I possess an enameled tray that holds five flash drives containing two sets of the texts of my columns, the texts and artwork of my books, and photos and other images. One set is my primary source, the other is a backup. I don't trust my computer or the power not to fail at some critical juncture in the future. For the same reason, I periodically backup my computer on an external drive to preserve its operating systems and other software as a failsafe against my computer being zapped by a lightning strike, overwhelmed by a power surge, or invaded by a hacker (government or freelance) to introduce a killer virus.
Of all the likelihoods in the current political atmosphere, the last one is more credible.
Oh, yes, the government is just as capable as a punk hacker of infecting one's computer through unlawful entry. In the government's case, if you've been targeted for special attention and monitoring because the term "Islam" or "patriot" or "individual rights" occurs repeatedly in your correspondence (red-flagging, it's called), and wants to haul you into court, it can plant the incriminating evidence in your computer and you won't know it until it's too late and you're being led away in handcuffs and a federal prosecutor presents the "evidence" at your arraignment.
However, on the tray of flash drives has been reproduced Eugène Delacroix's "Liberty Leading the People." I have been contemplating it a lot, lately. That image never fails to make me smile. I can always trust it to give me a morale boost.
But I ceased trusting the government many years ago, as I watched it acquire more and more powers over my life and over all other Americans. The revelations of Edward Snowden – traitorously or not – have only underscored that distrust. And I think that many Americans, taking into account the attacks on Snowden as a traitor, as against his being exalted as a true, liberty-loving patriot, have been thrust into a purgatory of doubt and mistrust that can only come about when they have strong, justified suspicions that they are living in a watershed era.
I frankly do not know what to make of Snowden. He remains an enigmatic figure who abruptly emerged from nowhere – in the course of the Benghazi scandals, the IRS scandals, and just the general reckless, authoritarian tenor of the Obama administration – to state that the government, via the National Security Agency (NSA), has been "mining data" from Americans' emails, phone call records, and so on, and has been doing so for years.
One would have expected Snowden to flee to a relatively free political entity, such as Singapore, or Iceland. Instead, he winds up in Hong Kong, a "special administrative" area of the communist/fascist Mainland, which censors the Internet, has millions in its own Gulag, and threatens to invade and conquer Taiwan. Then he pops up in Moscow. He might wind up in communist-controlled Ecuador, or even Castro's Cuba. There are indications that he may be allowed to stay in Russia by a fascist régime headed by an ex-KGB officer.
Combine this information overload with the news about the NSA's $2 billion Bluffdale, Utah facility that is supposed to collect all information on all Americans and all foreign communications traffic here – is there really a cause for concern?
On the other hand, Glenn Greeenwald, Snowden's "handler" of the British newspaper The Guardian, is a committed Marxist dedicated – one might say, working hand-in-hand with Barack Obama – to knocking down America. Kincaid exposes this journalist's political predilections.
And, on another hand, the NSA has been caught fibbing about its alleged exclusive purpose of identifying and tracking down terrorists and wannabe terrorists.
So, Americans are faced with a contradiction. One or the other scenario is true, but not both. Snowden was a Russian or Chinese mole, or a traitor who has damaged the country's national security, or he wasn't either of these things. He is an individual who doesn't want to live in a Big Brother society. But he appears in two countries governed by totalitarian régimes. Go figure.
"Data mining" is a program probably necessitated by the literal prohibition of collecting intelligence on Muslims and on Islamic terrorists. Excuse me if this sounds "simplistic," but if a government agency is charged with protecting Americans from terrorist attacks is banned from focusing on the most likely terrorist candidates, then it must collect information on everyone and hope to identify and catch them that way. Anyone for "Pin the Tail on the Donkey"? Or a round of blind-folded piñata bashing?
There is no way to credibly reconcile the 24/7 invasion of Americans' privacy without restraint or legality and also protect and uphold the entirety of the Bill of Rights.
Focusing on a relatively small handful of suspected terrorists or individuals likely to "go jihad" in this country, would be a comparatively simpler task. But, no, the Obama administration, following the lead of President George "Islam was hijacked" Bush, condones the data mining, because that kind of program meshes nicely with his authoritarian behavior and agenda and virtually exempts Muslims from surveillance.
Would Obama use the NSA data to his own political advantage? Yes. Observe his record. After all, his Department of Justice went after a journalist's phone records, and participated with the IRS in the targeting of Tea Party groups before and during the 2012 election. Must we review all the scandals that have surfaced around the White House since Obama's second inauguration? And the ones that preceded it? Benghazi? Fast and Furious? If you hear something "fishy"? Obama's associations with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and terrorist Bill Ayers? And his whole murky – indeed, opaque – past?
I won’t recount them all here, because the administration's "playbook" is beginning to become as thick as Victor Hugo's opus, Cromwell, which is a very long play with a "cast of hundreds" about an autocrat who would be king if the non-electorate would let him and if he were so inclined. (I blush in apology for putting the literary giant Hugo in the same company as the tin pot Marxist, Obama, but I couldn’t resist the analogy. The play, incidentally, is very good.)
Scott Holleran published a very penetrating article on why we should be grateful to Snowden for his revelations, "Snowden vs. Fascism."
The fascist state, and that is what America is becoming, is rising based on the false premise – supported by those on the left and right alike – that we must have government control of individual rights in order to protect lives and defend the republic – or, worse in the case of the leftists, to serve the collective and, worst of all, in the case of conservatives, to serve God, tradition and family.
Liberty is not contingent upon security – a proper national defense neither requires nor necessitates surrendering liberty – and individual rights are inalienable, as America’s founders knew and wrote when they created the United States of America.
This is especially important when we learn that Obama has consulted with the envoys of Islamic jihad on how best to "get along" with Islam and jihadists. Steve Emerson's Investigative Project on Terrorism has this to report:
The White House's National Security Council has confirmed that staffers held a June 13 meeting with Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah, an Islamist cleric who shares leadership of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, where he is vice-president and the terror supporter Yusuf al-Qaradawi is president….
'Like many in the global Muslim Brotherhood movement who pose as moderates to the press and to liberal intellectuals by issuing condemnations of al-Qaida,' it read in part, 'Bin Bayyah refuses to label the acts of groups such as Hamas, Hizballah or Palestinian Islamic Jihad as terrorism.'
He has also issued 'an endorsement of the push by Muslim intellectuals to criminalize blasphemy against the Muslim prophet Muhammad and Islam,' the group reported.
So, shall we quote Michael Montaigne about the heroes of Thermopylae and compare Edward Snowden with them?
He who falls obstinate in his courage, if he has fallen, he fights on his knees (Seneca)… The most valiant are sometimes the most unfortunate. Thus there are triumphant defeats that rival victories. Nor did those four sister victories, the fairest that the sun ever set eyes on- Salamis, Plataea, Mycale, and Sicily – ever dare match all their combined glory against the glory of the annihilation of King Leonidas and his men at the pass of Thermopylae.
The question will be answered in future chapters of the Edward Snowden story. Until then, I must defer judgment of the man. He sounds sincere, says the right things, and I feel grateful that he has exposed the duplicity of our government. At the same time, I can't ignore the bizarreness of his travel itinerary and his close association with Glenn Greenwald.
Had the U.S. a rational foreign policy – and I'm including a policy that would hale back to at least the 1950's – these national security issues would never have cropped up. But the fact is that our irrational foreign policies have allowed the U.S. to paint itself into a corner.
I must laugh darkly whenever I hear or read that the U.S. is a "free country," because there is very little freedom left in it. What freedoms we have left exist only by default. Our policies enabled the Soviet Union to exist for decades, from the 1930's onward. Had we let the Germans overrun Russia during WWII, there would have been no "Cold War" that required the creation of a vast intelligence network to combat its espionage and incursions and invasions since the end of that war, because without our unpaid-for assistance, the USSR would have collapsed.
What "data mining" operations it would have pursued would have targeted known enemies of this country, and not "required" the search and seizure of Americans' personal correspondence and activities on the chance that terrorists and terrorist plots might be detected and foiled. (And this data mining failed to red-flag the Boston Marathon bombers, even with Russia's advice that the one Tsarnaev brother was a "person of interest").
The Soviets are gone, but now we are faced with Islam, and our government is now white-washing Islam with the same fervor it white-washed the Soviet Union in the 1930's and during WWII.
It taxes my imagination about how we, who are concerned about our freedom, can extract ourselves from our authoritarian conundrum.
I trust the evidence of my senses and my own mind when it comes to trusting the government and evaluating its commitment to freedom – which, at this point, is virtually nil. In the meantime, I have Delacroix's magnificent painting to serve as a constant, trustworthy reminder of what, someday, we may be forced to emulate in spirit and in action.