Can We Stop America’s Surveillance State?

crazy eddieWith the publication of Glenn Greenwald’s new book on Edward Snowden and the NSA, the state surveillance issue is back in full force as if it ever went away.

Purloined formerly top-secret NSA documents are now there for the downloading, even as the calls for truth and privacy buttressed by irrefutable information, has run up against the institutional armor of the surveillance state that has little respect for public opinion or calls for “reform.”

Every day, there are new stories showing duplicity in high places and revealing the existence of new tracking technologies and forced and voluntary collusion between the secret agency and its many “partners” in the private sector. PBS Frontline is out with one more expose.

Just as the publication of the Pentagon Papers in l971 did not end the Vietnam War, the leaks from a world of questionable ‘intelligence” has only made our Spymasters more determined.

There was four more years of carnage after Daniel Ellsberg dropped the hidden history of our intervention in Vietnam showing how officials knew the truth even as they fed the public a litany of lies to keep a profitable if murderous enterprise going.

The charade was finally ended by the Vietnamese liberation army 39 years ago this month, but the NSA and handsomely financed partners in the self-styled “Intelligence community” will go on and on until someone stops them, and their spying, and that someone is hard to identify given the way the agencies seem to have the goods on the government as well as the rest of us.

There is no American liberation army with the clout to shut them down.

I spoke with retired CIA veteran Ray McGovern for a TV series I am producing about how government spying intimidates people in government.  He told me:

“Everybody is afraid. It’s not just the journalists, it’s people like Barack Obama, it’s people like Diane Feinstein–think about what the NSA has on Diane Feinstein and her husband, who has made billions from Defense, and post office, and all kinds of nice cozy contracts, okay? This goes back to J. Edgar Hoover…”

So far, all the noise and media condemnations have not led to meaningful reforms. or legal restraints on the NSA’s electronic octopus. Jameel Jaffer writes in the Guardian about law suits against the NSA that were thrown out of Court:

“What’s surprising – even remarkable – is what the government says on the way to its conclusion. It says, in essence, that the Constitution is utterly indifferent to the NSA’s large-scale surveillance of Americans’ international telephone calls and emails:

“The privacy rights of US persons in international communications are significantly diminished, if not completely eliminated, when those communications have been transmitted to or obtained from non-US persons located outside the United States.

That phrase – “if not completely eliminated” is unusually revealing. Think of it as the Justice Department’s twin to the NSA’s “collect it all.”

Leave it to the outspoken Chinese Artist Ai Wei Wei who has been spied on and jailed in China to recognize the similarities between pervasive Chinese surveillance and the US imitation of it. He writes: “Civilisation is built on that trust and everyone must fight to defend it, and to protect our vulnerable aspects – our inner feelings, our families. We must not hand over our rights to other people. No state power should be given that kind of trust. Not China. Not the US.”

Easier said than done. As we focus on the government role in spying, we seem to be ignoring the commercial aspects of wiretapping and eavesdropping.

American corporations are not just cooperating with the NSA but competing with it. And, not just with Google cars photographing every street in the world.

Just ask Donald Sterling, formerly of the LA Clippers Owner and jerk as he may be, about what non-government spying did it to him. Who has been prosecuted in that eavesdropping incident?

I spoke to Sam Antar who was wiretapped by the government as part of an investigation into illegal practices by the Crazy Eddy electronics chain years ago and who became a convicted felon. He says that spying has become a profitable business, that is bigger and even more insidious than the NSA.

I told Antar. “You made a point before about how a lot of the spying is not ideological. It’s almost like a technology itself. It’s almost like a business with no particular political goals, but, you know, it gets funding, it gets support. People are afraid of what they don’t know so they justify it.

“That’s entirely correct. My point is, is this: “It’s not a left wing issue. It’s not a right wing issue per se. It, it goes on everywhere in this world. People want to know about what they don’t know about.

And spying agencies play to that.


So where are we? We know more than ever, and they know we know it—but that hasn’t stopped the government to try to shut down all debate on the issue. A new executive order this month ordered all government employees not to publicly discuss classified information, even if it has appeared in reputable media outlets.

And Congress? Can we expect politicians allegedly providing oversight on overreach to enact effective reforms. Not so far, writes Jameel Jaffer who tells us to be very, very wary:

“While the current version of the reform bill, the USA Freedom Act, would make some necessarychanges to a handful of surveillance laws, it would not narrow the surveillance powers granted by the 2008 law. Nor would it narrow the surveillance powers the NSA derives from the presidential directive that regulates the NSA’s surveillance activities outside the United States.

Reform is urgently necessary, and years overdue, but this imperfect legislation would leave some of the government’s most sweeping authorities intact – and to a large extent it would leave the privacy rights, of Americans and non-Americans alike, to the mercy of the NSA.”

And that’s where we are, in a sense , where we have always been, on the receiving end of government abuse.

CIA veteran Ray McGovern says let’s hope there are more Snowdens in the wings,

“Now, if you only have 1 out of 100 or maybe even out of 1,000…technically proficient people like this, that’s all you need to do what Edward Snowden did.

The governments cannot operate without these very bright people–a lot of these bright people bring consciousness to their expertise, as long as that’s the case, and that will continue to be the case, the governments will not be able to get away with this kind of thing.

So, that’s the good news–bad news of course is that they’ll keep trying, and as I said before, with the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches all kind of complicit in this…well, and then you have the media, and the corporations and all that–it looks very much like the classic definition that Mussolini gave to Fascism.”

News Dissector Danny Schechter edits and blogs at He is producing a TV documentary series on America’s surveillance state. Comments to

13 Comments on "Can We Stop America’s Surveillance State?"

  1. Anarchy Pony | May 21, 2014 at 11:47 am |

    The deep state is a dangerous entity.

  2. BuzzCoastin | May 21, 2014 at 1:09 pm |

    Can We Stop America’s Surveillance State?

    the reason the 4th & 5th Amendments were created
    was to impede government spying
    which is a natural consequence of government

    Caviet Civis

  3. My first thought was “No” as well. It’s something that will have to run its course, just like the Roman Empire, Vietnam war, etc.

    • Quite.
      Every day the public gasp: “Can-you-believe what we’re letting them get away with today???”

      Still, keeps the likes of Greenwald in book sales.

  4. No you cant stop the surveillance state and they will stop at nothing to promote their disinformation campaign about the extent of the surveillance

    The fact that so many people are still falling for the Edward Snowden story shows that their disinformation campaign works well. I mean seriously do you really not believe it was a pretty big coincidence that the mainstream media would eat up the Snowden story when they never ever tell the truth about stuff like it or promote anything like it normally? Most Americans already had the notion that the government spies on us and the NSA has the ability to listen to most electronic communications. The snowden stories was to keep the sheep in line by convincing them that the NSA only collects metadata on your phone calls and not records the conversation or other forms of electronic communications. Seriously if you believe that they just collect metadata why would they need their new fancy Utah data center than can store many exobytes of information. The thing uses something like 15million gallons of water a day to cool the computer servers there. God only knows how much processing power you have to need 15million gallons of water per day to keep cool.

    • erte4wt4etrg | May 21, 2014 at 10:46 pm |

      Everyone already knew if not consciously admitting it to themselves, I mean this shit has been in the movies for years! I remember seeing Enemy of the state as a kid and thinking: yeah, probably. Its always been in the periphery

      • “the signs are always there for anyone really paying attention”

        While I agree. Sadly most of the population of this country of sheeps do not pay attention. Shit everything that is going on has signs that if they would just pay attention they could see. But they dont they are to busy paying attention to the weapons of mass distraction being used.

    • the biophysicist | May 22, 2014 at 6:17 am |

      I realised that this was happening in the 80’s when I first about echelon recording every phone call in the world. I had also read about multilayer compact discs using different light frequencies then experimental now reality. Also optical tape rather than disc would have much higher storage capacity but slower access times. I did the sums and realised a tape could be made with a recording of a years worth of all the worlds telephone calls in text that could be carried by 1 person. I could store 20,000 years worth of all the calls in the world in my bedroom. Or 1 year in compressed audio. In think they underestimate of the storage capacity . I bee hearing about 2TB microsd cards for well over ten years . They must weigh about 0.2g thats 10,000 TB in every kg

      • I agree I think the 12 exabyte estimate is probably downplayed on purpose The NSA has been pretty good at keeping any technical specs or even actual electricity usage or water usage for the building a secret. Even the water usage I gave is just an estimation. The government almost always has been using technology for years before releasing it to the public so they probably do have optical tape storage being used. Even if not they have gotten increadibly good at magnetic tape storage Sony just announced they broke the record for magentic tape storage with a 185TB tape.

  5. Liam_McGonagle | May 21, 2014 at 2:47 pm |


  6. I recently watched the documentary “Terms and Conditions May Apply” and I was surprised at all the video clips of people discussing all the things that Snowden revealed long before Snowden was a household word. I was also surprised by how much information Americans give up about themselves on Facebook and in other social media. We’ve made it quite easy for them to keep tabs on us.

  7. The short answer is “no” and it will become far more invasive as the technology improves in response to the bales f cash every government is throwing at it.

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