In this brouhaha over Snowden&’s revelations, what takes the cake is the fact that India is the fifth most spied upon nation, even more than China and Russia ~ PRASENJIT CHOWDHURY
Information in the post-industrial age is as much a strategic resource as capital and labour were in the industrial age. So while we admit that besides the USA, there are countries like the UK, France, Russia, South Korea and Israel putting up mechanisms to guard national cyber security, we also hear how states use stratagems to block information uncharitable to them. There are reports about how Egypt, at the height of the demonstrations at the end of January 2011, cut Internet access for five days, how countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon and Kazakhstan, have done the same during elections or unrest, or even ahead of anticipated unrest. China uses the well-tested tactic of suspending communications in cities or provinces ~ in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia ~ when it loses control of the situation. Bahrain has been orchestrated as a good example of a news blackout succeeding thanks to “an impressive combination of technical, judicial and physical censorship methods”. Iran and Syria, prefer to resort to a means of slowing internet speed rendering it impossible to send or receive photos or videos, while Tunisia and Uzbekistan belong to the comity of nations resorting to online content filtering.
What are the checks and balances if the NSA, apparently acting under the secret orders of the court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), armed with massive intelligence, chooses to target the associations and the activities of anyone whom the agency tracked? According to the NSA chief, Keith Alexander, classified phone and internet surveillance programmes have prevented dozens of terrorist plots. Many of Snowden&’s detractors are already arguing that the next putative terrorist attack in the US will be blamed on his revelations as the exposure is liable to cause the Bad Guys to somehow change their tactics and elude detection. President Barack Obama asked Americans for trust, promising that “nobody is listening to your telephone calls” finding it difficult to convince the Americans if this surveillance is needed to defend the country from terrorist acts. Should the US Congress launch a grand inquest into the post-9/11 national security, it might see ~ with the hindsight of a public weighing of costs and benefits ~ that the liberal western society in general and American constitutional order in particular, that is premised on a sphere of privacy and the right of free speech and free association for its citizens, have been seriously compromised at the altar of security. What are the safeguards against extra-judicial killings and various other forms of state oppression?
In the domain of public knowledge, Snowden&’s leaks and leaks of such gargantuan scale are a voyeur&’s delight. How without the Pentagon Papers would we have known that the US secretly bombed Cambodia and conducted coastal raids on North Vietnam, and that four administrations from Truman to Johnson had deliberately lied to the public? How without Jack Anderson&’s ‘scoop’ could we have got a hint of how the Nixon administration was secretly arming the Pakistani military during its 1971 war with India, despite public declarations of US neutrality? How without WikiLeaks, could it be known that the US military deliberately ignored detainee abuse by Iraqi allies that led to a considerable rise in civilian-casualty count by 15,000? How without millions of internal records being leaked from Britain&’s offshore financial industry, could the identities of thousands of holders of anonymous wealth from around the world, from Presidents to plutocrats, be exposed?
In this brouhaha over Snowden&’s revelations, what takes the cake is the fact that India is the fifth-most spied-upon nation, even more than China and Russia.
According to an article in Countercurrents.orgI, Iran tops the list (14 billion pieces of intelligence); followed by Pakistan (13.5 billion), Jordan (12.7 billion), Egypt (7.6 billion), and India (6.3 billion). India, USA&’s strategic partner, must feel content to secure a pride of place in the elite “club” of Iran, Pakistan, Jordan and Egypt, where USA perceives “threat” to its global hegemony. While other self-respecting strategic partners and national leaders from Turkey, Germany and Russia have taken serious exception, one did not hear a murmur of protest from India. We had, instead, our Union Minister for External Affairs, Salman Khurshid and Ronen Sen, former Indian Ambassador to the US (2004-2009) and now director at Tata Motors, rising in defence of US policy, as if, it were not a sovereignty issue, as if it did not amount to violation of Article 22 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, of which India is a signatory. Could India dare to snoop on the USA in such wanton disdain, one would ask.
And contrary to the missionary efforts of the NSA, India&’s apex security body, the National Security Council (NSC), has been open to admit that India&’s cyber security strength is “grossly inadequate to handle cyber security activities in a meaningful and effective manner”. Lest we did not know, India&’s new Centralised Monitoring System (CMS), a wide-ranging surveillance programme, will give its security agencies unfettered access ~ without the need to seek a court order for surveillance – into all landline and mobile phone calls (900 million subscribers), SMSs, e-mails, web browsing (120 million internet users), video-conferencing, multi-media streaming and even video games, without oversight by courts or Parliament.
Surely, today&’s espionage is no longer the stuff of John le Carré. A British military manual ~ the Defence Manual of Security, codenamed as JSP440 ~ specifically dealing with how best to avoid leaks was ‘leaked’ in turn onto the WikiLeaks site. It warned that journalists are one of the “threats” to security, alongside foreign intelligence services, criminals, terrorist groups and disaffected staff.
In an even more self-referential moment, a Pentagon document named Wikileaks as a threat to national security. And it was leaked to WikiLeaks itself.
The sad fact is that, sooner or later, we might all be suckers for the national security state with terrorists lurking in almost every corner of the world and pander to its authoritarian assumptions that would strip us, investigate us, monitor our activities and know our secrets. And the states would try to guard their secrets and uphold a curtain of secret again in the name of national interest and security. Snowden was thus anathema and a martyr to this idea of a Kafkaesque state envisioned in The Trial.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, called Snowden a “hero” who has exposed “one of the most serious events of the decade ~ the creeping formulation of a mass surveillance state.” And if one is tempted to put Snowden, America&’s current enemy in the extreme opposite spectrum of another illustrious adversary of America, now dead, Osama bin Laden, it would be seen that this millenarian demagogue has been able to act as a permanent cog in the talismanic wheel of a great American brand ~ its idea of freedom and democracy.