• Monday, March 04, 2024
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No Place to Hide


Glenn Greenwald’s Book “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State” reads like a blockbuster movie! The subject was the US intelligence analyst who fled first to Hong Kong, and then Russia, revealing details of US electronic spying on citizens, foreigners, corporations and world leaders; the author, Greenwald was one of his “partners”, the Guardian journalist who published Snowden’s revelations.

The 260 page book details how Greenwald met Snowden; the crucial ten days in Hong Kong where they plotted the explosive release of highly sensitive US security material; the scope and depth of US surveillance; argues against excessive surveillance and in favour of privacy and liberty; and closes with a focus on how the fourth estates (the “corporate media” he calls it) fails in its duty to the people.

Greenwald was a constitutional and civil right lawyer, who became a blogger in 2005 alarmed at “the radical and extremist theories of power the US government had adopted in the wake of 9/11” and shocked at revelations about “warrantless eavesdropping” by the US National Security Agency on electronic communications of Americans. He then became a columnist for the Guardian and bestselling author. It was this background that prompted Snowden to choose Greenwald as his first contact person for revealing NSA wrong doing.

Not surprisingly considering his collaboration with Snowden, but credibly given the stated facts, Greenwald paints a positive picture of the leaker and his motivations –the care and discretion Snowden took in selecting his collaborators particularly Greenwald and Laura Poitras; his meticulous execution; his deep and heartfelt concern about “dangerous trends in US State secrecy, radical executive power theories, detention and surveillance abuses, militarism, and the assault on civil liberties” which he shared with Greenwald and Poitras; and release of only what he felt US citizens needed to know without betraying America to its enemies.Snowden’s mission statement, “The true measurement of a person’s worth isn’t what they say they believe in, but what they do in defense of those beliefs, if you’re not acting on your beliefs, then they probably aren’t real” provided the ultimate illumination on why he gave up a prized career and went to great lengths at significant personal risk, to leak the NSA spying allegations!I look forward to the affair and the book been converted into an epic thriller film- the layers of precautions by the main characters, the stealth mission to Hong Kong; the bombshell unleashed as Snowden’s revelations were published, his escape to Moscow, and global reactions to the allegations!!!

I have previously written on the scale of compromising of privacy and civil liberties revealed-in Greenwald’s words, “I found the sheer vastness of the spying system genuinely shocking, all the more so because it had clearly been implemented with virtually no accountability, no transparency, and no limits”.Snowden laid bare a complex web of surveillance aimed at Americans and non-Americans alike, tapping of internet services, satellites, underwater fibre-optic cables, local and foreign telephone systems and PCs. Snowden and Greenwald believed these programmes to be deceitful and even illegal- the BOUNDLESS INFORMANT (which monitored billions of phone calls globally), PRISM (which collected data directly from servers of the biggest internet companies, PROJECT BULLRUN (a collaboration between the NSA and its UK counterpart, the GCHQ to detect online encryption systems), EGOTISTICAL GIRAFFE, MUSCULAR, OLYMPIA, TARMAC (which intercepted satellite communications) etc. The title of Greenwald’s third chapter which details these data intrusion schemes, “Collect it All” approximates the philosophical foundations of the NSA’s activities!

The touted justification for all these was terrorism and the imperatives for national security. What makes the vast enhancement of these activities under Obama curious is his supposed left-leaning and liberal inclinations and his evident disinterest in the“war on terrorism”.Why would a government which seems scarcely bothered by ISIS, Boko Haram, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and other purveyors of global terror invest so much effort in amassing so much information on activities of citizens and foreigners? If the data is not being collected in order to fight terrorists, then why is it been collected?

The other theme of Greenwald’s book is “the Political Media” and the role it has NOT played in “monitoring and checking abuse of state power.” He reminds us that the theory of a  “fourth estate” is to ensure transparency and check government or other institutional overreach and affirms that the US media has frequently abdicated this role and made itself ”subservient to government interests, even amplifying, rather that scrutinizing its messages”. He describes a media-led lynch mob that sought to crucify Snowden and himself, and describes an emerging phenomenon of “corporate journalism” which doesn’t threaten the rich and powerful, a variety that is also being institutionalised here in Nigeria!

Greenwald laments the replacement of the “iconic reporter of the past” who was a definitive outsider who opposed rather than served the powerful,with highly paid media stars, employed by conglomerates which acquired media companies, and who are no different from bankers or multinational executives adept at pleasing rather than subverting institutional power. He notes that this explains why established “journalists and government officials can switch jobs so seamlessly” with revolving doors moving the media figures into high-level Washington jobs just as government officials leave for lucrative media contracts!

In the end, it seems Snowden achieved his objectives-shedding light on questionable NSA activities and influencing altitudes and policy. President Obama was forced to announce curbs on spying and congress has moved to effect legislative and oversight changes. AUS federal judge denounced metadata collection as “almost Orwellian” and found them likely in violation of the 4th amendment. Foreign nations, including US allies Germany and Brazil issued condemnations and the UN General Assembly voted unanimously to affirm online privacy as a fundamental human right. On Greenwald’s other concern about media corporatism, unfortunately laws, parliaments, judges and diplomats cannot change that; only journalists can!

Opeyemi Agbaje