Sunday, September 8, 2013

Cost of Free

Missing from the Edward Snowden-inspired breathless coverage of the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance activities on U.S. Citizens, our stated allies, and our stated enemies is a simple, albeit, unavoidable paradox of our modern times.  In a world of “virtual community”, the owners of the matrix make the rules to suit themselves.  Period.  Wagging fingers and accusations pointed at the NSA and its commercial co-conspirators are as pointless as drum circles in Occupy tent cities.  Yes, I’m defending the NSA.  Yes, I’m celebrating the whistleblower Edward Snowden who has clearly provided substantiation that he had evidence of violations of the law by the government – which are NOT protected under Constitutional Oaths or clearances for those of you who are still insisting on calling his actions treasonous – and his former co-conspirator employer Booz Allen Hamilton.  And yes, I’m stating that post facto protests are 100% pointless.

Let’s set the stage for the basic problem.  In the Fall of 1952, then President Harry S. Truman issued the National Security Council Intelligence Directive 9 which mandated that Communications Intelligence (COMINT) and much of the Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) of the U.S. government be consolidated under the NSA.  This was the same year that we officially decided to end the formal occupation of Japan following World War II, the middle of the Korean War, and polio still was ravaging the country.  Like it or not, the majority of Americans, drunk on the victory of World War II and living under the self-inflicted horror of the Atomic Bomb (that Fall, U.S. Operation Ivy uped the ante with the 10.4 megaton hydrogen bomb test in the Marshall Islands) actually supported the idea of having the government monitor Communications and Signals.  Phones, for those Americans who had them, were constantly surveilled during this period.  Switchboard operators were capable of listening in on calls.  Households had ‘party lines’ where neighbors could listen in on each other’s calls and kindly (or not so kindly) ask someone to hang up so that the line could be available for others, you get the point.  We The People were more than willing to give up something we never knew we’d use in the interest of protecting ourselves from an enemy we never knew.  The fact that every President from Truman to Reagan, with full support of the American people’s blind allegiance usurped ever greater imputed power under the NSCID9, is not the fault of the NSA.  It’s the responsibility of the governed who never paid attention.

AT&T and Bell Telephone – the industrial fronts for the U.S. government’s telephonic addiction program – were celebrated as a means to connect people with people.  Like the internet of today, “communications” and “signals” lived in that gray zone between public good and Orwellian ‘Big Brother’.  We The People invested in the companies that were conspiring against our un-valued privacy.  We The People used our pensions to fund the building of telephonic and fiber infrastructures upon which all of our communications and signals would traverse.  And We The People did all of this because it was sold to us as convenient.  Development (shaking that derogatory designation of “rural”) was measured by electrification and telephony.  We did this to ourselves.  And the whole time, if we had paid any attention, we would have been fully aware that the NSA was omnipresent. 

I was recently at a gathering with a number of people who thought themselves to be quite consciously and spiritually advanced.  As I listened to speaker after speaker fawn over the wonderful interconnectedness of the world – courtesy of the internet – which made all forms of collaboration for social evolution more possible, I was dumbstruck.  Which part of the enlightenment punch bowl missed the ‘awareness’ that the sirens of ‘global interconnectedness’ are NOT free and they’re not here to ‘serve humanity’.  Not unlike the prevalence of credit and debit cards replacing currency, the ‘convenience’ myth is the oldest form of seduction and it’s NEVER free.  The internet is a commercial enterprise formed as a state-sanctioned cabal between those who control access and those who harvest the traffic.  Next time you use a “free” e-mail, conference calling line, Skype call, or Google chat, ask yourself the following question.  Is there any chance that I could stream video and audio signals around the world – through fiber optic routers, satellite relays, ground stations and WiFi zones – and not have someone pay for it?  Wake up.  The more you hear the word “FREE” the more you should realize that this term really means – “The beneficiary of my information doesn’t want me to know that I’m feeding them what they want.”

Protesting the NSA is like complaining about a tummy ache after you gorged yourself on too much chocolate cake.  We gave them a charter.  We gave them $3.5 billion a year in budget to spend on building scientific and technical capacity to capture and transmit Communications and Signals and now we’re somehow aghast that they’re doing what we authorized them to do?  Like it or not, the NSA is doing the job that it is paid to do!  Get Real! 

I despise the idea that our collective Red Scare, Cold War, military-industrial complex state enterprises were all authorized by a President to spy on the citizens of the world.  I’m free-spirited enough to bristle at the awareness of just how intrusive our government’s paternalistic impulses go.  And yes, I think that the world would be orders of magnitude better off if we’d just decouple ourselves from our own fear-induced conspiratorial impulse in which we believe that the whole world is out to get us.  That’s all true.  But the way we do this is NOT to rail against a system that we’ve used and abused when it bites back. 

And just to make sure we’re all clear, where was our vitriol when:
  •  Congress decided in 1947 that “National Intelligence” meant “all intelligence, regardless of its source from which derived and including information gathered within or outside the United States, that – (A) pertains, as determined consistent with any guidance issued by the President, …(involving) (i) threats to the United States, its people, property, or interests; (ii) the development, proliferation, or use of weapons of mass destruction; or, (iii) any other matter bearing on United States national or homeland security.”
  • Truman signed the 1952 Directive;
  •  Reagan proliferated the breadth of the NSA’s reach after the original threat (the Cold War) supposedly ended;
  • President Bill Clinton, in March 1994, defined U.S. identities as “fair game” for surveillance including the direct enlisting of U.S. corporations with domestic and foreign domiciles; and,
  • ... The list goes on.

See the simple point is that we are, courtesy of Mr. Snowden, waking up to the fact that the brave new world connectivity panacea – the celebrated internet – can as easily connect humanity for great benefits as it can be the cattle shoot leading into the abattoir of our liberty. 

So, here’s the drum circle alternative.  If you’ve got something really important to say – say it.  And by that, I mean: (A) prioritize the human or humans with whom you wish to communicate; (B) sit with them across a table, at a campfire, around a conference table, or on blanket on the grass; and, (C) talk.  You see, the one thing that disempowers the fear mongering that justifies the NSA, Edward Snowden, and protests is human-to-human communication.  And this effect happens for two reasons.  First, until tree bark and crickets are bugged, what you say will be heard by your intended audience.  Secondarily, if you’re a high enough value target to be surreptitiously surveilled, spies will see you interacting with friends and foes with civility and grace and might learn a lesson in humanity.  In the end, remember that the reason why I advocate for the use of Integral Accounting has as much to do about honoring the diversity of values as it does in its ability to discern the beneficiaries of those systems that thrive in obscurity and the shadows. 

Free has never been free – only free from inquiry which is the most dangerous freedom of all!

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Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave