There are two “democracies” where the secret state within the state is pulling the strings of politicians so hard that their movements resemble those of puppets. The hidden apparatus is so powerful that to challenge it is to court accusations tantamount to treason.
We refer, of course, to the United States and Britain, where yesterday the prime minister issued a veiled threat against the Guardian for continuing to publish articles based on material supplied by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
In Washington, meanwhile, Barack Obama’s spokesman convinced no one with his denial of the president’s prior knowledge of the National Security Agency’s bugging of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile for more than a decade. Somewhere, someone surely has a “smoking gun” email which says the opposite?
The reality is that neither the NSA nor GCHQ are dependent on political approval for their insidious activities. Quite the opposite, both are fiefdoms of the inner state, that part which is hidden below the waterline and which, like icebergs, can seriously damage your health.
That’s why prime minister Cameron is determined to keep a lid on GCHQ’s activities. Yesterday he warned MPS of the dangers of a "lah-di-dah, airy-fairy view" about the dangers of leaks, and warned that if the Guardian didn’t “demonstrate some social responsibility it would be very difficult for government to stand back and not to act." Naturally, that other poodle, one Ed Miliband, rushed to praise the work of “our intelligence services”, adding: “It is vital, it keeps us safe and, by its very nature, it goes unrecognised.”
But this deception won’t wash. The stories that the Guardian have extracted from Snowden’s files show the methods and scope of the NSA/GCHQ’s activities. It was long believed that these agencies were intercepting emails and phone, breaking into the back door of internet providers when necessary. Snowden provided chapter and verse rather than revealing names of any secret agents or stuff like that.
The truth is that a comprehensive surveillance state has been established behind our backs through agencies that act with impunity. At the weekend, the Guardian revealed how GCHQ feared a "damaging public debate" on the scale of its activities because it could lead to legal challenges.
Memos in the Snowden files, for example, showed how GCHQ and the other spy agencies have thwarted plans supported by the three main parties to make intercept evidence admissible as evidence in criminal trials. The report also revealed how GCHQ helped the Home Office to find “sympathetic” people to help with “press handling”.
Surprise, surprise they included Liberal Democrat peer and former intelligence services commissioner Lord Carlile. Last week, right on cue, he criticised the Guardian’s coverage of Snowden’s material.
Meanwhile, in the US, the Washington Post is sceptical of the claim that Obama did not know about the bugging of foreign leaders. Opinion writer Eugene Robinson says: “Either somebody’s lying or Obama needs to acknowledge that the NSA, in its quest for omniscience beyond anything Orwell could have imagined, is simply out of control.”
Either way, the revelations by Chelsea Manning, when he was as an army private known as Bradley Manning, and then Snowden, have angered millions in Europe and America and thrown governments into disarray. In a perceptive article for the US journal Foreign Affairs, Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore dismiss the so-called threat to national security and instead talk of the "collapse of hyprocisy" in the US. They add:
This system needs the lubricating oil of hypocrisy to keep its gears turning. To ensure that the world order continues to be seen as legitimate, US officials must regularly promote and claim fealty to its core liberal principles; the United States cannot impose its hegemony through force alone. But as the recent leaks have shown, Washington is also unable to consistently abide by the values that it trumpets. This disconnect creates the risk that other states might decide that the US-led order is fundamentally illegitimate.
Exactly! Calls for better “oversight” of GCQH and the NSA miss the point. The sponsoring states, as the authors point out, have a “dangerous dependence on doublespeak”. When that cover is blown, as it has been, the case for creating an alternative, democratic political system, where surveillance of the kind we have know, is banned can only grow.