind that he too, if he outlives his usefulness, might be thrown to the lions (just like Oswald was).
Imagine for a moment that the Snowden saga is a test. Having built a labyrinthine structure for social control (a compliant media and cowered public that cheerfully delivers itself up to enormous data-mining projects like social media): in fact, an almost entire reality-set constructed and delivered electronically – surely one would be tempted to test it? To see if complete movements, debates, paradigms and world-views could be generated out of whole virtual cloth and controlled? A test-tone, a electro-static ripple, a tremulous shock-wave to the online body electric.
Would it really be possible to introduce an idea (global omniscient surveillance) itself intrinsically repugnant, and yet shepherd it through a controlled release (and discourse) to have it ultimately accepted, completely present and yet essentially invisible? To test the various nuances and feedback loops in media (and online social media) that now might just grant remote Panopticon control of an entire population and their ‘internal landscape’? An electronically mediated ‘reality’ where ideas and beliefs are mere manifestations of algorithms and software?
Conservatives, progressives, activists, lethargists – all actors in the traveling circus of ‘representative democracy’ and ‘online society’?