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Snowed in: the mainstream media vs. Edward Snowden

The NSA surveillance octopus
The NSA surveillance octopus

As the government grapples with the fallout from the leaks of top secret documents by Edward Snowden, familiar tactical patterns continue to emerge. Time and time again, whistleblower cases reveal the government’s traditional approach to rendering their disclosures ineffective. This method is often described as “Deny, Discredit and Destroy”. It was created during the Nixon administration and outlined within the infamous Malek Manual.

First, the government and their obedient mainstream media talking heads vehemently deny the whistleblower’s allegations. We’ve already witnessed that with Snowden’s disclosures. Powers-that-be are doing their best to re-direct attention from NSA’s massive warrantless surveillance against law-abiding American citizens, to an entirely different program that involves solely “foreign targets”. Carefully crafted statements aim to fool the feeble-minded fans of reality television, with claims like “We don’t target American citizens”. Translation: “We don’t need to target American citizens, because everyone’s data is being indiscriminately collected and indefinitely stored.”

All of the information that is stockpiled in the process of unconstitutional surveillance becomes very handy in carrying out time-proven strategies of whistleblower suppression. It can be used (or twisted) not only to discredit an inconvenient truth-teller, but also to blackmail someone in a position of power, to dissuade witnesses from supporting the whistleblower, etc. It can also be used in a secret indictment hearing, but the same materials that could often contain exculpatory evidence will not be made available to the Defendant. Many constitutional rights and entitlements become obsolete with the mere reference to “national security”, which is used by the government as their “Open Sesame” all-access pass.

One of the most telling directives contained within the Malek Manual states that the duty of civil servants is to the government – not the constitution. In light of this unspoken priority, no one should be surprised that the big government sees our constitution as a mere nuisance, an inconvenience that has to be circumvented.

The next move in the chess game of whistleblower suppression is to discredit the whistleblower. We’re witnessing this process unfold before our very eyes. Instead of discussing the substance of Snowden’s disclosures, the mainstream media posts photographs of his pole-dancing ex-girlfriend and strives to portray Snowden as an uneducated narcissist, a selfish nerd who set out to put American lives in danger. “Leaks related to national security can put people at risk,” exclaimed Obama, “They can put men and women in uniform that I’ve sent into the battlefield at risk.” If you’ve been paying attention, the same theme of whistleblowing disclosures “endangering lives” is frequently recited by public officials.

So far, there haven’t been any reports of deaths caused by the whistleblowers. To the contrary, government’s failure to act on their reports routinely endangers our lives and safety. This often happens while most of us are completely unaware of shocking cases of whistleblowing retaliation, because the mainstream media has no interest in covering their stories. However, if the whistleblower lands in prison or ends up jobless and destitute, the media will happily showcase it as a cautionary tale.

It’s unclear how Snowden’s revelations about domestic surveillance could cause anyone to die (other than maybe of embarrassment), especially since he’s not the first to disclose NSA’s overreaching snooping. Other NSA employees, such as William Binney, blew the whistle “the right way”, by filing a complaint with the Department of Defense Inspector General. While that report sat dormant, in December 2005, the New York Times published a story about the NSA’s secret domestic spying program. Unlike report to the IG, that got the government’s attention. As usual, they directed manpower and attention towards finding and punishing the source (while attempting to downplay and ignore the substance of the disclosures in question). The FBI launched an expansive investigation, involving 25 FBI agents and 5 full-time prosecutors. When Binney and several others were pinpointed as the sources of published information, their homes were raided and they were threatened with malicious prosecutions.

The illusion of government transparency and accountability could not be hidden deeper in the cyber vaults of the NSA, where their Secret Service Operations gather data on e-mails, IP addresses, physical locations, business and personal affiliations, with billions of phone calls redirected and collected on a daily basis. There again, this information is not new. In 2006, AT&T whistleblower, Mark Klein, provided detailed description of the NSA’s secret rooms, where domestic and international call and e-mail records are being compiled from more than a dozen of global and regional telecommunications providers.

After numerous NSA whistleblowers came forward, massive surveillance was neither addressed, nor curtailed and most average Americans don’t know the names of those courageous truth-tellers. Why is the mainstream media screaming so loudly about Snowden’s disclosures, when much of this information was previously available? Quite simply, they want to make an example out of Snowden (just as they’re doing with Manning), to deter potential leakers or whistleblowers. The government’s expansive data-gathering in vast computer databases caused the number of employees with access to classified materials to skyrocket to approximately 5 million. That’s a lot of people to scare. The government also came up with a “tell on your co-worker” program that wants government employees to report each other for any kind of strange behavior. The Insider Threat Program will also punish those who fail to report their suspicions.

The government and the mainstream media would prefer that you don’t spend too much time thinking about the explosive growth of the domestic surveillance apparatus. Instead, they would like you to concentrate on Snowden’s personal history. To make the game even more interesting, they’re attempting to discredit Glenn Greenwald as well. Smear pieces came out almost simultaneously, published by the NY Daily News and The New York Times. From porn business to Greenwald’s oversized dog and unpaid taxes, the mud is flying.

The next and final step in the process is destruction of the whistleblower through merciless prosecution. It seems like Greenwald might be facing criminal charges himself in the near future. The mainstream media is laying the groundwork, by repeatedly referring to him as a “blogger” and exclaiming that he is not a journalist (therefore, attempting to invalidate Greenwald’s protection under the “Freedom of Press” precipice).

So far, Snowden managed to evade the hunters, but the walls are closing in around him. After receiving a phone call from Vice President Joe Biden, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa changed his tune and said that Snowden “must assume responsibility if he broke U.S. laws.” Threatened with severe economic sanctions, Ecuador withdrew the “letter of safe passage” issued to Snowden and promised to “punish” the Consul who issued the document.

Love him or hate him, Snowden set out to create public awareness on the abuses of the Patriot Act against law-abiding citizens, sacrificing his own life in the process. He also exposed NSA’s violations of international treaties, with the agency spreading the tentacles of the surveillance octopus across different countries and continents. The sanctimonious mask of the NSA fell off with a thud, reverberating all over the world. The echoes are sure to be heard for some time.

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