On U.S. Independence Day on July 4 the symbol of American democracy, the Statue of Liberty, was reopened to visitors. If it had not been a gift from France to the American people, then the sculpture, which was designed by a French architect, cast from Russian copper and placed on a pedestal made of German cement, could symbolize not only democracy, but the Americans' knack for living off of others' brains and others' resources. But a gift is a gift. Its full title is «Liberty Enlightening the World».
In a speech at the opening ceremony, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, «Lady Liberty, who has welcomed all who yearn to breathe free… is at the heart of what America really is all about. It's an opportunity to remind ourselves of how lucky we are to have ourselves, our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents come here so that we could have all of the opportunities that the most wonderful country in the world provides».
Those in attendance got teary-eyed; not everyone is lucky enough to be an American!
A holiday is always nice. But recently in America the word «liberty» has more and more often been linked with problems. Last year, as if to foretell a political storm, the «world-enlightening» statue took a beating from Hurricane Sandy. And this year the image of American democracy has taken a beating from Edward Snowden, a former employee of the National Security Agency. The young man decided to show those «who yearn to breathe free» just what «the most wonderful country in the world» really is.
Snowden can hardly be called a pioneer in this area. As early as 1960 three NSA specialists defected to the USSR and told the world that the U.S. was monitoring communication lines around the world, listening to telephone conversations and intercepting coded messages from the military and political agencies of dozens of countries. And not only Warsaw Pact countries, that is, potential adversaries, but U.S. allies from NATO as well. And three years later another defector revealed the secret that American intelligence was monitoring the communications of the UN headquarters in New York, eavesdropping on the diplomatic missions of member countries of this respected international organization, reading their correspondence and collecting information from the telephone cable. Of course, this didn't surprise anyone. War is war. Even if it's a cold war. So America's allies sucked it up and kept quiet.
So what was Snowden expecting when he told Guardian journalist Glen Greenwald the soul-rending story of how the U.S. is spying on its enemies and its friends using technology which has advanced a long way since the scandals of fifty years ago? How naive he was! Just a few days after the publication of Snowden's whistle-blowing interviews in the Guardian, the world media was more interested in whether or not Russia would hand him over to America and whether he would make it to Latin America or get stranded in the airport in Moscow with no passport and no money. And hardly anyone remembers just what this hullabaloo is all about.
The fact that U.S. agencies use technology to conduct surveillance on their own citizens who are suspected of espionage or other illegal activities is no surprise to anyone. As early as 1978, during the Carter administration, the U.S. Congress passed the so-called Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which defined the procedure for collecting information about Americans who maintained contact with foreign intelligence agents and members of foreign non-governmental organizations whose activities were considered «hostile» to America. In 2001 this document was supplemented by the U.S. Patriot Act, and in 2008 by the Protect America Act; these acts focused on countering organizations which use terrorism as a means of achieving their political goals.
There was nothing supernatural about that, it would seem. A nation has a right to defend itself against foreign interference and sabotage. But there is one «but»… FISA was not passed because American intelligence was concerned about an increase in the activities of foreign intelligence agencies in the U.S. in 1978, but because the American intelligence agencies had themselves been caught red-handed helping Richard Nixon conduct surveillance on groups of political and social activists during his election campaign, in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (the so-called Watergate scandal). It was then that Congress decided to place the activities of intelligence agencies under the control of the legislative and judicial branches of power, using the «fight against foreign forces» as a pretext.
According to FISA requirements, intelligence agencies were thereafter obligated to receive permission from a specially created court (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) to conduct surveillance on a U.S. citizen within 72 hours of that citizen coming into their field of view according to precisely prescribed criteria for detecting espionage or sabotage activities. If intelligence agencies did not comply with these conditions, the guilty parties were subject to criminal prosecution for violating the U.S. Constitution.
And everything would be fine if it hadn't been for the 9/11 terrorist attack and the subsequent hysteria launched by the Bush administration about American intelligence «having its hands tied» and not being able to effectively fight against the Islamists. In that atmosphere of horror and general suspicion, the neoconservatives were able to convince the American public of the necessity of voluntarily accepting limitations on their rights and freedoms, which were formalized in 2001, 2006 and 2007 by the Patriot Act, the Terrorist Surveillance Act and the Protect America Act, which, in particular, allowed American intelligence agencies to monitor the contacts of any U.S. citizen with foreigners via electronic communication systems without any authorization if a suspicion arises that he is involved in the planning of a terrorist attack.
The tragedy of America, about which Edward Snowden tried to tell the world, is that as a result of America's hysterical war on «international terrorism», no intelligence agency of even the most totalitarian state has thought of declaring all its own country's citizens suspects and establishing total surveillance over the entire nation as the CIA and NSA have done in «the most wonderful country in the world».
After all, what is the collection of metadata from all electronic communication systems, including social networks on the Internet? It means that U.S. intelligence agencies are monitoring who each American communicates with and when, regardless of the character of the communication and whether or not it is a threat to U.S. security.
Imagine for a moment that American intelligence suspects the author of these lines of belonging to some organization considered hostile to America. He has accounts in various social networks, and somehow attracts the interest of a U.S. citizen who, like the author, enjoys, for example, growing roses or hydrangeas. Correspondence begins between us, an exchange of «botanical experience». And what happens then?
Then this person, who is lucky enough to be an American, is singled out by the electronic robots of, let's say, Facebook as a contact of a potential foreign terrorist. And this American ends up in the database of the NSA, the FBI and the CIA as an «unreliable citizen» for at least a year. And while the intelligence agencies look into the character of his contact with the foreigner (if they ever do, considering the huge volume of this database), the unfortunate American will be deprived of the opportunity for promotion in any state agency if he is a public servant; he will not be hired for any position connected with defense contracts if he is, for example, an engineer or a manager; and he will not be accepted at a prestigious university if he is a scientist or an instructor. To say nothing of the fact that his rights will be violated simply because the government will be monitoring his private life: who he contacts, where he goes and what he buys.
And the U.S. citizen himself will have no idea why he is having such a streak of bad luck. His fate is in the «hands» of an electronic program which mindlessly conducts Internet searches for the addresses, names and words used in correspondence which some NSA programmer decided to use as signs that the addressee is a «terrorist» or a «spy».
Isn't American democracy grand? The land of «equal opportunity»! A land which has declared a crusade against totalitarianism! A land which has bestowed on itself the right to «bring democracy» to other nations «by fire and sword».
Incidentally, when reading the provisions of American legislation on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, you involuntarily find yourself thinking that something like this has happened before. And the word «troika» comes to mind. The same «troika» which during the absolute power of the NKVD and the OGPU decided without a trial which Soviet citizens were «foreign spies» and which were «saboteurs» solely on the basis of counterintelligence operational data. And no one could verify whether these counterintelligence data were true or whether they were made up by zealous agents.
The activities of the American Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court are shrouded in the same mystery. No one – neither Congress nor the Supreme Court – can verify the basis on which the eleven judges who sit in the U.S. Department of Justice authorize intelligence agencies to monitor a U.S. citizen and restrict his rights.
The judges only report how many applications from intelligence agencies for such authorization they have considered, but no one is allowed to see the documents submitted by the intelligence agencies. Ever.
That is what Edward Snowden wanted to warn Americans about, defending their constitutional rights.
Will America hear him? Let's hope so. Because, judging by everything, it is high time the Americans renovated not the Statue of Liberty, not a sculpture which stands as a reminder of the American dream, but American democracy itself if they want it to «enlighten the world» and not turn into a mockery and a threat to that world, even to U.S. partners in NATO.
By the way, about America's offended allies.
It's obvious that Snowden's revelations did not go unnoticed by European leaders, who along with rank-and-file U.S. citizens have ended up under CIA and NSA surveillance. Naturally, the capitals of the European Union expressed their bewilderment, as explaining the eavesdropping of American intelligence agencies on EU leaders as part of the war on international terrorism is going a bit far.
But somehow Snowden's information that the States share their data from eavesdropping and electronic monitoring with Great Britain has quietly slipped from the view of the European public.
Well, the fact that Washington and London have always worked as a team is no news. But in this case it is worth noting one interesting circumstance. The United Kingdom – United States of America Agreement (abbreviated UKUSA) on sharing intelligence data was signed in March 1946. But later three more countries, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, joined. Thus there is reason to believe that the information the NSA obtained in Paris, Rome, Berlin or Brussels has ended up not only in London, but in Ottawa, Canberra and Wellington as well.
Thus, Edward Snowden has presented sufficient evidence that the alliance of Anglo-Saxon countries is engaging in total political and economic espionage, including against its NATO allies. And that is one more proof that the Anglo-Saxons are building their own empire, in which the Germans, the French and other Europeans are to be relegated to the role of satellites, not equal partners.
Especially alarming is the fact that behind the activities of these countries' intelligence agencies lie the interests of private capital, which is not answerable to their governments or parliaments. Europeans should note that the company Booz Allen Hamilton, at which Snowden worked and which has a contract with the NSA for total electronic monitoring, is a subsidiary of the Carlyle Group.
This group, well known in the defense industry and military electronics fields, has close ties with the family of two U.S. presidents, Bush, Sr. and Bush, Jr., as well as their circle of American hawks, former high-ranking intelligence and State Department officials in Republican administrations. It is these people who have turned the Middle East into a zone of war and conflict for decades to come. It is they who profess the idea of America's exceptionality and the right of the U.S. to rule the entire world. And by some strange coincidence, it was in the Carlyle Group that the family of Osama bin Laden, whose name has become a bogeyman to the Americans who have voluntarily given up their freedom in the name of the war on «international terrorism», invested their money.
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The American Statue of Liberty is trampling broken shackles under one foot, which symbolizes the victory Americans once won over slavery. But now the descendants of those who came to America to «breathe free» are forging new bonds for the world. Invisible ones, and therefore more secure. They will be difficult to break. It's simpler to stop the new smiths of «American happiness» now, before it's too late.