It’s purely a coincidence that my girlfriend is reading 1984 just now, but she reports that it is sometimes difficult to remember whether news items are real or from the story.
Today comes another such item. The governments of the US and the UK grow ever more desperate and heavy-handed in their attempts to prevent us from knowing how much they know about us and what they’re doing with that information. There’s the thuggish act of forcing the plane carrying the Bolivian president to land and searching it in hopes of finding Snowden, Obama’s statement that he wouldn’t scramble jets to catch Snowden turning out to have the same truth value as everything else he’s said about the Total Information Awareness apparatus. Then there’s the lawless might-makes-right holding of Glenn Greenwald’s partner at Heathrow airport, the theft of his electronic equipment, and the forcible extraction of his passwords. If Russia or China or even France did something even half as provocative, something that equivalently thumbed its nose at international standards, Americans would be outraged and we’d hear calls to bomb the offenders back to the Stone Age where something about their culture proves they belong.
One thing you have to say about such actions is that they aren’t subtle. Clearly they aren’t meant to be; the so-called intelligence community is trying to send a message. And that message is arriving, but it’s not meeting a receptive audience. So they figure, like all operations based on some type of force, that what’s needed is more force.
However, the force needs at a minimum to be credible. Today’s ham-handed attempt doesn’t give much support to those who claim that the excellence of the intelligence community’s product justifies the constant intrusions into our privacy.
Britain’s Independent newspaper today published an article about a secret internet-monitoring station in the Middle East intercepting vast quantities of communications traffic. The paper claimed to base this report on documents obtained from Edward Snowden. This would constitute exactly the sort of information release various government sources have warned us would be detrimental to our collective safety.
So are you surprised to learn that in fact those documents did not come from Edward Snowden? He has already communicated with Greenwald to disavow any communication or interaction with the Independent or any reporter having contact with that organization, and the Guardian has published Snowden’s statement. Either the Independent has published false reports, or those government documents have been shown to them by sources other than Snowden and the reporters working with him. The only entities with access to that information are the Metropolitan police, who confiscated the electronic equipment of David Miranda, Greenwald’s partner, and the British government.
Roll this around in your head for a moment. The British government must be directly involved because the police would not act on their own in a matter involving state secrets. Thus the UK government has planted a story in the UK press attempting to discredit reporting done by the Guardian and Greenwald (with others, primarily Barton Gellman at the Washington Post). This planted story is transparently false, so anyone for whom fact and evidence are important will immediately know the truth, and in addition will realize that the government is promoting a falsehood. But for many citizens evidence consists of stories that support their beliefs supplied to them by a media source which they can cite as if it were credible, viz. Limbaugh’s Dittoheads. This subset of the population — Altemeyer’s Right-Wing Authoritarians or RWAs — tends to be easily aroused to anger or fear, and a story such as this one will undoubtedly leave many in the UK believing there’s evidence Snowden has already leaked dangerous information, just as many Americans still believe proof was found that Saddam had WMDs.
The British government, in other words, is directly and openly propagandizing its constituents, employing transparent falsehoods to convince the most fearful and least thoughtful citizens that total surveillance is a development devoutly to be hoped for. The rest of the citizenry can hardly help but feel left out, and even targeted.