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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

 
When a superpower loses it

by digby

In this must-read from James Fallows he picks up on a column over the week-end by academic John Naughton which lays out one of the major ramifications of our surveillance overkill: the fact that the rest of the world is no longer going to trust American internet companies to guard their data. I don't think we understand quite yet how that's going to play out but it isn't good. The concept of the free internet is at stake and our government pretty much ran around like a bunch of cowboys without considering the fallout of their own parochial, paranoid needs of the moment.

He concludes:
The real threat from terrorism has never been the damage it does directly, even through attacks as horrific as those on 9/11. The more serious threat comes from the over-reaction, the collective insanity or the simple loss of perspective, that an attack evokes. Our government's ambition to do everything possible to keep us "safe" has put us at jeopardy in other ways.

One more note: it is also worth emphasizing that this damage was not done by Edward Snowden, except in an incidental and instrumental sense. The damage comes from the policies themselves, just as the lasting damage from Abu Ghraib came not from the leaked photos but from the abuse they portrayed. [My emphasis. And thank you James Fallows, for saying it.]

What governments do eventually becomes known. Eventual disclosure is likely when a program involves even a handful of people. (Latest case in point: Seal Team Six.) It is certain when an effort stretches over many years, entails contracts worth billions of dollars, and requires the efforts of tens of thousands of people -- any one of whom, as we've seen from Snowden, may at any point decide to tell what he knows.

In launching such an effort, a government must assume as a given that what it is doing will become known, and then calculate whether it will still seem "worthwhile" when it does. Based on what we've seen so far, Prism would have failed that test.

So much of our government's reaction to 9/11 can be summed up with one image of our president at the time, standing on the rubble of the World Trade Center with a bullhorn, promising retribution. I realize that was very satisfying to many people. It's human. And maybe the nation needed to hear it.

But the irrational decision to invade Iraq dispelled any notion I had that this was merely a performance and that a more thoughtful, considered analysis of how to respond was taking place in the corridors of power. All the literature on the decision process since then has born that out. Some, like Cheney and Wolfowitz, were always crazy and saw their opportunity to advance their crazy cause. Others were just afraid either of the terrorists or being blamed if another terrorist attack took place. The result was that our government lost its collective mind. And it took on an ethos within its national security apparatus that institutionalized that insanity.

So here we are, 12 years later with what looks to me like a runaway surveillance operation run by a power mongering General (not to mention the various CIA operations and Dirty Wars) --- and all of it blessed by a Democratic president. We're not getting any saner. And the blowback hasn't even really begun yet.

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