Nov 25, 2014
This is more than a documentary. It is history as it happens. Not a reenactment, but the "you are there" witnessing of the heroic whistleblowing of Edward Snowden, NSA contractor and teller of "national security" secrets. You heard right: heroic.
Director Laura Poitras, who has been harassed by the government every time she arrives on American soil for documenting our misadventures in the world, gets contacted by a mysterious source that claims that the NSA is spying on everybody. And by everybody, he means everybody.
Thanks to Snowden, we are now aware of the unconstitutional overreach of the Obama administration with the complicity of Congress and American telecommunication corporations, in the name of national security.
The NSA got access to the communication records (phone numbers, email addresses, credit card info, and the content thereof) of millions of Americans, from your friendly internet and phone providers like Verizon, AT&T, Google, Yahoo, etc.
Thanks to them, the NSA now knows that my dog had diarrhea this week, and that I search Google on how to successfully boil eggs, among other things. I feel like inundating Google with the most inane searches, just as an act of civil disobedience. We should crash their system with billions of gifs of Grumpy Cat. Who's with me?
When Glenn Greenwald, who was also contacted by Snowden and William Binney, another NSA whistleblower, testify in Brazil and Germany on how the US is not only spying on its own citizens within US borders (supposedly legally), but everywhere, including on Angela Merkel, completely illegally, you can see some guys blanching at the thought that Uncle Sam knows where they hide their porn stash. This gives you an idea of the fear that such unimpeded, arbitrary surveillance may instill in the hearts of men and women.
It's very serious. The implications of such widespread metadata spying are chilling, if not utterly terrifying. Guilt by association, intimidation... Even if the government spins the story by assuring people that they don't look at the content of your daily messages, the idea that they are looking at the comings and goings of millions of regular citizens is appalling.
Why spy on all citizens?
The easy answer is BECAUSE THEY CAN. Because we have a ridiculous, unconstitutional law called the Patriot Act which gives them the unchecked power to do it. If allowed, people on positions of power are wont to abuse it (just look at Bill Cosby: eew). Given a blank check, they will take it to the farthest reaches possible. This is what the Fourth Amendment is for.
How is spying on everyone practical or useful or competent, I have no idea. I was always reassured by the thought that God himself could not possibly be prying on the peccadilloes of each and every one of us, and hence I felt that, whatever I did to anger him, he was statistically likely to miss it. With the NSA and their sophisticated tracking, not so much.
At some point in the movie, Poitras shows Obama's spokesman blithely saying that Americans don't mind this kind of thing because it reassures them in the war against terror. He should speak for himself, the cynical bastard. This fallacy that we can allow the government to trample our rights on the pretext of our own security is extremely scary. As Snowden and Greenwald point out, it is not a democracy and there is no freedom if you are being watched. The real terror of the war against terror is that now everyone, including law abiding citizens, is fair game. How does this blanket surveillance make us any different from wannabe totalitarian regimes like China, Russia, or Iran? It makes us worse, because of the blatant lying, the hypocrisy, the abuse of words like freedom and democracy in a country where these concepts have been completely eroded, trampled on, and mocked every day by the Obama Administration and the bunch of leeches who sit in Congress. It is repulsive.
Now, why would anyone want to be a whistleblower? It means introducing yourself voluntarily to a world of pain. Snowden is a smart, extremely articulate young man. If he has an oversized ego (like, say, Julian Assange), he doesn't look it. He really thinks people should know what is happening with their right to privacy. His conscience cannot allow him to rationalize the illegality and the abuse. He must speak out, at an enormous cost to his safety and freedom.
Smartly, he planned to give Poitras and Greenwald the documents first so that the government would not make it about him and his treachery. Once The Guardian (where Greenwald wrote) disclosed the information (and boy, did Snowden have access), then they decided to reveal it was him. He insisted on being identified. That is pretty courageous. I remember that the media tried to paint him as a spy, a traitor and an enemy. They want to try him under the Espionage Act of 1917, which does not make a distinction between a spy and a whistleblower, and which not unlike the Patriot Act, seeks to curtail our rights and freedoms under pretext of war.
Before watching the movie, which is very matter of fact, and not artificially dramatized - the revelations are heart stopping enough - I had the temerity to judge Snowden for accepting asylum in Russia, a place where they have been enthusiastically spying on everybody for centuries. But he does not have much of a choice. What government is going to want to piss off the US and its NSA by helping him? Snowden spent 40 days at the Moscow airport waiting for clearance from Putin. That alone should be punishment enough.
Snowden is courageous and what he did was important. I am not clear on what the consequences, if any, have been. He certainly unleashed a very necessary shit storm, but are they spying any less?
I hope he prevails. May he be safe and vindicated.
Meanwhile, the United States shows once more the kind of dishonest bully it is. I can't take the posturing anymore. Let's just accept that we actually live in a dictatorship of vested interests and enough with the charade.