Edward Snowden, a former employee of a contractor for the US National Security Agency (NSA), has whipped up a blizzard with his leak of the secret surveillance programs being enforced in the United States as an antiterrorist effort.
As we sit in subzero darkness cloaked in blankets and trying to weather the Snowden blizzard, terrorists are basking in the sun and having a tan. They are celebrating the fact that the very “threat” of terrorist acts is destroying America. They do not have to make a move; they can take a vacation from terrorist acts for now. They feel that after Snowden, America will self-destruct.
Daniel Ellsberg, famous for leaking in 1971 the Pentagon Papers on US shenanigans during the Vietnam War, described the Snowden leak as the most significant in American history. The White House is embarrassed and confused on how to respond. Congress is split. Supporters of Snowden are marshaling force to challenge US President Barack Obama’s approval of the secret programs. (In its time, the antiwar movement forced then President Richard Nixon to end the Vietnam War.) Obama says the programs are critical to national security, but protestors argue that programs that affect the public cannot be kept secret from the public. That was Obama’s mistake—the secrecy.
Prism, one of the two surveillance programs leaked to The Washington Post and Britain’s The Guardian, has a shocking timeline on how the US government has been accessing data on a massive scale from giant providers since 2007. It has been extracting millions per day of audio and video posts, photos, and e-mails, and building a cosmic database. The providers include Microsoft, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, and Apple. They have denied cooperating with the government, implying that either the government “steals” the data without their knowledge, or they just look away. (http://uk.news.yahoo.com/photos/looking-prism-photo-013354834.html)
In truth, the surveillance programs are like using a sledge hammer to tack a note on a bulletin board—say to isolate one terrorist phone call from a billion calls in the last two weeks. The more the terrorist call is delayed, the more the database balloons exponentially, with no results.
But is surveillance of citizens the solution to terrorism? Why is Obama so determined on the programs, about which he criticized his predecessor George W. Bush? Analysts say Obama is in panic because of the possibility of nuclear terrorism, in which homemade nuclear bombs are detonated in populated areas. Are there secret data on this? Is he just guessing and suspecting, or is he not telling? Either way, there is a dilemma.
Observers predict that, after the Snowden leak, surveillance of citizens as an antiterrorist solution will die a natural death, because privacy is nonnegotiable to the general public and secrecy is anathema.
If surveillance fails as a solution to terrorism because of public protest, what is the solution then? Geopolitical experts suggest to the United States an impossible solution: Get out of the Middle East, stop invasions for oil, stop assassinations of anti-US rulers, stop using drones that kill five terrorists along with 50 civilians, stop advanced weapons research which produce more weapons of mass destruction, especially biological weapons that remain secret to this day. And stop the “High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program,” which can supposedly manipulate weather and whip up hurricanes as WMDs.
Antiterrorism is actually a dilemma because it produces more terrorism. How many more Osama bin Ladens were produced when the Navy Seals assassinated him? Torturing terrorists illegally in an offshore place triggers more resilient terrorists. It’s a vicious circle. If Prism dies, are we to sit in darkness waiting for the next terrorist assault? Or are we willing to sacrifice our privacy? The word is “we.” It is not just the American public that is affected, but each person on the planet.
What Snowden leaked is actually the tip of the iceberg. The NSA is said to be planning to buy a million or so drones for surveillance on the street level. There are now “insect drones” for sale in the Internet. The potentials are limitless. They can hover with a camera over home kitchens and gardens. They can implant cameras in conference halls, possibly extract DNA from unsuspecting victims, carry out assassinations with lethal injections. If an NSA agent is unscrupulous, he/she can spy on secret corporate meetings and sell the data for big bucks to a rival. Heaven forbid if terrorists get hold of this technology. They can upgrade their suicide bombs into drone bombs and strike anywhere at will. Will technological milestones build or destroy humankind?
Antiterrorism is in such a mess that many feel there is no solution, that we are stuck with it for the sins of some people in the past, sins that cannot be retracted, hatred that cannot be turned into forgiveness.
Bernie V. Lopez ([email protected]) is a radio-TV broadcaster and has been writing political commentaries for the last 20 years.