NSA Spying: An Open Air Prism

Last month, whistle blower Edward Snowden’s leaking of the US National Security Agency (NSA) spying on hundreds of millions of people in the US and elsewhere sent shock-waves around the world. Disclosures included the collection of phone records and the PRISM program, which gives the NSA direct access to nearly everyone’s stored internet activity.

Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian, who played a major role in releasing the leak claimed that the aim of the NSA was the creation of “a global, ubiquitous surveillance system that has as its goal the elimination of privacy worldwide”. Further disclosure of Snowden’s NSA files brought home the severity of the surveillance.

A large Brazilian newspaper in Rio de Janeiro reported that the NSA conducted comprehensive spying on millions of Brazilians, recording their telephone records and emails. The surveillance was systematic and went on for years. This news came after Der Spiegel reported the indiscriminate NSA surveillance of European citizens including politicians and diplomats. It became clear that monitoring was more active in Germany, supposedly a close ally of the US. Private intelligence agencies apparently store a half billion packets of telephone and internet data from Germany each day.

In an interview published in Der Spiegel magazine, Mr Snowden pointed out how this global spying was extended in cooperation with other countries through a secret intelligence alliance with other Western governments. One such alliance was referred to as the “Five Eye Partners”, which include United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This goes beyond what the NSA itself does and is clearly secret collusion with other governments.

“We are now living in an open air prism.” said Max Keiser, host of the RT show The Keiser Report, while covering the G8 protest in Northern Ireland. Keiser noted how the balance between corporate power and the public is breaking down and how the public commons is being encroached upon by corporate and military industrial forces, turning the world into a virtual “prism yard”.

Months before Snowden leaked the shocking news, renowned political prisoner, Mumia Abu Jamal in an interview on DemocracyNow! presciently noted that the American prison experience is expanding into the outside world:

… if you look inside the bars, you’re looking at millions of men and women and juveniles… But even beyond that, I mean, how free are we today, those who claim to be non-prisoners? Your computers are being read by others in government. Your letters, your phone calls are being intercepted. We live now in a national security state, where the United States is fast becoming one of the biggest open-air prisons on earth.

At what point are we creating the integrated apparatus of a standard authoritarian society? Ubiquitous surveillance has always been a critical component of every extreme authoritarian regime from the Nazis to Stalinist Russia. It is a necessary element of full-spectrum state control. By invading private thoughts and lives, this activity contaminates people’s minds with fear and tend to freeze the free, independent flow of thinking.

Secrecy is a necessary aspect of this control. Daniel Ellsberg, whistleblower and former military analyst in his recent Op-Ed piece reflecting on the lesson of the Pentagon Papers and Snowden’s leaks wrote “secrecy corrupts, just as power corrupts”.

Both government and corporations disguise their subversion of the power of the people and shield themselves from oversight. Mussolini definedfascism as “Corporatism” namely “a merger of state and corporate power”. The NSA revelations point to this working together and an expanding concentration of corporate and political power. This growing open air spying prism, together with the fierce secrecy that the US government maintains for its own actions tends to imprison the populace with apprehension. It is a subjugation of the will of the people by those on the other side of a one-way mirror of this corporate-government invasion of privacy.

The line between government and corporate action gets more blurred all the time. Government agencies now act almost like corporations themselves. An account selling an NSA PRISM t-shirt at the Zazzle store that allows individuals to design and sell their own t-shirts was taken down with a notice by the NSA claiming copyright violation over the NSA logo.

In many ways, the US government has merged with transnational corporate interests and this has extended its power in unprecedented ways. Every authoritarian regime puts those in power far above the law. Former military instructor Chris Pyle, who exposed the CIA’s monitoring of millions of Americans in the 1970s, spoke about how the government’s trend toward privatization has been used as a way to escape liability from transgressions of the law and the intended Constitutional balance of power:

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures only binds the government, it doesn’t bind corporations. That’s a serious problem. The reason we have privatization of prisons, in some ways- is for governments to escape liability. They put the– liability on the private corporations that run the prisons, and they just charge their liabilities as an—-operating cost.

This is what was done in the PRISM program: collusion with US tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Skype to give NSA direct access to our private lives. These companies denied that they were giving this kind of open access, but the way the PRISM program was laid out would not be possible without it.

Privatization of the ‘National Security State’ also extends deeply into the military in the form of mercenaries and secret assassination teams. From night raids to drone attacks, they carry out operations in the dark, further immunizing their actions with little congressional oversight. In his new book and film, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, Jeremy Scahill shed light on the expanding covert wars operated by the CIA and JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command in countries like Somalia and Pakistan. He revealed the true face of private forces and JSOC as assassins and murderers acting as the president’s private secret army, enhancing this executive branch dictatorship.

The current power of corporations to influence governments is also unprecedented. In some ways they have effectively merged. Monsanto, the universally reviled transnational agricultural bio-tech corporation has such deep ties to the government that their CEOs and other higher-ups are appointed for positions in critical public positions such as the Supreme Court, the FDA and the EPA. In March, Obama signed into the law the “Monsanto Protection Act” that bans courts or legislatures from halting the sale or planting of genetically modified seeds (GMOs).

With the revelation of NSA mass surveillance, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as FISA and it’s secret interpretations of lawscame to light. FISA has almost become a parallel Supreme Court that only hears one side, that of the government and the court’s decisions are kept completely out of public sight.

With the passage of the NDAA that allows indefinite detention of US citizens without due process and with the expanding wholesale assassinations by drone attacks by Obama in implementing his “kill list,” the White House is acting as judge, jury and executioner all in one. The administration’s unprecedented war on whistleblowers has resulted in show trials like Pfc. Manning’s court-martial, which has been held virtually in the dark. An independent judiciary, one of the most crucial elements of the Constitutional balance of power has to some degree been effectively eliminated.

History appears to be taking a familiar course toward despotism. Step by step, inch by inch we are losing our autonomy to the expanding prison-industrial complex that Mumia Abu Jamal insightfully pointed to.

We are now in an open air prism; a high tech prison where every move is monitored and creativity is smothered. Within this watchful eye, insidious control extends indiscriminately to everyone. When national security and heightened terror alerts becomes the new norm, we are not aware of how far our civil liberties are being eroded. Yet, with voices of conscience shining light on this deception and unconstitutional abuse of power, we now can begin to know what is being done in our name.

Those voices of conscience who spoke truth to power are politically persecuted like never before. Bradley Manning called out US war crimes and is now in a secret trial. Jeremy Hammond was also jailed for exposing the inner workings of the corporate surveillance state.

With the latest NSA leaks, Edward Snowden risked his safety to warn the public about a surveillance state of turnkey tyranny. He wanted to “inform the public of what is being done in their name and that which is done against them.” He hoped that disclosure of leaked documents would trigger a global debate “about what kind of world we want to live in.” He saw that the public was being misled and that he himself was a victim of a system until he awakened to the truth.

All these courageous whistleblowers, when confronted with the truth acted to free us from the lies of corrupt power. Hope is found in the bravery of those who speak truth to power. Around the world a debate is just beginning. The collective action of informed citizens in the end will break the digital locks of this open air prism and set us free.

Nozomi Hayase, Ph.D., is an essayist and author of WikiLeaks, the Global Fourth Estate: History Is Happening (Libertarian Books, 2018). Find her on twitter @nozomimagine. Read other articles by Nozomi.