Edward Snowden and the globalisation of whistleblowing

ANALYSE - Edward Snowden performed an act of great bravery, Annie Machon says, but the old media reporting the story act as a bottleneck for the free flow of information.

I have held back from writ­ing about the Edward Snowden NSA whis­tleblow­ing case for the last week — partly because I was immersed in the res­ult­ing media inter­views and talks, and partly because I wanted to watch how the story developed, both polit­ic­ally and in the old media. The reac­tion of both can tell you a lot.

That does not mean that I did not have a very pos­it­ive response to what Snowden has done. Far from it. The same night the story broke about who was behind the leaks, I dis­cussed the implic­a­tions on an RT inter­view and called what he did Whis­tleblow­ing 2.0.

Why did I say that? Well, it appeared from his ini­tial video inter­view with The Guard­ian that he had learned from pre­vi­ous whis­tleblow­ing cases: he had watched the media and care­fully chosen a journ­al­ist, Glenn Gre­en­wald, with a good track record on the
rel­ev­ant issues who would prob­ably fight his corner fear­lessly; his inform­a­tion clearly demon­strated that the intel­li­gence agen­cies were spin­ning out of con­trol and build­ing sur­veil­lance states; he care­fully chose a jur­is­dic­tion to flee to that might have the clout to pro­tect him leg­ally against the wrath of an over-mighty USA; and he has used his inter­net and media savvy to gain as much expos­ure and pro­tec­tion as quickly as possible.

Plus, he has been incred­ibly brave, con­sid­er­ing the dra­conian war on whis­tleblowers that is cur­rently being waged by the Amer­ican admin­is­tra­tion. There have been three other NSA whis­tleblowers in recent years, all also talk­ing about endemic sur­veil­lance. All have paid a high per­sonal price, all dis­played great bravery in the face of adversity yet, sadly, none has achieved the same level of inter­na­tional impact. Were we just deaf to their warn­ings, or has Snowden played this better?

I think a bit of both.  He’s a geek, a young geek, he will have seen what happened to other whis­tleblowers and appears to have taken steps to avoid the same pit­falls. He has gone pub­lic to pro­tect his fam­ily and pre­vent harm to his former col­leagues in any ensu­ing witch-hunt. And he has fled the coun­try in order to remain at liberty to argue his case, which is key to keep­ing the story alive for more than a week in the gad­fly minds of the old media. I know, I’ve been involved in the same process.

He has blown the whistle to pro­tect an Amer­ican way of life he thinks “worth dying for”. Yet he has broadened out the issues inter­na­tion­ally — what hap­pens in Amer­ica impacts the rest of the world. This, in my view, is cru­cial.  I have been writ­ing for years that the US is increas­ingly claim­ing global legal hege­mony over the entire inter­net, as well as the right to kid­nap, tor­ture and murder for­eign­ers at will.

The Pat­riot Act has not only shred­ded the US con­sti­tu­tion, it also now appar­ently has global reach for as long as our craven gov­ern­ments allow it to. Now we know that this is not some abstract concept, the­ory or spec­u­la­tion — we are all poten­tially being watched

Edward Snowden argued his case very effect­ively in a live chat on The Guard­ian news­pa­per web­site. It became clear that he is indeed a new gen­er­a­tion of whisteblower. This is not someone who wit­nessed one crime and imme­di­ately felt he had to speak out. This is a tech­nical expert who watched, over time and with dis­may, the encroach­ing Big Brother sur­veil­lance state that is tak­ing over the world via the NSA and its clones.

He is young, he had faith that a new gov­ern­ment would mean change, but in the end felt com­pelled to take con­sidered action when he wit­nessed the unac­count­able mis­sion creep, the lim­ited and inef­fec­tual over­sight, and the neutered politi­cians who rush to reas­sure us that everything is legal and pro­por­tion­ate when they really have no idea what the spy agen­cies get up to.

In both the US and the UK the spies repeatedly get away with lying to the notional over­sight bod­ies about mis­takes made, rules bent, and illegal oper­a­tions. Former senior CIA ana­lyst, Ray McGov­ern, has cata­logued the US lies, and here are a few home-brewed Brit­ish examples. The inter­net com­pan­ies have also been wrig­gling on the hook over the last week.

Snowden appears to be very aware not only of poten­tial state level sur­veil­lance but also the global cor­por­at­ist aspect of the sub­ver­sion of the basic com­pan­ies most people use to access the inter­net — Google, Face­book, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, Skype et al. A few pion­eers have been dis­cuss­ing the need to pro­tect one­self from such cor­por­at­ist over­sight for years, and such pion­eers have largely been ignored by the main­stream: they’re “just geeks” they are “para­noid”, “tin foil hat” etc.

Edward Snowden has laid bare the truth of this glob­al­ised, cor­por­at­ist Big Brother state. From his pub­lic state­ments so far, he seems very alive to the inter­na­tional aspects of what he is reveal­ing. This is not just about Amer­ic­ans being snooped on, this affects every­body. We are all sub­ject to the bru­tal hege­mony that US securo­crats and cor­por­a­tions are try­ing to impose on us all, with no rights, no redress under the law.

We have already seen this with the illegal US state take-down of Kim Dotcom’s secure cloud ser­vice, Megaup­load, with the global per­se­cu­tion of Wikileaks, with Obama’s war on whis­tleblowers, with the NDAA, with the asym­met­ric extra­di­tion cases, with the drone wars across the Middle East and Cent­ral Asia.….  where to stop?

Snowden, through his incred­ible act of bravery, has con­firmed our worst fears. It is not just cor­por­a­tions that have gone global — sur­veil­lance has too. And now, thank­fully, so too are whistleblowers.

What troubles me some­what is the way that the old media is respond­ing — even The Guard­ian, which broke the story. Glenn Gre­en­wald is an excel­lent, cam­paign­ing journ­al­ist and I have no doubt what­so­ever that he will fight to the wire for his source.

How­ever, the news­pa­per as an entity seems to be hold­ing back the free flow of inform­a­tion. Char­it­ably, one could assume that this is to max­im­ise the impact of Snowden’s dis­clos­ures. Less char­it­ably, one could also see it as a way to eke out the stor­ies to max­im­ise the newspaper’s profits and glory. Again, it’s prob­ably a bit of both.

How­ever, I do not think this will ulti­mately work in the best interests of the whis­tleblower, who needs to get the inform­a­tion out there now, and get the whole debate going now.

Plus, today it was repor­ted that a D-Notice had been issued against the UK media last week. I have writ­ten before about this invi­di­ous self-censorship with which the Brit­ish media col­lab­or­ates: senior edit­ors and senior mil­it­ary per­son­nel and spooks meet to agree whether or not stor­ies may act against “national secur­ity” (still a leg­ally undefined phrase), and ban pub­lic­a­tions accord­ingly. And this is “vol­un­tary” — what does that say about our press hold­ing power to account, when they will­ingly col­lude in the sup­pres­sion of inform­a­tion?

Plus, some of the key journ­al­ists at The Guard­ian who were involved in the Wikileaks stitch-up are also now peck­ing away at the Snowden story. The old media are still con­tinu­ing to act as a bot­tle­neck of the free flow of inform­a­tion from whis­tleblowers to the pub­lic domain. In the post-Wikileaks era, this is a ret­ro­grade step. It is not for them to assess what the pub­lic needs to know, nor is it down to them to ana­lyse and second-guess why any whis­tleblower is doing what they are doing.

As Edward Snowden stated: ‘The con­sent of the gov­erned is not con­sent if it is not informed.’

  1. 1

    As Edward Snowden stated: ‘The con­sent of the gov­erned is not con­sent if it is not informed.’

    Wat een rake quote.

  2. 2

    Als we hier een brede maatschappelijke discussie zouden willen hebben, moet je het nos-journaal er ook niet bij hebben. Over oude media gesproken…

  3. 3

    Edward Snowden has laid bare the truth of this glob­al­ised, cor­por­at­ist Big Brother state.

    Of Snowden het corporatisme hiermee heeft blootgelegd betwijfel ik nog, hij heeft uiteindelijk alleen een monitoring praktijk blootgelegd. Wel heb ik de overtuiging dat het wel hierom draait. De staat was de bescherming van de burger tegen grote(re) machten dan hijzelf. Wat nu gebeurt is dat de burger de slaaf wordt die wordt gemonitord door de staat en dan moet je je afvragen: waarom.

    Dat dan de conclusie getrokken wordt, dat we slaven zijn van de corporaties en dat de staat alleen de corporaties dient, is niet vreemd.

    Maar eigenlijk is het vreemder dat die conclusie echt nergens toe leidt. De ontmanteling van de rechtsstaat is al jaren gaande en het juridisch systeem staat in dienst van de corporaties. De trias politica bestaat nog, maar in de praktijk functioneren de wet, de uitvoerende macht en het juridisch systeem niet meer ten gunste van de burger.

    Daarmee is de staatsinrichting die we gewend zijn in het westen feitelijk verdwenen. Het corporatisme wint. Dat hoeft op zich niet erg te zijn. Wel erg is dat dat niet duidelijk is. En ook Snowden maakt dat volgens mij niet duidelijk ondanks wat Machon schrijft (goed stuk toch trouwens).

  4. 4

    @3: Het corporatisme wint. Dat hoeft op zich niet erg te zijn.

    Vergis ik me nou, of gaat het om een bestuursmodel dat we kenmerken als “Italiaans fascisme”? Ben je daar voorstander van?

  5. 6

    Denken jullie nou echt dat een land waarin zelfs de gevangenissen tegenwoordig gerund worden door tax free multinationals geen vriendjes/lobbyisten hebben bij de NSA ?

  6. 9

    @7:
    Big Ears staat al een jaar on twintig bij Kollum.
    Publiek geheim dat daar alle transatlantische satellietverkeer wordt afgeluisterd.
    Dachten we nu echt dat de VS ineens een fatsoenlijk land was geworden ?

  7. 10

    @8:
    China already knew the US were hacking it’s networks on a large scale, to think otherwise is naive .
    En dan komt Snowden vanuit China met een bericht dat het toch echt zo is.

  8. 14

    Glenn Greenwald is een freelance journalist, niet gebonden aan de Guardian en laat zich echt niet afremmen …. media platforms genoeg.