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Show this article to anyone that believes that the economy has actually improved under Barack Obama. On Tuesday evening, Barack Obama once again attempted to convince all of us that things have gotten better while he has been in the White House. He quoted a few figures, used some flowery language and made a whole bunch of new promises. And even though he has failed to follow through on his promises time after time, millions upon millions of Americans continue to believe him. In fact, you can find a list of 82 unfulfilled promises from his previous State of the Union addresses right here. Soon we will have even more to add to that collection. At this point, you have to wonder if Obama even believes half the stuff that he is saying. Of course it is extremely unlikely that he is going to come out and admit that he has failed and that he has been lying to us this whole time, but without a doubt the gap between reality and what he is saying to the public is becoming ridiculously huge. To say that his credibility is “strained” would be a massive understatement. No, things have not been getting better in America. In fact, they continue to get even worse. The following are 32 statistics that Obama neglected to mention during the State of the Union address…
#1 According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, only 28 percent of all Americans believe that the country is moving in the right direction.
#2 In 2008, 53 percent of all Americans considered themselves to be “middle class”. In 2014, only 44 percent of all Americans consider themselves to be “middle class”.
#3 In 2008, 25 percent of all Americans in the 18 to 29-year-old age bracket considered themselves to be “lower class”. In 2014, an astounding 49 percent of them do.
#4 Right now there is approximately a billion square feet of vacant retail space in the United States.
#5 There are 46.5 million Americans that are living in poverty, and the poverty rate in America has been at 15 percent or above for 3 consecutive years. That is the first time that has happened since 1965.
#6 Barack Obama says that the unemployment rate has declined to 6.7 percent, but if the labor force participation rate was at the long-term average it would actually be approximately 11.5 percent, and it has stayed at about that level since the end of the last recession.
#7 While Barack Obama has been in the White House, the number of Americans on food stamps has gone from 32 million to 47 million.
#10 While Barack Obama has been in the White House, social benefits as a percentage of real disposable income has risen from about 17 percent to nearly 21 percent.
#11 While Barack Obama has been in the White House, the rate of homeownership in the United States has fallen to levels that we have not seen in nearly two decades.
#12 While Barack Obama has been in the White House, median household income in the United States has fallen for five years in a row.
#13 While Barack Obama has been in the White House, the average cost of a gallon of gasoline has gone from $1.85 to $3.27.
#14 At the end of Barack Obama’s first year in office, our yearly trade deficit with China was 226 billion dollars. Now it is over 300 billion dollars.
#15 Workers are taking home the smallest share of the income pie that has ever been recorded.
#16 Sadly, 1,687,000 fewer Americans have jobs today compared to exactly six years ago even though the population has grown significantly since then.
#17 One recent study found that about 60 percent of the jobs that have been “created” since the end of the last recession pay $13.83 or less an hour.
#18 Only 47 percent of all adults in America have a full-time job at this point.
#19 It is hard to believe, but an astounding 53 percent of all American workers make less than $30,000 a year.
#20 The Obama years have been absolutely brutal for small businesses. According to economist Tim Kane, the following is how the number of startup jobs per 1000 Americans breaks down by presidential administration…
Bush Sr.: 11.3
Bush Jr.: 10.8
#21 You can still buy a house in the city of Detroit for just one dollar.
#22 The U.S. cattle herd is at a 61 year low.
#23 It is being projected that health insurance premiums for healthy 30-year-old men will rise by an average of 260 percent under Obamacare.
#24 According to the most recent numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, an all-time record 49.2 percent of all Americans are receiving benefits from at least one government program each month.
#26 The U.S. national debt is on pace to more than double during the eight years of the Obama administration. In other words, under Barack Obama the U.S. government will accumulate more debt than it did under all of the other presidents in U.S. history combined.
#27 Right now, there are 1.2 million students that attend public schools in the United States that are homeless. That number has risen by 72 percent since the start of the last recession.
#28 Only 35 percent of all Americans say that they are better off financially than they were a year ago.
#29 Only 19 percent of all Americans believe that the job market is better than it was a year ago.
#30 According to a recent CNN poll, 70 percent of all Americans believe that “the economy is generally in poor shape”.
#32 According to another poll that was recently released, 70 percentof all Americans do not have confidence that the government will “make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country in 2014.”
The Kochs have bet big that the earth is doomed. (And Obama is fighting for them to win that bet).
Forbes magazine noted, way back in 2006, that though the Koch brothers – David and Charles – could sell Koch Industries and live happily ever after (on the proceeds from selling what was then the world’s largest private company), Charles, who actually runs the firm, told them straight out, that selling it would be “literally over my dead body.”
In other words: they won’t do that.
What, then, is such an extraordinary business plan, that keeps them from simply retiring as two of the world’s richest people? The answer seems clear:
Petroleum has been their firm’s base, ever since their dad, Fred Koch, started Koch Industries in 1940 (on the proceeds he had earned mainly during 1929-32 from helping Stalin build the Soviet Union’s crucial oil-infrastructure). However, Koch Industries has been diversifying recently. In 2004, they paid $4.2 billion for Dupont’s fibers businesses, including Dacron and much else. Then, in 2005, they paid $21 billion for Georgia-Pacific, the paper and wood-products manufacturer.
But their chief business continues to be petroleum: not just the pipelines to transport it, but increasingly also the raw oil in the ground, and the dirtier the oil the better. They now own two-thirds of the world’s dirtiest oil: Alberta Canada’s tar sands. And they are lobbying and propagandizing heavily for President Obama to allow construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline (which pipeline they would own 25%) in order for that deeply land-locked Canadian oil to be transported to two of their own Texas refineries, which have been especially adapted for the purpose. Not only would they be deriving about $1 billion per year from operating the pipeline, but they would also be marketing the tar sands, two thirds of which are on land that is owned by Koch Industries. That’s the two-thirds of Alberta’s tar sands oil that the Kochs actually own.
However, one of the world’s biggest banks, HSBC, came out with a study, on 25 January 2013, “Oil & Carbon Revisited: Value at Risk from ‘Unburnable’ Reserves,” which reported that in order for this planet to have even as much as a 50% chance of avoiding the climate’s going haywire, “only around 1,000 Gt [Gigatons] or a third of current proven reserves can be ‘burned’.” Furthermore, “Embedded ‘carbon’ in coal is three times the amount bound in oil and over four times that in gas.” This report acknowledged that, “It is clear that reduced usage of coal [whose usage is soaring in China and already causing massive health-problems in Chinese cities] is the key to stabilising and eventually reducing annual carbon emissions. However, we believe that reductions in oil demand … can be delivered more quickly than coal through improvements in transport fuel economy.” In other words: forcing a reduction in oil-use is absolutely essential, in order for our descendants not to lose the planet quickly.
On page 16 of that report was a stunning calculation, titled “Break-evens for selected high-cost oil projects,” and the researchers actually calculated there the price that a barrel of oil would need to fetch on the global market in order for each type of petroleum to be able to be produced without the sellers losing money on that oil. For “Deepwater” projects, it ranged from $49.40 up to $64.00. On “Heavy oil,” it was $54.70. And on “Oil sands” (Alberta’s oil, the dirtiest in the world), it was $75.50.
In other words, the Koch brothers (via their private firm) own two-thirds of the world’s dirtiest petroleum, which consequently is so costly to process, that it becomes utterly worthless at a global per-barrel price of $75.50. All other oil would still be profitable at that price, but not the oil that now constitutes the biggest speculative (and by far the riskiest) portion of the Koch brothers’ (or of Koch Industries’) massive investment portfolio.
Whereas other oil companies have focused on the lowest-cost petroleums to get to market, the Kochs have focused instead on the highest-cost petroleum to get to market. They bought it cheap, because it’s so dirty and land-locked.
Their business-plan (other than diversifying into non-petroleum industries) is simple: Drive their costs to produce their filthy oil down from the existing $75.50 per barrel, in order to make it more competitive (since they own two-thirds of the estimated 874 billion barrels of this stuff).
How can they drive that cost down? Right now, President Barack Obama is negotiating, behind the scenes, through his U.S. Trade Representative, to get Europe to weaken its anti-global-warming standards, so as to enable the world’s dirtiest oil to become more price-competitive.
On 24 September 2013, Kate Sheppard at Huffington Post bannered “Michael Froman, Top U.S. Trade Official, Sides With Tar Sands Advocates,” and she reported that the Obama Administration was threatening Europe with retaliation at the World Trade Organization if Europe didn’t eliminate its distinction between high-CO2 oil and regular oil – between tar-sands-derived oil, and ordinary petroleum. The U.S. Trade Representative told Congress that the issue he had here didn’t concern climate change, but only “inadequate transparency and public participation in the European Commission’s regulatory process.” Then, Sheppard herself asked one of his aides, who simply reiterated that by saying, “The United States shares the EU’s objective of reducing greenhouse gas intensity, but we have raised concerns with respect to inadequate transparency and public participation in the European Commission’s regulatory process.” Sheppard, at least as far as her news report indicated, asked no follow-up question, such as: “‘inadequate’ in what way; and how can you even be talking about that since the issue here is global warming?” So: the President and his Representative have not been confronted publicly on this matter.
Barack Obama’s public statements against global warming were belied by his actions in private, and yet his hirees, such as the U.S. Trade Representative, Michael Froman, formerly a Managing Director of Citigroup, were turning the table and accusing the EU of “inadequate transparency” – as if the future of this planet weren’t the issue, and a vastly more important one.
If President Obama can force Europe to lower their anti-global-warming standards in order to enable the Kochs to export their super-dirty oil to Europe via the Kochs’ Corpus Christi Texas refineries, then a significant portion of the existing cost-disadvantage of the Kochs’ super-dirty oil (as compared to cleaner oil) will be absorbed ultimately by the planet itself, in the form of added global warming. “These refineries have a combined crude oil processing capacity of about 300,000 barrels per day. While one potential purpose of the KXL Pipeline for Koch Industries could be to provide access to Canadian tar sands for its Corpus Christi refineries, this benefit appears relatively insignificant compared to their massive potential profits from producing tar sands crude oil.” (See page 11 there.) In other words: President Obama is negotiating behind the scenes in order to transfer these harms onto everyone else, so that the benefits will go to the Kochs for their having paid dirt-prices for each and every one of the two million acres of tar sands they own. (That’s on page 7.) Consequently, there would be, for the Koch brothers (as stated in the report’s Executive Summary), “$100 billion in potential profits due to KXL.” Their destroying this planet would thus be very profitable for them.
Apparently, this is the business plan that they are so eager to pursue that it’s more attractive to them than simply retiring: Instead of their being each tied with the other as being the6th-wealthiest person on this planet, they’d probably be by far the wealthiest two people of all individuals on Earth. (The report estimates that their joint existing fortune of roughly $80 billion will be enhanced by yet another $100 billion, for a total of $180 billion, or $90 billion apiece.) Apparently, the Kochs are doing this for sheer status. (They couldn’t possibly consume all their wealth even if they wanted to.) It thus seems that their motivation is basically similar to that of their father’s great benefactor, Stalin. His status was based on communist values; theirs is based on fascist values; but the motivation is status, just the same.
And Barack Obama, against whom the Kochs bundled more campaign cash than any other two people, for Mitt Romney and for Republicans in Congress and in the state houses, is fighting against the European Union, in order to assist the Kochs to achieve this, their dream. Perhaps that’s the only thing in this story that doesn’t make sense, but it is certainly the case, up till now. And (if there is another thing that doesn’t make sense) the massively ignorant American public wants them to win.
Obama’s excuse for trying to force Europe to buy the Kochs’ filthy oil might be called ludicrous. However, since this excuse proves that he is a hypocritical liar, and the stakes that are involved here are enormous for the entire world, it is, instead, tragic, if is not outright catastrophic.
Perhaps Obama, too, is chiefly driven by status. Then, all of this insanity on the part of the elite might make sense – in an insane sort of way. Maybe status-addicts are actually the type of people who most tend to rise to the top, anywhere. Hitler, Stalin, Capone, Koch, Obama, Bush: what’s the difference, really, other than their “personality”?
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.
Secretary of State John Kerry said the US stood united with South Korea against the North [AP]
|The United States is to deploy more troops and heavy tanks in South Korea as part of a military rebalance at a time of raised tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Forty M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks, 800 soldiers and 40 Bradley fighting vehicles from the 1st US Cavalry Division will be sent on deployment in February, the Pentagon announced on Wednesday.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted military officials as saying that the new troops and materiel would be deployed in North Gyeonggi Province, just south of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.
The deployment comes at a time of raised tensions on the peninsula after the North’s young leader, Kim Jong-Un, executed his powerful uncle last month, the biggest upheaval inside the ruling dynasty for years.
The North under Jong-Un has continued to develop nuclear weapons and test missiles in defiance of UN resolutions.
Commenting on the deployment, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said: “The United States and the Republic of Korea stand very firmly united, without an inch of daylight between us, not a sliver of daylight, on the subject of opposition to North Korea’s destabilising nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and proliferation activities.
Army Colonel Steve Warren said: “This addition is part of the rebalance to the Pacific. It’s been long planned and is part of our enduring commitment to security on the Korean peninsula.
“This gives the commanders in Korea an additional capacity: two companies of tanks, two companies of Bradleys.”
The US has 28,000 troops based in South Korea, which has remained technically at war with Communist North Korea since the 1950-1953 Korean conflict ended in stalemate.
A Pentagon spokesman said the additional equipment would be left behind after the nine-month deployment to be used by follow-on rotations of US forces.
Barack Obama, the US president, announced a strategic rebalancing of priorities toward the Pacific in late 2011 while winding down US commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nanos Number: pipeline politics 6:52
In an attempt to press the Obama administration on its own turf, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird used the first day of a Washington visit to repeatedly call for a prompt decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.
He buttressed his case by making public appearances Wednesday with two pro-Keystone Democratic senators, who both expressed frustration with how long the administration has dragged out the decision.
Baird offered a snappy reply when asked if there’s anything pro-Keystone politicians on either side of the border could still say or do to influence a debate that has been going on for years.
“One politician — the president of the United States — can say yes to a great project to create jobs on both sides of the border, help with energy independence and energy security,” Baird replied, drawing a chuckle from the lawmaker next to him, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.
“Decision time is upon us.”
He repeated the “decision time” phrase on three separate occasions at two public appearances Wednesday, making increasingly clear the Canadian government’s frustration over the prolonged approval process.
Baird held a half-dozen meetings on Capitol Hill and several other get-togethers throughout the day.
His two media appearances — both with pro-Keystone lawmakers from the president’s party — allowed them to air their own feelings.
— Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (@SenatorHeitkamp) January 15, 2014
“I will tell you the frustration that many of us have,” said Heitkamp.
“It has taken us longer to make a decision than it took us to defeat Hitler in the Second World War.”
‘Weeks’ until environmental review
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada would not take “no for an answer” until the Alberta-to-Texas pipeline is approved, last fall in New York. More recently, he suggested the U.S. president had “punted” a politically uncomfortable dilemma by adding additional steps to the regulatory process.
When asked how soon he expected a decision, Baird said the ongoing environmental review by the State Department could be completed and released “in the coming weeks,” soon after this month’s state of the union address.
After that, he said, a decision could be announced quickly.
He delivered a similar message during a meeting with Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, touted as the likely next chair of the Senate energy committee.
— Senator Landrieu (@SenLandrieu) January 15, 2014
With media invited into the meeting, she sympathetically placed a hand on Baird’s as she shared her regrets about how long the process had taken.
Landrieu, who faces a difficult re-election fight, said the project was popular in her state.
They used that public meeting to inform U.S. reporters that Canada has the same greenhouse-gas standards as the U.S., the same vehicle-emissions standards, and has done more to phase out coal.
Baird also met with U.S. Senator Bob Corker who posted a picture of his meeting with the foreign affairs minister after his approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
#KeystoneXL will create jobs, expand access to North American energy and strengthen ties with Canada, our largest trading partner. -BC
— Senator Bob Corker (@SenBobCorker) January 15, 2014
During his three-day trip, Baird also has meetings with Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and several think-tanks.
He’s also scheduled to speak Thursday to business leaders.
TransCanada Begins Injecting Oil Into Keystone XL Southern Half; Exact Start Date A Mystery | DeSmogBlog
Keystone XL’s southern half is one step closer to opening for business. TransCanada announced that “on Saturday, December 7, 2013, the company began to inject oil into the Gulf Coast Project pipeline as it moves closer to the start of commercial service.”
The Sierra Club’s legal challenge to stop the pipeline was recently denied by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, so the southern half, battled over for years between the industry and environmentalists, will soon become a reality.
According to a statement provided to DeSmog by TransCanada, “Over the coming weeks, TransCanada will inject about three million of [sic] barrels of oil into the system, beginning in Cushing, Oklahoma and moving down to the company’s facilities in the Houston refining area.”
In mid-January, up to 700,000 barrels per day of Alberta’s tar sands diluted bitumen (dilbit) could begin flowing through the 485-mile southern half of TransCanada’s pipeline, known as the Gulf Coast Project. Running from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas, the southern half of the pipeline was approved by both a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit 12 and an Executive Order from President Barack Obama in March 2012.
Bloomberg, The Canadian Press and The Oklahoman each reported that the Gulf Coast Project pipeline is now being injected with oil. Line fill is the last key step before a pipeline can begin operations.
“There are many moving parts to this process — completion of construction, testing, regulatory approvals, line fill and then the transition to operations,” TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard told DeSmog. “Line fill has to take place first, then once final testing and certifications are completed, the line can then go into commercial service.”
Residents living along the length of the southern half will have no clue about the rest of the start-up process, as TransCanada says it won’t provide any more information until the line is already running. “For commercial and contractual reasons, the next update we will provide will be after the line has gone into commercial service,” the company announced.
When DeSmog asked whether the company is currently injecting conventional oil or diluted bitumen sourced from the Canadian tar sands, TransCanada’s Howard replied:
“Many people like to try and categorize the blend, etc., however we are injecting oil into the pipeline. As you’ve likely seen me quoted before, oil is oil and this pipeline is designed to handle both light and heavy blends of oil, in accordance with all U.S. regulatory standards.
I am not able to provide you the specific blend or breakdown as we are not permitted (by our customers) from disclosing that information to the media. There are very strict confidentiality clauses in the commercial contracts we enter into with our customers, and that precludes us from providing that. The reason is that if we are providing information about a specific blend, when it is in our system, etc. – that has the potential to identify who our customers may be or allow others to take financial positions in the market and profit from that information when others do not have access to the same information. This has much farther reaching impacts for the financial markets (and ultimately all of us).”
Riddled with Anomalies
The Keystone XL line fill comes just weeks after Public Citizen released an investigation revealing potentially dangerous anomalies such as dents, faulty welding and exterior damage that the group suggests could lead to pipeline ruptures, tears and spills.
“[Public Citizen] and its citizen sources uncovered over 125 anomalies in that half of the line alone,” DeSmogBlog reported on November 12. “These findings moved Public Citizen to conclude the southern half of the pipeline shouldn’t begin service until the anomalies are taken care of, and ponders if the issues can ever be resolved sufficiently.”
Public Citizen posted these photos on Flickr:
Pinholes in the applied coating can lead to exposing underlying pipe damage to leakage.
Multiple coating patches over new pipe about to be placed into the trench during initial construction.
Close up of section of Keystone XL southern half’s pipe marked “junk” by TransCanada.
Front of a cut out section of pipe on citizen David Whatley’s land marked “Dent Cut Out.”
A dent anomaly on the exterior cut out section of pipe. The dent was about the size of a brick.
Precedent of Spills
“The government should investigate, and shouldn’t let crude flow until that is done,” Tom Smith, Director of Public Citizen’s Texas office said in a press statement accompanying the report. “Given the stakes – the potential for a catastrophic spill of hazardous crude along a pipeline that traverses hundreds of streams and rivers and comes within a few miles of some towns and cities – it would be irresponsible to allow the pipeline to start operating.
“TransCanada’s history with pipeline problems speaks for itself and I fear we could be looking at another pipeline whose integrity may be in question.”
Despite this precedent of spills, Keystone XL’s southern half is about to become a reality, with the fate of the border-crossing northern half of Keystone XL still resting in the hands of President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
If being wealthy was the same as pretending to be wealthy then people who care about reality would have a little less to complain about. But pretending is a poor way for a society to negotiate its way through history. It makes for accumulating distortions which eventually undermine the society’s ability to function, especially when the pretending is about money, which is society’s operating system.
The distortion that even simple people care about is that the gap between the rich and the poor is as plain, vast, and grotesque as at any time in our history — except perhaps during slavery times in Dixieland, when many of the poor did not even own their existence. We’ve had plenty of reminders of that in pop culture the last couple of years, including Quentin Tarantino’s fiercely stupid movie Django Unchained and the more recent melodrama 12 Years a Slave. But you have to wonder what young adults weighed down by unpayable college debt think when they go to see them, because without a rebellion that millennial generation will not own their own lives either. They must know it, but they must not know what to do about it.
The pretense and distortions start at the top of American life with a President who broadcasts the message that some kind of “recovery” has occurred in the economic affairs of the country. Either he just wants the public feel better, or he is misled by the people and agencies in his own government, or perhaps he just lies to keep the lid on. To truly recover from the dislocations of 2008, we would have to make a consensual decision to start behaving differently in the process of adapting to the new circumstances that the arc of history is presenting to us. We’d have to decide to leave behind the economy of financialization, suburban sprawl, car dependency, Wal-Mart consumerism, and prepare for a different way of inhabiting North America.
The dislocations of 2008 when the banking system nearly imploded were Nature’s way of telling us that dishonesty has consequences. The immediate dishonesty of that day was the racket in securitizing worthless mortgages — promises to pay large sums of money over long periods of time. The promises were false and the collateral was janky. It got so bad and ran so far and deep that it essentially destroyed the mechanism of credit creation as it had been known until then, and it has not been repaired.
Since then, we have pretended to repair the operations of credit by falsely substituting bank bailouts and Federal Reserve “quantitative easing” (QE) or digital money-printing for plain dealing in borrowed money between honest brokers at the local level. The unfortunate consequence is that in the process we have distorted — and possibly destroyed — the value of our money and the various things denominated in it, especially securities, bonds, stocks and other money-like paper.
The crash of the mortgage racket occurred not just because of swindling and fraud among bankers; in fact, that was only a nasty symptom of something larger: peak oil. I know that many people have come to disbelieve in the idea of peak oil, but that is only another mode of playing pretend. Peak oil, which essentially arrived in 2006, undermined the basic conditions of credit creation in an advanced techno-industrial society dependent on increasing supplies of fossil fuels. Most people, including practically all credentialed economists, fail to understand this. There is a fundamental relationship between ever-increasing energy supplies > economic growth > and credit-based money (or “money,” if you will). When the energy inputs flatten out or decrease, growth stops, wealth is no longer generated, old loans can’t be repaid, and new loans can’t be generated honestly, i.e. with the expectation of repayment. That has been our predicament since 2008 and nothing has changed. We are pretending to compensate by issuing new unpayable debt to pay the interest on our old accumulated debt. This pretense can only go on so long before our economic relations reflect the basic dishonesty of it. Reality is a harsh mistress.
In the meantime, we amuse ourselves with fairy tales about “the shale oil revolution” and “the manufacturing renaissance.” 2014 could be the year that the forces of Nature compel our attention and give us a reason to stop all this pretending. I’ll address this question in next week’s annual yearly forecast.
It was the winter of 1939, only a few months earlier the Soviet Union and Hitler’s Third Reich had just signed a partially secret accord known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact; essentially a non-aggression treaty which divided Europe down the middle between the fascists and the communists. Hitler would take the West, and Stalin would take the East. Stalin’s war machine had already steamrolled into Latvia. Lithuania, and Estonia. The soviets used unprecedented social and political purges, rigged elections, and genocide, while the rest of the world was distracted by the Nazi blitzkrieg in Poland. In the midst of this mechanized power grab was the relatively tiny nation of Finland, which had been apportioned to the communists.
Apologists for Stalinist history (propagandists) have attempted to argue that the subsequent attack on Finland was merely about “border territories” which the communists claimed were stolen by the Finns when they seceded from Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution. The assertion that the soviets were not seeking total dominance of the Finns is a common one. However, given the vicious criminal behavior of Russia in nearby pacified regions, and their posture towards Finland, it is safe to assume their intentions were similar. The Finns knew what they had to look forward to if they fell victim to the iron hand of Stalin, and the soviet propensity for subjugation was already legendary.
The Russian military was vastly superior to Finland’s in every way a common tactician would deem important. They had far greater numbers, far better logistical capability, far better technology, etc, etc. Over 1 million troops, thousands of planes, thousands of tanks, versus Finland’s 32 antiquated tanks, 114 planes which were virtually useless against more modern weapons, and 340,000 men, most of whom were reservists rallied from surrounding farmlands. Finland had little to no logistical support from the West until the conflict was almost over, though FDR would later pay lip service to the event, “condemning” soviet actions while brokering deals with them behind the scenes. Russian military leadership boasted that the Finns would run at the sound of harsh words, let alone gun fire. The invasion would be a cakewalk.
The battle that followed would later be known as the “Winter War”; an unmitigated embarrassment for the Soviets, and a perfect example of a small but courageous indigenous guerrilla army repelling a technologically advanced foe.
To Fight, Or Pretend To Fight?
Fast forward about seven decades or so, and you will discover multiple countries around the globe, including the U.S., on the verge of the same centralized and collectivized socialist occupation that the Finnish faced in 1939. The only difference is that while their invasion came from without, our invasion arose from within. The specific methods may have changed, but the underlying face of tyranny remains the same.
In America, the only existing organization of people with the slightest chance of disrupting and defeating the march towards totalitarianism is what we often refer to as the “Liberty Movement”; a large collection of activist and survival groups tied together by the inexorable principles of freedom, natural law, and constitutionalism. The size of this movement is difficult to gauge, but its social and political presence is now too large to be ignored. We are prevalent enough to present a threat, and prevalent enough to be attacked, and that is all that matters. That said, though we are beginning to understand the truly vital nature of our role in America’s path, and find solidarity in the inherent values of liberty that support our core, when it comes to solutions to the dilemma of globalization and elitism, we are sharply divided.
While most activist movements suffer from a complete lack of solutions to the problems they claim to recognize, constitutional conservatives tend to have TOO MANY conceptual solutions to the ailments of the world. Many of these solutions rely upon unrealistic assumptions and methods that avoid certain inevitable outcomes. Such strategies center mostly on the concepts of “non-aggression” or pacifism idealized and romanticized by proponents of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and the anti-war movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The post-baby boomer generations in particular have grown up with an incessant bombardment of the “higher nature” of non-violence as a cure-all for every conceivable cultural ailment.
We have been taught since childhood that fighting solves nothing, but is this really true?
I can understand the allure of the philosophy. After all, physical confrontation is mentally and emotionally terrifying to anyone who is not used to experiencing it. The average “reasonable” person goes far out of their way on every occasion to avoid it. Most of the activists that I have met personally who deride the use of force against tyrannical government have never actually been in an outright confrontation of any kind in their lives, or if they have, it ended in a failure that scarred them. They have never trained for the eventuality. Many of them have never owned a firearm. The focus of their existence has been to hide from pain, rather than overcome their fears to achieve something greater.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with becoming an “intellectual warrior”, unless that person lives under the fantasy that this alone will be enough to defeat the kind of evil we face today.
Non-aggression methods rely on very specific circumstances in order to be effective. Most of all, they rely on a system of government that is forced to at least PRETEND as if it cares what the masses think of it. Gandhi’s Indian Independence Movement, for example, only witnessed noticeable success because the British government at that time was required to present a semblance of dignity and rule of law. But what happens if a particular tyranny reaches a point where the facade of benevolence disappears? What happens when the establishment turns to the use of the purge as a tool for consolidation? What happens when the mask comes completely off?
How many logical arguments or digital stashes of ethereal Bitcoins will it take to save one’s life or one’s freedom then?
Arguments For And Against Violent Action
The position against the use of “violence” (or self defense) to obstruct corrupt systems depends on three basic debate points:
1) Violence only feeds the system and makes it stronger.
2) We need a “majority” movement in order to be successful.
3) The system is too technologically powerful – to fight it through force of arms is “futile”, and our chances are slim to none.
First, violence does indeed feed the system, if it is driven by mindless retribution rather than strategic self defense. This is why despotic governments often resort to false flag events; the engineering of terrorist actions blamed on scapegoats creates fear within the unaware portions of the population, which generates public support for further erosion of freedoms. However, there is such a thing as diminishing returns when it comes to the “reach, teach, and inspire” method.
The escalation of totalitarianism will eventually overtake the speed at which the movement can awaken the masses, if it has not done so already. There will come a time, probably sooner rather than later, when outreach will no longer be effective, and self defense will have to take precedence, even if that means subsections of the public will be shocked and disturbed by it. The sad fact is, the faster we wake people up, the faster the establishment will degrade social stability and destroy constitutional liberties. A physical fight is inevitable exactly because they MAKE it inevitable. Worrying about staying in the good graces of the general populace or getting honest representatives elected is, at a certain point, meaningless. I find it rather foolish to presume that Americans over the next decade or two or three have the time needed to somehow inoculate the system from within. In fact, I’m starting to doubt that strategy has any merit whatsoever.
Second, the idea that a movement needs a “majority” of public backing to shift the path of a society is an old wives tale. Ultimately, most people throughout history are nothing more than spectators in life, watching from the sidelines while smaller, ideologically dedicated groups battle for superiority. Global developments are decided by true believers; never by ineffectual gawkers. Some of these groups are honorable, and some of them are not so honorable. Almost all of them have been in the minority, yet they wield the power to change the destiny of the whole of the nation because most people do not participate in their own futures. They merely place their heads between their legs and wait for the storm to pass.
All revolutions begin in the minds and hearts of so-called “outsiders”. To expect any different is to deny the past, and to assume that a majority is needed to achieve change is to deny reality.
Third, I’m not sure why non-aggression champions see the argument of statistical chance as relevant. When all is said and done, the “odds” of success in any fight against oligarchy DO NOT MATTER. Either you fight, or you are enslaved. The question of victory is an afterthought.
Technological advantage, superior numbers, advanced training, all of these things pale in comparison to force of will, as the Finnish proved during the Winter War. Some battles during that conflict consisted of less than a hundred Finns versus tens-of-thousands of soviets. Yet, at the end of the war, the Russians lost 3500 tanks, 500 aircraft, and had sustained over 125,000 dead (official numbers). The Finns lost 25,000 men. For every dead Finn, the soviets lost at least five. This is the cold hard reality behind guerrilla and attrition warfare, and such tactics are not to be taken lightly.
Do we go to the Finnish and tell them that standing against a larger, more well armed foe is “futile”? Do we tell them that their knives and bolt action rifles are no match for tanks and fighter planes? And by extension, do we go to East Asia today and tell the Taliban that their 30 year old AK-47’s are no match for predator drones and cruise missiles? Obviously, victory in war is not as simple as having the biggest gun and only the uneducated believe otherwise.
The Virtues Of Violence
The word “violence” comes with numerous negative connotations. I believe this is due to the fact that in most cases violence is used by the worst of men to get what they want from the weak. Meeting violence with violence, though, is often the only way to stop such abuses from continuing.
At Alt-Market, we tend to discuss measures of non-participation (not non-aggression) because all resistance requires self-sustainability. Americans cannot fight the criminal establishment if they rely on the criminal establishment. Independence is more about providing one’s own necessities than it is about pulling a trigger. But, we have no illusions about what it will take to keep the independence that we build. This is where many conceptual solutions are severely lacking.
If the system refuses to let you walk away, what do you do? If the tyrants would rather make the public suffer than admit that your social or economic methodology is better for all, how do you remove them? When faced with a cabal of psychopaths with deluded aspirations of godhood, what amount of reason will convince them to step down from their thrones?
I’m sorry to say, but these questions are only answered with violence.
The Liberty Movement doesn’t need to agree on the “usefulness” of physical action because it is coming regardless. The only things left to discern are when and how. Make no mistake, one day each and every one of us will be faced with a choice – to fight, or to throw our hands in the air and pray they don’t shoot us anyway. I certainly can’t speak for the rest of the movement, but in my opinion only those who truly believe in liberty will stand with rifle in hand when that time comes. A freedom fighter is measured by how much of himself he is willing to sacrifice, and how much of his humanity he holds onto in the process. Fear, death, discomfort; none of this matters. There is no conundrum. There is no uncertainty. There are only the chains of self-defeat, or the determination of the gun. The sooner we all embrace this simple fact, the sooner we can move on and deal with the dark problem before us.
Consensus is forming that 2014 will be the economic turning point for the United States and that is, traditionally, good news for Canada. But is it?
Most rosy is the forecast by UBS that U.S. GDP will grow by about 3 per cent in 2014 and in 2015 then beyond. The IMF has also just raised its U.S. forecast.
“There has been good action taken by Congress to eliminate the fear about the budget and to reduce the sequestration. We see the Fed having taken some very well-communicated action concerning the tapering of the program, and those are good signs — in addition to which we see some good numbers: Growth is picking up and unemployment is going down,” head of the IMF Christine Lagarde said this week. “So all of that gives us a much stronger outlook for 2014, which brings us to raising our forecast.”
Interestingly, if the United States grows by 3 percent that will virtually match China’s growth, in absolute dollars. (Lest we forget the math. A 3 percent rate in the U.S. is based on a nominal GDP of US$17-trillion and China’s equally rosy forecast of 7.5 percent is based on a nominal GDP of less than US$8-trillion.)
The turning point has come due to the energy boom in the U.S., the housing recovery, the health of its manufacturing sector and productivity rates, banking stability, job growth, low consumer debts and an improved fiscal situation due to the spending cuts imposed by sequestration.
Canada, unfortunately, has some headwinds that, until addressed, will likely decouple Canada’s growth from its neighbour’s in the short and medium term.
Here they are, not necessarily in order of importance:
— Canada lives beyond its means as an economy, with trade and export deficits, despite the benefits of high commodity prices in the past few years.
— Canada’s productivity lags U.S. rates considerably, representing a negative metric that makes export growth difficult. The reasons are varied and include the fact that the Canadian economy is balkanized into political spheres of influence, variant tax and labour laws, non-tariff barriers internally and disparate worker credentials because it lacks a national trade agency to insure the fair flow of workers, goods and services or an over-arching Inter-provincial Commerce Commission. There is no free trade within Canada.
— Canada’s dollar is headed to as low as 88 cents U.S. this year, according to some projections, which is a symptom of problems but also, ironically, somewhat helpful in exports if sustained but not helpful concerning the following issue.
— Canada’s federal and Western provinces are pitch-perfect when it comes to debt levels, spending and investment. Their Triple A or high AA credit ratings reflect that.
But Eastern Canada, on the other hand, is a problem, a clearly defined have-not part of the country with high unemployment rates, high underemployment rates and spendthrift provinces led by Ontario which has the biggest debt of any sub-national government globally. In 2003-4, debts were C$140-billion and in 2013-14 are expected to reach $260-billion and heading higher.
So this means that as the Canadian dollar falls, repayments to foreigners increase as does the need for the Bank of Canada to begin increasing interest rates. The only solution is to bite the bullet, something that vote-hungry politicians have failed to address in the past.
In light of that realization, Goldman Sachs and others are shorting the Canadian dollar.
— Consumer debt is Canada is worrisomely high. The housing bubble in Ontario, condo craziness, has forced prices for all real estate upwards, and increased borrowing, with the result that Canadians now have switched places with the Americans as holders of the highest consumer debt. (Americans were forced to shed their borrowing after the 2008 meltdown but Canadians continued the tradition.)
(This debt overhang will slow consumer spending in Canada, but the newly lower debt levels south of the border are expected to enhance U.S. growth in the next few years.)
— Canada’s cornerstone exports are facing declines. Natural gas is being replaced by U.S. shale gas production. Crude oil, Canada’s most valuable export, is expected to drop in price $20 a barrel due to increasing supplies: the U.S. shale oil boom, Canada’s increasing production, a relaxation of the embargo against Iran if it fulfills its pledges on the nuclear portfolio and Mexico’s invitation to foreign oil companies to help increase production for its moribund national oil giant.
The one bright spot would be approval, finally, of the Keystone Pipeline, with its 800,000 barrels a day of exports. Another would be the Northern Gateway proposal to the B.C. coast.
But both are political footballs for different reasons and may not happen for years, if ever.
The Iranian diplomatic deal, if successful, could enhance world peace but would unleash much oil onto the market. The embargo has limited exports from 2.5 million barrels per day to one million.
The other important export driver in Canada is Ontario’s auto industry but this year the province was overtaken, in terms of production, by the state of Michigan for the first time in a decade. And Ward’s Automotive forecasts a steady decline in Ontario production.
On a positive note, most of Canada’s problems are soluble if electorates, and their public servants, agree to old-fashioned belt-tightening.
Most importantly, Canada has to stop signing free trade agreements with countries that don’t offer reciprocity in terms of export or investment opportunities, such as China and/or the European Union, and forge a Canadian Free Trade Agreement among its provinces and territories. And the US-Canada bi-national issues should be fixed and talks about a development partnership in the North should become policy.
But those are long-term solutions that have eluded Ottawa for generations.
In the meantime, just curbing the excessive growth and overheads of the entire Canadian public sector, and creating a healthy, fair market at home for the Canadian private sector, are bottom-line essentials that any nation-state must enact in order to protect and grow.
As the year draws to a close, EFF is looking back at the major trends influencing digital rights in 2013 and discussing where we are in the fight for free expression, innovation, fair use, and privacy. Click here to read other blog posts in this series.
Prior to January 2011, national or regional Internet “blackouts” were mostly unheard of. Although the Maldives,Nepal, Burma, and China all preceded Egypt with this innovation, it was the shutdown initiated by former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak that set a new precedent and garnered global media coverage. Since then, Syria, Libya, and even San Francisco’s BART police have “pulled a Mubarak.”
But in 2013, Internet blackouts became de rigeur for embattled governments: In August,Burma experienced a week of disruptions, the cause of which remains unclear. In Egypt’s North Sinai region, telephone and Internet networks were—according to a report from Mada Masr—intermittently shut down in September in the midst of military operations targeting militants there. In Sudan, where a brutal government crackdown in September on protests over fuel subsidy cuts resulted in the deaths of more than 30 people, authorities cut off Internet accessin an apparent bid to stop the demonstrations. In October, Renesys reported that the Iraqi government had tried but failed to shut down the Internet. And more recently, Renesys spotted a 45-minute national outage from North Korea, for which the source was unclear.
The Syrian Internet has seen numerous outages throughout the year, some of which appear to be politically motivated and others of which may be structural. In October, Aleppo was without Internet for 17.5 hours, while in early December, the entire country’s Internet went down for a few hours.
Politically-motivated Internet outages are certainly trending. For governments, they pose an all-too-tempting way of stifling speech and keeping order during periods of protest or unrest, but as the BART telecommunications shutdown in San Francisco demonstrated, they can also prevent urgent communications from getting through and therefore may not be worth the risks they pose, even to the most despotic of regimes.
This article is part of our 2013 Year in Review series; read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2013.
During more than 14 hours of interviews, the first he has conducted in person since arriving here in June, Snowden did not part the curtains or step outside. Russia granted him temporary asylum on Aug. 1, but Snowden remains a target of surpassing interest to the intelligence services whose secrets he spilled on an epic scale.
During more than 14 hours of interviews, the first he has conducted in person sincearriving here in June, Snowden did not part the curtains or step outside. Russia granted him temporary asylum on Aug. 1, but Snowden remains a target of surpassing interest to the intelligence services whose secrets he spilled on an epic scale.
Late this spring, Snowden supplied three journalists, including this one, with caches of top-secret documents from the National Security Agency, where he worked as a contractor. Dozens of revelations followed, and then hundreds, as news organizations around the world picked up the story. Congress pressed for explanations, new evidence revived old lawsuits and the Obama administration was obliged to declassify thousands of pages it had fought for years to conceal.
Taken together, the revelations have brought to light a global surveillance system that cast off many of its historical restraints after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Secret legal authorities empowered the NSA to sweep in the telephone, Internet and location records of whole populations. One of the leaked presentation slides described the agency’s “collection philosophy” as “Order one of everything off the menu.”
Six months after the first revelations appeared in The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper, Snowden agreed to reflect at length on the roots and repercussions of his choice. He was relaxed and animated over two days of nearly unbroken conversation, fueled by burgers, pasta, ice cream and Russian pastry.
Snowden offered vignettes from his intelligence career and from his recent life as “an indoor cat” in Russia. But he consistently steered the conversation back to surveillance, democracy and the meaning of the documents he exposed.
“For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished,” he said. “I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”
“All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed,” he said. “That is a milestone we left a long time ago. Right now, all we are looking at are stretch goals.”
‘Going in blind’
Snowden is an orderly thinker, with an engineer’s approach to problem-solving. He had come to believe that a dangerous machine of mass surveillance was growing unchecked. Closed-door oversight by Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was a “graveyard of judgment,” he said, manipulated by the agency it was supposed to keep in check. Classification rules erected walls to prevent public debate.
Toppling those walls would be a spectacular act of transgression against the norms that prevailed inside them. Someone would have to bypass security, extract the secrets, make undetected contact with journalists and provide them with enough proof to tell the stories.
The NSA’s business is “information dominance,” the use of other people’s secrets to shape events. At 29, Snowden upended the agency on its own turf.
“You recognize that you’re going in blind, that there’s no model,” Snowden said, acknowledging that he had no way to know whether the public would share his views.
“But when you weigh that against the alternative, which is not to act,” he said, “you realize that some analysis is better than no analysis. Because even if your analysis proves to be wrong, the marketplace of ideas will bear that out. If you look at it from an engineering perspective, an iterative perspective, it’s clear that you have to try something rather than do nothing.”
By his own terms, Snowden succeeded beyond plausible ambition. The NSA, accustomed to watching without being watched, faces scrutiny it has not endured since the 1970s, or perhaps ever.
The cascading effects have made themselves felt in Congress, the courts, popular culture, Silicon Valley and world capitals. The basic structure of the Internet itself is now in question, as Brazil and members of the European Union consider measures to keep their data away from U.S. territory and U.S. technology giants including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo take extraordinary steps to block the collection of data by their government.
For months, Obama administration officials attacked Snowden’s motives and said the work of the NSA was distorted by selective leaks and misinterpretations.
On Dec. 16, in a lawsuit that could not have gone forward without the disclosures made possible by Snowden, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon described the NSA’s capabilities as “almost Orwellian” and said its bulk collection of U.S. domestic telephone records was probably unconstitutional.
The next day, in the Roosevelt Room, an unusual delegation of executives from old telephone companies and young Internet firms told President Obama that the NSA’s intrusion into their networks was a threat to the U.S. information economy. The following day, an advisory panel appointed by Obama recommended substantial new restrictions on the NSA, including an end to the domestic call-records program.
“This week is a turning point,” said the Government Accountability Project’s Jesselyn Radack, who is one of Snowden’s legal advisers. “It has been just a cascade.”
‘They elected me’
On June 22, the Justice Department unsealed a criminal complaint charging Snowden with espionage and felony theft of government property. It was a dry enumeration of statutes, without a trace of the anger pulsing through Snowden’s former precincts.
In the intelligence and national security establishments, Snowden is widely viewed as a reckless saboteur, and journalists abetting him little less so.
At the Aspen Security Forum in July, a four-star military officer known for his even keel seethed through one meeting alongside a reporter he knew to be in contact with Snowden. Before walking away, he turned and pointed a finger.
“We didn’t have another 9/11,” he said angrily, because intelligence enabled warfighters to find the enemy first. “Until you’ve got to pull the trigger, until you’ve had to bury your people, you don’t have a clue.”
It is commonly said of Snowden that he broke an oath of secrecy, a turn of phrase that captures a sense of betrayal. NSA Director Keith B. Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., among many others, have used that formula.
In his interview with The Post, Snowden noted matter-of-factly that Standard Form 312, the classified-information nondisclosure agreement, is a civil contract. He signed it, but he pledged his fealty elsewhere.
“The oath of allegiance is not an oath of secrecy,” he said. “That is an oath to the Constitution. That is the oath that I kept that Keith Alexander and James Clapper did not.”
People who accuse him of disloyalty, he said, mistake his purpose.
“I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA,” he said. “I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it.”
What entitled Snowden, now 30, to take on that responsibility?
“That whole question — who elected you? — inverts the model,” he said. “They elected me. The overseers.”
He named the chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees.
“Dianne Feinstein elected me when she asked softball questions” in committee hearings, he said. “Mike Rogers elected me when he kept these programs hidden. . . . The FISA court elected me when they decided to legislate from the bench on things that were far beyond the mandate of what that court was ever intended to do. The system failed comprehensively, and each level of oversight, each level of responsibility that should have addressed this, abdicated their responsibility.”
“It wasn’t that they put it on me as an individual — that I’m uniquely qualified, an angel descending from the heavens — as that they put it on someone, somewhere,” he said. “You have the capability, and you realize every other [person] sitting around the table has the same capability but they don’t do it. So somebody has to be the first.”
Snowden grants that NSA employees by and large believe in their mission and trust the agency to handle the secrets it takes from ordinary people — deliberately, in the case of bulk records collection, and “incidentally,” when the content of American phone calls and e-mails are swept into NSA systems along with foreign targets.
But Snowden also said acceptance of the agency’s operations was not universal. He began to test that proposition more than a year ago, he said, in periodic conversations with co-workers and superiors that foreshadowed his emerging plan.
Beginning in October 2012, he said, he brought his misgivings to two superiors in the NSA’s Technology Directorate and two more in the NSA Threat Operations Center’s regional base in Hawaii. For each of them, and 15 other co-workers, Snowden said he opened a data query tool called BOUNDLESSINFORMANT, which used color-coded “heat maps” to depict the volume of data ingested by NSA taps.
His colleagues were often “astonished to learn we are collecting more in the United States on Americans than we are on Russians in Russia,” he said. Many of them were troubled, he said, and several said they did not want to know any more.
“I asked these people, ‘What do you think the public would do if this was on the front page?’ ” he said. He noted that critics have accused him of bypassing internal channels of dissent. “How is that not reporting it? How is that not raising it?” he said.
By last December, Snowden was contacting reporters, although he had not yet passed along any classified information. He continued to give his colleagues the “front-page test,” he said, until April.
Asked about those conversations, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines sent a prepared statement to The Post: “After extensive investigation, including interviews with his former NSA supervisors and co-workers, we have not found any evidence to support Mr. Snowden’s contention that he brought these matters to anyone’s attention.”
Snowden recounted another set of conversations that he said took place three years earlier, when he was sent by the NSA’s Technology Directorate to support operations at a listening post in Japan. As a system administrator, he had full access to security and auditing controls. He said he saw serious flaws with information security.
“I actually recommended they move to two-man control for administrative access back in 2009,” he said, first to his supervisor in Japan and then to the directorate’s chief of operations in the Pacific. “Sure, a whistleblower could use these things, but so could a spy.”
That precaution, which requires a second set of credentials to perform risky operations such as copying files onto a removable drive, has been among the principal security responses to the Snowden affair.
Vines, the NSA spokeswoman, said there was no record of those conversations, either.
U.S. ‘would cease to exist’
Just before releasing the documents this spring, Snowden made a final review of the risks. He had overcome what he described at the time as a “selfish fear” of the consequences for himself.
“I said to you the only fear [left] is apathy — that people won’t care, that they won’t want change,” he recalled this month.
The documents leaked by Snowden compelled attention because they revealed to Americans a history they did not know they had.
Internal briefing documents reveled in the “Golden Age of Electronic Surveillance.” Brawny cover names such as MUSCULAR, TUMULT and TURMOIL boasted of the agency’s prowess.
With assistance from private communications firms, the NSA had learned to capture enormous flows of data at the speed of light from fiber-optic cables that carried Internet and telephone traffic over continents and under seas. According to one document in Snowden’s cache, the agency’s Special Source Operations group, which as early as 2006 was said to be ingesting “one Library of Congress every 14.4 seconds,” had an official seal that might have been parody: an eagle with all the world’s cables in its grasp.
Most of that data, by definition and intent, belonged to ordinary people suspected of nothing. But vast new storage capacity and processing tools enabled the NSA to use the information to map human relationships on a planetary scale. Only this way, its leadership believed, could the NSA reach beyond its universe of known intelligence targets.
In the view of the NSA, signals intelligence, or electronic eavesdropping, was a matter of life and death, “without which America would cease to exist as we know it,” according to an internal presentation in the first week of October 2001 as the agency ramped up its response to the al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
With stakes such as those, there was no capability the NSA believed it should leave on the table. The agency followed orders from President George W. Bush to begin domestic collection without authority from Congress and the courts. When the NSA won those authorities later, some of them under secret interpretations of laws passed by Congress between 2007 and 2012, the Obama administration went further still.
Using PRISM, the cover name for collection of user data from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple and five other U.S.-based companies, the NSA could obtain all communications to or from any specified target. The companies had no choice but to comply with the government’s request for data.
But the NSA could not use PRISM, which was overseen once a year by the surveillance court, for the collection of virtually all data handled by those companies. To widen its access, it teamed up with its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, to break into the private fiber-optic links that connected Google and Yahoo data centers around the world.
That operation, which used the cover name MUSCULAR, tapped into U.S. company data from outside U.S. territory. The NSA, therefore, believed it did not need permission from Congress or judicial oversight. Data from hundreds of millions of U.S. accounts flowed over those Google and Yahoo links, but classified rules allowed the NSA to presume that data ingested overseas belonged to foreigners.
Disclosure of the MUSCULAR project enraged and galvanized U.S. technology executives. They believed the NSA had lawful access to their front doors — and had broken down the back doors anyway.
Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith took to his company’s blog and called the NSA an “advanced persistent threat” — the worst of all fighting words in U.S. cybersecurity circles, generally reserved for Chinese state-sponsored hackers and sophisticated criminal enterprises.
“For the industry as a whole, it caused everyone to ask whether we knew as much as we thought,” Smith recalled in an interview. “It underscored the fact that while people were confident that the U.S. government was complying with U.S. laws for activity within U.S. territory, perhaps there were things going on outside the United States . . . that made this bigger and more complicated and more disconcerting than we knew.”
They wondered, he said, whether the NSA was “collecting proprietary information from the companies themselves.”
Led by Google and then Yahoo, one company after another announced expensive plans to encrypt its data traffic over tens of thousands of miles of cable. It was a direct — in some cases, explicit — blow to NSA collection of user data in bulk. If the NSA wanted the information, it would have to request it or circumvent the encryption one target at a time.
As these projects are completed, the Internet will become a less friendly place for the NSA to work. The agency can still collect data from virtually anyone, but collecting from everyone will be harder.
The industry’s response, Smith acknowledged, was driven by a business threat. U.S. companies could not afford to be seen as candy stores for U.S. intelligence. But the principle of the thing, Smith said, “is fundamentally about ensuring that customer data is turned over to governments pursuant to valid legal orders and in accordance with constitutional principles.”
‘Warheads on foreheads’
Snowden has focused on much the same point from the beginning: Individual targeting would cure most of what he believes is wrong with the NSA.
Six months ago, a reporter asked him by encrypted e-mail why Americans would want the NSA to give up bulk data collection if that would limit a useful intelligence tool.
“I believe the cost of frank public debate about the powers of our government is less than the danger posed by allowing these powers to continue growing in secret,” he replied, calling them “a direct threat to democratic governance.”
In the Moscow interview, Snowden said, “What the government wants is something they never had before,” adding: “They want total awareness. The question is, is that something we should be allowing?”
Snowden likened the NSA’s powers to those used by British authorities in Colonial America, when “general warrants” allowed for anyone to be searched. The FISA court, Snowden said, “is authorizing general warrants for the entire country’s metadata.”
“The last time that happened, we fought a war over it,” he said.
Technology, of course, has enabled a great deal of consumer surveillance by private companies, as well. The difference with the NSA’s possession of the data, Snowden said, is that government has the power to take away life or freedom.
At the NSA, he said, “there are people in the office who joke about, ‘We put warheads on foreheads.’ Twitter doesn’t put warheads on foreheads.”
Privacy, as Snowden sees it, is a universal right, applicable to American and foreign surveillance alike.
“I don’t care whether you’re the pope or Osama bin Laden,” he said. “As long as there’s an individualized, articulable, probable cause for targeting these people as legitimate foreign intelligence, that’s fine. I don’t think it’s imposing a ridiculous burden by asking for probable cause. Because, you have to understand, when you have access to the tools the NSA does, probable cause falls out of trees.”
On June 29, Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union’s counterterrorism coordinator, awoke to a report in Der Spiegel that U.S. intelligence had broken into E.U. offices, including his, to implant surveillance devices.
The 56-year-old Belgian, whose work is often classified, did not consider himself naive. But he took the news personally, and more so when he heard unofficial explanations from Washington.
“ ‘Everybody knows. Everybody does’ — Keith Alexander said that,” de Kerchove said in an interview. “I don’t like the idea that the NSA will put bugs in my office. No. I don’t like it. No. Between allies? No. I’m surprised that people find that noble.”
Comparable reactions, expressed less politely in private, accompanied revelations that the NSA had tapped the cellphones of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. The blowback roiled relations with both allies, among others. Rousseff canceled a state dinner with Obama in September.
When it comes to spying on allies, by Snowden’s lights, the news is not always about the target.
“It’s the deception of the government that’s revealed,” Snowden said, noting that the Obama administration offered false public assurances after the initial reports about NSA surveillance in Germany “The U.S. government said: ‘We follow German laws in Germany. We never target German citizens.’ And then the story comes out and it’s: ‘What are you talking about? You’re spying on the chancellor.’ You just lied to the entire country, in front of Congress.”
In private, U.S. intelligence officials still maintain that spying among friends is routine for all concerned, but they are giving greater weight to the risk of getting caught.
“There are many things we do in intelligence that, if revealed, would have the potential for all kinds of blowback,” Clapper told a House panel in October.
‘They will make mistakes’
U.S. officials say it is obvious that Snowden’s disclosures will do grave harm to intelligence gathering, exposing methods that adversaries will learn to avoid.
“We’re seeing al-Qaeda and related groups start to look for ways to adjust how they communicate,” said Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center and a former general counsel at the NSA.
Other officials, who declined to speak on the record about particulars, said they had watched some of their surveillance targets, in effect, changing channels. That evidence can be read another way, they acknowledged, given that the NSA managed to monitor the shift.
Clapper has said repeatedly in public that the leaks did great damage, but in private he has taken a more nuanced stance. A review of early damage assessments in previous espionage cases, he said in one closed-door briefing this fall, found that dire forecasts of harm were seldom borne out.
“People must communicate,” he said, according to one participant who described the confidential meeting on the condition of anonymity. “They will make mistakes, and we will exploit them.”
According to senior intelligence officials, two uncertainties feed their greatest concerns. One is whether Russia or China managed to take the Snowden archive from his computer, a worst-case assumption for which three officials acknowledged there is no evidence.
In a previous assignment, Snowden taught U.S. intelligence personnel how to operate securely in a “high-threat digital environment,” using a training scenario in which China was the designated threat. He declined to discuss the whereabouts of the files, but he said that he is confident he did not expose them to Chinese intelligence in Hong Kong. And he said he did not bring them to Russia.
“There’s nothing on it,” he said, turning his laptop screen toward his visitor. “My hard drive is completely blank.”
The other big question is how many documents Snowden took. The NSA’s incoming deputy director, Rick Ledgett, said on CBS’s “60 Minutes” recently that the number may approach 1.7 million, a huge and unexplained spike over previous estimates. Ledgett said he wouldfavor trying to negotiate an amnesty with Snowden in exchange for “assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured.”
Obama’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, later dismissed the possibility.
“The government knows where to find us if they want to have a productive conversation about resolutions that don’t involve Edward Snowden behind bars,” said the American Civil Liberties Union’s Ben Wizner, the central figure on Snowden’s legal team.
Some news accounts have quoted U.S. government officials as saying Snowden has arranged for the automated release of sensitive documents if he is arrested or harmed. There are strong reasons to doubt that, beginning with Snowden’s insistence, to this reporter and others, that he does not want the documents published in bulk.
If Snowden were fool enough to rig a “dead man’s switch,” confidants said, he would be inviting anyone who wants the documents to kill him.
Asked about such a mechanism in the Moscow interview, Snowden made a face and declined to reply. Later, he sent an encrypted message. “That sounds more like a suicide switch,” he wrote. “It wouldn’t make sense.”
‘It’s not about me’
By temperament and circumstance, Snowden is a reticent man, reluctant to discuss details about his personal life.
Over two days his guard never dropped, but he allowed a few fragments to emerge. He is an “ascetic,” he said. He lives off ramen noodles and chips. He has visitors, and many of them bring books. The books pile up, unread. The Internet is an endless library and a window on the progress of his cause.
“It has always been really difficult to get me to leave the house,” he said. “I just don’t have a lot of needs. . . . Occasionally there’s things to go do, things to go see, people to meet, tasks to accomplish. But it’s really got to be goal-oriented, you know. Otherwise, as long as I can sit down and think and write and talk to somebody, that’s more meaningful to me than going out and looking at landmarks.”
In hope of keeping focus on the NSA, Snowden has ignored attacks on himself.
“Let them say what they want,” he said. “It’s not about me.”
Former NSA and CIA director Michael V. Hayden predicted that Snowden will waste away in Moscow as an alcoholic, like other “defectors.” To this, Snowden shrugged. He does not drink at all. Never has.
But Snowden knows his presence here is easy ammunition for critics. He did not choose refuge in Moscow as a final destination. He said that once the U.S. government voided his passport as he tried to change planes en route to Latin America, he had no other choice.
It would be odd if Russian authorities did not keep an eye on him, but no retinue accompanied Snowden and his visitor saw no one else nearby. Snowden neither tried to communicate furtively nor asked that his visitor do so. He has had continuous Internet access and has talked to his attorneys and to journalists daily, from his first day in the transit lounge at Sheremetyevo airport.
“There is no evidence at all for the claim that I have loyalties to Russia or China or any country other than the United States,” he said. “I have no relationship with the Russian government. I have not entered into any agreements with them.”
“If I defected at all,” Snowden said, “I defected from the government to the public.”