The narrow boxes through which we find ourselves entering public debate over the rise of a totalitarian government surveillance infrastructure are driving me a little crazy.
"Edward Snowden: Hero or traitor?"
Pick one, now, the question demands, before we learn anything else, think anything more. In this way, our attention is focused onto Snowden, the man, not Uncle Sam, the secret megastate. We wade into a vortex of emotions whirling around loyalty to the republic: a republic with sovereign borders, or so we hope; that runs by rule of law, or so we think; where citizenship is precious, or so we imagine.
What Snowden's revelations confirm, however, is that such a republic no longer exists -- except as a mirage that powerful Surveillance State officials spin as reality.
Tap, tap -- answer the question! "Hero or traitor?"
"Traitor!" some cry, never noticing that Snowden's leak makes him a "traitor" to the Surveillance State, not the republic of memory. But such a gaffe is fine with our Big Brothers, from President Obama and FBI Director Robert Mueller to former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Listen the next time they insist that it is only the current state of mass surveillance that can preserve our folkloric republic, its residual form currently being liquidated by "immigration-reforming" U.S. senators, whose "hero" or "traitor" status we might also weigh. Listen the next time they argue that only PRISM, only stockpiling hundreds of millions of cellphone conversations, emails, texts and other personal records, can prevent a fiery cloud of new 9/11s.
Now they are even telling us that the first 9/11 could have been prevented altogether had the mass surveillance infrastructure been in place at the time.
This is a whopper too far, and with the gravest implications. Big Brother is rewriting our history again, after having withheld too many facts from We, the People, about 9/11 all along.
This new Big Lie about 9/11 is that the Snowden-leaked programs of data mining and cellphone collection might well have led authorities to identify two key Saudi hijackers in San Diego and roll up the whole al-Qaida plot. As former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who served as co-chairman of the Congressional Joint 9/11 Inquiry, has made abundantly clear, this particular pair, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, was already well known to U.S. intelligence authorities for ties to the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and other hostile activities. Indeed, the CIA had even listened in on conversations at an al-Qaida safe house in Yemen that referenced the pair as far back as December 1999 -- no PRISM necessary.