A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
That incredible crinkling sound you hear is millions of outraged people getting their knickers in a knot over the revelation that the good ole US of A has been spying on them. The news has sent the sales of Reynolds Wrap off the charts as tinfoil hats are, as of last week, the must-have fashion accessory this summer. Meanwhile, thousands of pasty-faced conspiracy theorists are emerging from their moms’ basements to a rousing chorus of “I told ya so!” It seems the much sci-fi-ed American police state has arrived, and the general consensus is anger and disbelief. The New York Times, head cheerleader of the Obama presidency, has been hinting that there might possibly be a credibility gap in the current administration, while other, bolder media outlets are dusting off the n-word: Nixon. Good luck with that comparison! However, before we start gathering the nails to add crucifixion to Obama’s list of accomplishments, we need to stop, take three deep ones, and put a serious eyeball on this latest episode of I Spy.
First of all, this isn’t an Obama initiative, so get off the guy’s back. It has all the earmarks of a Bush/Cheney adventure — which every report I’ve read says it is. I’m no friend of President Obama, but the only mea culpa he has to answer for here, is why, as with Guantanamo Bay, he didn’t shut it down. And honestly, given the massive intel the grey suits are collecting for him, why would he?
Secondly, and more importantly, Americans have been eavesdropping on Americans (and others) since before J. Edgar decided that John Dillinger was Public Enemy Numero Uno. If you think this most recent bit of chicanery is a one-off, audacious attack on civil liberties, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I need to sell. The fact is, there are over thirty different law enforcement agencies in America, and each one of them has a history of covert operations against American citizens. Plus, they all have the technical capability and the ethical elasticity to get the job done, with — or without — a court order. However, before you get all tight-jawed and start passing out gratuitous judgement calls, remember there’s a dirty little war going on, and the bad guys aren’t necessarily wearing black hats. The nasty folks of this world have upped the ante on the nasty things they’re willing to do to the rest of us; playing by the rules is only one of a number of priorities we need to think about.
Finally, and for me this is the WTF moment, the same people who are yipping themselves hoarse about the sanctity of privacy are dancing all over Twitter, telling the world what they had for breakfast. They’re spreading their profile across the Internet as fast as their little thumbs can tap out the info and sending kilobytes of personal and financial data to everybody who wants to know it — from Amazon to Zappos.com and all points in between. Actually if the NSA (or anybody else) wants a running commentary on the private lives of most Americans all they have to do is join Facebook and they’ll get it from their own lips. It seems a bit much to weep bitter tears over the death of a sacred cow when you’re the one who slaughtered him.
Beyond all this, though, the most interesting part of the whole situation is that the guy, Edward Snowden, who pulled the mask off this incarnation of Big Brother has fled to Asia; specifically, what the media are calling Hong Kong. Nobody seems to be wondering why. However, the last time I looked, Hong Kong was part of China, and it did occur to me that the folks with the most to gain from a monumental cock-up in the American intelligence community might be the Chinese. It will be interesting to see if Hong Kong’s cut-and-dried extradition treaty with the US holds up against a determined effort by the boys in Beijing. Just sayin’. Stay tuned, and remember you heard it here first.