Thursday, June 20, 2013

Don’t shoot the messenger

The German drama film, The Lives of Others, tells the story of the secret monitoring of private individuals by Stasi, the secret police of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) at the time, or in particular, in 1984. In the movie, a Stasi officer Hauptmann Weisler bugs the home of playwright Georg Dreyman by setting up surveillance equipment in his attic and reports on the writer’s activities and intimate relations with his girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland.
Weisler eventually learns that the Minister of Culture Bruno Hempf covets Dreyman’s girlfriend and wants to eliminate him. The tools of the trade used were surprisingly rudimentary compared to today’s cyber-hacking and wiretapping gadgetry. All the surveillance required were bugs placed in the apartment and a smuggled miniature typewriter that Dreyman used in preparing his articles which were then published anonymously in Der Spiegel. At that time all East German typewriters were registered so it was easy for Stasi to catch someone using a typewriter for articles that were disparaging to state authorities.  
Oscar 2006 Best Foreign Language Film, The Lives of Others.
Click link to
view movie trailer.
State surveillance has indeed become more intricate and much more invasive today, but the notion of a state apparatus monitoring private individuals remains the same, that of a repressive, vindictive and vicious Orwellian Big Brother constantly watching over us and listening to our personal conversations.
The latest and biggest leak of the moment by Edward Snowden, a low-level contract employee for the US government’s National Security Agency (NSA), has exposed that millions of Americans could have been possibly eavesdropped as they personally engaged in conversations on their telephones. Snowden revealed a secret court order that compelled Verizon to give the phone records of millions of Americans to the NSA, as well as a highly classified program, PRISM, under which the NSA pulls data from major Internet companies like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.
According to Snowden, the NSA monitors Americans “even if you’re not doing anything wrong. From just sitting at my desk I had the authority to wiretap anyone. If I wanted to see your e-mails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your e-mails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.”
What is frightening is the revelation that Booz-Allen, Snowden’s employer, and other private and powerful intelligence-gathering organizations are engaged on behalf of America’s highest levels of government in activities that might be considered unconstitutional and dangerous. Writing for The Nation, Lee Fang likens the combination of private army of intelligence contractors and the huge federal intelligence bureaucracy to the East German secret police Stasi. “Except this is state surveillance plus capitalism: spying for profit,” Fang adds.  
Click link to view NSA
whistleblower Edward Snowden: "I don't want to live in a society that does
this sort of things."
American journalist Tim Shorrock reported that some 70 percent of the nation’s intelligence gathering budget is spent on private contractors. Shorrock wrote in his blog: “Could any of these firms, which number in the hundreds, use their terrorist-seeking espionage weapons against their fellow Americans?”
A movie which we recently saw, The East, exactly dramatizes this happy marriage of private intel companies and government intelligence agencies like the FBI, CIA and NSA. The film involves a former FBI agent who now works with an elite private intelligence firm and goes undercover to infiltrate an elusive and anarchist environmental terrorist group. One wonders after watching the film where the public purpose merges or intersects with private capital, and if ever there was synergy at all, whether it was for a higher public good.
Snowden’s exposé about state surveillance confirms much of the terrifying stuff that has been revealed by earlier whistleblowers like Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, Pfc. Bradley Manning, Tom Drake and Kirk Wiebe. At the forefront of state surveillance and whistleblowing is their legality, or if they have legal basis at all, whether they conform to constitutional protection of individual privacy and civil liberties.
When does the authority of the state to monitor private individuals become a matter of state security and can the state ensure that individual freedoms and rights guaranteed under the Constitution are respected?
After 9/11, the Bush administration used the cover of state security in mining information from all sources in order to ferret out possible future acts of terrorism. It enacted the Patriot Act and amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which enhanced the powers of US law enforcement agencies to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, including giving these agencies a wide array of investigatory tools such as warrantless wireless tapping into telephones and computers. The current administration under Obama continued the Bush surveillance but with a twist, more transparency and less secrecy this time. But with the controversy surrounding the Snowden leaks, all Obama could do was simply to offer vague assurances that the present state surveillance ends where the government is not supposed to intrude.
While whistleblowing is protected in the United States, one has to navigate a patchwork of contradictory federal and state laws to be able to launch an effective defence when the strong arm of the government comes bearing down on a whistleblower. Sometimes the government resorts to the Espionage Act to prosecute a whistleblower. Generally speaking, the government has virtually all the authority it needs to conduct surveillance for purposes of state security, even to the point of simply declassifying information that has been leaked to the public, thus rendering the disclosure meaningless.
There appears unanimity among the branches of the US government that surveillance in the name of state security is a necessary evil in the fight against terrorism, particularly if there is an appearance also of congressional and judicial oversight, a compromise that President Obama has willingly embraced. But amid all this talk about the possibility of a constitutional infringement, the government with all the powers under its disposal seems to have won the debate on whether the whistleblower needs to be brought to justice.
Shooting the messenger has become the most effective option for government to shut down any opposition to its powers of surveillance under the rubric of state security. The wisdom of the Bush administration in pursuing terrorism by all means necessary has also become a hallmark of Obama’s policy, contrary to Obama’s earlier discomfort about the way the Bush government ran its course.
The messenger of bad information, whether it is about abuses of unnecessary privacy intrusion by the state or acts of corruption in the government, has never been a historically sympathetic figure. Look at Assange of Wikileaks. He continues to be holed out in a small room in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, fearful that anytime a European Arrest Warrant could be enforced against him in relation to a sexual assault investigation in Sweden. Of if he leaves the embassy, Assange could be subsequently extradited to the United States to face charges over the release of diplomatic cables.
Jeremy Hammond successfully hacked into Strategic Forecasting Inc. (Stratfor), a private intelligence firm, and released approximately five million emails which gave a frightening glimpse into how the private security and intelligence companies view themselves vis-à-vis government security agencies like the CIA. The leaked emails revealed Stratfor’s surveillance activities to monitor the Occupy movement protesters, the Deep Green Resistance, the Bhopal Medical Appeal that was seeking reparations for the victims of the chemical plant disaster in Bhopal, India, and the Coca-Cola company inquiry about PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
Hammond eventually pled guilty to the Stratfor hack after realizing that the Department of Justice could make him a defendant for life by prosecuting him in eight different districts. He had no choice but to plea to a deal in which he may be sentenced to 10 years in prison. But even as he made the plea he issued a statement, saying, “I did this because I believe people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors. I did what I believe is right.”
In a video interview conducted by Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, Snowden expressed a similar ethical stance regarding his actions. Whether he could be eventually prosecuted by US authorities would hinge on the cooperation of Hong Kong to extradite him, or perhaps after China is able to extract any more vital information from him.
In the Philippines, the most notorious whistleblower that recently comes to mind is Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada whose testimony in the Philippine National Broadband Network controversy almost brought down the Arroyo government. The scandal also known as the NBN/ZTE deal or NBN/ZTE mess involved allegations of corruption in the awarding of a US$329 million construction contract to Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE for the proposed government-managed National Broadband Network (NBN). After allegations of massive pay-offs had been uncovered, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo eventually cancelled the National Broadband Network project.
Whatever happened to Jun Lozada?  
NBN-ZTE whistleblower Rodolfo "Jun" Lozada loses faith in President Noynoy
Aquino's daang matuwid.
Lozada has lost his faith in President Noynoy Aquino’s “daang matuwid” for Aquino’s failure to protect a whistleblower like him. Lozada himself had to face graft charges before the Sandiganbayan during his stint as president of the Philippine Forest Corp. He complained that he had been forgotten and abandoned by the Aquino administration.
Fr. Marlon Lacal, executive director of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP) who has been supporting Lozada, told a press conference: “Our question to this government (Noynoy Aquino) is why they treat truth-tellers this way, specifically Jun Lozada? Why doesn’t it extend all possible help that the government can give to a truth-teller? Is this government just pretending to be anticorruption but, on the other hand, it is coddling corrupt men and women?”
Whether subjected to criminal prosecution or reprisal by their employers or condescension by others, whistleblowers have generally been the victim of “shoot-the-messenger” mentality. A rare breed, whistleblowers are putting their lives on the line by willing to act as the buffer to state intervention of privacy or the messenger of truth whenever they spot manifestations of evils in government.

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