Overweening Generalist

Saturday, February 27, 2016

On the Snowden Revelations and Learned Helplessness

Quick like a bunny: name all the ways your communications are being tapped, tracked, and impounded.

If you said, "Every one of them, probably" congrats! You're a...winner?

Snowden was so, like two years ago, man. (Yea, but despite the fact a Federal Appeals Court ruled the indiscriminate Hoovering of all ALL all telephonic calls was "illegal" we have no reason to believe the NSA/CIA/DIA/all the other Fink-based alphabet soup assholes have stopped collecting. Sorry.)

Stewart A. Baker, a former general counsel for NSA and a critic of Snowden's ironically admitted nine months ago we're only talking about the first thing Snowden leaked to Greenwald and Poitras:

"The only debate we're really having in the US is about the very first document that Snowden produced," said Stewart A. Baker, a former N.S.A. general counsel and outspoken critic of the leaks, referring to the secret court order authorizing the phone records program. "The rest of the documents have been used as a kind of intelligence porn for the rest of the world - 'Oooh, look at what the N.S.A. is doing.'"

I can't tell if Baker is embarrassed before the world (I somehow doubt it), or if the borderline traitor is ironically telling the rest of us, "You think the phone records are something, wait till you find out we can turn on your smartphone's mic and listen to what you're saying...even when the power's off! Or that we can turn on your laptop's camera and watch you have sex and take pics of you and your lovers nude."

(Have a look-see from Jeffrey T. Richelson's book The US Intelligence Community for info on those two programs, "Captivated Audience" and "Gumfish," and as they say on infomercials, "much much more!")

NB: in the NYT article I linked to above, with the quotes from Stewart Baker, there are the required quotes from a commissar-like CIA fink-traitor to the Constitution, Michael Morrell, who says flat-out Snowden's leaks helped ISIS. Morrell is quite likely a liar.

And you know who else is a liar about Snowden? Hillary Clinton. Forget that she and Bill are now so far inside Wall St they're filthy rich off others' suffering.

Hey, I'd be happy to have someone with a vagina as Prez of Unistat, but not this one. It seems a sure bet she'd continue the retrograde moves Obama made. Snowden didn't vote for Obama, but believed him when he said, running in 2007-2008, well, let me quote Obama from 13 June, 2007:

No more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime...No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient.

The sorts of Authoritarian contemptibles who Just Follow Orders and work for the Unistat spy agencies now? Quite likely sexual fascists also. J. Edgar Hoover's FBI was notoriously on the lookout for info on sex practices of freethinkers, in order to try and blackmail them. Snowden said his fellow NSA workers commented upon and even joked about the nude bodies and sexual acts they surveilled. 

So, what do you think Thomas Jefferson would make of all this?

On second thought, don't answer that...

Re: sexual fascism: Sorry, I know that "slut shaming" is horrible. But let's not pretend something far worse, more despicable and illegal isn't happening among the security-cleared Finks whose paychecks We the People fund. (I call anyone with such a heinous interpretation of the 4th Amendment a "fink." It's one of my quirks. If you're offended, pardonamente!)

On the real issue here, privacy, I feel compelled to link to another longstanding member of our commissar class, David Brooks. For me, Brooks has quite the punchable face. I really detest David Brooks. But lawdamercy! sometimes he can write something smart, as he did in this piece about why privacy is one of Our Values. I could have quoted one of "my" guys/gals; here I just like the irony of linking to one of my enemies. 22 months before this, Brooks wrote that he "disapproves" of Snowden. As they would say about Brooks at BoingBoing, "Christ What An Asshole."

Why did all this shit go down in the first place? You probably have something to say about this. I think the venerable Alfred W. McCoy seems pretty hot when he writes about "imperial power losing its economic grip on the planet and heading into more austere times, the NSA's latest technological breakthroughs look like a seductive bargain when it comes to projecting power and keeping subordinate allies in line."

So, getting back to the prick from Stewart A. Baker, why aren't we all talking about all the other forms of our Orwellian Panopticon? Ted Rall wonders, "Is it the media's notorious inability to focus on stories, especially when they're complicated? Or are they consciously complicit in a conspiracy to keep silent about America's out-of-control security state - nothing to see here, just move on?" (p.212, Snowden) Rall says Greenwald and Poitras's The Intercept, which was started to handle the massive info from Snowden so we can all read and comment, has not - au grand dam to many of us - produced a steady drip drip drip until Obama had to reign it all in. Unistatians seem to have passively accepted they're being watched all the time. 

How to account for this? Rall and others have cited M.E.P Seligman's theory of "learned helplessness" in human's dealings with stuff they don't think they can handle, which produces anxiety and human depression. People act like a dog reduced to whimpering helplessness after sustained abuse. (Followed by, I presume, self-medication with Facebook?)

Then also, I found in Robert Anton Wilson's book Everything Is Under Control an entry under P for "Passive Conspiracy." These are possibly more noxious than active conspiracies. The heroin problem circa 1998 will go on in Unistat, the author writes (I'm not sure if this is Wilson saying the following or the writer he's quoting from an NYU student he found on the Web) as long as it's perceived as a "black" "inner city" problem. The gummint will only pretend to care about stopping it. (Prophetic in 2016? You be the judge.)

RAW finishes the entry by linking the Passive Conspiracy idea with Wilhelm Reich's darker version, that "masses neurotically yearn to surrender to some fascist leader and will throw away their liberties as soon as a leader of that sort appears." (p.336) I guess Dick Cheney would've qualified here.

Just think of President Ted Cruz, ladies and germs: he has access to all your kinky sex stuff that Jesus wouldn't like. Gosh, what hijinks would ensue?

Some Sources:
Snowden, by Ted Rall
No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State, by Greenwald and Ganser
The Snowden Files, by Luke Harding
Citizen Four (2014 Laura Poitras) must-see documentary if ya haven't already. In a sane country, we'd realize we were wrong after 9/11 and give Snowden the Medal of Freedom and a ticker-tape parade and an official national holiday named after him...but which day of the year?
Snowden Statue
"Snowden, Assange and Manning Statues Unveiled in Berlin"

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Anonymous said...

I think Edward Snowden would be very pleased to know he has a kind of supporter and advocate like you. (Does he know?)

What do you think/ make of: "Edward Snowden says he'd go to prison to come home" ?



michael said...

Hey Alex. I've never reached out to Snowden, so I doubt he knows about me. I assume there are millions who feel like I do. The Atlantic article says he wouldn't accept a plea deal and prison time.

Meanwhile, I think Michael Hayden, Loretta Lynch, Obama and Biden deserve prison time more than Snowden does.

Statues of Snowden have appeared in public parks, like in Brooklyn. I'm not the only one, by any means.

I get the oddest feeling that you and I have met, Alex. Have we?

Wes Ismay said...

At times of heightened paranoia I feel that Snowden was released as a litmus test of what the populace will allow. It seems to me that what Snowden has released has been known for at least a decade before. Like around 2000 I remember it being quite common knowledge that all internet traffic filtered through a NY or northern California hub for forms of surveillance. Every landline has been tapped and recorded since what the 1970s? To think that all cell phone information is not tracked seems dubious at best.

These "revelations" of Snowden function for the state surveillance system to see who among the general population may become threats for what the surveillance apparatus does beyond expectation. It does not seem beyond imagination to think that some insect size drone could infiltrate anywhere to acquire information.

But again, I have the paranoiac tunnel vision at times. So please filter it through your own skepticism.

michael said...

@Wes Ismay-
Yes, it could be that Snowden "was released" as litmus for public reaction. But the reactions from CIA/FBI/Obama and others at that level looked like they weren't acting. They truly seemed pissed at Snowden. And again, to your point, ever since I read James Carrol's criminally underrated history of the Pantagon, _House of War_, I find it somewhat plausible that a group w/in the Pentagon "used" Snowden to gage what the public will accept, without the relatively temporary POTUS and intelligence heads knowing.

But have you watched Citizen Four? After that I really think Ed acted from his higher principles; Snowden really believes stuff in the Constitution are good ideas and shouldn't be flaunted.

At my present point of ignorance, I'm pretty much there with you about how, in general, all this has been with us for a loooong time. Mail covers go back a long way. It seems 9 of 10 Unistatians couldn't tell you the first thing about COINTELPRO, which was supposed to have ended, but that's not the way SNAFU works, is it?

Your riff on insect sized drone may sound "paranoid" to a lot of people, but from what I've been reading, it's either totally feasible RIGHT NOW, or will be soon.

I guess what makes me marvel most: certain geeks of Authoritarian character structure who will be willing to use their digital skills (and make no mistake: profoundly rapid digitization of the citizenry is what pushed all this into a Snowden critical mass) to service The State; their civics lessons be damned. Who DO these people think they are? Social psychology would probably explain them as thinking that not only were they snooping in the name of SAFETY or FREEDOM, but they themselves are the Best Americans. Groupthink dynamics. And Snowden is a rare individual who never really bought into that.

Then again, I could be WAY off.

Hey: THANKS for commenting here, Wes!

Eric Wagner said...

Another interesting post. I don't think President Obama deserves prison time. What course of action do you suggest? I know you have recommended some viewing and reading on this topic, but I wondered what other course of action seemed like a good idea to you.

Anonymous said...

The Snowden revelations left me with a deep techno-pessimism that I've been unable to pull myself out of since.

There seems to be an unholy alliance between the 3 letter agencies, adtech companies and data harvesting social media. A lot of the time, I can't see much of a positive future for privacy on these Interwebs.

In my deeply Luddite moments, I'd kneecap the Internet back to around 2001. No adtech or social media. A focus on small companies, self managed and self owned communities, IRC networks and blogs.

On the other hand, it might be with the benefit of a few years Snowden could be the shot in the arm that forces the expectation of privacy back on the political agenda, and encourages a move away from the Leviathan companies that have taken over and walled off the Internet.

Yet, I can't see governments or the information harvesting giants giving up their powers easily, if at all. How could we realistically stop them?

I suspect it is too early to tell what will result from this.

Note: Sometimes, I run a reality tunnel that doubts that the government is actually capable of running these programs competently. In these moments I assume that despite the grandiose claims of the leaked documents the 'reality' is that these programs are defective and badly run, and mostly incapable of achieving their objectives.

But then, I can be a great believer in the universality of Chaos.

Anonymous said...

We have sex with our clothes on, since 1999 when we got a webcam.
Jefferson would have written a long letter, no doubt, and not spoke up.
He was no Hillary. Imagine HIS leaked emails...no, don't...
Total Freedom. Put it all on American Funny State Home Video.

michael said...

@Eric: I'm at times loathe to go back and read my own stuff, but if I didn't put the idea that if anyone goes to prison, Obama should first before Snowden...then that's on me. Of course I'm the one buying the version of "reality" in which Snowden is a very rare admirable individual who acted out of sense of values I happen to share with him.

Also: I'm wrong when I consider Snowden so rare. He's rare but many other whistleblowers went through the "proper channels" that Hillary thinks they should. So they got prison time and no one else. (see: Th.Drake, Kiriaku, C.Manning, J.Sterling, etc, etc)...so Ed played it smart.

This is a dark time in these regards.

IF bizarre events turned up and somehow, Obama faced jail, I'd like a public trial. That would haul in Cheney, Dubya, Rice, Feith, Rummy, et.al...one would think.

I won't hold my breath on this one.

You ask about "course of action": I want as many people drawn into a public discussion about what everything that's fallen out of the Patriot Act means. And the TV trial spectacle may be what it would take. We can do a search for the Army-McCarthy hearings. The Church Committee stuff and the hearing about Nixon were riveting teevee: what's the right way to live? What does "democracy" mean?

But no, I say Snowden should not be imprisoned. And I seriously doubt he'd be treated fairly if he came back to Unistat, as of Marzo Uno, 2016.

michael said...

@dirtydiscordia- I too wonder how "efficient" the algorithms are.

I've read a metric tonne of articles about the 8K ways our data is merged into "Big Data" and how "fictional" you still seem: no matter how much data about you gets collected, there's so much not accounted for that...the benign result is that Control doesn't really know us like they think they do.

A more malign view is that we'll be subject to false trials before Johnny Law: being pulled over, suspected of "pre-crime" or simple ruinous identity theft in which you have to prove you're really you to certain agencies and markets. There are many other scenarios.

I, like you, do not see the harvesting giants giving up soon. Too "efficient," they believe. Too cost-effective.

The idea of commenting on a blog on the Net about having "Luddite" moments: I'm right there. Irony! I love all these platforms and ways to exchange ideas. That I've negotiated their use in a way perhaps most people have not?

I get the overwhelming sense this is all irreversible, and that a speciation is occurring among humans. I'm only 27% serious.

You, me, and Pynchon. Good company.

Anonymous said...


Good points. I too suspect that the process is irreversible.

I suppose my partial reality tunnel is the hope that Chaos can shield us from the dystopia we can all imagine.

As for capabilities, while we have little to go off on the 3-letter agencies, we know a fair amount more about big data, and Christ, there's some scary shit in there. Is the most we can hope for some sort of tech arms race between Big Intrusion and privacy advocates?

If it turns to speciation, I'll go wherever Pynchon goes. That man seems to write directly to my pineal gland - I can see why Leary went crazy for Gravity's Rainbow.

michael said...

@ dirtydiscordia

Eris/Chaos can always deal a wildcard.

As we speak the encryption debates are heating up.

I suspect encryption will become easy enough for tech-idiots like myself to do. And then your "tech arms race" will be ongoing. I said I "suspect" this. But who knows?

I was talking with a friend on Sat night about the sex fascism of NSA/FBI and it seems to only way out is to be utterly shameless about our bodies/proclivities/kinks, etc: if enough of us do this, then who cares if they try to blackmail us for this? (It's documented that the NSA thinks it can blackmail Muslim possible terrorists by getting webcam footage of them.)

I love your term "Big Intrusion."

"One reason to not vote for Hillary Clinton is that she's in the pocket of Big Intrusion." LOL!

Anonymous said...

While I was watching Citizen Four (In my view, one of the most progressive decisions/film academy awards for best documentary in 2015 !) and John Oliver's interview with Snowden in Moscow, I was wondering how much all that meant to ES, the living innocent abroad (to paraphrase Mark Twain) and probably not enjoying the great pleasure excursion all that much. (I may be wrong!?)

Does anyone know what Snowden's day by day life in Moscow feels like? (If I may: to visit a foreign country is very very very different from living in a foreign country.)

Although OG "never reached out to Snowden", I wouldn't be surprised if Snowden gets alerts each time his name is mentioned on the Internet. If Snowden does not know how to break the code who does? And I am pretty sure he does not use Google as his only search option.

Yes, Snowden has millions of supporters worldwide, (John Oliver's interview with Snowden got over 2 million hits/views on YouTube, Citizen Four trailer just under 2 million, etc.) and by commenting I somehow wanted to thank OG for a powerful blog on the issue because it's IMPORTANT. (Personally, I think every positive support Snowden gets means a lot to him.)

I agree with "dirtydicsordia" :"There seems to be an unholy alliance between the 3 letter agencies, adtech companies and data harvesting social media. A lot of the time, I can't see much of a positive future for privacy on these Interwebs. "

What privacy? It is gone. Our privacy has been sold over and over to various agencies and marketing companies. I have nothing clever to say in defense of our privacy, but to quote from "Present Shock" by Douglas Rushkoff: "There is no way back. Only through."

(We? Met? When? Where? How? Why? Scusate la mia confusione.)


michael said...


In one article I read when Snowden had been in the Russian airport for 2 weeks or a month, he was reading classic Russian novels and studying Russian language, from books. Now he lives with the girlfriend he had before he took off and went to Hong Kong. There's info on what his life is like, but you hafta dig.

Something about your tone reminded me of someone I used to talk to in Berkeley. So... Excusez-moi; il était juste quelque chose que mon lasagne intuitive me disait .

Anonymous said...

Nessuno e perfetto.

I wonder if Snowden was reading classic Russian novels in цириллик алпчабет ?

"Un linguaggio diverso e una diversa visione della vita." - Federico Fellini