Noam Chomsky: A Surveillance State Beyond Imagination Is Being Created in One of the World’s Freest Countries

Photo courtesy of Duncan Rawlinson

Photo courtesy of Duncan Rawlinson

No prize for guessing which country leftie professor Noam Chomsky is referring to in his article for Alternet:

In the past several months, we have been provided with instructive lessons on the nature of state power and the forces that drive state policy. And on a closely related matter: the subtle, differentiated concept of transparency.

The source of the instruction, of course, is the trove of documents about the National Security Agency surveillance system released by the courageous fighter for freedom Edward J. Snowden, expertly summarized and analyzed by his collaborator Glenn Greenwald in his new book, ” No Place to Hide.”

The documents unveil a remarkable project to expose to state scrutiny vital information about every person who falls within the grasp of the colossus – in principle, every person linked to the modern electronic society.

Nothing so ambitious was imagined by the dystopian prophets of grim totalitarian worlds ahead.

It is of no slight import that the project is being executed in one of the freest countries in the world, and in radical violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, which protects citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” and guarantees the privacy of their “persons, houses, papers and effects.”

Much as government lawyers may try, there is no way to reconcile these principles with the assault on the population revealed in the Snowden documents.

It is also well to remember that defense of the fundamental right to privacy helped to spark the American Revolution. In the 18th century, the tyrant was the British government, which claimed the right to intrude freely into the homes and personal lives of American colonists. Today it is American citizens’ own government that arrogates to itself this authority…

[continues at Alternet]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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27 Comments on "Noam Chomsky: A Surveillance State Beyond Imagination Is Being Created in One of the World’s Freest Countries"

  1. Rhoid Rager | Jun 11, 2014 at 8:28 am |

    Chomsky opened the door to anarchism for me. I’ve learned so much from his political writings over the years, as they are largely informed by classical [Proudhonian] anarchism. However, the statement he recently made about the Fed, and central banks printing money in general, being ‘insignificant’ is a major oversight on his part. It seems like he’s discarding piecemeal the critique of the right wing ‘anarcho’-capitalist libertardians in favour of his syndicalist approach to understanding revolution. This view now of the growing surveillance state is also a rather distracted view from a more systemic perspective that would seem to flow from well-studied anarchism. If he can’t incorporate interest-bearing money as a social technology skillfully-imposed on the masses into his understanding of developing state power, then I believe he is missing the forest for the trees.

    • emperorreagan | Jun 11, 2014 at 9:28 am |

      Chomsky was my introduction to anarchism, too.

      I’m actually just now starting to read some of the classic, more important work – I just picked up Direct Struggle Against Capital – the recent Peter Kropotkin anthology from AK Press – to get a feel for him beyond the quotes.

      • Rhoid Rager | Jun 11, 2014 at 9:46 am |

        Iain McKay’s book. There were rumblings on the anarchist academics listserv, and it’s good from what I hear. I haven’t read it, myself. I always enjoy classical Kropotkin–by far my most famous anarchist thinker and one who has given me more insight on the world than any other human. Brian Morris wrote a really good synopsis of his life and thinking with Kropotkin: The Politics of Community. Morris is an anthropologist and rightly sung Kropotkin’s praises in that volume.

      • misinformation | Jun 12, 2014 at 1:13 am |

        James Corbett has started a series called, ‘The Well-Read Anarchist’. Not many posts so far and, to be honest, a bit dry – he’s actually reading these thinkers. His aim seems to be to go over the whole swath of anarchist thought.

        After the intro, he starts with, “An Introduction to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.”

        Just throwing it out there:

        • Rhoid Rager | Jun 12, 2014 at 3:58 pm |

          Yeah, I’ve noticed Corbett’s work over the years. His 9/11 viral video was entertaining. I never appreciated his constitutionalist/libertardian stance, so it’s nice to see that his thinking has finally evolved to embrace social anarchism. Many others, who usually take direct action in protests–such as forming black blocs–began as anarchists and undertook the risks of confronting the police. Anarchism was their default, moral commitment, and they developed their philosophical view on life from their practical application of it everyday through collective community projects and unmediated, direct actions.

          While I welcome Corbett’s recent contribution to opening minds to anarchism through classical theory, I hope he shows due care to anarchists on the front lines of struggle and resists the temptation to push a purist model (such as through syndicalism) that may be exclusionary of any other forms of resistance.

          • misinformation | Jun 12, 2014 at 11:37 pm |

            I value Corbett for his news analysis. I believe he presents an in-depth, well-researched, nuanced view of the ‘news’.

            I’m not sure exactly what a ‘constitutional/libertardian stance’ is, but I’ll take a crack at responding. I doubt very much that Corbett is a ‘constitutionalist’. I assume you’re talking about the U.S. Constitution, of which, he openly derides and does not buy into scribbles on paper nor edicts on high as a source for law or ‘rights’. He’s no stranger to Lysander Spooner’s, ‘The Constitution of No Authority’. Even if this wasn’t his stance, the fact that he is a Canadian living in Japan would make the whole constitutionalist thing a bit of a stretch.

            As for ‘libertardian’, I suppose I could make a guess at what you mean. I must admit though, this seems to be a bit weak, not to mention fallacious. I generally get something useful or at least, not off-putting, from your post but, the use of this term is a bit silly, don’t you think? What does it even mean? By saying it, do you feel you’ve summed up the philosophy of James Corbett? Doesn’t the fact that Thomas Jefferson, Glenn Beck and Bill Maher, all identifying as ‘libertarian’ show that to self-proclaim as or deride because of [the term only], is all a bit silly?

            I don’t claim to know much of anything about historical anarchy. I’m only several short years from understanding that it isn’t youths with balaclavas throwing bricks through windows. I’ve only begun my study and only have limited time to devote to it.However, I’m not sure that, just because Corbett has started his series with Proudhon, he is going in a direction you’d like to see. Corbett identifies as a Voluntaryist. To me, the fact that he is versed in and willing to go over the proverbial cannon, whether he agrees with it all or not, is a testimony to his value, imo.

          • Rhoid Rager | Jun 12, 2014 at 11:59 pm |

            i used the ‘constitutionalist/libertardian’ moniker, because he mentioned once being of that persuasion on the very intro to the podcast you sent me. and the ‘Libertardian’ epithet is meant for the people who think ‘markets’ will solve everything; hence the ‘tardian’ suffix.

            Anyways, i just want to reiterate and emphasize that i’m glad he’s focusing on classical anarchist ideas. as a fellow anarchist from canada residing in japan, he’s got a friend if he ever makes it to yamanashi.

          • misinformation | Jun 13, 2014 at 12:39 am |

            Thanks for clarifying.

            Japan – the land of expat, Canadian anarchists. Who would’ve known? All in the name of battling their demographic winter, perhaps?

          • Rhoid Rager | Jun 13, 2014 at 12:55 am |

            winter is getting less pleasant here in the mountains owing to climate change. god help us all.

          • As of last Sunday, there was still ice on Lake Superior.

            In the past ~90 days I’ve observed a complete blowout of the SF Bay Area microclimates, followed weeks later by a 23 degree temperature difference within City limits.

            I didn’t know about Weather Underground until about ~8-10 years ago. But Dylan kinda covered that one already.

    • misinformation | Jun 12, 2014 at 1:08 am |

      Not only the Fed, but his ‘blindspots’ on the Kennedy assassination and 9/11, among other things, is, well, head scratching to put it mildly.

  2. HowardBrazee | Jun 11, 2014 at 9:47 am |

    As much as I dislike Big Brother (and its million little brothers) watching me, I’m willing to allow it only if it meant that our rulers couldn’t hide their actions from the voters. The surveillance state is backwards – the state should be working for the nation, and the nation is the people, not the rulers.

    • Jin The Ninja | Jun 11, 2014 at 10:02 am |

      ” our rulers couldn’t hide their actions from the voters.”

      re-read that citation.

      ‘rulers vs voters.’
      how about free people
      in a democracy
      that govern themselves

      without the trappings of

      republicanism or imperialism.
      free of nations, kings, and capitalism.
      free of poisoned, water, food, air.
      no room for a surveillance state

      in that paradigm.

      • InfvoCuernos | Jun 11, 2014 at 5:40 pm |

        I prefer that “benevolent and kind” be placed before the term “rulers”-it isn’t true in the least, but it makes me feel more historically accurate in my role as a peasant.

  3. Simon Valentine | Jun 11, 2014 at 12:37 pm |

    stop talking about me, gnome

  4. BuzzCoastin | Jun 11, 2014 at 12:50 pm |

    the spying has been intensifying with technological evolution
    and the internet is only the latest means of collecting meta data
    Homelanders are already well tracked:
    birth certificate
    social security national ID number
    school records
    school loans
    draft registration
    drivers licence
    vehicle registration
    credit cards & reports
    bank records
    tax records
    mailing address
    shopper rewards programs
    phone call records
    and now… the internet

  5. As always, there’s no allusion to “leftie” Chomsky’s scandalous loyalty to the U.S. empire. Repeatedly dismissing government conspiracy claims and endorsing Obama in 2012.

    Similarly with: Sir Bob Geldof, the late Nelson Mandela and Tony Benn; these traitors’ great reputations, are exasperatingly set in stone for ever more.

    • Jin The Ninja | Jun 12, 2014 at 11:20 am |

      not defending his record, but as a syndicalist, noam has always insisted that within the paradigm of voting that exists currently, the smallest victories, whatever small benefit to workers and the working class a candidate may give- that candidate should be supported. he has stated voting changes nothing since the 1970s. only that we should support the working classes using whatever means we have available.

  6. The US is one of the worlds most free countries Hmm…this is news to me.

    I would argue that it is one of the worlds most dillusional or ignorant or in denial countries, but not rhe most free. The american people are like a rat in a cage that is convinced he is free and doesnt know he is in a cage but really he is only free to do whatever the controller of the cage allows him to do and with in the parameters made by whoever designed and built the cage.

  7. heinrich6666 | Jun 12, 2014 at 6:06 am |

    Chomsky’s criticisms of American imperialism are, broadly speaking, useful and accurate. But he has always seemed to me to be committed unconsciously to a certain kind of American nationalism, mainly by being wedded to a specifically American form of leftism. When it comes to his historical analyses, for example, of JFK, it is more important for Chomsky to see the US gov’t at one seamless imperialistic fabric, which blinds him to the idea of the JFK murder being an inside coup. Likewise with 9/11, Chomsky keeps the almost theological view that 9/11 was blowback for America’s sins abroad. This counter-tendency to want to see America punished and to view its government not as a set of violent factions devouring each other like rats, but as a single great Evil Empire — this is specifically American and comes out of a leftism fighting to survive from within America, rather than one able to view America calmly, objectively from without.

  8. heinrich6666 | Jun 13, 2014 at 10:34 am |

    On the contrary, while his logic is superficially convincing, it’s actually more akin that described by Freud in the story of the broken kettle. Chomsky insists that it’s *impossible* that 9/11 could have been an inside job, and even if it were, it would be totally *irrelevant*. It’s the second part that defies belief and is the clue that he’s simply emotionally wedded to the first part. After all, it’s fairly breathtaking to deny the obvious social, legal, and historical importance of there being someone other than Al Qaeda behind the 911 event, just as with any major historical event. Chomsky does the same sort of thing with JFK. Left-leaning political thinkers tend to prefer to see history in terms of movements. Chomsky refuses to consider evidence that Kennedy was not a dyed-in-the-wool imperialist because he’d rather see the US as a monolithic force. Likewise, the ‘blowback’ thesis of 9/11 is one of a monolithic response to a monolithic force a la the ‘clash of civilizations’.

    • I strongly agree with almost all that you’ve said, but regarding JFK & 9/11 in the above video, imo Chomsky sounds more a shill defector than a rabid, vengeful, subversive.

      • heinrich6666 | Jun 14, 2014 at 2:13 am |

        He isn’t much of a subversive in my view. His criticisms of imperialism are good, but most amount to just a rigorous application of the golden rule. For example, as a Jew, he at least has the temerity to criticize Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, which he should get credit for. But if you scratch the paint — I agree with you — he’s a shill in all sorts of bizarre, unpredictable ways. He’ll defend the existence of the Federal Reserve. He’ll endorse Obama. He’ll toe the party line on 9/11, JFK, etc. In the end, he’s more or less the stereotype of an academic leftist. He’s anti-American — but not so anti-American that he’s willing to abandon key assumptions of the American national fantasy, e.g. the gov’t ‘would never kill 3000 of its own people’. It’s all because, I suppose, when you’re invested in opposing a certain narrative, you don’t want that narrative ever to be shown a complete illusion because it makes you look like a fool. Same with shows like “The Daily Show”. People think the show is subversive, but all it is, is a show that takes clips from the mainstream media and makes fun of them. So it’s really just a part of/within the mainstream narrative. Likewise with Chomsky. His ‘anti-American’ leftism is so dependent on a certain American mainstream narrative, he’d be nothing without it.

        • oO(Finally, someone who sees The Daily Show for what it is.)

          I think that shrewd, poignant, analysis, merits an article in its own right.

  9. heinrich6666 | Jun 13, 2014 at 10:45 am |

    I’d say also that this (naive) idea that everything always leaks, that covert ops are never undertaken successfully because they’re too ‘unpredictable’, that corrupt people in power would have to be ‘insane’ to try anything like it and therefore don’t — these all expose Chomsky’s Ivory Tower existence. Also, likening the collapse of Building 7 to just another laboratory experiment anomaly… The whole presentation here is so flawed (‘Even if it’s true, who cares’) it’s fairly stomach-turning.

  10. Jin The Ninja | Jun 14, 2014 at 2:58 pm |

    notice he called it the ‘lesser of two evils’- i think he’d agree evil is still evil. like i mentioned, if there are any policies that even slightly aide the working class, noam as a syndicalist, would support that policy- even if it meant supporting a candidate you dislike. i don’t agree with that tactic, i think voting is a bullshit con, but at least he’s consistent in syndicalism. but no one is ideologically pure.

    so thus far, i pretty much agree- except in the fact that obama has committed/vindicated ‘ countless betrayals’- no he’s acted like the good like puppet he was always going to be. the only people he ‘betrayed’ were pseudo- progressives who are so blinded by the american dream, petty nationalism, and prosperity that they sold their integrity to a party backed by the overlords.

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