December 30, 2019 Editor

Freedom, Valor, Love: On Snowden’s Permanent Record

WN: Former Canadian Member of Parliament Chuck Strahl once remonstrated at a workshop when I had the temerity, as facilitator, to suggest that the United States was hardly a democracy… It most decidedly is not, and has never been. Then again, as Astra Taylor argues in Democracy May Not Exist, but We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone, it is ever an inspirational ideal.

The Five Eyes (FVEY) spy network is the most sophisticated and far-reaching surveillance network the world has ever seen: notably consisting of Anglo-Saxon (white) colonial nations: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. It is execrable, ubiquitous, and deadly. The article highlighted below exposes some of the ongoing horror. Mention is there also of the Anglo-Saxon Frankenstein.


We all know someone who has suffered explicit privacy violations through data breaches, has been censored, or has valiantly fought for press, Internet, and telecommunications freedoms at a time of deep political polarities and culture war divisions. Edward Snowden’s life reveals it’s not just “the computer guy” (or other non-male folks) at tech’s helms, but the general U.S. public that bears witness to corporatized data surveillance state violations, or the data industrial complex. This secretive sprawling network is the invasive rule today; it involves regular media outlets, telecommunications, social media platforms, Internet service providers, and government agencies.

In the contemporary U.S. there’s nowhere to run and hide. Edward Snowden seeks to change this, and he reminds us of his mission again upon publication of his supposedly illegal memoir, Permanent Record. (You’ll miss essential technical details too numerous to be covered here if you don’t read the memoir yourself, by the way. )

If it weren’t for people like Snowden, the U.S. public wouldn’t know that coordinated privacy violation, resulting in mass surveillance, is a central governmental security program. Permanent Record teaches if the U.S. government has its way, all telecommunications and cyberspace explorations would be accessible. As it stands, our lives are reduced to massive cash vaults for tandem agencies and corporations, exploiting us politically— for profit.

Hello, Cambridge Analytica. I am talking to you. Rapacious technocapitalism consistently adds to its official ruling class of spineless security state multimillionaires and billionaires. I’m talking to you, Palantir, Google, Amazon, Facebook…

News flash: U.S. surveillance has resulted in something besides a democracy. According to Snowden: “Any elected government that relies on surveillance to maintain control of a citizenry that regards surveillance as anathema to democracy has effectively ceased to be a democracy (p.330).”

Here, it’s the public “citizenry” that imbues the government with its democratic character, defining what is and is not democratic.

According to Snowden, under mass surveillance, the U.S. has “ceased to be a democracy.” Current U.S. left rhetoric might criticize Snowden’s view that U.S. democracy ever existed. Another view is that due to its settler colonial status, founded on stolen land and free labor, American capitalism can not be a democracy by definition. In this view, surveillance is the expression, not the exception, of U.S. national character. That debate is ongoing, but in so far as this is a legal battle with Espionage Act threats, the Constitution marks relevant parameters.

It’s common knowledge that leftist/ anti-imperialist/ anti-racist/ ecological/feminist/ labor/ socialist/ communist/ anarchist/ queer activists have historically suffered under Cointelpro sureveillance and are current targets of ongoing IC sabotage. Consider how the new FBI profiling category–the “black identity extremist”–emerged after Black Lives Matter. Consider the comrades we’ve lost under dubious circumstances. For any form of survival, we must align with Snowden’s critical oppositional insider knowledge and create anti-surveillance state solidarity amidst the chaos produced by security state entities.

This is what makes whistleblowing so important in the security state/ Big Tech era: it’s not where they begin, but where they end that matters politically. Veteran and soldier knowledge is also a case in point here. Think of how central the returning Vietnam soldiers’ testimony was for the anti-war movement in the 60’s and 70’s. They didn’t burn their draft cards in the first instance, as others did, but if they returned to the U.S. alive, many infuriated and damaged soldiers held very important information. This is the same for our anti-war veterans and soldiers-in-combat today.

Snowden physically risked his life to challenge surveillance forces and expose deep state machinations. He should be praised for his sacrifices, not nitpicked on his rhetorical fine points in Permanent Record or elsewhere.

That said, Snowden is not simply another white American male with some precious constitutional violations to rectify; he’s a political exile from a government that sadistically pursues those holding it accountable to its own constitutional claims. After working countless IC sub-contracted and government jobs, Snowden is an intelligence tech expert with a thorough understanding of constitutional violations, exposed by releasing classified information.

Gossipy, petty hairsplitting, and jealous dismissals of exiled/ politically imprisoned press freedom/ anti-surveillance hackers, should dissipate as more people read Snowden’s eloquently written and even suspenseful “permanent record.” How he arrived in Russia as an exiled political dissident from a hostile imperialist regime waging an intelligence (and street) war against its most profound global and domestic critics is a captivating story well-written enough to provoke the U.S. Justice Department.

Snowden’s Internet: Jungle Gym, Tree House, Fortress, Classroom

Heroic values run deep among the hacktivists facing U.S. Espionage charges. Snowden’s values were shaped by his earliest sense of youthful freedom. This freedom was encouraged by the Internet’s early freeform quality that is today a mere semblance of its former non-corporatized incarnation.

When it comes to autobiographical recollections about cyber-hacking skills of the magnitude Snowden’s document liberation reveals, it all begins with access, which he had. Snowden is the child of military/ federal government employees. His dad worked for the Aeronautical Engineering Division at Coast Guard Headquarters in D.C. His mom ended up working for the National Security Agency (NSA) itself, if you can imagine that poetically just legacy. As Snowden tells it, his father casually plunked an early computer with a dial up modem on a centrally located table in his childhood home, and the rest is history. Unlimited access to the earliest version of the Web empowered him with creative and exploratory space that transferred seamlessly to a cyber-intelligence career stopped short by his own convictions against the surveillance apparatus.

This is not his mother’s NSA.

Describing his time with CIA computers, Snowden credits childhood desire to “understand how everything works.” This leads to his now haunting reflection that “one thing that the disorganized CIA didn’t quite understand at the time, and that no major employer outside of Silicon Valley understood, either: the computer guy [sic] knows everything, or rather, can know everything (p.133).”

These are highly entertaining pages, well-written, with prose accurately foreshadowing a dramatic turn towards Russian exile.

What exactly happened?

Snowden’s position is sacrosanct for a generation experiencing the ruinous IC transition from human intelligence (HUMINT) to tech intelligence (SIGINT) gathering– or what would become a combination of the two modes. In Geneva, a co-worker casually informed Snowden that when he has a subject to investigate,“just give us his email address and we’ll take care of it (p.160).”

A seemingly casual comment like this, to a Systems Administrator like Snowden, sparked concern about the IC’s reach into private, seemingly secure, platforms— like email.

In a blizzard of information, events, personalities, and post 9/11 IC daily realities, Snowden begins to analyze the content and form of data storage protocols. It’s the form that enlightens him to what the U.S. is doing globally, as expressed in its international Web relation security protocols. He notes that the NSA only shares its secured data with the “Five Eyes” club. Canada, Britain, New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S. share info through the UKUSA Agreement– a treaty for joint cooperation in signals intelligence with secret origins, of course.

Such much for NATO’s relevance.

Here, Snowden’s candor about his relative naivete entering Tokyo’s NSA Pacific Technical Center (PTC) in 2009 is endearing, as he comes to grips with how global Internet infrastructure leads to the obvious condition of U.S. planetary surveillance programs. That the NSA was more technically sophisticated and less secure, compared to its CIA counterpart, also caught Snowden’s attention. Again, hindsight transforms an innocent reflection about inter-agency differences into a hacker’s taunt: a lax security culture allowed Snowden to expose NSA surveillance procedures to the world.

Things shifted in Tokyo, when Snowden was researching for a Chinese conference on foreign military spying operations (p.169). He begins to encounter the NSA’s “array of abuses” through researching China’s own “totalitarian” government surveillance capabilities. Snowden writes:

“I had the sneaking sense while I was looking through all this China material that it was looking at a mirror and seeing a reflection of America. What China was doing publicly to its own citizens, America might be–could be–doing secretly to the world (p.171).”

The American internet is more easily accessed and more “democratic,” exercising minimal cautious censorship, right? Wrong. Snowden learns Internet computerware is mass surveillance machinery. Websites lure users into data traps, accompanied by rapid malware deployments, resulting in an unregulated Wild West of American-cum-multinational capital. The gold nugget here is what the NSA calls “metadata”–the “unwritten, unspoken information that can expose the broader contexts and patterns of behavior (p.179).” Another word for this is “activity data”: “…all the records of all the things you do on your devices and all the things your devices do on their own”(p.179).

Metadata meets bio-data, too. While surveillants can’t access “what’s actually going on inside your head,” the inevitability of mass real time mind reading technologies, via electrode-based microchip enhancements, inch closer– as reported by The Guardian from Nature Journal.

Has Snowden encountered the ultra-secretive CIA MK Ultra program? What’s the latest in psych op tech these days, or should we ask Palantir? Inquiring minds want to know!

Research mainstreaming previously esoteric electrode technologies, used in some patient paralysis applications, signals an unthinkable crisis in any remaining semblance of a democracy (that experts like Snowden are best equipped to address.) Beyond conspiracy theory circles, microchipping, which could theoretically be done involuntarily en masse, will further violate privacy boundaries already in crisis.

Add to his permanent record that Snowden pointedly rejects this microchipped dystopian future.

Arguably “more invasive” is use of “NSA’s Special Sources Operations Unit which built secret wiretapping equipment and embedded it inside the corporate facilities of obliging Internet service providers around the world (p.224).” This upstream collection allows interception as users place search terms in engines. The NSA weapon of choice here is TURBULENCE, described as: “a few black servers stacked up on top of one another, together about the size of a four shelf bookcase… installed in rooms at major private telecommunication buildings throughout allied countries… in U.S. embassies and on U.S. military bases (p.225).”

One of TURBULENCE’s tools, TURMOIL, passively collects midstream data if it trips security wires. The second tool, TURBINE, takes over if your data is deemed suspicious. Here, NSA servers uses choice malware to attack your site: you get “all the content you want… with all the surveillance you don’t… in less than 686 milliseconds (p.226).” All without government seeking a warrant, even if this malware allows surveillants to access metadata and “your entire digital life.”

These passages reveal language’s failure to communicate precarity; prose strains to capture the risk levels, mishaps resulting in quick assassinations. Words fail us. The inherent risks in the lives of journalists, publishers, and various sundried whistleblower-types in the data-mining/ surveillance state era can not be underscored here. These relative positions of social/ educational privilege, via cultural capital and technological access, quickly morph into hunted lives standing in as universal subjects in a protracted political battle against a corporatized data surveillance state that has its venture capital aimed at the next big surveillance mechanism.

Snowden, Poitras, Greenwald, and Ewen MacAskill were in the Hong Kong hotel room, while Lindsay Mills was notably absent. While more secure in the presence of the arriving team, Snowden describes “empty and desolate” sleepless nights away from his real security: his lover.

[Here Snowden, the lover, should be recognized for his “good guy” stance on the temptations of IC porn/ doxxing subcultures. He briefly touches on this when describing how SIGINT coworkers track and harass ex-lovers. You can imagine the underground sex subcultures spawned from agent access to streams of porn and personal data. Shades of Epstein here.]

As the Justice Department pursues Snowden’s memoir royalties, emerging security tech behemoth, Palantir, has Peter Thiel, Alex Karp, and staff shoring up ICE deportation and BP North Sea oil extraction contracts. If we ever needed a reminder of polarized realities in the data monetization age, and the NSA/ CIA’s own ongoing violations, it can be found in these CIA workers’ lives. Thiel/ Karp represent unbridled CIA privatization efforts that monetize the global data Snowden is punished for portraying as private information. Snowden also insists unconstitutional NSA/ CIA data acquisition practices are public information.

If not, consider the deeply troubling future: involuntary and voluntary mass microchipping, routinized online bio-doxxing programs, bio-data warfare tactics, and data-theft, including child and adult nudity, with commercial and underground applications. All of this coordinated in user-friendly social mediated-cryptocurrency packaging whereby users themselves never really understand which wing of the sprawling global IC data industrial complex they work for. They just know they get paid to promote or destroy online product, or content, including people’s reputations.

On the flip side of the individual privacy coin is government transparency in telecommunications info gathering, and illegal military operations reporting. Snowden is exiled while Reality Winner, Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and countless others endure their own individual, but deeply intertwined, punishments.

Please click on: Permanent Record

Views: 143


Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.