Democracy is Coming…to the U.S.A.
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As journalist Chris Hedges has observed, we are witnessing “the terrifying metamorphosis of the ‘war on terror’ into a wider war on civil liberties. It has become a hunt not for actual terrorists, but a hunt for all those with the ability to expose the mounting crimes of the power elite.”
It’s not just Manning and Assange who have felt the full force of the secrecy state, it’s anyone who has given aid and comfort to the cause of open government. Hackers and journalists with connections to groups like Anonymous and WikiLeaks have been subjected to FBI harassment, airport detention, and arrests. Meanwhile, government agencies and the military have taken extraordinary steps to snoop on their personnel, out of mortal fear that other Bradley Mannings lurk in their midst.
The all-seeing Eye of Sauron is located not just in Washington, but in Silicon Valley. Digital corporate giants like Google and Facebook— which have grown fat and prosperous off their mantra that “information wants to be free”—are now arms of the new surveillance state. As Eric Schmidt, the company’s executive chairman, has smugly declared, “We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.” When federal prosecutors came to Google in search of account information on WikiLeaks, the company that promises to do no evil quickly turned it over to the government. (On the other hand, Twitter, to its credit, resisted the secret government subpoenas, fighting to make them public.) Google is quickly becoming the Biggest Brother of them all.
Schmidt’s new book, “The New Digital Age” —which he co-wrote with “Google Ideas” czar (whatever that is) Jared Cohen, a youthful product of the national security state—is a disturbing vision of our future, where all human information resides in the in The Cloud under the benevolent supervision of the digital elite. Schmidt and Cohen view Google as a soft war partner in the global crusade against terrorism, one more effective than drones. In fact, they write, Silicon Valley companies might be even more effective than government when it comes to fighting terror: “This is the industry that produces video games, social networks and mobile phones – it has perhaps the best understanding of how to distract young people of any sector, and kids are the very demographic being recruited by terror groups.” It’s jaw-dropping banalities like this about Google’s ability to solve the world’s problems that provoked Assange to call the book “a startlingly clear and provocative call for technocratic imperialism from two of its leading witch doctors.”
Elites like Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair have rushed to praise the Google manifesto. But more and more of us are questioning the wisdom of our betters these days, whether they reside in Washington or Silicon Valley. We know that the only way to keep power honest and accountable is to keep its operations visible.
When Bradley Manning, a young soldier blessed—or damned—with a soul, saw in grisly detail what the U.S. killing machine was doing in hidden corners of the empire, he knew he had to act. “I just couldn’t let these things stay inside of the system & inside my head,” he told the email confidante who later turned him in. “I’m just weird I guess. I…care.”
It’s time for all of us to get weird.