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  • Writer's pictureDr. Rob Williams

No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, The NSA, and U.S. Surveillance State (BOOK REVIEW)

Updated: Sep 8, 2019

Originally published at Vermont Independent.

Welcome to July 4th – Independence Day – in 21st century America Let us be clear what we are celebrating. The United States is no longer a functioning republic, but an empire run by two political parties of the corporate class, Republ’ocrats in the pocket of big banksters, managing an imperial government largely unresponsive to the needs, desires, and interests of ordinary citizens. To the long list of “abuses and usurpations” (to quote Mr. Jefferson and the first Continental Congress of yore) the federal government has subjected us to – aggressive full spectrum dominance, “wars that will not end in our lifetime” (back into Iraq we go, Mr. Obama?!), stupendous Wall Street corruption, massive electoral fraud, a widening economic chasm between the 1% and the rest of us – can be added this: The arrival of the National Surveillance State. At its center? The NSA, which some wags like to joke stands for “No Such Agency.” Shhh. Mum’s the word.

In truth, the National Security Agency (NSA) is no joke. Their goal? The complete elimination of privacy as we know it in the 21st century. Their reach? Global in scope. Even Internet plane communication is now within their capture (heads up, frequent flyers.) Their power? Seemingly endless. Their story? Largely secret, until now. Thanks to a few courageous whistle blowers (thanks, Edward Snowden) and independent journalists (kudos, Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald) who have stepped forward to share with us this troubling news. This is the story Glenn Greenwald tells in his new book NO PLACE TO HIDE, a “must read” for every patriotic American (and Vermonter) who cares about the future of this project called the United States. The punch line? Privacy is dead. Welcome to the Surveillance State.

Greenwald borrows the title of his new book from Senator Frank Church, who predicted this day would come forty years ago, in the wake of Watergate, Vietnam, U.S. Peak Oil production, and other searing events that defined that turbulent generation.  “The United States has perfected a technological capability that enables us to monitor the messages that go through the air,” he commented in a 1975 Senate intelligence committee report. “That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything – telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide.” And now, in the Age of Web 2.0, all of us – conservative and liberal, Red and Blue, secessionist and non – are subject to systematic surveillance by the most secretive and powerful intelligence agency the world has (n)ever seen.

The first half of NO PLACE TO HIDE reads like a spy novel, as Greenwald recounts his initial contact with whistleblower Edward Snowden in a Hong King hotel, and his agonizing decision, with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, to break Snowden’s astonishing NSA revelations to the Guardian newspaper in an effort to do what good journalism must always do – afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted, and ask hard questions of people in power. (An aside – the U.S. lamestream media, imperial lapdogs all, have made such propagandistic mincemeat out of Snowden – traitor, terrorist, blah blah – that the real guy is barely recognizable in Greenwald’s story – thoughtful, organized, intentional, incredibly bright, amazingly articulate, and, most importantly, concerned about the Beast that the NSA has become, and the consequences now all of us must grapple with as we slowly wake up to discover we are living in a surveillance state unprecedented in its size and scope.) “Even as someone who had spent years writing about the dangers of secret U.S. surveillance,” Greenwald writes, “I found the sheer vastness of the spying system genuinely shocking, all the more so because it had clearly been implemented with virtually no accountability, no transparency, and no limits.” The title of this particular chapter captures the NSA’s goal in stark terms: “Collect It All.”

In NO PLACE TO HIDE’S second half, Greenwald provides meticulous details about how NSA programs work, how they capture and aggregate data, and how the NSA has grown its global spy network without any oversight or accountability. I’ll spare you the gory details. Read this book. At 250 fast-moving pages, it will engage and enrage you.

What can be done? Greenwald has a few suggestions. Speak truth to power. Be the change (like Snowden) you wish to see in the world. To which I would add: live transparently, and, as Shakespeare famously said, to thine own self (and a better world) be true. The Internet is the most powerful communications system human civilization has ever produced, and it is currently being abused by super-secretive government agencies who use the manufactured threat of “terrorism” to justify creating their own climate of suspicion, fear, and terror. Let us confront the NSA with courage, and in so doing, reclaim the true legacy of Independence Day – a government that serves its citizens, instead of serving them up for cyber-fodder.

Free Vermont, and long live the UNTied States! And happy Independence Days – July 4th, and July 7th (Vermont Independence Day).

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