Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Kafka's nightmare goes global

We are all potential “terrorists” now, at least in the eyes of the state. Why else would the police want to stop 61,000 people at entry points into Britain during the last year under the infamous schedule 7 of the anti-terror laws of 2000.

That’s the equivalent of the population of the town of Lowestoft or a full stadium when Arsenal play at home. This amounts to state intimidation on a scale that the notorious Stasi of East Germany or the KGB of the former Soviet Union would salute.

There’s no other explanation for the detention of David Miranda, a Brazilian citizen whose only “crime” was to be the partner of and assistant to Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who has helped publicise the material leaked by US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Miranda says he was forced to hand over passwords and other information while at Heathrow or face arrest. All his electronic equipment was confiscated by the police, who got clearance from Downing Street for their action. And no doubt the ConDems told the American authorities, who have plans to put Snowden in jail.

Snowden’s “crime”? To reveal that the National Security Agency had created an unlawful, secret surveillance programme on a scale so immense that it put everyone under suspicion. And, naturally, the British end of the operation, GCHQ at Cheltenham, collaborated all the way.

To imply that revealing this is tantamount to an “act of terrorism”, as the US and British authorities do, is to create a world where the state can make anything a crime at the stroke of a pen. In Franz Kafka’s frightening novel The Trial, a man is arrested by an inaccessible authority and is never able to establish the nature of the charges.

Nearly 90 years after the book’s publication, Kafka’s nightmare has gone global.

Thus The Guardian was visited by no less an eminence than the cabinet secretary himself. Sir Jeremy Heywood was despatched by David Cameron and Nick Clegg to instruct the newspaper to hand over computer files containing Snowden’s leaked material.

Since when has the country’s most senior civil servant been a messenger boy for the secret state? After the newspaper refused, two spooks from GCHQ oversaw the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian’s basement.

Where’s the outcry? Who will protect our liberties? Labour? Parliament? You must be joking. Labour enacted the very legislation used to hold Miranda and the other 61,000. Blair’s governments created a surveillance state framework that the ConDems are busily using.

So not a peep from Ed Miliband about freedom of the press. As for parliament, its committee charged with intelligence oversight is, as libertarian Simon Jenkins puts it, “a charade, a patsy of the secrecy lobby”. The very same committee, you will recall, recently announced that GCHQ was not breaking the law in spying on our communications.

In any case, oversight is an over-used term. In the US, Congressional committees charged with checking on the NSA were repeatedly lied to or misled. They couldn’t get to the bottom of things even if they wanted to. That was one of the reasons that prompted Snowden to blow the whistle on the secret Prism programme.

The emergence of secret, unaccountable, security-surveillance states on both sides of the Atlantic over the last two decades is part of a wider process of change in the way we are ruled. Corporate-driven globalisation has resulted in a market-oriented state that in turn has lost legitimacy in the eyes of large numbers of people, particularly since the global crisis that began in 2007.

Like all states, the capitalist type needs constant justification for its raison d’être. An elusive external enemy that their policies helped create and which can never be defeated – aka global terrorism – answers the need.

And at the same time it creates the perfect cover for spying on dissent of any kind. The state’s claims to be protecting us are therefore useless as well as spurious. What we should ask is: who will protect us from the state?

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

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