Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange: our new heroes

We all remember President Obama’s smiling face, full of hope and trust, in his first campaign: “Yes, we can!” – we can get rid of the cynicism of the Bush era and bring justice and welfare to the American people. Now that the US continues its covert operations and expands its intelligence network, spying even on its allies, we can imagine protesters shouting at Obama: “How can you use drones for killing? How can you spy even on our allies?” Obama murmurs with a mockingly evil smile: “Yes, we can.”

But simple personalisation misses the point: the threat to freedom disclosed by whistleblowers has deeper, systemic roots. Edward Snowden should be defended not only because his acts annoyed and embarrassed US secret services; what he revealed is something that not only the US but also all great (and not so great) powers – from China to Russia, Germany to Israel – are doing (to the extent they are technologically able to do it).

His acts provided a factual foundation to our suspicions of being monitored and controlled – their lesson is global, reaching far beyond the standard US-bashing. We didn’t really learn from Snowden (or Manning) anything we didn’t already presume to be true. But it is one thing to know it in general, another to get concrete data. It is a little like knowing that one’s sexual partner is playing around – one can accept the abstract knowledge, but pain arises when one gets the steamy details, pictures of what they were doing …

[Extract. Appeared in The Guardian on September 3rd 2013.]

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