PRISM: Big Brother is Watching You

I have not commented on the PRISM scandal, as first revealed in The Guardian (which certainly has been living up to its name in the last couple of years). It’s yet another chapter in the continuing sad chronicle of the disintegration of public democracy. Perhaps long-time readers of the former Dark Age Blog and now The Chrysalis might be surprised that I haven’t commented on whistleblower Edward Snowden’s leaks to the paper until now.

My surprise is that anyone should be surprised by the scale and scope of the reported surveillance of private and public life. It is what the world has been coming to at least since Jacques Ellul warned about The Technological Society (1964) and Propaganda, since US constitutional expert Arthur Selwyn Miller wrote about The Modern Corporate State (1976) and The Techno-Corporate State, and Bertram Gross warned about Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America (1980). The trend of political and social developments has been pretty clear since — the advancing technologies of social and political control.

Boundless Informant is only a continuation of the Total Information Awareness (TIA) programme begun under the Bush Administration, which was ostensibly abandoned due to public outcry. It wasn’t abandoned. It just became more… occult. James Bamford has written extensively on the NSA and the wider problem of mass surveillance, most recently in Wired just a hair over one year ago.

Naive souls will insist that you have nothing to fear from total surveillance if you have done nothing wrong. You hear that excuse pretty often. But it gives the right answer to a wrong question. It’s not what you do, it’s what they do with that data that should be the issue. To trust that the full details of your public and private life are in the hands of good men and women who are publicly accountable and responsible is naive in the extreme.

Democracy: it’s out of your hands now (and perhaps quite a few will find that a relief). This is the shock accompanying Snowden’s revelation. What we have presently is what Ellul, Miller, and Gross all anticipated earlier — the Techno-Corporate State and it is securely in place. It has been in place for some time. Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange,  and Daniel Ellsberg earlier merely threw back the curtain to expose it at work, Wizard of Oz like. It is your true Emperor.



11 responses to “PRISM: Big Brother is Watching You

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Just to comment on my own post…. I would like to add that many people who work in this type of security establishment and atmosphere sincerely (or perhaps less sincerely) believe they are serving as a front line for the defence of a certain moral and political order against external threats to that moral and political order, and they don’t really recognise or realise that they are employed in constructing the infrastructure of the Techno-Corporate State, or are narrowly employed in defence of a privileged class or power elite. That is, they don’t really recognise that they are the threat themselves to the moral and political order which the presume to be defending. In a sense, then, “useful idiots”.

    This cognitive dissonance, the kind of Jekyll and Hyde mental divide between what we say we do and what we actually do, I’ve referred to as a narcissistic effect — the rational pursuit of self-interest becoming indistinguishable from the irrational pursuit of self-destruction. Mr. Snowden is somewhat exceptional in that he recognised that what he was actually doing was in stark contradiction with what he thought he was doing. Realising this, he had to act the way he did to preserve the integrity of his personality or surrender to the deception and to self-deception. Even as I post this, there are contradictory statements being given — the architects of PRISM and “Boundless Informant” saying Mr. Snowden wasn’t doing what he says he was, in fact, doing.

    But it seems pretty clear who is lying.

  2. LittleBigMan says :

    “My surprise is that anyone should be surprised by the scale and scope of the reported surveillance of private and public life.”

    Exactly. All one had to do to know what’s going on even years before Snowden is to just look at our roadways. You’ve got 4-way cameras at every major intersection and now at many of the smaller intersections. You’ve got radar and police control of roadways and infrastructure systems. Why would anyone expect that the “information superhighway” wouldn’t be watched? In fact, Snowden simply provided concrete recent evidence for what we were all aware of, anyway. And to know that they are doing this with our tax dollars in these tough economic times is outrageous.

    Another implication of the scope of the intelligence gathering operation is that this isn’t meant to catch terrorists. I mean, let’s suppose that the Bluffdale facility was operational before 9/11. Could it have stopped 9/11? Could it have stopped the shoe-bomber on the plane? Could it have stopped the Boston Marathon bombers? or the Times Square bomber? No, no, no, and no. The scope of this operation indicates that they are creating a single node (the Bluffdale facility) of a much larger global network that is meant to collect information on everyone on the planet. Now, the ultimate question is, as you point out, what do they — really — want to do with this information?

    As of now, I’m not quite sure. I would definitely rule out the possibility that they are gathering all this information to intimidate anyone whenever they want. That would be like shooting themselves in the foot, face, and mouth, because of the blowback effect.

    The only thing I can think of is that they are building these center(s) as a place to train and provide jobs for the tens of thousands of war veterans that are coming home by the end of 2014. The speculated readiness of the facility at Bluffdale makes the facility an excellent one to receive a great many of the thousands of veterans that are coming home from Afghanistan. I’ve seen this before. In America, state and federal agencies and defense contractors are all places where former military veterans find training and new livelihood when they return from wars and operations abroad. By building facilities like this, the federal government can kill multiple birds with one stone:

    1) Provide high quality training and high paying jobs for veterans (many years ago a colleague of mine was transferred to one such a job where his salary was doubled) that are returning home from war.

    2) When the news of veterans finding good paying jobs and training when they return home from war gets out, more young adults will be encouraged to join the U.S. military with hopes of having a leg up over the rest of the society when they get out of the military. And news travels fast.

    3) Meanwhile, the military has something to sell to the new recruits whose numbers have been dwindling, by the way. They tell the new recruits, “Hey, when you decide to get out of the military, these are the places that would want to hire you.”

    4) This is great for the veterans and great for the economy.

    5) In the meantime, why not have this expensive toy at your disposal that you never know when you’re gonna need.


    • Scott Preston says :

      Perhaps the surprise that has attended Snowden’s revelations is surprise at the extent of the centralisation of this data collection. CCTV cameras on street corners and in stores etc, probably don’t worry people so much as the thought that all this data may be streaming into a centralised facility. Reminds me of the movie Colossus.

  3. amothman33 says :

    What a burdensome task and worrysome prospect.Fear is poping up everywhere as a result of the functioning of the self-terrifying apparatus. The apparatus that is built in the human construct and to be released when he misrails himself out of the balanced path.

  4. LittleBigMan says :

    “CCTV cameras on street corners and in stores etc, probably don’t worry people so much as the thought that all this data may be streaming into a centralised facility.”

    That’s an excellent point, which I missed, given the simple life I lead. But I can certainly see how various “mob” or “gangs” or entities and institutions that might find themselves at odds with the federal government (social justice groups?)might feel threatened by all the eavesdropping.

  5. Scott Preston says :

    Here’s one of the most imbecilic comments I’ve come across about Mr. Snowden, by a Jeffrey Toobin in, of all places, The New Yorker, which is usually pretty thoughtful. This piece is mindless.

    Here’s what Toobin has to say about the sanctity of the NSA. “What, one wonders, did Snowden think the N.S.A. did? Any marginally attentive citizen, much less N.S.A. employee or contractor, knows that the entire mission of the agency is to intercept electronic communications.”

    What? Not also letters and notes passed by children in the school halls? Ah… that’s it, then. We will all now return to the security of handwritten missives dispatched in sealed envelopes. Of course, we’ll all have to learn the art of handwriting again. After all, the security of the NSA is at stake (forget about the citizen’s security).

    Mr. Toobin’s pathetic and paranoid logic, such as it is, seems to amount to this — electronic communications exist. Therefore, we need an agency like the NSA to intercept them. Would he feel the same if the state was opening and reading everybody’s snail mail?

    • Scott Preston says :

      By the way… in the history of communications, at one time when the crowns of Europe felt justifiably very uneasy about the loyalties of their subjects, it was forbidden for inferior classes to use the postal service. Our modern day Emperors now allow the inferior classes the (more or less) freedom of communications media. They just monitor them very, very closely for unusual thoughts and behaviours. This is called “progress”.

      Mr. Toobin is a reactionary.

  6. Scott Preston says :

    “Darkness is his pavilion”

    Here’s another interesting story from an earlier whistleblower from within the NSA who survived it with his liberties intact, Thomas Drake, in case you didn’t catch it in today’s Guardian

    It’s an interesting issue. Who’s watching the watchers? Apparently, in the absence of any serious oversight, the lonely whistleblower has been forced to become the Night Watchman.

  7. Scott Preston says :

    John Le Carré, the spymaster author, has written an excellent piece on the surveillance state and democracy at The Guardian,

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