Forget the war on terror. Glenn Greenwald has confirmed what mass surveillance is really about. Keeping track of internal dissenters, those pesky animal and human rights activists; those annoying NGO’s with their irritating agendas; those do gooder environmentalists and their outrageous claims against corporations; and who knows maybe even political parties, especially those with non conventional “fringe” ideas that are an anathema to the status quo. Like female suffrage, Maori land rights and homosexual law reform were decades ago, or the 40 hour week. Ideas that a small group of dedicated activists pursued in the face of hostility and persecution until they were accepted. Or my personal favourite – anti-war groups and pacifists. Can’t have that can we!
But activists of old were never faced with a security state so comprehensive in its ability to watch, disrupt and harass. The big problem isn’t just the information gathering services; the NSA’s, GCSB’s and GCHQ’s; but also the internal security apparatus; the FBI’s, SIS’s and MI5’s; as well as the Police and their plethora of quasi intelligence groups; the Special Branches and Special Investigations Groups. In the US it has gone to new extremes with “Fusion Centres” where all branches of the state security apparatus including the armed forces, come together to share information and resources.
I have posted several times (here) (here) (here) on the abuse this merger and blurring of agency roles brings, the mission creep, in Britain and here in New Zealand because we model ourselves so closely on the British. The upper echelons of the police have always been agents of the conservative establishment. Protectors of power and the status quo. Not the average copper on the beat. The senior guys and those in special groups. There are many reasons for this.
This security state regards anyone who criticises them or the political and economic status quo as a potential threat to be watched, infiltrated and neutralised if necessary. Even here in New Zealand we had the Army referring to journalists as subversives, almost on a par with actual terrorists. Jon Stephenson has been watched by the military for his reporting in Afghanistan and attacked by the Prime Minister in exactly the same way as he has attacked Nicky Hager and now Glenn Greenwald. For doing his job as a journalist and exposing facts that the state, especially the security state, finds embarrassing or uncomfortable.
One thing Key and National are right on is that Labour have been no different. Look at the full force of the security state used against Tuhoi in Operation 8. The appalling fear mongering of Labour ministers in parliament that came with it. The hysteria by a compliant media looking for headlines before sober analysis. What about the long persecution of Ahmed Zaoui? All done under Clark. The Police habit of photographing peaceful protests and infiltrating environmental and animal rights groups did not begin under this National government. This doesn’t excuse it. The argument that everyone does it is facile and doesn’t make it right.
Nor does attacking Greenwald. Greenwald has been active on human rights, intelligence and privacy, and criticism of US democracy for a long time before Snowden’s revelations. He has a long and respected track record. He is formidable critic on a par with Chris Hedges (here) and (here)
What these two have in common is a belief that the security state serves the political and economic elite, what Guardian writer Owen Jones calls the Establishment. It differs little from country to country, democracy or totalitarian regime, New Zealand included. The security services and police have been used again and again, by Labour and National, against anyone who deviates too far from the “acceptable” status quo. The MSM assists in this. Voices of dissent or purveyors of non mainstream ideas are generally omitted from the MSM as too difficult to explain or potentially antagonising to the elites the media rely on for their staple coverage. The internet and social media have made alternative ideas more accessible but at the same time easier to monitor for the security state, an ease that their predecessors could only dream about. The effect of this is as Greenwald said in The Nation interview,
“Privacy is an extraordinarily important part of human freedom. There are all kinds of studies that say when we know we’re being watched, or think we’re being watched, we engage in conformist behaviour, we limit the choices, we explore less…..it’s an assault on democracy, it’s an assault on individual freedom. Evidence historically proves that governments cannot be trusted to use this power in the dark or they will abuse it for anti-democratic ends.”